Being a first time mom and a research nerd, I definitely did a lot of digging into what to expect after giving birth. But there were still a few things I didn’t expect. It’s been almost a year since I gave birth to our son, and looking back here are some of the postpartum things that I didn’t expect in the first few months after giving birth.
*I am sharing some of my personal experience here. You may or may not experience these same things since we are all different, our situations are different, and our babies are different.
1. Night sweats
I woke up a few times a night, soaked in sweat. Clothes, hair, pillow, sheets- everything. This lasted about a month, and it was kind of annoying. This doesn’t happen to every mom, but it sure happened to me. Its one normal side affect of your hormones doing their thing after birth. I had some mom friends mention night sweats, but I didn’t realize how uncomfortable it would be to experience.
Here is what I did to get through this time: I slept on a towel, my hair up was up in a bun, and I had a stack of my husband’s cotton t-shirts next to my bed. When I woke up soaked in sweat, I just peeled the soaked t-shirt off and put a dry one on without losing any extra sleep.
2. Hair loss
The hair shedding was something else. It is also due to hormones. For me it started about 2 months after giving birth. There was hair everywhere. Anytime I ran my fingers through my hair, I would get a handful of hair. I had rolled up balls of hair on my nightstand, on the changing table, the table next to the rocking chair, on the floor- I constantly had a rogue hair tickling the back of my arm.
I started getting some baldish areas. The good news is that eventually the hair shedding came to an end…And then the baby hairs started growing. Eleven months later and I am still looking like a hedgehog with baby hairs sticking up all over my head 🙂 It’s all worth it though! It’s just hair, and it eventually grows back, and you’re ready to do it all over again.
3. Sleep deprivation
I knew that I wouldn’t get much sleep with a newborn, but I wasn’t prepared for the severe exhaustion and how much of an affect sleep deprivation can have on you- physically, emotionally and mentally. I don’t think there is a way you can really be prepared for this part- You really just have to go through it. I was sooo exhausted, and went through my days in a zombie fog state. I was present, but kind of not. I was so very tired throughout this time, but also surprised that I could still function and get through the day. I think its all the high-alert, adrenaline, mamma bear mode that I was in. I can now understand why sleep deprivation can be used as a means of torture ;). It does get easier though, and eventually it got better and I got used to it.
4. Intrusive thoughts and/or images
This was such a disturbing and unsettling postpartum side affect. Intrusive thoughts are negative, repetitive, and unwanted thoughts. These thoughts are anxiety driven and extremely common, especially for new moms. They have to do with the sleep deprivation, severe exhaustion, hyper-vigilance, stress and anxiety that come with having a newborn.
Not everyone experiences intrusive thoughts, but I did-on and off, especially in the first few months. New dads can also experience intrusive thoughts. Due to severe exhaustion, both mental and physical, your mind can play tricks on you sometimes. And no, you’re not going crazy, and nothing is wrong with you.
These are thoughts that you do NOT want to have and are horrified for even having. Thoughts or images of: your baby getting horribly hurt somehow, dropping your baby down the stairs, or against the wall, your baby falling off the changing table, or imagining a picture frame of the wall falling on your baby. All the while you are horrified for having the thought and having an almost physical response- like a shudder go through your body, or a sudden pang of queasy, knot-in-your-stomach feeling.
What helps, is knowing that this is just one side affect of exhaustion and postpartum, and that you are NOT your thoughts and DO NOT have to think every thought that comes into your head. Having these thoughts does not say anything about you or make you a bad person. They are a side affect and symptom of postpartum exhaustion. Intrusive thoughts can also be a symptom of postpartum depression, in which case getting help is important. Talk to your spouse, your doctor, your pastor, your friend, or a counselor.
The best thing to do is to NOT take these thoughts personally or pay attention to them. Don’t obsess over why you are having these thoughts, or that something is wrong with you, or that you are a bad person. The more you think about and obsess over these thoughts, the more your brain thinks that this is something dangerous and serious to pay attention to. You may even start avoiding certain places and doing certain things- and this just gives your thoughts power over you- which they don’t have any, if you don’t give it to them. They are just thoughts. They are annoying and disturbing, and the best thing to do about them is to ignore them, distract yourself, and move on to something else. Don’t pay attention to them, don’t think about them, don’t focus on them, and it will get better.
Anytime a thought like this flashed through my mind, I would say to myself: “Nope, I’m not gonna think about that. Nope, not interested.” I almost imagine myself blocking the thought, like, “No, not today.” You are not subject to your thoughts, your thoughts are subject to you. Just know that you are NOT your thoughts, and this too shall pass.
5. Postpartum Anxiety/Depression
I actually was prepared, as much as one can be, for this. I did a lot of research so that I could be prepared and know what to expect. I believe that this is one reason why I didn’t experience much postpartum depression. I definitely had some postpartum anxiety though. I tend to be a worrier and overly analytical, anxious, and perfectionist, so even before having my baby, I knew that I was at a higher risk for postpartum depression/anxiety.
I believe that postpartum depression and anxiety is not talked about as much as it should be, especially in the Slavic community, and this causes a lot of moms to suffer in silence. This is why I want to talk about it here. Postpartum depression and anxiety is different from the ‘baby blues’. The ‘baby blues’ is less intense, common, normal and usually resolves within about 2 weeks.
