baby proof: postpartum rest and recovery.

January 26, 2017

postpartum rest and recovery | reading my tea leavesSuffice to say, I’m not a medical professional. I’m not an OB or a midwife. I’m not a trained doula, or a lactation consultant. The two births I’ve witnessed have been my own. The postpartum healing I’ve witnessed has been limited to a few close friends and one sister and even that has been observed somewhat from a distance. The truth is that apart from professionals in the field, many 0f us don’t have an intimate experience of the postpartum experience. But start to talk about what your experience was like postpartum among a group of new parents and there will often emerge a seemingly collective question: 

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

While it would be foolhardy (and perhaps even dangerous) to imply that postpartum recovery looks the same for everyone, I do think it’s helpful to at least broach the subject; to enter these stories into the record, so to speak. My own story is, of course, particular to me. I’ve had two unmedicated vaginal births following very rapid labors. I’ve experienced first and second-degree tearing with both births, but I’ve recovered without exceptional difficulty. I’ve breastfed two babies—knock on wood—without anything beyond initial discomfort. By most accounts, I’ve had things easy. I have not given birth to a baby who was already lost, or lost soon after delivery. I have not recovered from a Cesarian section or other major surgery. Beyond the first week’s experience of tearful “baby blues,” I have not experienced postpartum depression. I have not been mistreated or misunderstood by medical professionals. I have not welcomed a new baby by adoption or surrogate. These are also real, important stories of postpartum recovery that need to be shared and listened to.

On lifestyle blogs that delve into the realm of parenthood, the most we often get is a note that the writer has taken some time off to enjoy baby snuggles. For my part, when I’ve mentioned that I’ve just given birth and might be slow to respond to emails, I’ve often been met with a response along the lines of, “so glad you get to enjoy that time with your new baby.” Or, “treasure every moment.” Or, “relish this precious time.” These are all things I’m doing and the notes from friends and perfect strangers along these lines are lovely and warm and very much appreciated. And yet, I think we all deserve a nuanced understanding—and recognition—of what welcoming a baby into the world looks like. We deserve to reframe the postpartum period of rest and recovery as being an essential part of welcoming a new baby and not an optional or luxurious one. This goes especially for parents for whom adequate postpartum care has been historically—or is still—absent, including poor parents in our own country and in resource-poor communities worldwide.

It’s no surprise that in the United States the postpartum period is not framed as a necessary, healthy, essential moment. I live in a country whose federal government provides exactly zero weeks of paid parental leave. On a policy level we largely ignore new parents; on a cultural level we reward their resilience and their ability to bounce back while mostly failing to acknowledge the challenges inherent in the task.

Without a doubt, for me welcoming a baby into the world is a moment of great, indescribable joy. It’s also a moment of terrific tenderness. There’s discomfort. There are hormonal swings. There are hunger pangs and heart pangs and bouts of feeling overwhelmed just as much as bouts of feeling euphoric. 

For me, the postpartum period is filled with baby coos and impossibly tiny wrinkly feet, and the smell of a baby’s velvet head that evades description, but there’s also a bedside table stocked with ibuprofen and acetaminophen and stool softener. There are soft and absorbent breast pads to soak up milk leaking from engorged breasts. There are cabbage leaves to ease the pain of overfilled milk ducts. There’s painful shuffling to the bathroom. There’s postpartum uterine cramping as intense as labor contractions. There’s frantically gesturing for more cold water to quench a terrific thirst that comes on just as I’ve propped myself into bed to nurse. There’s postpartum bleeding that lasts for weeks. There’s a peri-bottle to clean a stitched-up vagina. There’s witch hazel to soothe the same spot. There are herbal sitz baths. There are groggy (and grumpy) night feedings. There’s losing and regaining patience. There’s terrible cabin fever and blubbering tears. 

I don’t have uniquely challenging circumstances. (Indeed, I have most everything going in my favor.) I am not exceptional. My experience is, to use a difficult word: normal. But beyond clichés about new parent exhaustion, almost none of this side of things gets widely talked about, read about, or heard. Let’s put an end to that today. Below, a few resources to prepare yourself if you or someone you love is expecting a new baby. Read them, share them with the new (and old!) parents you know, and share your own stories and resources, too. 

A few resources:

Breastfeeding support: La Leche League and Kelly Mom

Doula support: Not So Private Parts; Dona International

Cesarean recovery support: International Cesarean Awareness Network

Postpartum depression support: Postpartum Support InternationalThe Center for Postpartum Health; Postpartum ProgressSeleni Institute

Miscarriage and loss support: GAPPSFirst Candle; TEARS Foundation

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  • Reply Anna January 26, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Thanks so much for this Erin. I delivered my second baby in August and like you, my only experience with postpartum recovery had been very normal. The second time around came with a very large, 9lb 6oz baby and another stage 2 tear that became infected within the first week. I spent the second week of my son’s life laying flat while my 2 year old ran about and my husband worked hard to manage us all. I am lucky though because I have a fantastic provider who cares deeply and saw me through that physical and emotional roller coaster.

    Five months later I am still physically recovering with aches and pain in my abs and groin. I ran a half marathon right before getting pregnant but now, walking to the copier at work is painful. My one saving grace has been pelvic floor physical therapy. My therapist worked through painful scar tissue from both births and tears, and taught me invaluable exercises that I continue to this day to strengthen my torn-apart muscles. After my first birth, the thought of having physical therapy in my vagina was unthinkable! But following those early weeks after my second, I was more than willing and now so happy that I went!

    And the kicker is that once I started talking to my girlfriends and sisters (in law) about it, they all commiserated with lingering postpartum issues! My next door neighbor actually referred me to her PT and several other friends asked for her information. While it may make some people who are pregnant or pre-pregnant uncomfortable, I’m not very guarded these days about talking about my recovery or recommending physical therapy. Women should know what is actually normal and that, like most things, it’s difficult even when it’s relatively easy.

