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My Postpartum Journey: The First 4 Weeks

Motherhood has been quite the journey already, and I’m only 4 weeks in. There’s a reason the first 12 weeks are called the 4th trimester. I want to keep it real about the ups and downs, so here’s my experience so far!

Postpartum: Week 1

ICYMI, I had a c-section (in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic) so this meant I was in the hospital for about 2.5 days. After surgery Wednesday morning, Colin, Stella and I were in a room by ourselves until Friday at lunchtime, when we were released. In that time, we had a lot of medical visitors: nurses, lactation consultants, pediatricians, etc. It was helpful because the nurses did a lot of her diaper changes and we were able to ask a lot of questions, but it was also tough because we weren’t able to sleep much. Colin was on a couch and I was on a hospital bed, and Stella’s glucose levels were being monitored, which meant I needed to feed her at LEAST every 2 hours. I still found this time helpful, as I was pretty confined to my bed after having major surgery, and it was nice to easily ask any questions we had.

Speaking to my physical recovery, I didn’t get out of bed to go any farther than the bathroom in my hospital room for the first day. On day 2, I walked a few laps around the wing of the hospital I was in. I have heard from a lot of people that post-c-section, sitting up and walking were difficult activities. I did not experience this, though I was moving slower than usual and did feel pretty out of it.

When we were released on Friday, there were mixed emotions. We were excited to get back to our own space (and out of a COVID hospital), but nervous to take our baby home for the first time. Most of the first few days are already hazy, but there are a few things that stand out:

  1. I was feeling well enough to go for walks outside (which helped my mental and physical health). I truly think walking has made a difference in the speed of my recovery from surgery. I walked less than a mile on our first day home (very slowly) and built up my distance little by little every day.
  2. Postpartum hormones hit me in a big way. I sobbed when we tried to put Stella down to sleep in another room and watch her on the monitor – I wasn’t ready for her to be out of my sight. I also cried for no reason at all almost every night for the first week. The combination of plummeting hormones, a lot of lifestyle changes, the weight of responsibility and lack of sleep really come at you fast. If you’re in this stage of postpartum right now, know that it’s very common and it gets better!
  3. Breastfeeding was challenging. It still hurt a lot at this point and the feedings were long and frequent. I questioned my decision to breastfeed many times during this week. Again, know that it gets easier!
  4. We had our first pediatrician appointment where we learned that Stella had surpassed her birth weight (very quickly for a breastfed baby!). This was great news, as it meant we could stretch her night feedings to 4 hours (equating to ~3-hour sleep stretches if she didn’t wake us sooner).
  5. I learned that a lot of the postpartum journey involves fluids leaking everywhere. From bleeding (for weeks) as your uterus returns to it’s pre-baby size, to milk leaking from your boobs, and insane night sweats.. there’s a lot going on and it isn’t the most comfortable.

Overall, the first week was a rollercoaster. In the low moments, I was gritting my teeth through the pain of breastfeeding or crying for no apparent reason. In the high moments, I was snuggling Stella, staring at her, or out for a family walk.

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 1

  1. Movement and sunshine (get outside if you can!)
  2. Naps (I tried to take one every afternoon while Stella napped)
  3. Netflix – in the early days, it’s helpful to have a show to watch as you nurse. Mine was Schitt’s Creek!
  4. Talking to other moms – this was the most helpful, as it helped me realize this is temporary

Postpartum: Week 2

Week 2 was still challenging, but less so. We had our first visitors (family and very close friends), went on our first walk in a park outside of our neighborhood, and I started to get more comfortable with breastfeeding outside of my bedroom. Every day started to feel a little easier. I found myself feeling more confident thanks to the following highlights from week 2:

