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!

 

Postpartum Survival Guide; The First Week, Part 1

 

After having 6 babies I like to think I've learned some tips on how to survive the first week postpartum.  Each of my babies has brought a new challenge and a new discovery on how to make that first week more comfortable.  I was still learning new things with number 6!

Here are my top tips for making that first week more comfortable.  I've divided them into categories because that's how my mind organizes pretty much everything, I might just colour code them too 🙂

I'll be covering things in this order: breasts, bellies, bottoms and other.

This post is all about breasts.  As a breastfeeding advocate and a successful breastfeeder I think it is important for moms to hear from other moms about what to expect, books are great but there is no replacement for knowledge handed from one mother to another.  This isn't a how to guide on breastfeeding, just some things I've learned about nursing.

Breasts:  

1. Milk supply:  It is pretty common for new mothers to worry about their milk supply, about whether or not they are or will make enough milk to feed their babies.  I have talked to a lot of moms who are freaking out on the first day or two postpartum because they don't have enough milk.  Well, here's the thing, we are not supposed to have milk until day 3 or 4.  So step one to making milk is to relax!  The first couple of days we produce colostrum, or "liquid gold" as the NICU nurse that was caring for baby #5 liked to call it.  It is exactly what our baby's need, full of proteins, vitamins and nutrients.  It also contains antibodies from the mother which is good as baby's are not born with their immune systems running at full strength and the colostrum, and later mature breast milk, is what helps them fight off infections. Colostrum also has a laxative effect which allows baby to pass meconium more effectively and more quickly, which helps prevent newborn jaundice.  Colostrum is slowly replaced by mature milk in the first two weeks.  The quantity may seem small, but the quality is amazing and just what baby needs.  
 
The other thing to remember is that baby's tummy is really small and what your breasts produce is the perfect amount to slowly stretch your baby's tummy and get him or her ready for when your milk comes in.  The best thing to do to encourage your milk to come in is to relax, let baby suckle, and stay hydrated. Your milk will come just in time for baby's first growth spurt on day 3 or 4. If it's your first baby your milk may come in a day later.
 
DSC04243If you are still worried about your milk supply there are some teas that help bring it in and boost up the volume.  My favourite is Nettle Greek Mountain by the Canadian company Steeped Tea.  If you are interested in ordering this tea to try click here. (Canadian shoppers only)
 

2. Engorgement:  Day 3-4 is when the milk comes in, and when it comes, it comes!  There's a good 5007513c65392d4ab07e1cbfd108c30dchance your breasts are bigger than they have ever been, sore and probably shooting milk out in all directions!  Nothing says "Hot Mama" like rock hard boobs shooting milk all over!  

What's the best way to deal with this?  Nurse baby, often.  Our bodies are so amazing!  Our milk comes in just as our baby has his/her first growth spurt.  

Even with increased feeds often times there is still more milk than baby can drink and it is important to empty your breasts frequently or you can end up with blocked milk ducts (ouch!) or an infected milk duct (super ouch!)  I found that if I had more milk than my baby could drink (and I did, I could have easily fed a village!) the best thing for me to do was pump the extra after nursing and toss it in the freezer for a day in the future… like when I desperately needed to get out of the house and away from the crazy little housemates I lovingly call children.  

If pumping doesn't work for you you can try hand expressing to relieve some of the pressure and to encourage those high milk ducts to empty.  There are lots of people who don't think pumping is a good idea, but when done after baby has nursed it is pretty effective in reducing engorgement, discouraging blocked ducts and it can help establish a good supply because breast milk is a supply and demand system.  If your body thinks baby is finishing a breast it will keep producing.  So if you don't need or want to freeze milk then each day you would pump a little less and let your body adjust.

Another thing besides frequent nursing and expression that can help ease the discomfort is applying heat.  Standing in a hot shower with a towel wrapped around your breasts, or soaking in a hot bath helps to reduce discomfort, it also feels nice on your other sore bits as I will talk about in part 2 and 3 of this series.