  • Reply Ros January 26, 2017 at 10:24 am

    I was very fortunate that multiple women had warned me of… unkeeled emotions, let’s call it… in the first week. LIterally: I cry MAYBE once a year, max. I’m not particularly weepy as a person. I spent days 2-6 looking at my baby and SOBBING. “Look how beautiful she is *sob*sob*weep*”. If I hadn’t been warned about hormones, I’d have freaked out. As it was, it was still freaky, but it took about a week for things to reach a more even line, emotionally.

    And yeah, your second-to-last paragraph rings true. It’s lovely and wonderful and full of baby cuddles and etc, all that is true, but it’s also profound exhaustion and deep physical discomfort and the feeling that your body is just a (painful) foreign entity, and it takes time for that to pass.

    How America can’t justify maternity leave, I will never know. I’m 37 weeks pregnant, and hoping to work for another 2 weeks… and after that I’ve got a (paid) year off work. Bless Quebec. I’m very thankful that I don’t live 2 miles south.

  • Reply Kathleen January 26, 2017 at 10:33 am

    This brought back a lot of memories. I hope you have lots of support, especially with your toddler, and can take the time you need to transition into your new normal with two kids. And thanks for normalizing the (often hard) reality of the postpartum experience.

  • Reply Laura January 26, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Love this. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Reply Erica January 26, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for shining a light on the postpartum period. I completely agree – it isn’t a period typically discussed in great detail. For myself, I recently had an unmedicated vbac. I was taken aback by the care my body needed in order to recover and how long it seemed my body needed to return to some semblance of normalcy. Like you, there was nothing particularly extraordinary about the birth experience – only some second degree tearing but I was struck by how invisible I felt to my doctor (whom I like and respect). It was almost like, ok, it’s been six weeks, everything looks fine. But I didn’t feel normal physically. No one (traditional doctors included) talks about the postpartum swelling and discomfort, let alone concerns over prolapse and your pelvic floor, how different things will look in your vaginal area (my doctor’s response was, “that’s why women have repeat c-sections.”), what is normal vs when to be concerned. I just wish our medical community gave as much attention to a mother postpartum as they do to the baby when you’re pregnant.

  • Reply Nicole January 26, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Really great post. Thank you!

  • Reply Katharine January 26, 2017 at 10:56 am

    This is wonderful, Erin. I gave birth to my first baby four months ago and, aside from third degree tears that needed time to heal, was fortunate to have an easy recovery. But what too many people don’t realize is that an easy recovery is still tremendously demanding and difficult! Your previous words on postpartum tenderness were wonderful preparation, and I was also the recipient of some excellent advice from my Bradley coach. But too many women don’t have those resources, and too many people don’t have any idea what the weeks immediately post-birth demand of a new mother.

    A close friend gave birth this weekend, also to her first, and I was so grateful to be able to help her out with advice and support, both before and after the birth. Thank you for doing what you can to make this important conversation happen!

  • Reply Jane January 26, 2017 at 11:01 am

    I’ve recently had my second child, and my experiences seem similar to yours in a general way (two un-medicated vaginal births, fairly rapid labour, tearing only the first time, relative ease with breastfeeding). I live in Canada, and so am 4.5 months into a year-long paid maternity leave. For all these things, I recognize and deeply appreciate my good fortune.
    When discussing the possibility of a second child, my partner was unreservedly enthused and I was unsure. We decided to go for it and I told myself that the longer-term benefits (a sibling for our daughter, etc.) would make the short term difficulties (sleepless nights, loss of freedom, etc.) worth it. Still, I experienced anxiety during pregnancy about having to divide my love and attention, about my inability to cope emotionally on little sleep, and a host of other concerns that made me assume that postpartum period #2 would be a very rough time.
    I did not anticipate that, following the birth of my second daughter, I would be flooded with an enormous sense of relief and well-being, not to mention love for her (which I did not take to be an immediate given). It was not a manic state, nor something I crashed down from. It has maintained for months (helped by her good sleep habits for sure), and seems to be our norm. Sure, we’ve had some hiccups with adjusting to the new family dynamic, but it has mostly been very smooth sailing.
    I feel compelled to share this because, while I agree that it’s necessary and beneficial to have spaces where we can share our postpartum experiences, the very nature of such a space can invite especially, and be dominated by, stories of postpartum hardships. When I was pregnant, I had no trouble feeding my postpartum-period anxieties with online anecdotes. I want to add my experience of postpartum wellness, because it’s one aspect of such an enormous conversation that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle; that sometimes it’s all okay. Thanks, Erin, for providing another opening for an important conversation.

    • Reply Sarah January 26, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      “…while I agree that it’s necessary and beneficial to have spaces where we can share our postpartum experiences, the very nature of such a space can invite especially, and be dominated by, stories of postpartum hardships.” Jane, thank you for wording this so eloquently. I think this is a really important point.

      Erin, thank you so much for this post — it serves as an excellent example of how to talk about the postpartum period. As a prenatal yoga instructor and a doula, I often struggle with how and how much to tell to women about the postpartum period. The postpartum experience is so universal — after every birth is a period of intense transition — and yet it’s incredibly individual. As Jane’s comment illustrates, no one can tell you what that time will be like for you. It depends so heavily on your personality, your life circumstances, how your body responds to childbirth, your baby’s health and needs, whether you have help, whether you have to go back to work, and so on and so forth. As such, in the past I have generally opted not to risk overwhelming mamas (especially new mamas) by going over all the physical and emotional possibilities, and instead invite them to email or text me if they want to touch base after the birth. I often wonder if I’m doing them a disservice, as I too had that moment of, “Why did nobody tell me!?” when my daughter was born. Having been on both sides of it now, it’s a tough line to walk.

