Welcome to probably the most vulnerable blog post I have written to date.
If you’re not already a parent, I bet you didn’t know there was a fourth trimester. 😉 The first three months after birth is a transition period for both baby and mama and has been coined as the “fourth trimester” and here’s how ours went…
*Disclaimer: there’s going to be some TMI / NSFW items discussed, so consider this your warning. lol
I had always planned to attempt breastfeeding (without putting too much pressure on myself if it didn’t end up being our journey). I will admit that I didn’t do enough research to prepare myself and my body for breastfeeding. People always talk about how challenging breastfeeding is and while I believed that, I assumed it would be straightforward and my body would just work (… you know that they say about assuming…😬). If the baby had a tongue tie or wasn’t eating enough or whatever, we’d cross that bridge when we got there, guessing that those would be the only potential challenges we would run into — LOL! so naïve. After giving birth and while trying to feed Sophie, I found out that I have flat nipples (which creates a challenge for baby to latch properly) and I wasn’t producing enough colostrum — literally only collecting the smallest DROPS even after a ton of effort trying to extract more.
The [incredibly rude] hospital pediatrician told us that if we were not giving baby 5ml of colostrum per feeding our baby would get dehydrated; this was especially important to note because Sophie was born during a period of the hottest days on record in Seattle. Because my milk didn’t come in until June 30th — four days after giving birth — we started Sophie on formula because she was born a week late and was hungry… and my body just wasn’t cooperating. For the first month postpartum I entertained the idea of switching to breastfeeding and only occasionally supplementing with formula, but it had become such a point of stress for me. I was so discouraged / daunted by everything related to breastfeeding and Sophie seemed perfectly happy with formula so we just decided to stick with it. I may try breastfeeding again (this time with more knowledge / research) for any subsequent babies, but formula has been good to us so I won’t be too hard on myself if it doesn’t work out again in the future.
A word of advice for any future or soon-to-be mamas that would like to breastfeed, get familiar with your boobs — learn how to hand express, play around with your breast pump, and harvest any colostrum you may produce leading up to baby’s arrival (it can be saved, just like regular breastmilk can)! Check out Postpartum RN Karrie Locher’s IG info on this “liquid gold” as well as her other [MANY] breastfeeding-related tips & tricks. I also recommend @mommy.labornurse‘s IG breastfeeding highlight — she gives some amazing step-by-step visuals on how to hand express (which I wish I had watched during pregnancy… oh well!).
Recovery After Vaginal Delivery
This is just as fun as it sounds. If you’re someone who did not experience any tearing during birth, consider yourself incredibly fortunate. I experienced a second degree perineal tear as well as a labial tear; I honestly didn’t even know that the second one was a thing! So I had stitches all over the place down there. Going to the bathroom and showering were not my favorite activities during those first few weeks of recovery. 😖 Make sure that you stock up on supplies for continuing recovery at home — I shared my favorite Postpartum Essentials here.
My post-birth uterine “flushing” went well (for what it was 😬)… I think? This process is the uterus shrinking back to its normal size, healing, and releasing anything remaining inside leftover from the pregnancy. I guess it takes about ~2 months for the uterus to shrink back to it’s pre-pregnancy size, so I feel like it’s on track.
It took my body about 3 weeks to stop actively bleeding; after that I downgraded my pads from the mega diaper type to long pantyliners for about a week to capture the small amount of residual… discharge(?) and then after that fourth week I stopped needing to use pads altogether. Everyone’s body is different and that lochia elimination time can range between 4-6 weeks before your uterus is done discharging everything. I really HATE using pads so it was such a relief to be done using them. 🙌🏼
Little did I know I would need to use those pads again quite soon after that. Almost two weeks after my PP bleeding had stopped (5w and 5d after Sophie arrived, on 8/5) I got what I assume was my first postpartum period. To my understanding most women who aren’t breastfeeding get their first PP period somewhere between 6-8 weeks after giving birth so this was pretty aligned with that estimate. The bleeding lasted for about a week, but it was way heavier than average and there were a lot of clots — using tampons alone wasn’t even close to being enough absorption so I had to double up and use the rest of those thick pads again (which is so not normal for my typical menstrual cycle). I even had a huge leak which hasn’t happened to me since middle school; all of this freaked me out so much that I ended up reaching out my OB office’s dr on call. The doctor that I spoke with didn’t seem concerned and gave me a couple of recommendations to help manage the situation until it resolved itself. Since I’m not a medical professional (and every situation is different) I’m not going to share what she suggested, but if this happens to you too just know that it’s definitely normal. I got my second PP period on 9/9, the timing of which is abnormal for me because my cycle used to be pretty textbook in its regularity, but this period was much more in line with my pre-pregnancy experience so I hope it at least continues on that same track going forward as my cycle regulates itself.
