Postpartum: Why Its More Than Just The First 6 Weeks

We’ve come home, bonded, and established nursing. We’re back to driving, cleaning and errands. When weeks begin to turn to months, especially at the 6 week point, the pressure is on to let go of our birth experiences and move on. We are expected to be completely healed and back to our daily grind full force. We’re cleared to exercise and should be focused on getting back into pre-pregnancy shape. People around us start checking in on us less and we put pressure on ourselves to be back to “normal”. This pressure is only stronger by our society’s obsession with post baby celebrities in their slinky dresses and Instagram models posing with their newborns in body shapers and full glam.

Yet, I don’t feel normal. I had a harder delivery and slower recovery this time and I don’t feel “over it”. I just got to a point where I’m almost totally pain free and besides the occasional stroll I haven’t started working out. The world may have forgotten but my body hasn’t as it continues to feel  the twinges of muscles repairing themselves from surgery, the ache of streams of milk, and my noticeably weaker knees. I’m still sporting my linea nigra , stretch marks and a fresh red scar. I still feel emotional about having a newborn. But I’ve reached the 6 week mark! I’m not “postpartum” anymore. Why don’t I have it back together by now?

When I was pregnant I used a week by week pregnancy tracker, asked my midwife a million questions and googled every little symptom. Yet up until today I had neglected to brush up on anything regarding the post-partum period beyond my c-section recovery.  This was not due to me thinking that I know it all by the third time around. I just got so wrapped up in the baby that I forgot all about checking in with myself.

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So what did I learn on my quest for knowledge? That the postpartum period doesn’t abruptly end at the 6 week mark, but consists of 3 distinct phases:

The Initial or Acute period- This is the first 6-12 hours after your baby is born where you’re potential for complications is higher and you’re monitored closely by the hospital or midwife.

The Sub-acute period- which last 2-6 weeks, when you are more stable but still recovering from delivery. This is what most people think of as “postpartum”.

The Delayed period- According to an article on The Journal of Prenatal Medicine website, this period can last up to 6 months! The article states:

“This is the time of restoration of muscle tone and connective tissue to the prepregnant state. Although change is subtle during this phase, it behooves caregivers to remember that a womanʼs body is nonetheless not fully restored to pre-pregnant physiology until about 6 months post-delivery.”

No wonder I don’t feel normal again yet, I’m not! The article goes on to say that in some ways we may never be back to our pre-pregnant state and certainly, our lives are changed by our little ones forever. Yet, once the baby comes Earthside we’re encouraged to show as little evidence of carrying a child as we can. We’re told to get back to work, tone up and erase the marks left on our bodies as quickly as possible. As if it’s something shameful.

We shouldn’t be ashamed. We should be proud of all of the ways in which motherhood has changed us, body and soul! Though sometimes I struggle to appreciate my postpartum body, it has done amazing things. These lines and scars are symbols of sacrifice and strength. This vessel has co-created with God. Its loved, housed and grown my family. It continues to nourish myself and flourish my baby. When the temptation to rush back to some false sense of normalcy comes I need to remind myself to take it slow. To be less eager to shed these signs of pregnancy, these physical memories, and to fully appreciate them for the beauty that they represent.

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Did you feel pressure from yourself or others to get back to normal after baby? Share in the comments below!

❤ Cait

Adjusting to Life With a Toddler and a Newborn

While pulling into the parking lot of the pediatrician’s office today I began to strategize. Find a spot close to the entrance, Okay, grab the diaper bag, then take the baby out first since he is in the carrier, then grab Claire and hold on to her squirmy little wrist and when it comes time to open the door to the building? Well…lets just cross that bridge when we get to it!

Adjusting to life with a newborn is a feat in and of itself, and when we threw a toddler into the mix things quickly got complex. Here are a few reasons why.

Naps- 10 minutes after the toddler falls asleep, the baby cries, waking the toddler. So I sit on the floor of the nursery next to her small bed nursing one while patting the back of the other. 40 minutes (if I’m lucky!) later I slink out of the bedroom and carefully close the door only for the squeak of the hinge to wake the newborn, then, repeat.