    • Reply KG February 1, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      Thank you thank you for this comment! I’m currently pregnant with my second and am having so much anxiety about being able to cope with two little ones. Am I ready for the sleepless nights? The sobbing in the bathroom because I have zero time to myself? And how will I take care of a newborn with a needy toddler running around? Deep down, I know that it will all be OK, but it is, at the moment, nerve-wracking, and it’s incredibly refreshing/helpful to read about a positive experience.

      • Reply Jane February 3, 2017 at 1:55 pm

        I’m so glad for this response (and Sarah’s, above, too)! One thing I will add; with my first child, it seemed that I’d never again sit alone and enjoy book and complete silence, for instance. Though I knew logically that my loss of solitude was not forever, I’d never been through having a baby before and it was somehow harder to believe, in a sleep-deprived state, that the present reality wouldn’t be the forever reality. The second time around, I find it much easier to really believe that “this too shall pass” in the face of difficulties, because of course I’ve been there before. I find this enormously comforting- it makes me calmer, and makes the tough times seem like hiccups (which they are) instead of earthquakes (which they are not) in the grand scheme. Best wishes for health and sleep and sanity with your growing family!

      • Reply Amy February 19, 2017 at 12:12 pm

        KG – I recall having the exact SAME emotions while pregnant with my second child. My daughter was only a year old when I became pregnant again, and I was terrified at the thought of having two kids under the age of two. I was also excited, but the two emotions pulled me mentally and emotionally in opposite directions. Perhaps out of my anxiety and downright fear, I began preparing myself for my second in ways I couldn’t with my first. I found a Parents Day Out program for our daughter. I began preparing frozen meals, something I dismissed with my first baby, assuming I’d have plenty of time to cook slow meals while she somehow played in a play-pen. I know. I also did one thing that really, really, really helped me the second time around. I hired a postpartum doula. I didn’t even know that existed the first time around. I got some names from my birth doula, and before I gave birth to our son, I had a lovely woman lined up to help. And boy did she help. A few mornings a week, she came and scooped my son up and gave him a bath, rocked him and brought him to me for feedings. Beyond that, her presence just comforted me. I loved having her in the house. She really seemed to love taking care of our son and me. Anyway, it’s something I wish I’d considered or known about after my first birth. I am sending you lovely thoughts and vibes for a healthy, happy birth. Amy

  • Reply Jen January 26, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I really loved it when Chrissy Teigen posted about her post-partum realities…so much more affirming than celebs who talk about how “painless” childbirth was and how quickly they got back to their pre-pregnancy bodies.

    Thanks for sharing this, wish everyone had the resources and support to take the time they need to recover and integrate a new being into the world.

  • Reply Emily January 26, 2017 at 11:09 am

    The uterine cramps with my number 2!!!!! OMG!!!!! I thought I was dying!!!

    • Reply Emily January 26, 2017 at 12:16 pm

      And on a side note, I had a bit of PPD after my first but was never diagnosed because I would read the four criterion and think “I’m eating and sleeping fine. I don’t want to run away. I don’t want to hurt her,” etc. but since having my second, I realized I did actually have it with my first. I read through your PPD resources and I would definitely say that for those of us with a less intense version of it, Postpartum Progress looks like the best one I’ve seen. I wish I had read about different “varieties” of PPD. I wish I had been diagnosed, if for no other reason than maybe my husband, who is wonderful by the way, might have had a little more patience with me.

  • Reply Kristen January 26, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Yes! Thank you a million times.

    Post-partum, I remember losing control of my bladder while walking to the bathroom in the hospital and then proceeding to bawl on the shoulder of the nurse saying: “How am I supposed to take care of a baby if I can’t even control my bladder?!?!?!” I wanted to be the heroine for my baby mentally, but physically it was just not going to happen.

  • Reply Jill Palumbo January 26, 2017 at 11:32 am

    My children are grown but when I read about how so many women today take this baby welcoming time, I would almost do it all over again. I read how some women take two weeks and lie in bed with their newborn, snoozing and feeding and wonder why I didn’t do it. Unfortunately, someone had to take of care of the toddler(s), cook meals, do laundry, take out the dirty diapers and so on. My husband went right back to work and my mother only stayed a day or so (she had to go back to work too), so it was up to me. I think the only day I stayed in bed was the day I got home from the hospital. So if you have the help and the resources, I say go for it and enjoy the heck out of it! Congrats on your new son, I love his name!

  • Reply Rika January 26, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I found the podcast “The Longest Shortest Time” to be an incredible resource. It touches so many issues of parenthood in a very honest way; good and bad.

    I’m having my second child in about three weeks and so far, I had a similar experience to you Erin. Fairly fast and uncomplicated unmediated first birth and overall a good and uncomplicated breastfeeding experience. I hope to experience the same, the second time around. This time I won’t have my sister around (she was able to pamper me and my husband for 12 days last time), but there is other support from family and friends, and we’re excited to see what comes next! Congratulations!!

  • Reply Abby January 26, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Hi, Erin —
    I sometimes listen to The Longest Shortest Time, a podcast that deals with all sorts of parenting stuff, and their most recent episode, Risky Birth-ness, is related to what you’re discussing here. Thought your readers might be interested.

    • Reply Merri January 26, 2017 at 2:31 pm

      Thank you, I’m checking this out.

      • Reply Abby January 27, 2017 at 12:18 am

        You’re welcome! It’s a great podcast, investigates all sorts of parent-related topics, and the host, Hillary Frank, is sharp and reflective. I dig it.

  • Reply sam-c January 26, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for posting about things that need to be shared.