Before having my baby, I met with my therapist (who I found through my insurance at work) and she talked me through what I can expect and ways I can prepare, cope and help myself. I think that just being aware of what postpartum depression/anxiety is, is good before having your baby. Having a mental health plan and knowing preventative things you can do, the symptoms to look for, ways you can cope, and having your spouse and loved ones be aware of what to look for is very important. I will mention again that if you are finding that you are having postpartum depression or anxiety symptoms that are not getting better and are so intense that they are interfering with daily life, please get help.
Here are some things that I did after having my baby that helped me:
- Go for walks – In the first few weeks after giving birth, I would leave the baby at home my husband and get outside, usually in the evenings. It was just for a 10-15 minute walk around my neighborhood. Fresh air and some body movement can do so much to lift your spirits and improve a mood. I would listen to an uplifting song, sermon, audio book, or podcast while I walked.
- Get some sunshine and vitamin D- Whether this is just sitting out on your deck or balcony, or going for a walk, or taking a vitamin D supplement-especially in the winter when sunshine is scarce. Vitamin D helps to lift your mood!
- Communicated to my husband when I was overwhelmed and needed to get out of the house- even if it was just to grocery shop, or to go to Target for and hour.
- Some self care-Got a massage at a local spa (hello, Groupon!), took a bath, gave myself a simple home-made sugar face scrub and a face mask.
- Accepted help that was offered, even if I felt bad or embarrassed that my house was a mess. When my aunt offered to tidy up my bedroom, or my friend did a load of laundry for me, or my sister hired a cleaning lady, or all the wonderful friends and family that brought us a meal, and some company.
- Prayer and reading the Bible- I would get so much supernatural strength, comfort and peace after spending some time in reading the Bible and prayer. God knows where we are and what we need, so if we just draw near to Him, he will renew our strength.
- Avoided caffeine- caffeine increases symptoms of anxiety (like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest tightness, etc) So avoid it if you are experiencing postpartum anxiety. Of course, this is easier said than done when you’re sleep deprived.
- Gratitude- being grateful for a healthy baby, and all the helpful friends and family.
- Singing, dancing or listening to music.
- Deep breathing and meditation- filling your lungs with oxygen is like an antidote to anxiety and stress. Take 5 deep, slow breaths. Practice mindfulness.
- Meeting up with friends/family- not isolating is a big one. Make an effort to get out of the house and meet up with a friend to talk- for some coffee, for a walk in the park, or a walk in the mall.
- Sometimes, just crying. Have a good cry and let it all out.
- Good nutrition, water and sleep- Our body and brain is so interconnected. When we don’t take good care of our body- by feeding it good food, moving it, hydrating and resting- it has such a big affect on our mental state.
- I also took my prenatal vitamins, vitamin D, and placenta pills. I had my placenta encapsulated because it is said to help balance out hormones and with preventing postpartum anxiety/depression.
6. Cold coffee
My coffee or tea would always get cold before I finished drinking it. It just seemed like something would always come up before I got around to taking another sip. Either the baby was crying, or had a blow out, or needed a nap, or to eat. The cold coffee/tea situation was easily remedied by warming it up in the microwave-sometimes more than once.
I felt so uncertain about every decision I had to make in taking care of my son. I was such a newb and had no clue what I was doing most of the time. I felt like a lost and scared puppy. I did a lot of Googling during this time and I would constantly question my actions: ‘Is it normal for him to cry? Am I breastfeeding correctly? What if he’s too hot? What if he’s too cold? Is he sleeping too much or not enough? Are the car seat straps too tight or too loose? Am I playing and engaging with him enough? Should I be reading more books to him like that mom I saw on instagram? Am I doing this mom thing right?’
I think all this uncertainty came partly because I am an overly anxious, perfectionist, and analytical type. And partly, just because I was doing something I had never done before in my life.
I like to compare my postpartum experience to learning a new job or skill. In the beginning you feel so lost, and don’t really know what you’re doing- but then, slowly but surely, you start getting the hang of it. Eventually I learned to trust my mamma instincts and I started feeling more confident in what I was doing as a mom.
8. Hearing phantom baby cries
On many occasions, I was convinced I could hear my baby crying, even when he wasn’t. Especially if I was doing something loud, like taking a shower, vacuuming, or washing the dishes. I would check the baby monitor, or his room and I would see that he fast asleep. It was such a weird feeling. It’s that high-alert, mamma instinct that kicks in combined with sleep deprivation and mental and physical exhaustion that makes you hear things. Hearing phantom baby cries did go away within a few months.
9. Always starving and thirsty
I was not prepared for how hungry and thirsty I would be especially with breastfeeding. I was constantly famished, and parched-like I hadn’t eaten or drank water in days. I think you burn through so many calories partly because of breast milk production and party because you’re awake and using energy almost around the clock. I had a snack station next to my bed and by my couch- filled with Granola bars, nuts, dates, and lactation cookies. And the awesome hospital water jug with the crinkly straw followed me around wherever I went. So stay hydrated and well fed my sweet mama friends.
Would you like to share some postpartum things that YOU didn’t expect? I’d love to hear your tips and experience. Let me know in the comments below!