One of my favorite things to do is talk to women about their birthing stories. Everyone has such a unique experience leading up to, during, and after giving birth. It is seriously the most fascinating thing in the world to me. When I know someone is approaching their due date, I actually get a little jealous.
Go ahead and think I’m weird, but I think that giving birth is the most euphoric, empowering, surreal experience that anyone could go through….not just for the mom but also for everyone in the room supporting the birth. Yes, you could say that the pain and potential worry can kind of mask how euphoric and joyful the experience can be, but the miracle of birth will always be the most incredible moment (times four) in my life.
>>Note: If you’d rather listen to this vs. read it, scroll to the bottom for the link to the video version so you can listen while you drive or clean your house, etc.<<
I remember when my first child, Finley was born. The moment he came out, my husband and I were making the most strange noises. It was like a mix of relief after running an iron man, excitement after someone surprises you, realization that you are now a parent in charge of this squirmy thing, and release of endorphins you get after ah…..making a baby? You know what I mean! But the noise was very new and unique and only one to be made in this incredible moment. I just will never forget that sound, but I cannot really figure out how to emulate it either.
Anyways, back to the subject at hand. I just feel like you cannot talk postpartum without leading into it with pregnancy and/or giving birth, right?
So after my fourth child, Briggs, was born, I felt more prepared and aware than ever for my postpartum recovery. Obviously this was in large part due to the fact that I have lived and learned three times prior. So my friends, that is why I feel compelled to share my experience with you so that maybe, just maybe, you might learn a nugget or two that could be helpful in your postpartum recovery.
Just to make things a little more clear, I am going to be describing the experience from the moment Briggs was born until today as I write this, which is 7 ½ months after his birth. I believe that many of the things I will share will be helpful to you even several years after giving birth.
So stay with me here and enjoy because today I would like to share with you my postpartum self-care journey and along the way I will offer you six self-care tips for within the first year of giving birth (and beyond.)
I was very fortunate to be able to give birth without any pain interventions for my 2nd, 3rd and 4th deliveries. I was all about doing whatever it would take to relieve the pain while pregnant with my first child. But by the time I got to the hospital after waiting until my contractions were five minutes apart for an hour (like I was told) things were going very very fast. It was too late for an epidural so I instead received an intrathecal. It was 2am and my doctor wasn’t there yet, and all I wanted to do was push. Well that shot made me completely numb, and I had a hard time knowing how to push.
So I decided to try to do it naturally during my other births so I could be more in tune with my body’s contractions. I do realize that I was very lucky to be able to experience birthing this way because while that may be the plan for many mom’s, things don’t always go as planned.
After Briggs arrived, I would say that having a baby during the Covid pandemic was in some ways a blessing in disguise. We were not allowed to have visitors so I had so much great bonding time with Briggs and my husband. It was nice to be able to Facetime with our other kids, but I must say that I had this amazing sense of calm because we just had more time and space for doing whatever we needed to recover and be attended to by the incredible hospital staff.
It was just Briggs and me, working on breastfeeding, taking a couple nice epsom salt baths, watching some HGTV, drinking lots of water and eating as much food as I wanted since I no longer had to share torso space with a baby. I have to admit that I have always spent as much time in the hospital postpartum as I can because I just find it so peaceful. I work in a hospital so it feels like a safe space to me.
So my first tip would be to really consider what will work best for you in regards to how long you will stay in the hospital. Some people who have uncomplicated deliveries will leave within 24 hours, but not me! I love the self-care factor of having hospital staff around to take care of me and answer my questions. I love relaxing in the hospital bed and cuddling with the baby because I know the chaos that awaits once I arrive home. I love the chaos, but I also think that if I enter the chaos feeling very well rested and confident with how breastfeeding is going, the transition to home will be much smoother.
So that was postpartum self-care tip number one. You cannot completely control how your delivery process will be, but you do have more control over how your first couple days of recovery will go so be planful with that and make sure your family and hospital staff are aware of that plan.