  • Reply Sarah January 26, 2017 at 11:50 am

    As a Labor & Delivery nurse who on occasion finds myself working on the postpartum floor (and having worked on said floor for a year before moving to L&D) the number one thing I find myself saying and hearing overwhelming agreement is “no one warned you about this did they?…” fundal checks or “massage” as some people sadistically call it is important to prevent postpartum hemorrhage but should be talked about during the prenatal period not when you’re exhausted after a 20 hour labor and delivery with a crying newborn in your arms… the amount of bleeding shocks many women and I almost cry to think that as a society we refuse to talk about these things as if the most normal thing in the world was taboo. Thank you for talking about your experience. Vaginal tearing happens to more women than not during delivery. You bleed a lot afterwards. Your breasts hurt from filling milk and raw nipples. We need to check your uterus to make sure you don’t have retained placenta or growing clots. You’re tired from the necessity of feeding a newborn you just went through so much work to deliver. It’s not all bad, it’s just the reality of the postpartum period. And don’t get me wrong, its WONDERFUL if you have a healthy baby to cuddle and dote on, but it is not a vacation. I hope in the future (obviously not in the next four years as I was hoping) that women can have reprieve financially for having children. But for now we can lend support and most importantly we can talk about how much healing and support is needed in the postpartum period.

    Sending you so much love and healing,
    Sarah (@dottidee)

  • Reply Sarah January 26, 2017 at 11:50 am

    As a Labor & Delivery nurse who on occasion finds myself working on the postpartum floor (and having worked on said floor for a year before moving to L&D) the number one thing I find myself saying and hearing overwhelming agreement is “no one warned you about this did they?…” fundal checks or “massage” as some people sadistically call it is important to prevent postpartum hemorrhage but should be talked about during the prenatal period not when you’re exhausted after a 20 hour labor and delivery with a crying newborn in your arms… the amount of bleeding shocks many women and I almost cry to think that as a society we refuse to talk about these things as if the most normal thing in the world was taboo. Thank you for talking about your experience. Vaginal tearing happens to more women than not during delivery. You bleed a lot afterwards. Your breasts hurt from filling milk and raw nipples. We need to check your uterus to make sure you don’t have retained placenta or growing clots. You’re tired from the necessity of feeding a newborn you just went through so much work to deliver. It’s not all bad, it’s just the reality of the postpartum period. And don’t get me wrong, its WONDERFUL if you have a healthy baby to cuddle and dote on, but it is not a vacation. I hope in the future (obviously not in the next four years as I was hoping) that women can have reprieve financially for having children. But for now we can lend support and most importantly we can talk about how much healing and support is needed in the postpartum period.

    Sending you so much love and healing,
    Sarah @dottidee

  • Reply Gina January 26, 2017 at 11:54 am

    “On a policy level we largely ignore new parents; on a cultural level we reward their resilience and their ability to bounce back while mostly failing to acknowledge the challenges inherent in the task.” ….well worded and true! These are great resources. Thanks for your honesty and list of things that can occur after baby.
    I’d like to add that our resilience is necessary, reward or no reward. Policy be damned. Women have to educate themselves about birth and recovery. With my first pregnancy I went to the library and read every book I could. Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms affected me greatly and I chose home birth for all my pregnancies. I did this when I was uninsured and when I had health insurance, living on a lower than middle class income. Having my children at home was by far the best reward. I’ve never surfed the ocean, but I have surfed the waves of pregnancy, birth and recovery. Good times.

  • Reply Katelyn January 26, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you, Erin. Truly. You speak to (and often on behalf of) my heart.

  • Reply Alix January 26, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    I don’t know anything more about it except a short article I read (link below), but there’s a Chinese tradition called “sitting the month” that prescribes a strict regimen of rest, nutrition, and other practices for the first few weeks after giving birth. Worth reading about; could certainly be practiced with modifications, I’m guessing.


    • Reply VW February 8, 2017 at 12:22 am

      Best advice I got from the midwife I had in New Zealand was to prepare for the post-partum period with the assumption that I would spend 4 weeks in bed. What would need to be done in advance to make that doable? What kind of a support system would I need to put in place?

      After a physically and emotionally traumatic birth and very rough immediate postpartum experience, staying in bed for a month is exactly what I ended up doing, and I was grateful that the conditions were, for the most part, in place to make that possible.

      With the second birth, I made the same preparations and, thanks to an easier birth, was able to be up and about much sooner, but with the reassurance that I could spend a few days in bed if needed.

  • Reply Stephanie January 26, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    I’m still in that stage where no oe in my immediate family has had a baby in the past few years, and none of my friends have really started to yet either, so this post was really enlightening. I had no idea about all the post-birth complications that people faced until one friend had a baby six months ago. It’s so startling that none of it gets talked about!

    Steph –

  • Reply Kim January 26, 2017 at 12:42 pm

    I had a very smooth, rapid delivery and my birthing recovery took days. I really struggled with breastfeeding. One to three appointments a week for 6 weeks with a breast feeding consultant! I am fortunate to work at a company and live in a country who respects the need for post-partum medical care and paid leave. I don’t think I ever truly grasped how amazing that was until after I had my baby. One of my greatest challenges was the pregnancy “withdrawal”. All of a sudden the belly that I so proudly sauntered around with for months was deflated and saggy. I had to share my baby with the world; she was no longer just mine. I didn’t realize how amazingly happy being pregnant made me and how stressful caring for her would be especially during that first week. I think it is important for parents to check in with new parents in the early days. Let them know it is ok if they don’t feel #blessed all the time. Erin thank you again for your honesty and the links.

    • Reply Kate January 26, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      Ah, thank you for mentioning pregnancy withdrawal. I loved being pregnant (don’t get me wrong–as a 5′ tall woman growing a 9 pounder, it came with its discomforts), and I went through some serious mourning and sense of deep loss when I was no longer pregnant. At one point, I told my doula I was grateful for my c section scar because it meant my body would always have a visible mark of having been pregnant. That period was so full of transition and adjustment, and I felt very solitary through much of it.

