Having a baby? What I wish I had known the first time.

Some of this info I did know; some of it I heard but didn’t really understand, and some of it I didn’t even know was a thing until after it happened. Anyway, if you aren’t about to have a baby or interested in some real talk about it, you might want to leave while you still can. Otherwise, please read on! I know some mamas who are due with their first soon, and my head was spinning with all of these suggestions today so I figured I’d write them down to help a sister or two out.

1. If you can, get a doula

I am not a crunchy, birthing center kind of mom. I am a hospital, give me an epidural ASAP kind of mom. But after a really rough recovery from my first baby, I knew the second time that I wanted to have someone (besides my husband) there to advocate for me, aware of my medical history, and to help this one go as smoothly as it could. It was so helpful to have someone I could text random questions to, get comfort and advice the night my labor started, and literally have someone to hold my hand and coach me through my contractions; reminding me to breathe and not freak out. First-time-mom me would have probably thought my husband could do those things if I asked him to. But it’s really different to have a professional in charge when the rubber meets the road, and I don’t have to worry about his potentially who-knows-what emotional state to be my rock. It was so helpful. Doulas get booked out pretty far in advance, so the earlier you can find one, the better. If you aren’t sure where to look, ask your OB if they have any recommendations of people they have liked working with. That way you can be sure to find one that meshes well with their philosophies and won’t be butting heads.

2. Drink water. Take your stool softeners.

Ok. You’re still reading? Now we’re getting real. Hooray! You pushed out a baby! You think the hard work is done? Well, hopefully it is. But if you don’t continue drinking water, and taking stool softeners, you could find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation in a few… or five… days later. I am not a thirsty person, so this one was super hard for me. Drink. Drink drink. Make yourself drink even if you aren’t thirsty. Thankfully, the second time around I got my first BM out of the way while I was still at the hospital. First time around, I nearly had to get an enema, and it tore my stitches out. Sooo…. just saying. Not messing around with this one. I would have put it first on this list, but I wanted to weed out the audience a bit before jumping out with the stool softener tips. Also, now this one is #2. #poojoke

3. Clots can be huge

You’re in for the long haul if you’re still reading at this point. Luckily I didn’t have to deal with any mega clots; after both of my deliveries I basically had a normal-to-heavy period for 3-4 weeks. Getting all of that extra tissue out is why the nurses give you the oh-so-unpleasant belly squashing massages while you’re in the hospital. But I heard that these clots could be giant, like baseball-sized. I expect you’d want to call your OB to be safe if you see anything like that, but just even knowing that it’s in the realm of possibility was a good thing to know ahead of time.

4. You will probably need a physical therapist

After having a baby, there is so much with your body that can be thrown out of whack. With my first, I realized 6 months later that I couldn’t run at all; my pelvis was all jacked up. With my second, I had diastasis recti while I was pregnant (that thankfully recovered on its own postpartum), but I do still need some lower ab work to get back to normal. Even the typical “mommy bladder” symptoms, like stress incontinence (peeing when you cough or sneeze), or even urgency incontinence (having to go all of a sudden) can be caused from pregnancy, and may not go away on their own. But you don’t have to just live with it!! Just because they’re common doesn’t mean it is “normal”. I started seeing a maternal specialist chiropractor around halfway through my pregnancy because I was having major pubic bone symphysis pain. She helped keep me in line, and I definitely think helped contribute to my smooth labor this time around. So maybe a chiropractor should be it’s own bullet point here, but I’ll lump it together with the PT. Seeing a pelvic floor specialist, especially after your “fourth trimester” to get everything back where it should be is super helpful. Again, I should not have waited until something was a painful/debilitating problem. Get the help early, don’t suffer/grumble/complain. It’s worth it to feel normal again! It could even be just muscle tension that you don’t even realize you have that needs to be loosened up – you’ll feel so much better after.

5. Nursing shouldn’t hurt

With my first, I nursed her for 3 weeks before being at my breaking point with painful, sore nipples, and finally getting a lactation consultant for a second opinion. The one that I saw in the hospital didn’t catch my daughter’s tongue and lip ties, which made it impossible for her to get a deep enough latch, and so she was hungry all time, nursing all the time, and hurting me ALL the time. I waited way, way too long. If you find yourself clenching your teeth when they latch, see someone. Nursing isn’t intuitive; I had literally never seen a baby nurse before I was nursing my own baby. So, there’s no shame in getting some help. I think my biggest problem the first time was not knowing what the threshold of “hurting too much” was; I thought maybe that’s just what nursing feels like. Wrong!

