When I was pregnant, I wasn't scared about birth as much as I was about postpartum, and I was right. All my fears were confirmed because postpartum was a nightmare, and not everyone's is, and I don't mean to scare anyone. I will do an entire article with my postpartum story, but in the meantime, I wanted to share some of the things that helped me survive this complicated process. All the links to Amazon are on the images, if you are going to buy anything, don´t forget to use them!
Breastfeeding is hands down the most challenging part of postpartum. This is something that I felt, and I have confirmed with every mother around me. There are very few cases in which breastfeeding was easy and natural. If it was for you, know how lucky you are. So if you want to breastfeed, you have to be prepared and take all the help you can get. I will also write about my breastfeeding journey, but in the meantime, these are the essentials.
1. Lactation Consultant: Having an expert help you is the best investment you can make. Try to find one before you give birth so that if you do need her, you don't have to look, and you know in advance it is someone you can trust and someone that has the same approach as you do. For example, if you are on the fence about breastfeeding or want to do a mix of formula and breastmilk, you won't be happy with someone who is 100% anti formula or wants to push you in a different direction. Of course, all lactation consultants believe breast is best, but there are a lot of shades of grey in there, and especially during postpartum, you need support, not someone that will make you feel bad. My lactation consultant is so much than that, she helped me in so many more ways, and the time I spend with her is more like therapy for me. In my experience, a hebamme or midwife could be enough if everything is going well, but there are times when you require a specialist. Let me put it this way if you have a cold, your general doctor can help, but if you have pneumonia, you are probably better off with a specialist.
2. Cabbage: yes, you read it right, cabbage. A couple of days after birth, you will start feeling your breast full and very hard. This is commonly known as your milk "coming in," after that it will take a while for your body and your baby to sinc; your body doesn't know how much milk your baby needs, and this causes your breasts to be firm, warm, and swollen and it can be painful and very uncomfortable. Cabbage has been used for decades to reduce the pain and hardness of engorged breasts because they have anti-inflammatory properties. Here is how to use it:
Clean, dry, and chill cabbage, you might want to take off the hard vein from the leaf so you can place them better;
Place the cabbage leaf on your breasts (don't cover your nipples), and leave them until you feel better, the leafs become warm, or 20 minutes have passed. When you are done, throw them out, don't reuse them;
Clean your breasts after use because you don't want to smell like cabbage all day;
Use them to relieve discomfort or before a feed or a pumping session to help with the let-down.
3. Nipple care. At the beginning of your breastfeeding journey, while you and your baby are learning how to latch, your nipples will be sore, cracked, and in pain. This can be prevented or avoided with the help of your lactation consultant because if your baby is positioned correctly, pain is not supposed to happen, or so they say. But more or less, some irritation and pain are inevitable. The most common treatment is lanolin, in which case, make sure you use one that you don't need to wash off before feeding your baby because washing your nipples can irritate you more. I used the Lansinoh lanolin, and it worked well.
If you have bigger cracks, I highly recommend the Multi-Mam Compresses. According to their website, they are meant to" treat breastfeeding discomfort such as nipple pain, swelling, and sensitivity, with a direct soothing and cooling effect. Multi-Mam Compresses form a soft and comfortable pad on the sore nipple. The hero of the product is a plant-derived gel that generates moistness, creates a physical barrier for harmful bacteria, and supports the natural healing process."
You can use them right after breastfeeding and keep them on for a minimum of 10 minutes, a maximum of an hour, and ideally 30 minutes. Each compress is for single-use, and the gel is completely safe for your baby, so you don't need to remove it before breastfeeding again. This brand also has preventive products such as lanolin and the Multi-Mam Protect Nipple care balm that you might want to try.
4. Haakaa. The Haakaa is a silicone, manual breast pump, and it is small, comfortable, and easy to clean because it is only one piece. I recommend getting the Haakaa because it's small, it's easy to use and clean, and has many uses in the first weeks of breastfeeding:
As a milk collector: you place it on your other breast while nursing to collect all the milk that a pad would typically absorb. In the beginning, I would collect about 4 oz per feeding, which is a great way to start your milk bank.
To relieve engorged breasts: pumping a bit of milk when your breasts are too full can be a great relief. Remember not to extract too much because you don't want to mess with the supply and demand system.
If you have a powerful ejection reflex like me, this might make your baby vomit a lot or even choke on your milk. When I was too full, I would apply a bit of suction with the Haakaa for the first seconds of milk, which is the fastest, and then nurse my baby.
To unclog ducts. I had a lot of clog ducts and eventually mastitis. The Haakaa, filled with warm water and Epsom salt, can be used to unclog ducts and prevent a lot of pain. You can watch this video on how to do it.
I never used a manual or electrical pump, so I was happy that I didn't spend so much money on something I would only use at the beginning.