  • Reply Emilie January 26, 2017 at 12:54 pm

    thank you for this valuable post to start some much needed conversations. i will be sharing widely! also, you may enjoy this if you haven’t already read it. as a woman who has home births, it was a tough read for me at first, but overall it’s another good piece to start conversations and broaden thoughts patterns:

  • Reply Christie January 26, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I sit on the board of a non-profit, and last fall we voted whether to increase the paid leave (aside from vacation and sick time) from one to two weeks! As the mother of two, I rallied hard for 3 months, which I still think is not enough. One of my biggest adversaries–an older woman in her early 60s. I raised all of the points you did, Erin, that even in the most “normal” of pregnancies and recoveries, it often takes 6 weeks to stop bleeding. It takes time to bond with the baby. And mothers who are not forced to return to work have lower rates of post-partum depression. And I know first hand because I had no leave with my second child. I was back to work after two weeks (luckily with baby in tow, but i had to write a legal (appellate) brief). I suffered PPD bad. After out meeting, the older woman approached me and told me I was offensive to women. She said I made pregnancy and recovery sound like an illness or a disease. Needless to say, in that room full of older women and men, my “in the midst of it” viewpoint lost out.

    • Reply Rhian January 26, 2017 at 4:22 pm

      Christie, this is horrifying — I’m so sorry. And it must have been very upsetting for you to listen to this rubbish when you were working so hard at mothering. What on earth can be so important that it eclipses parenting a tiny newborn? This fanatical dedication to a capitalist model of productivity, even at the expense of the bodies that are supposed to be so productive, is incredible. I’m so lucky to live in Europe and to have had a year’s maternity leave, but even then I felt strong pressure that my ‘job’ was to force this little person we’d brought into the world into a set of habits and practices that go against biology, against their natural instinct of self preservation and against mine and her father’s needs for rest and restoration, and that was very difficult for me. To have had that reduced to a week or two is just awful. You weren’t being offensive to women — you were being humane to humans. Thanks for speaking up.

      [Also, thanks Erin for brilliant post, and post-partum — wow that was hard. And very sweaty. xx]

    • Reply Kerri January 27, 2017 at 9:16 am

      Wow, my jaw dropped reading that (reader from Canada here). Please don’t let that awful response deter you from speaking up for what’s right. It’s the behind the scenes work like you are doing that advances the well being of women.

  • Reply Jo January 26, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    One component to this issue is that once the baby is born it becomes all about the baby. In our society, after the birth women are no longer people, they are mothers. And that means bucking up and caring for your child’s every single need at the great expense of your own needs for the next 18 years. Of course that’s the love and sacrifice of being a parent, but self-care is important and supporting women is important and the babies will be okay because of it, maybe even better.

    • Reply Kerri January 27, 2017 at 9:18 am

      So true. Some of my favourite advice/support was letting me know that babies are surprisingly resilient. I mean, YES, take care of them but you don’t have to be a total martyr and completely forget yourself in the course of doing do.

  • Reply Michelle January 26, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Thank you for this. It brings tears to my eyes thinking on my own experience just after giving birth to my daughter.

  • Reply Ris January 26, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    You are amazing! Thank you for using your voice for good.

  • Reply MissEm January 26, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    So glad you wrote this! Women should be able to feel strong and amazing in choosing self-care and rest in the postpartum period! We were fortunate to have our children in Canada, where my husband got paternity leave (I was a student and then a SAHM so I never got maternity leave, but it is available to working mothers). That was invaluable – for a few weeks he was able to support me. New mothers need that support and fathers need the chance to bond.

  • Reply Jess January 26, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    We’re expecting our third in May and I just read through the postpartum focused book The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother by Heng Ou. It is a beautiful book full of encouragement and guidance on how to make time to restore after birthing your babe and has tons of nourishing recipes for the new mom and her family. I’m so glad I’ve read it as it’s provided lots to think over and prepare as we get ready for our spring baby.

    • Reply Emily January 26, 2017 at 8:27 pm

      Yes – my best friend just had a baby, and I’m due with my first. She sent me this book and it was so fascinating. She said she did everything wrong and wish she had found this book sooner. I highly recommend it!

  • Reply Sylvia January 26, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    Wonderful post Erin. I would have welcomed such honesty 19 years ago after having my baby.

  • Reply Laura January 26, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you for this important post. Your voice is orienting about so many topics in this alarming time in our country.

  • Reply Amelia January 26, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Erin, thank you for not only providing such careful, thoughtful, honest words when it comes to your own experiences, but for also always providing links, lists, guides, etc. for additional research and learning. I’m always excited to dig deeper and learn more about every topic you cover, because I can trust it’s gonna be good.

    And thank you–especially– for the links regarding miscarriage and loss. It’s a topic that will always make me catch my breath. So many go through all the physical woes of post-birth (stitches, bleeding, cramps, engorgement, depression, ugh) after loss, and also have to muddle through the pain of losing a child. Those women need so much support and love! Thank you for including them.

  • Reply Juliette January 26, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Thank you for this, I wish I could have read it 6 years ago when giving birth for the first time. Nobody knows how to talk about all this not glamorous side of things, but you do, in a very lovely, relatable way. Thanks a million and congratulations on your new arrival!

  • Reply Camila January 26, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    What an incredible coincidence it is to read your blog right after I finished telling a friend about my post-partum experience. I totally agree with you on this. After watching The Beginning of Life on Netflix and facing my own discomforts, difficulties, and reality when my baby was born, something in me came alive and I really want to be a part of the network of support women so desperately need during this fragile period of parenthood. Thank you for posting this and for the resources. I hope we can all bring a bit of hope and support to all mamas, but especially those who are only just beginning this crazy journey.
    Hope you all are well. <3

  • Reply Sam January 26, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    This is beautiful and so necessary. I have a 7 month old, my first. Our literally and figuratively tender first few weeks were made easier thanks to the realistic expectations set by honest mothers like you. I healed well and fully because I was fortunate in birth circumstance and had the privilege of high quality care, but also because I did not plan to do ANYTHING except feed and cuddle a baby and sleep when I could. I wish our country cared more about the well-being of babies, children, and families. Thank you for your wonderful blog! And congratulations to the whole lovely family!