6 Week Postpartum Check Up
Six week check up w/ OB: “A postpartum checkup is a post-birth appointment with your doctor or midwife to check how you’re doing physically, mentally and emotionally after having a baby. Your practitioner will examine you to make sure you’re recovering as expected physically and also ask you questions about how you’re handling your life with a new baby.” (per WhatToExpect)
It’s pretty routine to have your first (and only) postpartum checkup around four to six weeks after you deliver and it counts as your annual gynecological visit, so you can expect the usual type of exams, like a pelvic exam — including a pap smear.
My OB’s office requests that their patients fill out a questionnaire to assess their postpartum mental health (which I think should be standard practice for everyone postpartum! SO grateful for my doctor and her practice), they took my weight and blood pressure, discussed any concerns / answered any questions that I had, was given a pelvic exam and pap smear, and my doctor felt my uterus by pressing on my abdomen to make sure it was shrinking back to its normal size. I received a clean bill of [postpartum] health!
I was so excited to be cleared by my dr to ride our Peloton again!! I am basically be starting from scratch since I haven’t ridden it since last October so I’ll be taking the Low Impact / Advanced Beginner rides to start building my strength back up. I’m not going to push myself too hard, but I seriously can’t wait to get my body in a healthy place!
Oh, and also: it’s hard enough to adjust to the seat on a bike when you HAVEN’T pushed a baby out of your body… this cushioned cover has come in SO CLUTCH for getting back on the bike because my seat hurt so bad during the rides I could barely focus on the actual workout! The cushioned cover makes it a lot more tolerable to get my rides completed and is helping my body re-acclimate to sitting on the bike. Eventually, I’ll take it off and just sit on the normal bike seat, but I’m grateful to have the extra cushion until then.
I was shocked at how different my body felt after the baby came out. I mentioned in Sophie’s Birth Story that I wasn’t expecting my torso to feel so empty immediately after she left my body. I mean, of course it makes sense, but my belly was SO BIG and full of baby, fluid, etc. that I guess I expected it to reduce more slowly over time? My belly was pretty firm while the baby was in it and after giving birth it became immediately soft and squishy. I’ll admit it was kind of weird to feel my empty stomach during my first post-delivery shower… it felt so unfamiliar. I was BEYOND THRILLED that my baby had arrived, but I missed carrying her. When you co-habitate for 9 months, you kind of get used to being with your roommate, you know? It’s fantastic that she’s finally here (the moment I have literally been dreaming of for as long as I can remember!) — it was just a mental shift for me.
I definitely gained weight while pregnant (fat on my actual body in addition to the increased volume of fluids, the placenta, our baby, etc.) so I’m still working on being okay with my “new normal”. I am trying to approach it in a healthy way and not feel to much pressure to “bounce back” quickly. I lost 20+ lbs just from delivering Sophie, but I still have a LONG way to go to get down to a healthy weight for my height. 😬
Given my body changes, the pieces in this brand’s collection (which are specifically useful for the fourth trimester!) have been lifesavers for this temporary period to bridge the gap in my wardrobe. I am also obsessed with these skinny jeans that fit six sizes in one pair (I got the Kodak color)!! No guesswork in finding my “new” size and having a hormonal meltdown over it. 🙌🏼 They’re an investment to be sure, but 100000000% worth it, in my opinion.
