My organization, Roots of Health, provides reproductive healthcare to women and young people. Our free, high-quality clinical services include dispensing contraception, so all pregnancies are wanted and planned, and providing prenatal and postnatal care, so all pregnancies have the best possible outcomes.
As part of our prenatal care, we counsel women on what to expect during pregnancy and childbirth.
There are countless books, lists and articles, blogs and online forums to help women through pregnancy and with newborn care. But despite all my research throughout my own pregnancy, I still had some big surprises when I did gave birth. I asked my friends about some of the surprises they had as well and have compiled them here. I hope they will be helpful to any of you about to have a baby!
Before giving birth, I wish I had known that…
1 It can take up to 5 days for a new mother’s milk to come in. I knew that a mother’s first production would be colostrum-a thick, paste-like secretion that’s low in fat and high in carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies that help keep a new baby healthy. But I thought that milk would be readily available for my new baby. It was not. It often takes women two to three days for their milk to come in, but for me it took five. I had no idea there could be a delay. I thought my body was failing me and incapable of making milk. This situation is extremely stressful, as you worry that your crying baby is starting to grow dehydrated and hungry. On that fifth day after my eldest was born and I wasn’t producing milk, we finally started using a dropper to give our son a few droppers full of formula. And of course, hours later, my milk came in and I was able to exclusively breastfeed. When I had my daughter two years later, I already knew that my milk wouldn’t come in right away so I wasn’t as stressed and nervous as I waited.
2 Post labor pain from an episiotomy and nipple pain from the baby learning to latch and breastfeed would be more painful than actual labor. Labor was definitely painful. But when the baby came out, it was done. For women who need episiotomies, walking and moving around after labor is incredibly painful. Starting breastfeeding is painful too. I had thought a lot about labor pain and how I would handle it, but had completely overlooked the pain I would feel post labor.
3 I would still look pregnant after giving birth. For some reason, I thought that after I gave birth, my huge belly would deflate and and magically return to its pre-pregnant shape. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. With my baby out I immediately lost around 15 pounds (baby’s weight plus water retention) but still looked massively pregnant. Friends and even my OB asked me days later if I was sure there wasn’t another baby in there. (By the way, please don’t say this to women who have just given birth. It will make them cry). It ended up taking me about eight months to get back into my pre-pregnancy clothing. Some women don’t gain as much weight in pregnancy so it might take a shorter time, but as my mom advised me, “it took nine months to get that big, so give yourself up to nine months to get back to where you started.”
4 The baby would sleep all day and not at night. This can vary from baby to baby of course but among my group of friends, several of us experienced that our babies loved to nap continuously all day, and be awake and ready to play all night.
5 I would get nothing else done but care for the baby. I had these expectations that during my maternity leave I would be able to rest, read some books, catch up with some friends, and generally have some down time. I couldn’t have known before my son was born just how exhausting it is to care for a newborn. He didn’t sleep at night, so I didn’t sleep at night. Even though I tried to nap when he napped, I was exhausted ALL THE TIME, so never had the energy to read a book or even watch TV when he was nursing. When he started sleeping more and I would get two to three hours of sleep at a time, I felt human again. But before that, it was zombie mama mode all the way.
6 I would need all the help I could get. So many women are used to being the ones helping others, and can be reluctant to ask for help for themselves. But I learned after giving birth that I definitely needed help from anyone willing to give it! My partner, relatives, friends, my doctor, my pastor… I needed help from them all.
7 Baby blues are real. A huge number of women get baby blues or postpartum depression. Women who have just given birth have huge changes in their hormone levels in a short amount of time, leading to a roller coaster of emotions. Pair this with not sleeping, being in pain, and feeling isolated from one’s partner, family and friends and you’ve got the perfect recipe for depression. I knew about baby blues but didn’t really realize until a few months later that I had them. If I had known when I was in the middle of the blues that it was normal and would likely pass, I may have been kinder to myself.
8 Love multiplies with the addition of new little people. I already loved my babies before I had them but I did worry before my first about how my relationship with my husband would change with the arrival of our son. And with my second baby, I wondered how to divide up my time, love and attention between my husband and my kids. Each time I had a new baby, it was definitely a challenge to divide my time and energy. But there was no need to worry about the love. It just multiplied with each new child birth.