Too Much Love- If Billy is napping, Claire wants to wake him up to play. She gives his cheek a gingerly pat and says “wake up baby!”. Her love for him is sometimes too strong! She wants to kiss him and hug him and grab his face. We’ve had some fingernail scratches and many reminders to be gentle.

Playtime- My newborn is limited in what he can do physically and my toddler needs me to protect her from herself! One is fragile and still being coddled at the breast in the shade while the other wants to climb, run, jump and play in the sunshine! I’m tethered to one, and chasing the other.

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Tandem Nursing- I thought I made it to easy street only nursing Claire for 5 minutes at nap time and bedtime She was practically weaned! Then the new baby was born and we reversed right back to…difficult street. I don’t know at what time it is that you are reading this but I can bet that it is time to nurse at our house! Baby boy feeds round the clock which makes my toddler interested when she normally wouldn’t be.

I only ever nurse them one at a time and she gets jealous when I tell her no. I am trying to nurse her as little as possible, the goal being to completely wean. Often she cries and I distract her with a snack or ship her off with another family member to do something else. Most of the time it works, other times it doesn’t. Still, I’m beginning to learn how to balance the physical needs of the baby and the emotional needs of my toddler.

Mommy, Mommy!- Both kids still require a lot of my attention and with dad back at work I find myself outnumbered. One is crying in my arms while one is clinging to my leg, or Billy is spitting up while Claire squeezes her juice onto the floor! I try to prioritize by need and not want which means asking a lot of patience from a naturally impatient 2 year old. Claire is used to having all of the focus on her and is still getting used to sharing the spotlight.

Having two babies of different stages and needs can be pretty chaotic at times. Two car seats, a double stroller, another set of those annoying onesie snaps, twice the crying, twice the diapers, twice the coffee! But at the end of the day its worth it because we all get to share twice the love.

What was your greatest challenge when you brought home a new baby? Comment below!

❤ Cait

My Love-Hate Relationship With Extended Breastfeeding

Anyone who has breastfed knows that it is not always quite as easy or tranquil as it is oftentimes portrayed. I had breastfed my older daughter but like everything else 10 years later it felt like starting over. Similar to how we forget about our labor pains when we have our newborns in our arms, my memories of breastfeeding were blurred by time and nostalgia.

I was surprised with how difficult it was to begin the journey with my new daughter.  I mean, ouch! I lived off Lanolin cream and didn’t wear a top for at least 2 weeks! Though feeding an infant on demand was still a lot of work those tender moments passed and things became more comfortable for both of us. We got into a groove and have been doing well ever since.

The thing they forget to mention about exclusively nursing your baby is that it never really seems to slow down until they are eating solid food. As the baby grows and sleeps less they still require more and more milk to fill their expanding tummies. Even when they are gobbling up peas and sweet potatoes the demand can still be grueling.

Then there comes the unsolicited opinions. Around the time my baby girl approached the milestone of her first birthday the pressure from others to wean her was on. I would get comments from people around me like “You’re still nursing her?” , “Wow isn’t she getting a little old for that?”, “All my babies were weaned by 6 weeks!”, “Does she really need that still?”

To answer some of those questions; Yes, breast milk is still beneficial to baby even after they turn a year old. It still has the same magical abilities of supporting their immune systems, and changing  with their nutritional needs. Not to mention the psychological benefits of comfort, trust and love that all children need. My baby is only 20 months and I don’t feel that it is unreasonable to want that type of comfort!

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No, she is not “too old” to breastfeed. She is no less independent for our decision to continue breastfeeding. We never need to nurse in public anymore as she usually only does it before nap and bed time now. She eats table foods with a fork and spoon, she is transitioning to a toddler bed in her own bedroom, she uses sippy cups with whole milk or diluted juice in it, she recognizes and names her letters and is starting to count and she plays independently and with other kids well. In our culture we tend to wean early but the rest of the world in general weans at much older ages.

