Postpartum Survival Guide: The First Week Part 2

Bellies:

Let's talk about the postpartum belly.  Good golly is it a squishy mess!  There is no other feeling in the world than pressing on your belly right after you have a baby.  So weird.  Kind of like a souffle that has fallen in.  

Here are the things that I have found the most helpful to promote healing and reduce discomfort in the first week postpartum.

1. FIBER and WATER:  After months of being shoved out of the way and compressed, your internal organs, especially your digestive tract, will be out of sorts for the first few weeks as they settle back into place.  Being mindful of your diet can help reduce digestive discomfort.  Drink plenty of water!!  You need 1/2oz – 1oz per pound of body weight of water (coffee, soda, black tea and juices don't count) daily and more if you are breastfeeding.  That's a lot of fluid!  But it helps with milk production, weight loss, skin elasticity, sleep deprivation and mood, so drink up!

Along with that you are going to want to eat fibrous foods because you don't want anything sitting in your gut.  It needs to move through you while your insides reposition themselves.  Definitely avoid constipation! (See the post on bottoms).  

Best postpartum foods are:

  • hearty soups
  • smoothies 
  • tea (try Steeped Tea's Neetle Greek Mountain, it promotes healing and milk production!)
  • low acid fruits and vegetables 
  • whole grains
  • limited dairy (hard to digest)
  • iron rich foods to help replace iron lost through growing a human and postpartum bleeding

2. Afterpains:  

So.

Not.

Awesome.

Generally you don't experience after pains with your first baby.  Thank you Mother Nature for tricking us into more children.  However, once it's not your first trip to the fair you are gifted with cramps that will make you double over, grit your teeth, maybe mutter a few swear words.  And with each baby they tend to get a bit worse.  Yay!!  So great. 

While they are totally not fun, they are important as they are bringing your uterus back down to it's pre-pregnancy size and reducing the about of blood loss.  The release of oxytocin when you breastfeed kicks the shrinking up a notch and can cause more cramping while baby eats.  I found taking some form of pain meds about a 1/2 hour before nursing helped to take the edge off.  Slow steady breathing, similar to your labour breathing also helps.  You can add some heat with a hot water bottle or heating pad too.  Just be careful that baby doesn't get too hot if you apply the heat while nursing.  And don't worry they only tend to last a few days.

3. Compression: shorts, shirts, belly bind.  Love them all.  Love, love, love my compression shorts.  They helped hold my hips and pelvis together, kept my stupid pad from shifting and irritating an already irritated area and helped hold my stretched out belly firm.  I also found the counter pressure helped with the cramping.  

Since I am a large chested woman, made with the capability to feed an army of starving infants, I like a snug bra.  I found my breasts felt better when supported especially when my milk came in.  However, lots of women I've worked with like the opposite…to go braless or topless for the first week.  Whatever works.

I also, with my last baby, discovered the art of belly binding.  There are a few different ways to do it.  You can wrap your belly with a tensor, or a long strip of cloth.  You can purchase an elasticized band that goes from your boobs to your hips to suck it all in.  Or you can go the traditional route with a Bengkung Belly bind, which are beautiful and work great, but a bit time consuming to put on.

The point of binding or wrapping your belly in the postpartum period is to help your uterus shrink and  encourage your internal organs to return to their original location after being displaced for the past few months.  A bind adds core stability so you can let your muscles heal without slouching into bad posture and potentially causing yourself issues down the road.  There is a tendency when we feed our babies and hold are babies to round forward and not maintain proper posture and a bind helps hold us up when our muscles need a break.  They also help your skin shrink by reducing the pull of gravity.  Just try not to wear it over a long period of time (weeks to months) as binding can lead to muscle deterioration.  

4. Core Strength:  Time to strengthen those deep core muscles.  It is really important when you are schlepping a car seat around, bending over cribs and breast or bottle feeding to get those core muscles back to at least a functioning-properly-capacity if not toned and swelt.  The nice thing is that there are a few exercises you can do starting soon after delivery.

1.  Posture:  The weight and size of the baby that was just inside you causes your spine to shift to accommodate it throughout pregnancy.  By the end your spine's natural s bend is exaggerated.  This stresses your hips, shoulders and lower legs as they adjust your centre of gravity to keep you from falling forward.  Once baby is out and the muscles are called back to the front lines they have lost a lot of their strength and this can cause your spine to stay in the exaggerated s curve, which can cause all sorts of problems with your hips, shoulders, neck, calves, shins, etc.  So after baby is born focus on regaining proper posture.  

Try this activity:
Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees soft (not locked straight).
Slowly rock forward so your weight is supported in your toes.  
Slowly rock backwards so your weight is support in your heels.  Repeat and focus on how hard your body has to work to remain upright.
Balance your weight on your feet so that it is evenly distributed between your toes and your heels.
Lift your shoulders up, pull them back and drop them down. This opens up your chest.
Pretend there is a string coming out of the crown of your head and pull it up.
Tuck your chin in slightly.
Pretend there is another string coming from your chest on a 45 degree angle and pull it out.
Pull in your core muscles.
Tilt your pelvis forward slightly.
 

Relearning proper posture after giving birth takes time!  There is a tendency to lean forward at the hips as there is often tension in the lower back and cramping in the front right after delivery.  Slowly this gets better throughout the first few weeks and practicing proper posture for a little each day will help.   Remember when you are nursing or holding your baby to keep your shoulders back and down and your core muscles as tight as possible.  Bring baby to breast not breast to baby.  You may need a stack of pillows.  Put baby in a wrap if possible.  They hold baby centred on your torso and aid in better posture.

2. Belly Breathing:  Lay on your back on a flat surface with your knees bend at a 90 degree angle and feet flat on the floor.  Breathe in deeply and as you exhale contract your abdominal muscles.  Focus on pulling your belly button towards your spine, drawing you pelvic floor in and tightening the muscles between you belly button and pubic bone.  Hold for as long as you can or a count of 10 and release.  Repeat 10 times 3-4 times throughout the day.  You can do this one while in bed!

 

Did I miss something?  Let me know in the comments below!

Check out the other two installments in this series; breasts and bottoms!