Just over two weeks ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She’s my second baby, so you’d think I’d be familiar with the tender post-birth recovery period by now, having gone through it all before. Well you’d be wrong.
What I remember from last time around appears to have been filtered through a rose-tinted memory box in my head. It’s all newborn cuddles, quiet naps, endless bouquets of flowers and snuggles on the sofa. The actual body bits – the rather gross bits – have all been blanked out.
So in the interests of keeping it real, I’m sharing my A-Z of post-birth recovery symptoms with you. Be warned, much of this is TMI, but if you think we all bounce of bed looking like super-model Gisele Bundchen after having a baby then you’re in for a shock.
A is for… After-birth pains
Newsflash: contractions don’t end the moment you’ve had your baby. Annoying but true, the uterus has to shrink back to its pre-baby size. This means after-birth pains which feel like a cross between a contraction and an intense period pain. They get worse the more babies you have, so this time around I was shocked by how uncomfortable they were compared to with my first baby.
B is for… Bleeding
It’s like a six week period. Seriously. First of all the blood is bright red and a bit gushy (vomit – sorry), then it calms down to a never-ending period that is all the worse for not having had a period in over nine months.
C is for… Constipation
The jolly experience that is your first post-birth poo isn’t something many women will shout about. With my first baby I remember being terrified my insides were going to fall out if I pushed too hard. The result is holding it in and getting constipated. Anyone who’s been properly constipated before will tell you – it’s not pleasant.
D is for… Diarrhoea
So you take medicine to make you un-constipated (doctor Forbes in the house, yes that is a word) and you end up with torrents of diarrhoea and irritating stomach cramps. And you thought the glamour was all saved for pregnancy…
E is for… Engorged breasts
You’re lulled into a false sense of security the couple of days after birth. As your breasts produce colostrum they’re still relatively comfortable. Then BOOM! Your milk comes in a few days later (for me it was day two because my baby literally didn’t come up for air between feeding for the first day) and you’re walking around with two rock hard bowling boobs on your chest. Katie Price eat your heart out.
F is for… Flatulence
This is all linked to the ongoing constipation issue. Yet another undignified side effect of giving birth – blowing off when you least expect it.
G is for… Google addiction
Never have I used Google as much as in the first few days after having a baby. Even when I know the answer to something I’ve run to Google to verify my knowledge. With my first baby I was basically hooked up to Google 24/7.
H is for… Hair loss
I’m told hair loss is a pretty common symptom after having a baby. All that extra thick glossy hair you revelled in during pregnancy decides to make a swift exit – at just the time when you don’t have the energy to run a hoover around the house.
I is for… Insomnia
The baby wakes up every two hours to feed – sometimes more. You’re tired beyond belief. All you want to do is sleep. Yet when you close your eyes, you just can’t drift off. At first it’s the adrenaline – you feel amazing after giving birth. But by night three you’re just awake because you can’t stop checking on the baby, or working out exactly how much sleep you’ll be able to cram in between now and daylight. Ironic, no?
J is for… Joy
I’m regularly swept up in the most intense feelings of love and joy as I look at my baby. She turns me into a ball of mush and probably THE most annoying person on Instagram as I fill my feed with baby spam. Sorry, I can’t help it – it’s a medical symptom you know.
K is for… Knackered brain
Pretty self-explanatory this one. Goes with the insomnia territory. Don’t expect to remember your name or where you left the nappies for a long time yet.
L is for… Leaky nipples
I know when my baby is due a feed because I can literally feel my nipples leaking milk. I’m like a human udder as I walk around lactating and regularly having to change my breast pads because they’re soaked through. Breastfeeding is pretty amazing, but it’s not without its challenges – and leaky nipples are one of them.
M is for… Maternity pads
I’m now resigned to the fact I have to wear what feels like a duvet in my pants every day. Get ready for the gross factor – in the first week I had to change my pads after every breastfeed because the hormone released during feeding would cause my uterus to contract, releasing a load of blood. It’s all very normal apparently, but I totally wasn’t prepared for it. Maternity pads are your friend post-birth. Stock up or, better still, invest in shares of Tena Lady.
N is for… Naps
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is the mantra for all new mums. The midwife, your family and the health visitor will all chant this line at you. The reality is that if there are things to do then it’s not easy to nap. But nap you must – for how else will you survive 9 hours of straight feeding through the night?!
O is for… Out of it
When you’re short on sleep and you have a nocturnal baby, time kind of merges into one. It leaves you feeling a bit out of it, in a kind of weird baby cocoon of alternate reality.
P is for… Piles
I’ve been lucky enough to dodge this one but piles are another attractive side-effect of having a baby. It can make the whole post-birth poo thing that bit more pleasant. Not.
Q is for… Questions
This is where the Google addiction is borne.
R is for… Raging hormones
From intense joy to moments of earth shattering emotion, the raging hormones can leave you and everyone around you wandering where the next outburst is going to come from.
S is for… Sweating
I had fat feet and cankles during this pregnancy, which has led to sweaty feet post-birth, as all that excess fluid drains out of my body. Friends have told me about night sweats where they’ve woken up in a drenched bed, as their body rids itself of all that extra water.
T is for… Tearing
Again, something I was lucky to avoid. For many though, tearing is par for the course during labour. It can lead to stitches and soreness in the few weeks after birth, as the body heals itself and things start to mend back together.
U is for… Urinating all the time
Like the sweat thing, all that fluid needs a place to go. So it can mean you’re regularly nipping off for a wee. Coupled with a weakened pelvic floor from pushing the baby out and you get an interesting game of wee roulette, where every laugh or sneeze can result in wetting your pants. Sexy.
V is for… Vulnerable feelings
It’s no surprise that all these lovely post-birth symptoms can leave you feeling a bit… vulnerable. Never have I sought reassurance more than in the first couple of weeks after having a baby. I expect my husband would describe me as needy with a capital N at the moment.
W is for… Wobbly belly
Your belly doesn’t shrink back to washboard status straight away (in my case – it was never at washboard status to begin with), which is rather annoying. My stomach currently resembles a pillow. It’s soft and cushiony and makes the perfect nap surface for my newborn.
X is for… Xtreme emotions
See Raging Hormones above.
Y is for… Yawning all day
Obviously. You haven’t slept in a week, remember?
Z is for… Zero rationalism
See Raging Hormones and Xtreme Emotions, above. Being rational is not my strong point at the moment (“WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE’RE OUT OF TEA BAGS?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! I WANT A DIVORCE!!!!!!” etc etc).
Despite all of the above I should really add a footnote here: having a baby is the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’m not going to wax on about the joyful moments of the newborn days because I do that enough on Instagram, but it really does make all the constipation, after-birth pains and lack of sleep worth it. Promise.