One thing that I wasn’t expecting to deal with postpartum has been Mommy Wrist (which is a casual term for tendinitis). I started to notice it a couple of weeks after giving birth and thought that I had just slept in a weird position. At first, it was just my right wrist / thumb, but then a few days later it developed in my left wrist / thumb as well and the discomfort has just continued since. It’s the worst for me in the mornings after my hands have been completely still for hours overnight and as my hands get moving throughout the day it doesn’t bother me as much, but it’s super uncomfortable in my wrists and thumbs when I pick Sophie up for the first time in the morning. I brought it up at Sophie’s 2mo pediatric appt (as our family physician is also Sophie’s doctor) and she told me that it would eventually go away and that it isn’t something that I will have to deal with forever (thank goodness because it HURTS). She suggested that when I pick Sophie up, to try to keep my thumb close to my hand instead of spreading it out (there are also wrist braces specifically designed to help with this) and she also said that a physical therapist may have some exercises that I could do to help, but I haven’t looked into finding a PT yet.
Postpartum Hair Loss
I absolutely hate that this is even a thing. Your body has been hanging onto all of your strands of hair for months and months, meaning that it’s been thick and lustrous throughout your pregnancy (a major perk, in my opinion!). But after baby arrives your body decides that in addition to all of the other “fun” things your body endures in the postpartum period it’s time to let go of ALL of those hairs at once. 😭 So cruel! Mine didn’t start really falling out until about a week before this post went live, so almost three months to the day.
To keep my hair healthy throughout pregnancy (since I wasn’t getting regular trims during the pandemic) I cut down on my hot tool use and frequently applied my secret weapon, which seems to have worked really well to minimize split ends / damage. I’m doing my best to keep what hair I DO have left healthy and encourage new hair growth.
Anyway, to minimize the hair loss / encourage growth, I’ve heard about a few products and tricks that I plan to try and I’ll let you know how it goes. I am not a physician so you should absolutely discuss your concerns with your doctor; I’m only sharing solutions that I have heard to be effective by others:
Trick #1 // Product #1 // Product #2 // Product #3 // Product #4
I had just let my hair continue to grow throughout pregnancy (mostly because I wanted it long for my maternity photos and Sophie’s newborn photos), but I decided that a new haircut might help me feel a bit more confident in this new stage of life (plus, who doesn’t love a fresh haircut?!). The length that I decided on is still considered long (by most standards), but it was cut quite a bit shorter than what I am used to and while I love it, it’s still taking some adjusting to (like squeezing out excess water in the shower or how much product to apply, how to style, etc.). If you’re local and looking for a hair stylist / colorist, I love my girl Marissa at Savoir Faire Salon in Fremont — tell her Natalie sent you!
After Sophie was born I found myself crying so much of the time. Not like feeling super anxious or in a having-scary-thoughts kind of way, but I was just feeling… overly emotional? I would cry because I was feeling so happy, I cried watching sentimental commercials, I cried because my baby’s growing so fast, I cried because I don’t recognize my body, I cried out of exhaustion, I cried because I love my husband and my baby so much… basically, there was just a lot of crying going on. This could very well just be me because I have always been a fairly emotional human so don’t assume you’ll necessarily be the same, but also… don’t be surprised if you are. 😅
When I talked to my OB about this (after assuring her that they haven’t been sad tears, but also promising to let her know if they ever are!) she said that the average time for hormones to regulate is about ~6 months (but everyone is different). I feel like around the two-month postpartum mark my emotional hormones began to level out to something much more normal for me — I’m still a bit more emotional than I was before, but I’m not triggered as easily as I was for the first ~8 weeks PP. Let yourself experience all of the feelings, reach out for help if you start to find yourself feeling overwhelmed, angry, sad, and / or hopeless… and stay hydrated! 😉
A lot of families will do a Fresh 48 session with their newborn, but due to the 2020 pandemic (no “extras” permitted in the hospital) and so many events getting postponed into 2021 our photographer was not available to see us until a couple of weeks after baby’s birth (which is actually fine because Sophie’s mild jaundice had faded by the time we had our photos taken).