  1. Breastfeeding was less painful and more efficient. I moisturized after every feed and Stella and I had both learned a little more, making it easier. It also helped to not be confined to my room every time I fed her. I knew what breastfeeding items I needed and kept them with me (although we no longer *need* the boppy). There were a couple rough days when I think she was having a growth spurt, as she wanted to be fed non-stop. Luckily this didn’t last long!
  2. Nighttime feeds started to take less time. We went from being up for an hour each time she woke up to being up for about 30 minutes to feed, burp, change her and get her back down. This is because my milk started letting down faster and she was more efficient at eating.
  3. I was walking 3 miles at once at this point, and by the end of week 2 I was feeling good enough to start incorporating some slow bodyweight movements into my day (ex: wall sits, bird dogs). Daily movement helps me feel like I am accomplishing something and gives me endorphins. Even though I’m not “working out” yet, this has done wonders for my mental health.
  4. The random crying subsided as did the sadness that had been hitting me every evening. My hormones started to feel like they were evening out.
  5. I got comfortable with Stella napping in another room while I watched her on the monitor. This just required time for my fear to subside. Even though I’m now comfortable with this, I still keep her in whatever room I’m in when she naps most of the time.
  6. I learned that while leaving the house with a newborn is more difficult, it is not impossible. When we went to the park for our walk, we did 1 lap (1.5 miles) and had to stop at the car to feed and change her before going on lap 2. It wasn’t very difficult since we had a diaper bag packed with a diaper, changing pad and burp cloth. It helped me feel more like myself to know I could leave the house and all hell wouldn’t break loose!

A little bit of time spent learning each other made a big difference. Hang in there, it gets easier!

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 2

  1. Experimenting with different breastfeeding locations so I felt less confined/tied down.
  2. Trying hard things: taking our Sunday walk to a park and seeing it could be done with a newborn.
  3. Movement and sunshine (always).
  4. Talking to other moms (again, always).

Postpartum: Week 3

You may be picking up a pattern here, but we continued on the path of things getting a little easier every day. Here’s a little bit about how week 3 went:

  1. Stella had another great pediatrician appointment and we could stretch her feedings to every 5 hours at night (although her waiting that long for a feed is a rarity).
  2. We started giving Stella one bottle of pumped milk a day at exactly 2 weeks post birth. Our pediatrician recommended that we start as early as possible (you may have heard of Nipple Confusion as a reason not to do this, I encourage you to read Cribsheet by Emily Oster as the data does not support this). As I write this, we’ve been doing this consistently for 2 weeks, and it still has its ups and downs. Some days she guzzles down the bottle, other days she is very agitated by it. We try to have my husband give her the bottle and I leave the room to pump so that 1) I can get some “me” time and 2) she isn’t agitated by the usual source of feeding being so close. We’ve tried different bottles and different times of day to try to get a system down, as it’s important that she gets used to a bottle so that I am not the only option for feeding her.
  3. This week, I started trying to wear her in my wildbird ring sling at least once per day. Even if it’s for a quick walk outside or just to get stuff done around the house, I love having her so close to me but having my hands free to do things. I also want her to get used to being worn so that I can feed her from the sling when she’s a little older!
  4. At first, I thought Stella was resistant to being swaddled. I could hear her fighting the swaddle in the SNOO, she regularly fought her arms free, and she napped unswaddled during the day. She does love to self-soothe with her hands, so I purchased a Love To Dream SwaddleUp and started using it this week. Now usually naps in it during the day, and I’ve had much better luck with this than a traditional swaddle. We also have the Ollie Swaddle which we will transition to when she’s truly ready for arms-out swaddling.
  5. My physical recovery continued to progress, so I committed to walking 3 miles each morning with Stella, post-lunch and post-dinner walks as a family, and 15 minutes of bodyweight movement. I did have a slight scare where my uterine bleeding seemed to tick up. I called the Doctor and we determined there was nothing to worry about, it meant I was getting near the end of my postpartum bleeding (yay!).