5. Hot and cold pads. Its gel pads which you can use put in the fridge, freezer, microwave, or hot water and will help you with the following:
Cold Therapy: relieves engorgement, swelling, and pain;
Hot Therapy: relieves plugged ducts and mastitis and encourages milk let-down during breastfeeding
When pumping: heat and wrap around breast pump flange to encourage milk let-down and reduce time spent pumping.
There are a lot of opinions on whether or not you should use a Belly Band in your postpartum, and I am still unsure of what is the right choice. I had decided to bind my belly only with bandages, but to be honest, I felt so bad I couldn't be bothered. I did rub my stomach with the Mustela Body Firming lotion, it takes a bit longer to dry than I would like, but I still liked it. I also kept using my Burt's Bees Mama Belly Butter and the L'Occitane Almond Supple Skin Oil. This combo kept my skin hydrated and making me feel fresh, and it was a much-needed daily moment of self-pampering.
1. Cold pads: There are many ways to apply ice to the region, but I found that Ice Maxi Pads are the most comfortable and efficient way to do it. Its pads that cover your entire perineal area and are also super absorbent. You can use them a couple of times a day, especially at the beginning. This is also on my list of what to pack for the Hospital that you can check out here.
2. Organic or cotton pads: Most of the regular pads you usually use have plastic in them. This can irritate the skin and slow down your recovery. I would recommend stocking up on the pads they have at the Hospital (you might also want to take disposable underwear home with you). They are huge and not very comfortable, but they are the best. When you are ready to transition to regular size pads, I use the Organyc Pads.
3. Perineal Spray: It's a spray that will relieve pain and discomfort. It is a natural spray that you can apply every time you go to the bathroom. It has a cooling and numbing effect that will help you with normal after-birth pain. You can spray it directly on your perineum area, or you can spray it on your pad. I can recommend either the Earth Mama Herbal Perineal Spray or the Natural Birthing Company Bottoms Up Soothing Bottom Spray with Lavander Oil and Witch Hazel.
4. Sitz baths: This was my lifesaver. My gynecologists, for some reason, was against them, but my instinct said I needed it. When I finally listened to myself and had a chamomile sitz bath, I started feeling better immediately, the stitches came out. After weeks of not being able to walk, I finally felt better. You can also use Epsom salt, lavender, witch hazel, or premade mixes, Earth Mama, Weleda, and Burt´s Bees have them. I would do them a couple of times per day for a few minutes, and you don't even need a bath to do them; all you need is a toilet, a plastic bag, and warm water. Here is how:
5. Peri Bottle: They will help you every time you go to the bathroom. You don't need anything special. Get the cheapest and use it with warm water.
6. Stool softener: The first time you go to the bathroom after birth can be very scary and very painful. It can also lead to months of discomfort. There are a couple of reasons for this; first is the pressure the perineum suffers during pregnancy, the second is the birth itself, and the third is that all the liquid you are taking is going into milk production. It would help if you prevented constipation by drinking a lot of water, eating well, especially fiber, and walking around and getting moving when you feel up to it. But in my experience and from what I gather from other women, this is not enough. Prevention is key, so talk to your doctor about taking a stool softener. I know in Mexico, it is common to give it to women after birth. In Germany, I asked for it, and they said no, and got it from the pharmacy when I was already having issues. If I had known, I would have taken it a lot sooner and saved myself a lot of pain and problems that to this day are not resolved.
PREVENTING HAIR LOSS
Some hair loss is unavoidable. It doesn't happen right away, it can take up to three months to start, but it is horrible when it does. It adds to the already horrific feeling of looking at yourself in the shower and not feeling like your body is yours. I talked to a dermatologist because I was losing so much hair that even my husband was scared, and she said that taking care of your hair should start as soon as you get out of the Hospital. No one thinks about it because you are worried about a million more important things and because you assume you can't prevent it, but minor changes like the shampoo you use will help.
1. Vitamins: It is essential to take postpartum vitamins, especially if you are breastfeeding, but in addition, you should take vitamins specially designed for your hair. They are generally targeted for hair, skin, and nails. I wouldn't dare to recommend a specific brand because I don't know your circumstances but talk to your healthcare provider and find one right for you.
2. DS Lab Revita Stimulating Shampoo: You can use it five times per week; leave it in for 2 to 5 minutes.
3. Durcay's Hair Lotion for Women: It is a lotion that strengthens hair and revitalizes the scalp, it doesn't leave it oily, and there is no need to rinse it, so it doesn't take much time to apply. After showering, spray the lotion on your scalp and massage to distribute the product evenly. Use three times per week for two months.
I hope the items in the list help you through your postpartum journey, and if you have been there and think something is missing from the list, help another mama out and leave a comment below.