  • Reply Sarah Z January 26, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    I was one of the first in my friend group to have a baby, and I tell all my friends a couple of things when they are pregnant. 1) When (and if!) you are in the hospital after the birth, get the number of a lactation consultant that you like. I had such a difficult time with breastfeeding in the beginning and getting the contact info for an incredibly kind and supportive woman who offered to answer my calls anytime day or night made all the difference. Seeking someone out before you give birth is probably a great idea, too! And 2) I tell them about my postpartum depression and offer to be there if they experience it. I’ve had two friends now who have reached out sometime after their own births to ask questions about my experience because they feared they were going through the same. I think just knowing someone in your own circle who has experienced PPD makes it easier to reach out, and I always found them contact info for professionals in the area and made a point of dropping by often to just LISTEN (with food in hand, of course, and ready to do some chores!).

    I am having my 2nd baby in July, and I play to keep in my back pocket. I haven’t used them yet, but inspired by Cup of Jo, I think they may be a great resource for lactation consults when you really need to talk to someone about your nursing issue at 3 in the morning, which can sometimes be the case!

    • Reply Kerri January 27, 2017 at 9:23 am

      This is really helpful. I have a 10 month old and had post partum anxiety but have struggled with how to frame it to friends who are pregnant. I don’t want to scare them off but I also don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen. I like the idea of framing it like this.

  • Reply JULES THEIS January 26, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    I can’t thank you enough for writing this! It’s an important topic that rarely gets talked about. I struggled a lot for the first 4 months postpartum and could have used your words then. Now expecting baby number 2 in July your post rings true now more than ever. Looking forward to more of your baby proofing posts.
    I’m glad you are taking care of yourself!

  • Reply Alexa January 26, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you SO much for this, Erin. I haven’t had my own babies yet — we are hoping to start our family this year — but my closest girlfriends all sing the same song: “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” and then launch into stories of tearing and breastfeeding difficulties and hemorrhoids and depression and fill-in-the-blank.

    I don’t have a mother in my life or any sisters, so I am particularly thankful for girlfriends (and you!) willing to be open and honest about personal experiences. Thank you for your wonderful blog and open heart!

  • Reply Marie January 26, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Most heartfelt and truthful post. Thank you for sharing. I’m 41 and still desperately awaiting all of the above to come. I’ve had 2 miscarriages and really hope the next one will be the one. I can’t say how much i respect you and all women for going through all the challenges, staying strong and keeping the family together. Thank you.

  • Reply Bella January 26, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you, be gentle on yourself and try to relax when you can xx

    My experience after an emergency c-section was one of shock and long recovery – I felt like I had been in a car accident- my body was so very sore and I had to care for a new born when I couldn’t even get out of bed for the first 2 days.

    I don’t think the haze of postpartum recovery lifted for me until 6 weeks……….. I remember tentatively going for a walk with my baby at after 6 weeks, and feeling like a was coming out of a haze…… things did seem to get a bit better from then on.

    Recovery takes time, it is different for everyone.

    Adjustment takes time……….. for me months…………… 11 years of parenthood and I am still taking it day by day.

    It is beautiful is it wonderful, but my god at times it is heartbreaking and tough.

    Keep sharing and supporting sisters !!

    Sending Love to all xx

  • Reply Katie January 26, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you so much for this post Erin! Actually, for all of your baby related posts and updates as of late…I am 25 weeks pregnant with my first child and have found your site to be a great comfort and resource as of late. I have no friends or family members with babies or young children and have felt much alone during my pregnancy. Your insight and wisdom has been so helpful and very appreciated. Thank you! Congratulations on the new addition to your family and wishing you a healthy recovery.

  • Reply JP January 26, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Thank you for writing this. I am kind of terrified of the thought of pregnancy and birth, but especially the birth part kind of get worst when thinking about the recovery afterwards. It’s difficult to imagine (and obviously impossible to predict) how your own recovery will be, but generally talking about it in greater context and sort of a normalized way really helped me (which surprised me). I don’t have any children yet, but have been trying to warm up to the idea of pregnancy (which is the main issue for me). Surprisingly though, reading about all those things at once kinda put them into better perspective than getting small bits of information from different people over years, which just seemed to add up to some sort of unmanageable mountain of discomfort and pain.

    I’m also glad you mention health care, I live in Germany where we have pretty good parental leave and health care, I could not imagine doing this thing somewhere where I would have this support, the basic coverage everyone gets even covers midwifes (before and after birth) for a really long time.

    Saying this feels like showing of, when I consider the current political situation in the US, but I just want to show, that it does exist and is possible and ultimately nobody should expect less from their countries’ health care.

  • Reply Jaimee January 26, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Thank you for writing this, it’s not talked about enough!

  • Reply rebecca January 26, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    thank you.
    rest well, be gentle with yourself, eat much chocolate.

  • Reply Beth January 26, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks for keepin’ it real, sister.

  • Reply Jillian January 26, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Thank you.

  • Reply Carol Wayne January 26, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    Life with a new baby is hard, joyous, but hard. It is hard to recover from childbirth, it is hard to bleed for 6 weeks, it is hard to not have a restful night’s sleep….my husband and I chose that I would stay home with our children till they were older, but we sacrificed a lot of financial security for it…they are all grown now and when my grandson was born, I tried to help in anyway I could without being annoying…Our country for all its talk about family values does not value family…and the time it requires to make it work. Lets work together for that…like other countries have done.
    Rest when you can!

