When my first baby was born, I probably could have written a book on the number of things I didn't know about baby care, postnatal recovery, etc. With the birth of baby number two, there is a much less steep learning curve, but, particularly since one is a girl and one is a boy, there have still been some things that I wish someone had explained to me ahead of time even now. There's nothing like on-the-job training but I'd also like to spare any moms-to-be the rude awakening of at least some of these unrealistic expectations if I can. I am a firm believer that we all do better when we have realistic expectations. Realistic expectations help us avoid perfectionism, reduce depression and have coping strategies in place when tough times come.
So, without further ado, here is my top 10 list of Things I Wish I Had Known about Having a Baby before I had said baby. Some are from my first baby and some are from my second.
1. Regular childbirth is much much much (did I mention MUCH?) easier to recover from than a c-section. I did know this one, but I think I focused so much on the natural aspect of childbirth (no medication!) with my first child that I didn't leave myself as open to the fact that I might need some medical help and that the chief objective of having a vaginal delivery is much more important than doing it hospital or drug free. With my second baby, I was blessed to have a team of doctors who understood how best to help women have VBACs and although they certainly would have recommended a c-section if it became medically necessary, they would never do it to get to their golf game. They had so many strategies up their sleeve to help women succeed if at all possible. I did use some medication with baby number two. The pain was to a point that it was unmanageable but the rest the medication gave me ultimately helped me succeed at getting a VBAC. The recovery period has been rapid following normal childbirth, whereas with a c-section, my recovery took a full 8 weeks. I also have been better able to bond with the baby, have regained energy and strength faster, and have managed to avoid the deeper depression and exhaustion that characterized my first postpartum period. I was tempted in the midst of the exhaustion and pain of the pushing stage to just tell the doctor to give me a c-section so I could be done. I'm so glad I didn't and I'm so glad she didn't rush to that option.
2. With that said, you can't control birth and it doesn't really ultimately matter how your baby is born. You will love them no matter what. Yes, vaginal delivery is better for most women's bodies and for their postpartum period, but at the same time, we are not God and this never becomes clearer to us than when we go into labor. My first delivery was everything I hoped it would not be...nightmarishly long followed by a c-section...but even though I had a rough start, I fell in love with my daughter. All of the pain and discomfort to have her were worth it. Some women are unable to have vaginal deliveries, for various health reasons. And all births are different and unpredictable.
After my daughter's birth, I had to come to a place of accepting how things had gone and that even though I had a "birth plan," birth does not really go according to plan. It's best to know all your options, plan loosely and focus on the the fact that you are about to receive a tremendous gift...one way or another. Knowing all your options enables you to have a "tool kit" to reach into. The wise old nurse who did our childbirth classes this time told us, "If your pain gets out of control, that's when it's time to think about changing something." That's when to reach into the tool kit and pick out a new tool...a new position, a new pain coping mechanism, a medication, maybe even a c-section if necessary. Being too rigid in birth can only set you up for disappointment--or even depression.
3. Be prepared for some weird postpartum bodily stuff. Everybody tells you about the baby blues and postpartum depression, so you probably won't be too surprised if you burst into tears at the drop of a hat. But no one had told me about the world's longest period (lasting 4-6 weeks postpartum), the night sweats, or the rapid and sudden weight loss that can occur within a few days after birth (especially if you are nursing). Nursing and night sweats take the weight and fluid off fast. If you gained a little extra during pregnancy, it won't completely restore you to pre-pregnancy weight, but you could lost 20-25 pounds in the matter of days. With my first pregnancy, this scared me to death. I thought perhaps something was wrong with me! Be prepared for some potential anxiety, shakiness, and feeling pretty weird with that kind of rapid weight loss. Be prepared to eat plenty of protein and calories if this happens; you will need them! Your system should stabilize in a few days to a couple of weeks.
4. Nursing can be painful at first--sometimes very painful--even if you are doing everything correctly (take that, Le Leche!:-)). Some women are just more sensitive than others and it does take a little time to toughen up. It bothers me a lot when Le Leche members tell people that nursing should not hurt if you are doing everything right and if baby has a proper latch. This is true a month or two down the road once you have toughened up and acclimated to nursing. But it might hurt a bit or a lot at first, even if you are trying your darndest to get baby latched properly. The pain is typically when the baby first latches on but if you have gotten blisters, it can last throughout the nursing session. So, yes, address the baby's latch, but be patient with yourself and with the pain and soreness. If nursing is important to you (and there are a ton of benefits to health and bonding), try giving nursing 4-6 weeks. Generally, problems resolve by then, baby learns to suck properly, soreness begins to ease, and skin toughens up. Also, make use of a lactation consultant if you can, use cloth nursing pads (much less abrasive than the disposable ones), and try lanolin or natural nipple cream. Finally, if you experiencing cracking or blisters, soaking the affected area in warm salt water after nursing is soothing and helpful in promoting healing. This was a life-saver for me the first time around!
5. Be prepared for the amount of time you will spend nursing--at least 8-12 times per day for at least 30 minutes each time. Baby will eventually get more efficient at nursing. He or she will fall asleep less and get more focused. And your body will adjust to providing baby the proper amount of milk. But initially it is a huge time commitment. Not only that but your little baby liposuction machine will be sucking fat out of your body so fast that you will have never been so hungry or thirsty in your entire life. Drink a full glass of water as often as you can and get multiple high-energy snacks throughout the day (trail mix, yogurt, cheese sticks, granola bars, cookies, apples and peanut butter, bagels and cream cheese, etc.). A depleted mom is not a happy mom. Early on, I find myself looking at my job as two-fold: feed baby all day and feed myself all day.
Although baby will eventually become more efficient at nursing and will drop feedings little by little, for as long as you are nursing, it is still a big commitment of time and energy. I was totally unprepared for this with my first baby. Nursing is a supply and demand game, so a person has to do it regularly to ensure enough milk supply. This means feedings can very rarely be put off without consequences. Yes, you can have a dinner date with hubby and leave a bottle for the sitter. But if you don't nurse or pump every few hours, one way or another, your supply is going to start dropping. Finding a way to combine nursing or pumping with work schedules is one of the most challenging things a modern mom has to do. And in our culture, there are many times it's well nigh impossible. It was a huge challenge for me to nurse and work with my first daughter--and I had a very flexible schedule. I can't imagine how women with more rigid schedules manage to do it! Still, if you can do it, it's worth doing. My daughter had almost no sickness in the 17 months I nursed her. My newborn did not catch the colds that we had in the house right after he was born. And the benefit to bonding is outstanding.
If you can't manage nursing, though, no guilt! We all have to think and decide what is best for our families and if it is killing you to nurse, it might be time to stop. Again, a depleted mom is not a happy mom. Being depleted affects the baby too. No child care decisions are perfect and we all do the best we can. The best thing we can do for other women is support them in the difficult choices they make about such a wide range of baby-care decisions. Being a mom is tough and all of us need more encouragement, not more criticism.
6. Baby boys eat more. A lot more. After my son was born a month ago, I was shocked at the constant feeding he wanted to do! I mentioned to my friends that he wanted to eat every hour, oftentimes. Their response was, "Oh, that's boys!" Apparently, everyone else was aware that boys eat a ton more than girls and often go into marathon nursing sessions. Nobody bothered to tell me though! I was prepared for the more regular every 2-3 hours feedings my daughter did. Nope. Most of the moms of boys that I've talked to since Bean was born have said their sons did the same marathon nursing sessions. Now I know!
To be continued tomorrow....