People use a lot of different words to describe the postpartum period, known by some as the “fourth trimester”, but I think it is universally acknowledged that the changes in a woman’s body are not over immediately after she pops out a baby. No matter how your labor and delivery went, every woman has some period of recovery as well as adjusting to life with a new baby (whether it’s your first child or not).
As I wrap up my own fourth trimester, I would define the postpartum period with two words: Bodily Fluids. I’ve got a list of six different aspects to this that may help you be better prepared for the postpartum period if this is your first time going through it.
- Blood. This is probably the most noticeable and dramatic of the effects after labor. Hopefully your baby or husband won’t be bleeding after birth (!), but YOU will bleed A LOT. It’s actually quite disturbing at first, but it’s totally normal. Doctors even have a name for the kind of bleeding after birth: lochia. It’s basically your body recovering and getting rid of excess fluids, which includes excess blood. The hospital will give you these huge pads and diapers (I wasn’t aware I’d be changing two people’s diapers after I gave birth!), and all sorts of other stuff to make the pain and discomfort “down there” a little more bearable. I’m not sure how much bleeding you’ll experience if you have a C-section, but if you have a vaginal delivery doctors say you can bleed up to 6 weeks. It’s basically like you’re having a super-mega period that lasts for like a month. It’s just making up for the fact that you went without a period for the last nine months. J I personally bled pretty consistently for 4 weeks, but the really heavy bleeding went away after a couple days. I still kept wearing those diapers for a while, though, because they were more comfortable than my underwear. J
- “Leakage”. This is something that you may not notice while you’re still going through the bleeding process, but once the bleeding goes away it becomes apparent that you’ve also been leaking other fluids in addition to blood. I think most of this ends up being urine, but it may also be other fluids too. After being pregnant and giving birth, your pelvic floor muscles are so weak that sometimes they cannot sufficiently hold in your urine like they used to. So, when you have to go, YOU HAVE TO GO. I experienced this mostly when I started back exercising, which I guess was because my pelvic floor and abdominal muscles were too weak to both engage in exercise and hold in my pee. Break out the pads again! This leakage could continue indefinitely if your pelvic floor muscles never get strong again, but I believe most women take a couple months for this to return to “normal”.
- Poop/Pee. Now let’s turn our attention to the other person wearing diapers during this stage: your baby. If you have a boy, most likely you will get peed on at least once during these first couple months. They just can’t help it. If you have a girl, you’re probably safe from pee, although my little girl did pee all over our changing table when I left her on there for 30 seconds without a diaper. But nothing will protect you from the poop. I had changed many diapers on different children prior to having a child of my own, but none of that prepared me for newborn poop. Especially if your baby is breastfed, their poop will be orange-ish yellow and be almost liquid in consistency. It also defies gravity. Sometimes they poop so forcefully that it literally squirts out of the diaper. Yuck. And since it’s orange, it usually stains whatever it gets on. And they do this at least three times a day! That’s up to three outfits that you may have to put in the laundry every day, plus possibly some of your own clothes. We’ve told our girl that “what happens in the diaper stays in the diaper” but she doesn’t always listen. We generally have about ten articles of clothing that get pooped on per week.
- Breastmilk. Even if you’re not nursing, this still may apply to you, as your body still will produce milk for a while even if you’re not using it. So don’t skip ahead! Before having a baby, your boobs were probably a moderate size and were only used for “recreational purposes” (i.e. your husband’s pleasure). After having a baby, they become machines for the creation of your baby’s food, and your husband may become disappointed in this fact. Once your baby is born, your breasts immediately start producing milk, and will keep producing more if you tell them to – if you nurse. It’s actually pretty cool, except there’s no on/off valve for your boobs. After you take a shower, they leak. When you have sex, they leak. In the middle of the night, they leak. When you’re trying to pump, they don’t give you a single drop. WHAT?! When your boobs decide to give milk or not can become frustrating, and many things may become wet in the process as you try to decipher when they are most likely to leak and not use up twenty nursing pads in a day. Also, if your baby is a messy eater, you’ll probably end up with breastmilk on you during most feedings.
- Throw Up/Drool. I knew all babies could spit up, but I was not aware that they could also throw up pretty frequently. Sometimes our little one throws up practically everything she just ate at her last feeding. Not as bad as poop everywhere, but still wet and gross. Also, after about a month she started drooling and making bubbles a lot, which surprised me at first but I later found out was totally normal. This is yet another reason to change their clothes in the middle of the day.
- Tears. People that know me well know that I cry pretty frequently, but after my baby was born I cried a lot, even for me. I’m pretty sure I had an emotional meltdown at least once a day for two weeks after we got home from the hospital. You can pretty much chalk this up to lack of sleep and hormonal changes happening in your body. Just keep drinking water and lean on your husband for emotional support and it’ll get better. If you’re still struggling emotionally on a regular basis after a few weeks, you’re not the only one, but you should let your doctor know because it may be a sign of Postpartum Depression. During this fourth trimester is probably when your baby will actually start crying tears – something they don’t do when they are first born. My little girl shed her first tear when I accidentally clipped a bit of her finger when trying to clip her dagger-like fingernails. I’m not gonna lie, it was a pretty traumatic experience for the both of us, and I definitely shed some tears too.
So there you have it! The postpartum period defined by bodily fluids. Just throw everything in the wash and it’ll be grand. Do you have anything else you’d add to this list? If so, post in the comments!