Compression, like wearing a sports bra also helps.  This helps reduce how much milk you make, so be careful not to compress your breasts to the point that you are no longer making enough for baby.  

The other thing that can help is massage, especially in the auxiliary breast tissue.  It is common for the milk ducts up by the arm pits to get blocked, massaging in a downward motion, toward your nipple, can help encourage the milk in the outlaying milk ducts to exit, especially if you do it while baby is nursing or while you are expressing.

Not every mother has the overwhelming engorgement when her milk comes in and that's o.k.!  It doesn't necessarily mean that mommy isn't making enough milk.  It may just be that that mother and newborn are in perfect sync and they have sorted out the supply and demand process of breastfeeding quickly.  As long as baby is peeing and pooping frequently there is enough milk.

It is also common for baby to spit up if your breasts are engorged because the milk flows quickly and they can get more than their little tummy's can handle.  Be prepared 🙂  They can also have a bit of trouble breathing and swallowing at the same time when your milk lets down and the flood gates open.  They can take in air if that happens so make sure they have a burp after or they might be grumpy about 20 minutes after eating because they have an air bubble in their belly that is bothering them.

DSC045973. Nipples: The first few times you nurse can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn't last.  The most important thing is to make sure baby has a good latch.  A good latch doesn't hurt.  It can be a bit uncomfortable for the first little bit as your nipples get used to the sensation, but if pain or discomfort lasts longer than the first few sucks take baby off and adjust the latch.  If pain is persisting get help ASAP, there is nothing worse than getting a blister on your nipple because it's going to hurt to nurse until that sucker heals (haha see what I did there) and it could get infected which really hurts!  If it ever feels like your nipples are on fire, especially between feedings, get them checked, there is a good chance they are infected.  Deal with it quickly.

Sometimes it can be hard for newborns to latch onto an engorged breast.  There are a couple of things you can do to help.  The first is to press areola down so your nipple "pops" up.  With your fingers and thumb form a circle around your nipple and press the areola down.  This just pushes all that milk back a bit and elongates the nipple to help baby latch. 

You can express some milk by hand to reduce the pressure, or if you are finding that you are really engorged you can pump off some milk.  This helps reduce the pressure, elongate your nipples, and start the milk flowing which can make it easier for baby to latch, especially if you have a sleepy baby.

Try different positions to help baby get a good latch.

A good tip for keeping your nipples in good form is to express a few drops of milk when you are done nursing, rub it into your nipple and let them air dry.  Seriously, motherhood is ridiculously glamorous!

4. Bras: Invest in a good quality nursing bra that fits properly! Seriously, the girls deserve it.  If you need to be fitted wait for your milk to come in and get fitted.  This is probably not something you'll do in the first week since it is actually better to just go free and let baby nurse, but plan on getting a good bra soon!

In the same area is breast pads.  There are a lot of different types out there.  Stay away from any that have a plastic back or layer as they trap moisture which can lead to infection.  There are some nice DSC04599washable ones that are soft, and cheap, since you only buy them once.  Just keep them clean and handy.  Although when your milk comes in you may just want to wear a towel!

5. Set up a nursing station or 2 or more around your house.  Include a water bottle and snack for you, clean nursing pads, burb cloth, book/magazine/remote, anything else you might need while nursing so you don't have to get up.  Click here for a list of one-handed snacks perfect for breastfeeding.

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DSC046006. Set up a sibling basket or 2 around your house.  If you have older children put together a little basket that is just for them for when you breastfeed.  Include items such as books, small toys, a baby doll and blanket so they can feed their baby too, and maybe a little snack.  Biggies might like to cuddle while you nurse too, or help by going and getting items for you, like a receiving blanket or diaper.  Of course there is a good chance they will simply ignore you too!

 

I think that's all I've got about boobs.  Did I miss something?  Let me know in the comments below!

Check out part 2…all about bellies.

Cartoon was found on pinterst.com