As with all of our professional milestone photos (engagement, wedding, pregnancy announcement, and maternity) we used Blue Rose Photography who we absolutely adore! You can see my curated selection of favorite family photos in this post… it was so hard to narrow down my choices!!!
Babies grow so incredibly fast so if you are on the fence about getting newborn photos taken, I highly encourage you to have the early days captured because they’re only this tiny once. 😭
Speaking of time, it passes so slowly in the moment, but all of a sudden the day is over and I have no idea where the hours went. Between Sophie eating every few hrs, trying to rest / maintain my healing body, cleaning bottles, eating my own meals, taking care of our old dog and his frequent needs, all of that in addition to trying to fit in daily home maintenance… all of a sudden the day is over and I feel like I have nothing to show for it. 🤣 We’re in survival mode over here and while I don’t want our baby to grow up too quickly, I am looking forward to the days when we can go a bit longer between feedings and get more done during the day + sleep a bit more through the night.
*UPDATE (2.5 months in): Sophie eats every ~4 hours during the day now and often goes 5-6 hours between feeds overnight, so we’re feeling very fortunate in regards to her [current] sleep patterns. It was definitely rough for the first few weeks when her stomach was super tiny and she needed to eat every ~2 hours and while we were adjusting to our new life as a family of 3, but once we got our feet back underneath us and a few weeks had passed, things got so much smoother!
Tl;dr — things will get better, it just takes time to get into the swing of things.
Adjusting to Life with a Newborn
There’s definitely a bit of a learning curve as first-time parents. I feel like aside from the breastfeeding debacle (see first section above) it’s been a fairly easy transition for us. *knocks on wood* And to Sophie’s credit, she was a breastfeeding champ — the issues were all with me and my body.
Sophie has truly been an easy baby… she has willingly accepted everything we have provided to her (such as bottle nipples, pacifiers, formula, vitamin D supplement, etc.) and we’re so grateful that we haven’t had to play the Guessing Game with any of those things, trying to determine what she likes. That’s not to say we haven’t had our struggles, but they’re the average new-parents-with-an-infant struggles that are not unique to our baby.
This transition has been particularly challenging for my husband who hasn’t really spent much time around kids (especially babies!). The adjustment to our new life hasn’t been the easiest for him to acclimate to; I hope that as baby grows up things will get better. He never had my same deep desire to be a parent so dealing with the lack of sleep, listening to a scream-crying baby, and having to do extra chores (laundry, sterilizing bottles, etc.) aren’t offset by the same feeling of intense fulfillment that I have. Don’t get me wrong, he loves our daughter, but the frustrations seem to hit him harder than they do to me. After about two months and chatting with other parents about their experiences it seems like he’s feeling happier and so much more confident in being a dad.
I would say that after the first two weeks PP we felt like we were finally getting our feet back underneath us and by two months all three of us had become a lot more comfortable with our new normal. By then we were in something that loosely resembles a routine / schedule, which is so great! We’re all a lot more relaxed as a result.
As much as I enjoyed the last nine months of my pregnancy experience, here’s a quick list of my favorite things that I have to be excited about now:
1. My baby girl is here!!!
3. My body isn’t swollen and huge any more (my shoes fit my feet comfortably again)!
4. It’s easy to maneuver my body without the struggle of carrying a small watermelon (tying / putting shoes on, shaving legs, and generally bending down…).
5. I don’t get winded from just walking up a handful of stairs.
6. I’m not scared to exercise anymore!
7. I can start to transition back into my pre-maternity wardrobe (but not rushing)!
8. Antipasto / charcuterie boards and lunch meat sandwiches are no longer off-limits.
9. No more heartburn after eating acidic foods (re: tomatoes & anything with red sauce!)
10. I can finally enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail!
All of that to say, I still think that pregnancy was the most amazing thing that I have ever experienced and I hope that I am lucky enough to do it all again someday. I wouldn’t trade this mama life for anything!
Feel free to ask any questions in the Comments section below. I’m hardly an expert in this area, but I am more than happy to share my experience!
Sending hugs —