Within the first week of having Briggs, as you might guess, things at home were pretty intense. Having big brother Baylor, an energetic and mischievous 2 ½ year old who I did not trust at all really put me on edge. My husband was right in the middle of his most successful season as varsity boys basketball coach so he was gone every day teaching and coaching in the evenings. (Someday when I tell my birthing story, I will mention how Briggs arrived and 20 minutes later my husband left to go coach his conference clinching game against our biggest rival.) My 9-year old Finley and 6-year old Jordy were great help for me, but they definitely know how to get on each other’s nerves and that in turn, makes me feel like a referee sometimes.
Despite how much was going on in our home, self-care was a huge priority for me that first week. It was in the form of daily epsom salt baths, getting sleep any possible moment I could, and accepting help from my amazing friends and family. They would take the other kids for a few hours so I could bond with Briggs or take a nap. They would bring us home cooked meals. They would bring things we needed for the baby that they were no longer needing. They offered encouragement and support, and I drank it right up!
The second tip I offer for postpartum self-care is to ask for and accept help, and don’t feel guilty about it one bit! Your goal in that first week should be to rest and recover and bond with your baby. Be mindful of what your emotions and body are telling you. I am so guilty of this: I think my house needs to be clean and my ducks all need to be in a row. When I am short with my kids and yell at them for little things, I know that is a sign I need to take a step back, take a deep breath and shift my expectations of myself and my family.
Along with accepting help in order to get rest, self-care during this stage means mindfulness. So my third tip is that in whatever way works best for you, establish a way of checking in with yourself regularly to gauge whether you need to adjust your mind, body and spirit behaviors so that you can feel how you want to feel in that stage or season of postpartum recovery. If you are someone who had a c-section, for example, then boundaries especially need to be established for what your body can and cannot do.
From weeks two until about six weeks postpartum, my self-care mainly involved, you guessed it…epsom salt baths, going on some gentle walks, and establishing and sticking to my sleep schedule. Here’s what that meant. I would go to bed by about 8:30pm when the older kids went to bed and I would allow myself to sleep in until about 7am when my husband would leave for work. I couldn’t control the number of times Briggs would get up to eat in the night, but I had the support from my husband for taking care of Briggs when I went to bed and in the morning from about 5am to 7am.
Did it go like this every single day? Of course not, but I definitely value the health benefits of sleep and have always made this a huge priority. So my fourth self-care tip that applies to this stage of postpartum would be to effectively communicate with your partner in caring for your baby about what you need for optimal recovery.
What would the best plan be for optimizing your sleep? Do you need alone time? If so, when and how much? Do you need time for socialization? What type and amount of movement would be best for you? I feel that it is really important to be proactive with your plans for what you need during this stage of recovery. At the same time, being flexible is important because after all, your baby and if you have other kids, will have their needs for you to tend to.
I went into my 6 week postpartum visit with a plan. After having four vaginal deliveries, I wanted to get a sense of how strong my pelvic floor was. I mean, doesn’t everybody? My OB told me that I was in pretty good shape for all that my body had been through. While it was reassuring to hear that, I knew that I needed to advocate for myself. I requested a referral to a Pelvic Health Physical Therapist so that I could strengthen my deep core and pelvic floor the correct way with hands on feedback from a qualified professional.
Here’s the thing….my OB was very supportive of referring me to an excellent and well-known PT in my area who specialized in this. But, had I not asked for this, I would have left the building with nothing more than a sheet of paper telling me how to purchase kegel balls from Amazon. I really like my OB and openly shared with her that our system needs to do a better job with promoting pelvic floor health to ALL postpartum women along with self-care through exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness practices, and so on. She totally agrees but as is sadly the case all too often, there just isn’t enough time for our providers to do this effectively with the short amount of time alloted for appointments. Hence, I have a platform for talking about this and providing services and programs that support moms in their postpartum journeys to feeling their best.
My fifth self-care tip for weeks six through twelve, which for many moms is when they return to work, is this: ask your provider about Pelvic Health Physical Therapy. I think everyone should do it, but at the very least, ask your provider if kegels would help or hinder your progress in strengthening your pelvic floor. It is different for each person depending upon your anatomy and how your muscles, connective tissues and joints are aligned and functioning.