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 3

  1. Reminding myself daily that consistency is key for a newborn to understand. This is why we keep trying with the bottle even when she gets frustrated. This is also good practice for when we sleep train her later on.
  2. I stopped watching so much TV while nursing and opted to spend more time on the screened in porch, reading and creating content.
  3. Movement and sunshine (always).
  4. Talking to other moms (again, always).

Postpartum: Week 4

Time is flying! At this point, we got into a better groove and not much changed week over week (besides Stella’s continued growth). Here are a few highlights from week 4:

  1. You can pass a lot of time just waiting on baby to do something (not knowing when they will) and it makes you start to really crave a schedule. This was our last week of being completely unscheduled: feeding on demand, sleeping on demand, etc. This is because she’s still too young to really learn habits and adhere to a schedule. Next week, we’ll start trying to push her feedings to every 2-3 hours (sometimes she still wants to be fed hourly). We’ll also start paying attention to her wake windows and try to keep them within the average range for her age, so she’s awake often enough to sleep longer at night, but not awake so long that she’s getting overtired. We’ll be using Taking Cara Babies system – you can follow her on instagram @takingcarababies to learn more 🙂
  2. While we still left this week completely unscheduled, we started implementing a few of the sleep tips from Taking Cara Babies. Usually when she fussed, I rushed to feed her. This week, I swaddled her, gave her a pacifier, and put on white noise to see if those soothed her prior to me feeding her. I learned that sometimes she was fussing because she wanted to sleep, and even if she was hungry, these tips sometimes allowed us to delay back to back feedings and get her to take a larger feeding when she did eat.
  3. Stella will likely be in the SNOO until the 5-or-6-month mark, but I wanted to get her used to her room and her crib well before we transition her into it. This week, I started putting Stella down in her crib during some of her naps.
  4. Bottle feeding is finally starting to catch on. She’s finished a few bottles and is visibly less agitated by them, though there are still times she rejects it. If your baby won’t take the bottle, start early and stick with it!
  5. My physical recovery continued to feel good. I felt ready for more, but knew I was a few days away from my postpartum appointment and waiting a few more days before diving more into things wouldn’t matter much in the long run. I continued with bodyweight strength training and lots of daily walks (with Stella in either the stroller or the ring sling). I also went on a light bike ride since it’s low impact.
  6. I spent little bursts of time alone. My bike ride was solo and I left Stella with Colin to go on a quick grocery run. I miss her whenever I’m away from her, but it felt really good to know that I can be away from her and she will be completely fine. If you’re hesitant to leave your baby with anyone else (which I completely understand with breastfeeding) – I can’t tell you how freeing and helpful it is for your mental health. People have been having babies forever – just look how many adults there are! Your child will be fine, take some time for you.

What Helped Me Get Through Postpartum Week 4

  1. Knowing that a schedule would be possible soon, which would help my sanity.
  2. Seeing progress with bottle feedings.
  3. My upcoming postpartum appointment.
  4. Letting my husband take more alone time with Stella.
  5. Movement and sunshine (always).
  6. Talking to other moms (again, always).

What’s Next?

As I write this, we’re in Postpartum week 5. This week we are focused on:

  1. Spacing out daytime feedings (minimum 2 hours in between, unless she is clustering before bed at night). I’ve found that a pacifier and her stroller or swing can be helpful to keep her calm when I need to stretch the feeding 15-30 minutes. More stimulating activities, like tummy time or playing with mom and dad don’t seem to be distracting enough 🙂
  2. Customizing our SNOO experience for Stella’s needs. For the first 4 weeks, I had the motion limiter on so that the rocking didn’t get as aggressive as it could (this is recommended for very young babies). In week 5, I turned that setting off, and after a few nights, I also turned up the sensitivity one notch up from normal. This is because from 4-6AM, she gets very loud due to her sleeping lighter than the other hours of the night. She is loud enough to wake me up, but not crying/agitated enough to trigger the SNOO to rock harder or the white noise to get louder, and not awake enough for me to actually need to get her out of the SNOO. So far, this adjustment seems to be beneficial – we are down to 2 night feedings most nights.
  3. My postpartum appointment went really well, and I am cleared for resuming all physical activity! I am starting slow with short runs and light dumbbells, then progressing over time. I couldn’t be happier to receive clearance at 4 weeks 2 days postpartum! Stella has enjoyed her first couple of jogs in the jogging stroller 🙂

How was your postpartum journey? What do you wish you knew prior to having your baby?