  • Reply el January 26, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Thank you for this!
    I am a medical professional (at least in training to be one) and have witness and participated in many births, and seen many mothers postpartum but there is this huge gap that exists in medical training (and for the mothers themselves)- as doctors we typically don’t see moms until 6 weeks after baby is born, and in terms of recovery, that is eons.
    So when I had my first son a year ago I was really surprised by the reality of the postpartum period. Fortunately I have a family who has been open about their own experiences, but nothing prepared me for the sorts of pains and discomforts I would feel. It wasn’t until I met our pediatrician for the first time in the hospital and her parting words to me were “take care of your crotch” (true story, and good wisdom, she recommended some miralax as well…) that anyone even eluded to the postpartum recovery challenges. I had been prepared for the discomfort of birth– assumed id have vaginal swelling or tearing, if not a c-section incision if needed, however, i did not expect the thirst, night sweats and horrible pain/ pressure in my breasts. I remember after my milk came in sitting at the kitchen table, tears streaming down my face, trying to figure out how to figure out how to hand express to relieve some of the pressure, and that night, developing a fever and barely being able to stand while changing my baby’s diaper because I was so unstable on my feet. It is a beautiful time but, it is haaarrdd.
    The real shame is in medical training, specifically residency, many programs require you to use your 4 weeks vacation for the year as maternity leave and come back immediately after that– in a profession where we should be more aware of the challenges we are so horribly ignorant to mothers’ needs.

  • Reply Ingrid January 26, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Excellent post! I remember my own postpartum days and have watched and helped two daughters go through it with first babies. It’s too bad some older women put the experience out of their mind and are not supportive of new moms. If we women can’t be understanding, how can we expect a change in society? We have to someday give mothers and babies the time they need to recover from birth and get breastfeeding under control. It’s hard, but so worth it. New moms shouldn’t have to go right back to work and be forced to pump or use formula.

  • Reply Ragnhild January 27, 2017 at 12:46 am

    I can’t imaginehow it must be to live in a country that doesn’t value the act of having babies, that in the end is a nessecity for the country you live in. I come from a country (Norway) and live in a country (Denmark, Copenhagen) where you get A YEAR paid leave, two days for free in the hospital hotel after giving birth, free medical care, free visits home from nurses until the baby is 3. The list goes on. We pay around 50% in taxes and it’s great. And if you have less money the system will pay for you. Everyone is included and every child have better opportunities no matter what kind of family you are born into. It often saddens me to see how your system works. So keep fighting! It all starts with the individual ☺️

    • Reply Emily January 29, 2017 at 8:51 am

      Ragnhild, even though we have a system that supports new families much better, I think this is very relevant for us too (I’m danish as well). The expectation is that having a baby is ONLY a positive experience, and very few people speak openly about ppd, abortions, difficulties breastfeeding etc. I was having a very tough pregnancy, and whenever I spoke about it the response was that I should be happy. Well I was, but shouldnt women be more supportive of eachother. I think it’s a shame to reduce the message of this post to praise of our danish welfaresystem – which it seems we need to fight for have in the future as well…

  • Reply stacia January 27, 2017 at 6:33 am

    People probably did tell us. But we didn’t listen.

  • Reply Suzanne January 27, 2017 at 7:06 am

    Good for you for writing this! My children are now teenagers and one almost-teenager, but your description of a stocked bedside table, engorged breasts, and uterine cramping brings it all back (along with all the very good parts). Thank you.

  • Reply Lexie January 27, 2017 at 7:44 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience. You are right: No one talks about this! I hope you have lots of people — real, actual people, not just resources — around to help you. (My people bought me stool softener and apple juice.) Best wishes to you during this amazing and difficult time! Sleep as much as possible!!

  • Reply Kerri January 27, 2017 at 9:32 am

    This was such a fantastic post. You were able to acknowledge all of the different experiences, with empathy, even though your experiences were fairly straightforward (don’t know what other word to use) … and still give your experiences the attention they deserve! For some reason, this really hard to do when women talk about the post partum experience. One thing that threw me off completely, was that I didn’t know postpartum anxiety was a thing. I knew about PPD but didn’t know if could manifest in anxiety so it took me quite awhile to recognize what I was going through. We really do need to talk more about this; in a way that normalizes it (to a certain extent) but also to start more discussion about how to better support women so some of the more severe pp experiences are not just the norm anymore.

  • Reply Storm Keane January 27, 2017 at 9:55 am

    Thanks, Erin. It’s wonderful post! No one talks about this but you sharing your experience. It’s very brave. And your resources very helpful.

  • Reply Gaia January 27, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this! People indeed do not realize (or talk about) that even “normal”, “easy” births require a PHYSICAL RECOVERY period. I could go on and on… I love your list of resources and would add The Longest Shortest Time podcast. Its funny, but also very informative. Happy New Family to you all:)
    PS. your book made for great Christmas presents!

  • Reply Amanda January 27, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Thank you for this.
    I am due in 29 days with my third.
    I have suffered 6 losses (one of which almost took my life), 2 long unmedicated labours, 1 failed VBAC 7 years after a very traumatizing emergency c-section and near zero milk supply causing failure to thrive and hospitalization in my last baby.
    My pregnancies, labours, deliveries and postpartum periods have done more to destroy and define me than almost anything else in my life.
    I endured and survived unimaginable pain – physical and emtional. No one told me it could be that hard so I felt like I was broken or that I didn’t do it right. I was left confused and alone navigating it all.
    I am honest with the people in my life. About how difficult and how beautiful it can all be. As the birth of my third approaches I am thankful I know more now. I can go through it knowing I and my baby are perfectly normal no matter how messy it gets.