6. There’s no shame in supplementing

I don’t want to get into a moral “fed is best” campaign here. I just know with this world of Pinterest-worthy social media lives, there’s a lot of pressure on moms to breastfeed. Some moms are blessed with a healthy milk supply and can feed their babies for years. Some moms have an oversupply, and are able to donate and feed OTHER people’s babies. Unfortunately, especially as a working mom, sometimes you just can’t pump as much as they need to eat. Sometimes you have to pump from the beginning due to an unexpected situation in the hospital and never get a chance to get nursing established. I stressed again, way too long with my first trying to make pumping work. Finally I was frustrated with pumping an ounce at a time, and started supplementing with formula. I could finally sleep again without worrying if my baby was hungry. I could stop worrying about the empty freezer stash. My husband could wake up and feed the baby and I didn’t have to feel guilty or need to wake up and pump to make up for it. One of the frustrating truths of motherhood is you will always feel like you’re doing it wrong. Grass is always greener, etc. If your baby is fed, they’ll be ok. You’ll be ok. You may even be better off. So, be sure to balance your own human needs with the reality of how your body responds. Also, did I already say to drink water? Drink water.

7. “Colic” can be improved

I had heard and seen several babies who cried every minute they were awake. For months. It’s awful; again, demoralizing because as a parent you feel like you’re useless, and it’s just draining. My son started off happy as a clam; possibly even too chill; but around about 3 weeks old, he started showing classic signs of colic; painful crying “for no reason”. It got worse in the evenings, but really would happen all day. Gas drops helped some. And he was having tons of dirty/poopy diapers, like 5 a day. Saw his doctor several times; nothing was wrong with him. My friend suggested I should try eliminating dairy that I was eating. Babies aren’t lactose intolerant; there’s actually more lactose in breast milk than in cow’s milk (that’s why it’s so sweet, if you are brave enough to try some of yours), but they can be intolerant to the protein in cow’s milk, and the proteins you eat end up in your breast milk. In my case, I also had to eliminate soy from my diet, and find a dairy- and soy-free formula to supplement with. Once I got my diet straightened out, he was like a new baby and finally started smiling and laughing basically the same day. All I know is there’s not a ton of research and your pediatrician, unless they’re a nutrition/lactation specialist, may not even know the latest research on this. So, if your baby is unreasonably fussy, trust your mom gut and see what you can try to make them more comfortable. I can’t say that this works for all cases of colic, but it was so clearly the cause of my son’s that it’s worth your time to keep a food journal and look into it if you’re concerned.

8. Sleep is really important

This one seems obvious. Currently my second is 5 months old, and I haven’t slept more than 3-4 hours at a time since he was born. I’m not dead. Haha. I’m even a mostly functioning human. So in that respect, your body will adjust to a very, very different pattern of sleep than you’re accustomed to. My real point here is about the first few weeks, when you’re adjusting to this new reality. If you have family or a close friend you can get to cover night duty for a night, and let you even get ONE nap or stretch of sleep that you wouldn’t otherwise have, do it do it do it. You can certainly also pay for a night nanny to do this if you’re in a pinch. I’m not the type to want to impose, so it’s really hard to ask for favors until I’m already crying and desperate because I waited too long to ask. So, if you can picture what being hangry feels like, imagine that but also being delirious from being too tired for weeks. We’re talking put your keys in the fridge levels. It makes you angry at your baby, angry at yourself, angry at your partner; it’s just really a defeating feeling. But it’s seriously nothing that a nap and a hot shower won’t significantly improve. Be sure to find the time to take care of yourself.

9. Help is out there

I was lucky enough to not suffer from PPD, but I did have some amount of postpartum anxiety (something I didn’t even know was a thing the first time). I thought that I was fine because I wasn’t having bad thoughts about hurting myself or my baby; I was crying, but not an unreasonable amount; I thought if I’m not depressed, everything’s fine, right? I finally saw a therapist after having a panic attack after watching a particularly triggering episode of House involving baby death. My friend’s website: https://everyoneshouldgototherapy.com/ has it right. Again, (noticing a theme here?) there’s no shame in getting some help. This shit is hard; not only mentally and physically, but your hormones are also whack. Find someone to talk to about it. I’ve heard really good things about this book, Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts, and I’d recommend it to anyone about to have their first.

Hmm… I’m tired now so I’ll call it a night. But I may add some more to this when I wake up in a couple hours to feed my son.

Oh lastly; some shout-outs to my favorite parenting Instagram accounts to follow: @pregnantchicken for some funnies (they have a great email newsletter, too); @betterpostpartum to remind you what’s real; @the.n3rd.dad for more funnies; @busytoddler once your little one gets old enough to need activities.