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My First Time Mom Birth Story

I welcomed my first child on July 29, 2020. This is the story of how she entered the world! If you prefer video, I shared her story on IGTV (linked below). If reading is more your thing, scroll on!

Stella’s Birth Plan

First things first: what was our birth plan? There are mixed opinions about having one. Some will say “kids will do what they want to do, so what’s the point”? But, as a first time mom, I wanted to go into the situation feeling informed and empowered, so I opted to make a loose “birth plan”.

My plan/hope was to have an unmedicated birth: spontaneous labor, no pain meds, and a vaginal delivery. This was for a few reasons:

  • I don’t take much medication (prenatals and the occasional allergy tab)
  • Women have been giving birth since the dawn of time, and no one has been pregnant forever – I was confident the baby would try to come out on her own
  • I don’t like being numbed or feeling out of control
  • I wanted the experience to feel empowering

I knew there was a chance that birth would not go the way I had “planned” but after doing my research and putting thought into it, this was the experience I was hoping for.

Induction Plans Leading Up to Stella’s Birth

Stella was due July 20, 2020. When I first got pregnant and was given my due date, the Doctor told me they don’t let patients enter a 42nd week of pregnancy, and they would want an induction scheduled by 41.5 weeks. Fast forward to my due date and Stella did not arrive. Since I didn’t want to induce if at all possible, I scheduled an appointment for 4 days after my due date, where I would get an ultrasound to check on her development and my amniotic fluid levels. She still hadn’t come by then, so I went to my appointment. The midwife I saw told me everything looked good, but they still recommended induction at the 41 week mark. This meant I had a few less days than I expected (as the Doctor had said 41.5 weeks). She asked that I come in 2 days later for cervical ripening, which would be followed by labor induction the following day (at exactly 41 weeks).

I was so surprised by this suggestion since I had just been told that everything looked good for me to continue on with my pregnancy. But since a medical professional gave the recommendation, I went with it and scheduled an induction. Long story short, as soon as I left the office I didn’t feel right about it and called back to push back the induction date 2 more days. We then got to my induction date (July 28) and I still didn’t feel quite right about moving forward with induction, so I again called to switch my appointment. I scheduled a non-stress test on July 29 to determine if I could continue with pregnancy rather than an induction. It may sound like a lot of back and forth, but I was proud of myself for advocating for what I wanted. I was trying to give Stella every opportunity to come on her own.

Mind you, I was very ready to be done being pregnant – just not enough to compromise the hopes/plans that I had in place. This means I spent a lot of time trying every natural labor induction technique out there. Eating dates and pineapple, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, walking (5+ miles/day), sex, nipple stimulation (I used my breast pump). Since none of these things were too taxing to do, I had no problem doing them daily, though I can say from experience that none of them worked 🙂

Laboring at Home

Anyway, after all of the induction drama, on the night of July 28, around 7PM my contractions started (seems like Stella had heard that her induction was scheduled to start on July 28 at 8PM and she waited until the last minute to make sure she tried to exit on her time!). The contractions started off pain-free, but felt like a consistent tightening in my stomach about every 10 minutes, so I started timing them (if you are in your 3rd trimester I highly recommend downloading a contraction timing app). By 9PM, they were getting closer together and became uncomfortable, so I started laboring on my birthing ball. My husband knew we could be in for a long haul, so he suggested we go to bed and try to get some sleep. We headed upstairs to our bedroom, and I called my OBGYN to ask if trying to sleep would slow down labor. They said I could try to sleep but recommended a warm bath and taking tylenol first. I took the bath then laid down and realized the contractions had become far too uncomfortable, there was no way I could sleep through them. When I called the OB, they also said I should call back when my contractions were coming every 6 minutes for more than 2 hours. From 10PM-12AM, I had painful contractions every 6 minutes or less, so I called back and they told me to head to the hospital.