  • Reply Wuselbibi January 27, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Erin, I’m following along through bloglovin’ drin Germany. As a born German I appreciate your sharing of your daily life in the USA so much, thank you for being so honest and open.
    That post resonates with me, as I’ve had an emergency cesarean followed by a second vaginal delivery, which needed assistentance by vacuum, a scissor and a 3rd degree tear which I still feel in certain cicumstances (cold humid weather or kneeling down without thinking) after 3 years.
    Go on with everything as you’re doing it already.
    Good luck with your sweet little ones!
    Many hugs!

  • Reply Wuselbibi January 27, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Oh and I forgot to write- we’re privileged to have medical insurance as well as paid lease from our job for 6 weeks before due date and 8 weeks after delivery. Additional every mother can leave her job for a (from her) chosen time up to three years after having her child. In that time it is forbidden by law to discharge the woman… It’s hard to believe how women in USA still manage to have babies. I’m in awe of US-women’s courage and attitude.

  • Reply Caitlin January 28, 2017 at 10:55 am

    Thank you for writing this! As a young woman who intends on having children in the near future, I’m so grateful for the transparency about the wonderful/challenging time ahead. I appreciate your delicate frankness and have loved watching your family grow and seeing how you interpret motherhood. Thank you for being one of the many women who has helped me shape my own sense of woman/motherhood. Many well wishes!

  • Reply Ellen January 28, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you for doing your part to bring this conversation into the mainstream. I found that the cliche “cherish these moments!” platitudes and romanticization of being a mother to a new baby, as well intended as they were, exacerbated my stress and guilt when things were not feeling very cherish-worthy. Perhaps the more we talk about and recognize how difficult this period can be, the more likely we will to support families in this period, both as friends and communities and in more formal, government programs.

  • Reply Elizabeth in Tennessee January 28, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Erin, thank you so much for your forthright post about your lovely new son (HUGE CONGRATULATIONS!!!) and your post-partum recovery. It is with a slightly bittersweet smile that I look at your photos – not to mention all the other expentant or newly-delivered mamas on social media – as I am struggling to come to terms with the likelihood that I may never have a second child. There is nothing I would like more than to have another baby and to commiserate with you, but it seems that I might be forever stuck on the other side of a glass wall, only able to observe and appreciate the new life you’ve brought into this world. This has been a devastating heartbreak for me and deeply troubles my husband who can’t give me what I want most.

    It is still a joy to see that your particular corner of the world is beautiful, if somewhat troubled by external, political forces that, while seemingly overwhelming and impossible, pale in comparison to the map of wrinkles on your son’s delicate feet!

    I hope your recovery goes smoothly and you all regain your balance within your glorious family!

  • Reply Abby January 28, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Thank you so, so much for this. I’m 6 months into raising my first child, and I had a very similar labor and recovery experience to the one you describe, but that doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park. I was fortunate to have done a lot of reading beforehand and so nothing that happened was a complete surprise, but those first days of postpartum recovery were so tender and emotional and painful, in every single way. I hope as many women as possible come across this resource.

  • Reply Clare January 30, 2017 at 9:48 am

    THANK YOU, ERIN. I am the sister of four and the auntie to 17 and still felt completely ill-prepared for what I met after childbirth. Not to mention disenchanted by the fact that society is so hush-hush about what a woman goes through before, during, and after bringing a baby to the world. I had a heartbreaking miscarriage, two hard pregnancies, and a ROUGH delivery and recovery. I was so in love and in so much pain and very much nervous. What a beautiful and vulnerable and question-wracked period! You captured it so well (“the smell of a baby’s velvet head”- YES!) and I am so thankful for you opening the discussion. Will be sharing and revisiting!

  • Reply rachel January 30, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Thanks so much for this! I had my first baby about 19 months ago. I thought I knew what I was in for (I’m the oldest of ten children – most of whom were born at home). What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and failure and guilt that came in that postpartum time. My labor, delivery and recovery were as you say fairly “normal”. Normal made my body feel like it had been in a car wreck, bruised and battered in every muscle and joint. Then add in exhaustion and emotions all over the place. People say things to new moms like “oh you bounced back so quick”, “I can’t believe you’re out and about already”, “you are back to work already” ,”you are a natural” ,”supermom” ,etc. etc. I found all of that infuriating because like you mentioned it feels like there is no emphasis on the postpartum time. I wish that as women we would all make it a thing where it is normal to stay home, bond with baby, be still and let your body heal. I read once that pregnancy last nine months we can’t expect to go back to normal in two weeks (or even the comical six weeks prescribed by doctors). Also “normal” delivery or not a whole human being just came out your vagina – that is pretty life altering! 🙂

  • Reply rebekah February 2, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I love the blog Pregnant Chicken. It’s filled with a variety of experiences and incredibly non-judgmental (unfortunately not common among mommy resources). They tackle all the tough subjects too like postpartum depression and stillbirth.

    I had postpartum anxiety, and I couldn’t afford more than 8 weeks of leave before my short-term disability ran out. It was comforting to know that my husband was able to be home with our son instead of having to put him in daycare, but I knew that I was going back to work way too soon. I’m the primary breadwinner, and I’m the one whose employer provides insurance, so it made sense for me to be the one to continue working, but it was excruciating. There is so much I take for granted here – quality prenatal care, safe birthing environments, and yes, even adequate resources for postpartum care, even though it could and should be way better. I agree – parents need to talk about this more.

  • Reply lsb February 13, 2017 at 10:21 am

    Congrats to you and the family.
    Im wondering where you will fit your new member in your tiny home? As I am working on cleansing my space I find it inspiring the idea of maintaining a small space in such a clean design.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE February 13, 2017 at 10:39 am

      We’re keeping him in the bathtub! (Just kidding!) We’ve just made a few little tweaks to our space to accommodate a new little guy! I’m working on a post about it for one of these days!

  • Reply Jodi March 10, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Just wanted to let you know that I really appreciated this post—so much so that I decided to write my own post about the postpartum period (I had my third child ten days ago). My post is here, if you are curious:

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