I loved going to my physical therapy sessions because I geek out about anatomy and functional movement. I loved learning about how tightness in one area can affect the function of a completely different area not just within the pelvic floor, but in a completely different part of the body. After about five sessions, I felt stronger and more confident to get back to teaching group exercise classes that involved higher impact movements.
Ladies, even though we may joke around with our friends about how we pee a little from sneezing or physical activity, it really isn’t funny. Our bodies are meant to be strong down there, and the good news is, there are some very simple and effective exercises you can learn from this form of physical therapy to help you feel more confident for the rest of your life after giving birth.
Along with doing the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist, I also followed an online program specifically to restore my core strength in a gentle, yet effective way. Remember, I had done this three times prior. I jumped back into exercise pretty aggressively after the first three pregnancies, but this time I decided to be more slow and steady. My goal for doing it this way was that I didn’t want to overtrain and then go back to my physically demanding job feeling stressed in my body. I wanted to feel strong, balanced, free from aches and pains, and functionally able to maneuver my body in whatever way I wanted in order to play with my kids like a kid:)
Think about how you want to feel in your body and that will determine your course for how you want to train. Instead of exercising in order to train for a marathon, you are training to be a mother. It is a sport, my friends, and it is worth the time and effort so that you can be victorious in feeling the way you want to feel.
Moving on to the next stage of postpartum: I went back to work when Briggs was twelve weeks old. Even for moms who return to work sooner or decide to stay home, my sixth self-care tip during this stage applies to everyone. Our bodies are feeling more like our own again. If you are breastfeeding or pumping, your breasts probably aren’t in so much pain anymore….hooray! Nipple pain and mastitis is no joke!
The challenge about this stage is that some lucky mamas have babies sleeping through the night while others have babies that love having that middle-of-the-night bonding time. So for me, I have to get up by about 5am for work. Briggs was not always consistent with his sleep. Sometimes he was up twice, occasionally he slept all night but usually he was up about once per night from three to six months old.
Prior to going back to work, I had an ah-ha moment one day. I realized that daily, I mean every single day, self-care is a necessity, especially for moms, and that I needed to create a program or a challenge that supports moms with this goal. So I got my pen and paper and wrote down all the ideas that came flying through my head for this program that ultimately became my first online program: the 30×30 Self-Care Challenge.
Once I created it, I did it! I tracked my self-care for 30 days on two different occasions: from 3-4 months postpartum and again from about 5-6 months postpartum. Planning ahead, enjoying the intention of taking care of myself daily and recording what I did was life changing. I don’t feel guilty about it. Some days my self care is simply an epsom salt bath, and some days it’s an hour long bike ride followed by a night out with friends laughing so hard we cry. The mentality of knowing that I am filling up my cup so that I can give my best self to those I care about is so powerful.
My children deserve to have a mother who is patient, present and able to give them the love and lessons that will help them thrive. There is a direct correlation between the care I give myself and the parenting they receive from me. My husband, Zac, also is aware of his need for self-care, and we do a great job of supporting each other’s needs for this. Well, I hope he would agree with me on that one…ha!
In summary, here are my top six tips for self-care during the first year of postpartum:
Consider what will work best for you in regards to how long you will stay in the hospital.
Ask for and accept help, and don’t feel guilty about it one bit.
Establish a way of checking in with yourself regularly to gauge whether you need to adjust your mind, body and spirit behaviors so that you can feel how you want to feel in that stage or season of postpartum recovery.
Effectively communicate with your partner in caring for your baby about what you need for optimal recovery
Ask your provider about Pelvic Health Physical Therapy, or at the very least, have a discussion about how to best care for the muscles in the deep core and pelvic floor.
Have a plan for daily self- care, enjoy the process of it and note how you feel as a result.
I hope that you find these tips helpful and that we can stay connected. Please follow me on social media, check out my entire website www.fitmomconnection.com to learn about my free resources and the services and programs I offer to help moms feel their best. My 30 Day Self-Care Challenge might just be your ticket to feeling your best. You deserve it!