While I am excited to have my body back, there are some things I wish I'd understood about what would happen to my body during the postpartum period, so I'm documenting it and passing it along to other first-time mothers. Just a warning, the ick-factor of the subject matter may make some people uncomfortable.
First, the bleeding/discharge, also known as lochia.
A friend recommended I stock up on sanitary pads a couple of months
ago, and the hospital gave me a package of maternity pads, but I didn't
really understand what I was in for. It's been two weeks and I'm still
bleeding, though it is lessening. It's like menstrual flow at first, and
then it changes (as mentioned in the wiki article I've linked to).
There is also the smell, which is a lot like the typical coppery
menstrual smell, along with a fresh-meat/meat counter scent that is
probably related to healing up from the level 2 perineal tear. I
recommend buying heavy-duty pads and just preparing yourself to spend a
few weeks feeling less-than-pretty while dealing with your messy Aunt
Second, anemia. Most women experience anemia in the Third
Trimester, I learned. I'd never been anemic before, and even with extra
iron in my prenatal vitamin, my iron, etc tested low. I ended up taking
ferrous fumarate supplements my last couple of months of pregnancy,
because the last thing I wanted was to go into childbirth anemic. With
all the bleeding that has been going on, and all the energy that is
required to take care of a newborn, I strongly recommend taking extra
iron in the Third Trimester and continuing it for a while afterwards.
Third, constipation. In the last weeks of pregnancy I didn't eat
much, so I didn't have much in the way of bowel movements, but given
that I was taking iron supplements, which are known to be constipating, I
made sure to eat a couple of dried figs for fiber every day. Also, I learned the hard way that some of the pain medications used during childbirth can cause constipation/hard stools,
and when you're sore and healing from an episiotomy or a tear, (or a
C-section for that matter) the last thing you want to do is bear down,
so do yourself a favor and have stool softeners waiting for you when you
get home from the hospital.You'll be taking them for a couple of weeks,
at least, until you're healed up "down there."
Fourth, inflammation and pain. Sitting was very uncomfortable for
several days. I can't take NSAIDs, but I wish I could, because the
inflammation of the vaginal and rectal areas are aggravated by the
pressure/pain from sitting, including using the toilet. In my case, I
have access to a Japanese bidet (a Toto Washlet) or I would have used a
sitz bath. Soaking helps with the discomfort as well as keeping clean. I
use baby wipes instead of toilet tissue right now, as it reduces the
abrasion of tender tissues. In the medical profession pain is considered
the fifth vital sign. It is important to keep pain levels down when
you're healing because otherwise your body diverts resources toward the
stress response (fight or flight, production of adrenaline, cortisol,
etc). Add pain on top of dealing with a fussy newborn and a sleep
deficit, and you're likely to be irritable toward everyone around you.
So make sure you've got adequate pain relief when you leave the hospital.