I wasn’t too strict on weaning until I desired to become pregnant again. After a year I hadn’t yet resumed my cycle and was still nursing quite a bit. I wanted to at least reduce since I didn’t know whether my fertility had returned. Not having your monthly can be a huge benefit. One less inconvenience postpartum. I don’t use contraception and only natural family planning but, be warned- Just because you aren’t menstruating does not mean you aren’t ovulating. I did get pregnant before my cycle returned. What I thought was my period was actually implantation.

While attempting to wean we had some set backs. Each time a new tooth sprouted, when we moved, or if she wasn’t feeling well, she would regress and return to nursing more. At the time I would be frustrated. It felt like losing progress but, she would always go back to nursing less often once things got back to normal.

As you can see, most of my experience with extended breastfeeding has been pretty positive. Where the hate part of it really comes in for me is for myself! Nursing a small, still infant is much different than a heavy, mobile, squirming, pinching, squeezing toddler! And since I’ve gotten pregnant things have become tender and at times caused nursing to become uncomfortable again. As I said in my previous post Pregzilla  pregnancy and breastfeeding can be quite taxing at times.

The truth is the decision to breastfeed your baby or not and when to wean them are personal decisions and though there are many opinions there is no one right answer! You just need to do whats best for you and your baby! It would be great if she were fully weaned before June when the new baby arrives but, if not that’s okay too. I can totally picture myself being a bad-ass tandem nursing mama! I feel lucky to be able to take this journey with her as it comes and I know that one day she will stop completely and the difficulties will be blurred by time and nostalgia again.

What have your breastfeeding experiences been like? Share about your journey in the comments!

❤ Cait

Pregzilla

I have a confession, my “Prayers Over the Kitchen Sink” aren’t always deep and full of gratitude. Sometimes they sound something like, “Just let me get through this day!” and “God help me!” and, “Seriously?..Give me strength!” Sometimes I’m a stomping, growling, ferocious Pregzilla!

I have been feeling okay so far in this pregnancy but last week (week 21) I completely hit a wall. After the initial morning sickness passed I got the color back in my cheeks, felt productive, and enjoyed a period of energy as close to pregnant bliss as someone like me (who doesn’t totally love gestation) can get. As soon as it came it was gone and replaced with fatigue and nausea as heartburn began to rear it’s ugly head.

I felt so drained and crabby that it made the things I normally do each day exceedingly difficult. When my older daughter copped an attitude because she decided she didn’t like ravioli that day instead of offering her a lecture and an alternative dinner I barked, “Then don’t eat it, I don’t care!” When my husband texted asking me to go to the bank while he was working I grumbled and chucked my phone as if the branch was located on the other side of the country instead of the other side of town. I had no patience whatsoever! I found it very taxing to care for my toddler who is at an age where she is clingy yet, mischievous and uncooperative. My little angel felt more like a little thorn!

Naturally, she requires the most attention and in this phase she resists much of the normal day to day care I have no choice but to give her! I end up wrestling her to sleep, forcing her mouth open to brush her teeth, restraining her to cut her nails, struggling to put her hair in a bow (which she just pulls out anyway!), to clean her ears, to change her diaper..she just doesn’t want to stop even for a minute!

It took all I have in me not to completely lose it at things that a toddler mom normally wouldn’t think twice about. She’s crawling all over me, throwing her snacks, climbing on my belly, pulling down my shirt, poking me in the face and pinching my breast while she nurses. (Yes still at 20 months! Read about my Love-Hate Relationship with Extended Breastfeeding here) Not to mention her climbing the furniture and getting into absolutely everything!

 

It grated my nerves and left me with a very hard and sharp edge. One that I would normally soften with several glasses of wine or a super hard workout if I wasn’t expecting but, alas I am! I have been consecutively growing a baby or breastfeeding for about 2 and a half years already with no end in sight as I’m not due till early June and plan to nurse our new bundle as well.

I know that pregnancy is a temporary condition, but knowing that doesn’t always make the tough times easier when I’m living them. Sometimes I want a cocktail, I want some sushi, I want to put on my old jeans, I want to go out with my friends without having to run to the bathroom ’cause I’m getting kicked in the bladder. Of course I love my kiddos but this motherhood thing can be tough!