Labor at the Hospital

When we got to the hospital, things moved pretty slowly due to the pandemic. We usually would have had valet service so we could get straight up to our room, but Colin had to drop me off, then find parking and come back into the hospital. We also had to have our temperatures checked and fill out paperwork sharing that we did not show symptoms. This all took quite some time, so I didn’t get up to labor and delivery until 1AM and my contractions were getting worse and worse.

When we got up to labor and delivery, Colin was sent to the family waiting area and I was sent to triage where to get checked for dilation. It took about 15 minutes for the nurse to come check on me in triage, in which time I was by myself and starting to get EXTREMELY uncomfortable. The contractions had reached a 9/10 on a pain scale and were coming every 2-3ish minutes. I was having very uncomfortable bowel movements (and had been since I was at home), and I was exhausted as I neared 24 hours without sleep.

When the triage nurse arrived to check me, she found that I was 4cm dilated and asked if I wanted an epidural. I said no, but also told her I was potentially reconsidering given the level of pain I was in and knowing that at only 4cm dilated and running on empty, this was becoming really challenging. There is no “estimated time” to get from 4cm to the full 10cm of dilation (where you have to be in order to start pushing). Knowing this and knowing the pain wasn’t likely to get any better, I opted to take the epidural, even though it wasn’t in my original plan. I was surprised to make the decision because the pain outweighed my fear of being numbed, but in the end, I know I made the right decision for me at the time.

Once I agreed to the epidural, I was moved to my own labor and delivery room and Colin joined me there. The anesthesiologist came to administer the epidural (closer to around 2AM). As soon as the epidural started working, I no longer knew I was having contractions, which was helpful so I could try to rest. They were being monitored using a strap around my stomach, so we could see when they were coming, I could just no longer feel them. Stella’s heart rate was also being monitored using a strap around my stomach.

A few minutes after I was given the epidural and got settled in bed, the room suddenly flooded with people. I didn’t know it at the time, but Stella’s heart rate was dropping during some of my contractions (from about 160/170 bpm to 60ish bpm). The nurses flipped me onto my side to see if her heart rate would pick back up, and it did for a bit. The thought was that maybe the umbilical cord was getting pressure in the position I was in, and moving me would relieve that pressure allow her heart rate to come back up. Unfortunately, her heart rate continued to drop during later contractions. About an hour into this happening, the Doctor came in, broke my water and placed a monitor on her head to see if we could get a better read on her heart rate. She explained that if this dip in heart rate continued, she would need to call for a c-section. I understood, but was hopeful that if we continued to shift my position everything would be fine. Around 4AM, the doctor came back and made the call for a c-section, as her heart rate continued to drop without an identifiable reason and I was not at 10cm dilated so was not cleared to start pushing her out.

It was considered an “urgent” c-section, but not an emergency, so my husband was able to be in the room with me. It was also a blessing in disguise that I got the epidural, because this meant that I could receive additional numbing medication rather than getting knocked out for the surgery. We had a curtain up so I couldn’t see anything, but cutting her out was a very quick process. She was taken, checked and cleaned by the nurse, and I was told there was nothing identifiable wrong. We don’t know why her heart rate was dipping. Then she was given to Colin and me as I was getting sewn back up. Seeing her for the first time was a mixed bag of emotions: nerve-wracking, exciting, beautiful.. and so much more.

As sad as I was to have the experience stray so far from what I was hoping for, it was more important to me that my baby was healthy and in my arms. It was still traumatic and has taken a lot of processing on my end, but it helps to remember that birth is one small part of having a baby, and I have a lifetime of happy memories to make with this girl!

What was your birth experience?