Just because we appreciate it for the gift it is doesn’t mean it isn’t hard and that we don’t have the right to express our frustrations honestly. I don’t have anything else to tie all of these gripes up in a nice eloquent bow but to say, it’s okay! Whether we have 1 child or 10 these feelings are normal! We all struggle in our own way. We aren’t maternal robots or Stepford wives with no limit or needs of our own.

The only advice I can give is to retract your claws and ask for help! Make dad or the older one sit with the little one for a while so you can take a bath or read your book. Call your BFF to come over or to vent. Say no to the things that aren’t urgent. Let the dishes sit in the sink so you can really sleep when the baby sleeps for once. Leave the kids at home and go out even if it’s just to run errands so you can be alone and clear your head.

Don’t expect so much of yourself that you stretch too thin because eventually you are going to snap! Try not to focus so much on taking care of everyone and everything else that you forget to take care of yourself. Believe me, your family would much rather help than to have to endure the wrath of a nauseated Pregzilla!

Have you had any “Pregzilla” moments? What did you do to pull yourself out of it?

❤ Cait

Boobs Traveler

Last year I got an extraordinary gift! My dad paid for a ticket for my youngest daughter and I to come and visit him at his home in Florida! After a long New England winter I was more than happy to accept! I was excited to go but a bit nervous to leave the other half of the family up north while the little one and I enjoyed the fun and sun. I pushed back the guilt. I deserved a little rest and was determined not to get in my own way.

The day came and we made it to the airport. In the spirit of saving money I attempted to pack light and avoid checking bags. I also decided that the stroller would be too clunky compared to my comfy baby wrap (which she loves) plus, it freed up my hands. We didn’t have long until boarding time but it was a 6 am flight and I desperately needed a coffee. I waited in a long line for a $4 coffee I practically had to make myself and my babe was starting to squirm. “I’ve totally got this”, I thought to myself as I rushed back to the gate.

So there I was stomping through the airport, and what a sight I must have been! I had baby snug in her carrier on my chest, a hiking backpack filled to the brim on my back, a cross body purse on my hip, and an over stuffed diaper bag on my shoulder. She was crying and fussing and the let down feeling let me know what she was in need of. So I stopped for a moment and did what I knew I had to do; I pulled out my breast and let her feed as I continued with all of my gear still in tow to the gate. I had my reservations about feeding in public before. I had hid under blankets and stood in toilet stalls but during this trip all of my hesitation disappeared. My baby’s nutritional needs were much more important than my misplaced shame or other people’s perceptions about what was or was not appropriate.

Sure, I got a few looks but, I realized that most of the hang-ups I had were coming from within myself. Most people didn’t notice, didn’t care or gave me a knowing nod of solidarity or a smile of support. Once we were seated in the plane (me in the middle seat of course! Just my luck!) baby had fallen asleep and I was glad to have some time to exhale. The flight from Boston to Florida is thankfully short just about 3 hours. As we ascended the baby inevitably woke due to cabin pressure affecting her ears. The best way to relieve that was to cause her to swallow by feeding her and I did so without reservation. Hey, it was either see the boob, or hear the babe! If you have ever been on a plane with a crying baby you know that it was an easy choice! No one cared and I didn’t expose any more than the model on the cover of the magazine the woman next to me was reading.

When it was finally time to deplane the man that was sitting to my left helped me to get my carry-on and over stuffed backpack down from the overhead storage. I strapped my baby back to my chest, and he helped me put the backpack on my back while saying, “Wait a minute! You’re going to carry all of this yourself!? Are you sure you can really do that?” and I turned to him with a grateful smile and proudly exclaimed. “Yes, sir! I am a woman! I can do anything!” And we can, sisters! We can put aside our hang-ups to do whats best for our children, we can tenderly feed and comfort our babies and remain strong enough to carry the weight of our baggage. We can be soft and strong and fearless and amazing! Just as we were created to be!

What are your most memorable breastfeeding moments? Share below!

❤ Cait