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Farting, blood and surf boards: the things nobody told me about giving birth
Did you know that a breastfeeding session lasts about three quarters of an hour? Or that a woman loses up to 30 per cent of her hair after giving birth? Or wears heavy-duty «surfboard» maxi pads in the beginning? Me neither. But I wish I had.
Enjoy the time to yourself while you still have it! Make sure you get enough sleep! Drink raspberry leaf tea to bring on labour! Be sure to take some music to the delivery room! The list of advice I got just before giving birth was long.
But how come nobody mentioned the time just afterwards?
Nobody dared to mention the less romantic, occasionally painful, disgusting stuff – and even social media failed to deliver. Online, pregnancy in all its facets is served up as follower fodder: weekly bump updates, ultrasound photos and perfectly decorated nurseries are cheerily posted. Shortly after the birth, however, a conspicuous silence falls briefly across most of the usually share-happy Instagram mum’s accounts.
Taboo topics or not – I’d have preferred to know and see everything.
After reading this article, however, nobody can say they weren’t warned. Not by me, at least. So, here are 10 of my own experiences. As always, the following applies: everything is subjective. My opinion doesn’t have to be your opinion.
1. Oh man, the afterpains
Labour pains hurt like hell. You expect this, and as a result, tend to prepare yourself intensively beforehand. You practise breathing techniques, do hypnobirthing exercises and memorise labour positions. You may also be aware that after giving birth, the pain is far from over.
What I wasn’t aware of, however, was just how severe these aftershocks of pain would be. The cramping, which came in intervals and intensified while I was breastfeeding, tormented me. With my second baby even more than my first. A tiny glimmer of hope: after a couple of days, that menace is gone.
2. Breastfeeding isn’t child’s play
The baby is here. You place your tiny human on your breast and enjoy the miracle of nature at work. That’s how you imagine things to play out, anyway. Unfortunately, it probably won’t happen like that. At least, not right away.
Your milk won’t come in until a couple of days after the birth – wrapped up in a lovely package of baby blues. Your breasts are swollen, sore, and on top of that, you might have a fever. And once your milk is flowing properly, the breastfeeding journey is far from over – both you and your child have to learn to do it properly. Raw, painful nipples are part and parcel of this training regime. It might even be combined with a case of mastitis or delays to your milk.
Curd wraps, ointments and disposable compresses will help while you’re being put through your paces. At some point, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep (literally). And if not, that’s totally okay, too. We should stop pressurising women who don’t breastfeed. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work. Or the woman simply doesn’t want to.
3. Breastfeeding takes aaaages
If breastfeeding works out, you’ll be doing it roughly every two or three hours. For a good 30 to 45 minutes. Per session. That adds up to about six hours a day. In other words: one feed has barely finished before the next one begins.
In between, you’ll be expected to receive visitors, get checked over by medical staff and take part in information sessions – and at some point, eat and shower. Once you’re back home, you time your entire day according to the breastfeeding cycle and quickly realise: after all that, you don’t have much time left.
That’s why I banned visits to my hospital room when my second child was born. Later, I started actively using feeding time for myself. I read the news, listened to podcasts and even managed to finish a book. Here’s a tip: get yourself an e-reader. Leafing through a book with one hand, after all, is pretty onerous.
4. «Baby brain» really does exist
You catch yourself spending several minutes looking for your shoes – only to find them exactly where you’ve been standing the whole time. Or you unthinkingly put your house key in the fridge. Or suddenly don’t remember your neighbour’s name. This is the phenomenon known as «maternal amnesia» or «baby brain». You’re not imagining it.
It’s all down to the hormones that promote milk production and bonding between mother and child. Science suggests that after birth, a mother’s attention is focused so intensively on her child, that all the other everyday stuff gets forgotten. Throw in sleep deprivation and higher levels of stress, and you’ve got a reduced ability to concentrate.
As a consequence, pregnant women or new mums forget or misplace the simplest things. Their purse, their keys, their words. Or even their kid’s birthday. The video of a US blogger celebrating her son’s birthday on the wrong day recently went viral. Countless mothers jumped in with their own tales of baby brain. You can read their funny, bizarre experiences in the article below.
5. Embarrassing farts
On its way out into the world, a baby leaves its mark in both big and small ways. What I mean is, going to the toilet is going to burn at first – whether it’s a number one or a number two. Besides that, it’s possible that you’ll pass wind uncontrollably in the beginning. In other words: you don’t have a handle on your farts. This can be terribly embarrassing in a shared hospital room. Luckily, the problem is resolved at almost the same rate as the farts are expelled from your body. It’s usually all over within a few days.
6. Loads of blood – and nappies
Even after the birth, you’ll bleed in various colours, consistencies and smells for several weeks. The postpartum sanitary pad will be a faithful companion to you at this point. Your new buddy, also known as «the surfboard», is about as big as your forearm and inhabits an entirely different universe to the thin, flexible sanitary towels you use during your period. In the first couple of days after giving birth, you might even need to use two surfboards at once. Plus some mesh underwear to keep them in place.
The whole apparatus feels like a nappy. At least, that’s how I imagine walking with a nappy: uncomfortable, awkward and unhygienic. I quickly made a couple of additions to my wardrobe, namely loose, long tops that reach down below my rear end. To be on the safe side, I also only wore dark-coloured trousers. By the way, this healing process, or so-called postpartum bleeding, also happens after a C-section. It is, however, less severe and doesn’t last as long.
7. You can’t get around postpartum pelvic floor exercises,
so let’s talk bodily fluids. A few drops of pee might escape each time you sneeze, laugh or cough. It’s irritating, but normal. One in three women is said to suffer from incontinence at least temporarily after giving birth. This is especially the case for breastfeeding mothers as the hormones involved cause the pelvic floor to relax. For some, this loss of bladder control continues for even longer.
Consistently doing pelvic floor exercises helps with this. Even if I didn’t want to believe it at first, and couldn’t wait to get back into «real exercise». These teeny, tiny movements seemed as useless as they were strange. Today, when I hear women complaining of incontinence, I’m happy that I did those exercise back then.
The good news is, it’s never too late. If you didn’t make it to a postnatal exercise class during the first few months after the birth, you’ll still be able to do so later.
8. The kid comes, the libido goes
During the first few weeks, the physical toll of giving birth prevents you from having sex. But even much later, hanky-panky is still pretty low on most couples’ priority list. You don’t have the time, let alone the desire for it.
Let’s be realistic: from now on, you’ll never have time for it. You’ll have to make time. That's what sexologist and psychologist Dania Schiftan recently told me in an interview. She recommends sex dates with your partner, even if that doesn’t sound very erotic. In the interview below, you can find out exactly why and how this is supposed to work.
Goodbye sex: how kids change your love life
9. You lose tons of hair
In the weeks following birth, oestrogen levels return to their «normal» level. I was aware that this might lead to some bad hair days, so to speak. However, since I’m blessed with a fuller than average mop, I wasn’t all that worried. At first, I thought triumphantly: ha! Not much falls out at all.
Later, though, Karma struck back. Three months after giving birth, it ramped up a notch and my hair started falling out in clumps. Reading that new mothers are supposed to lose up to 30 per cent of their hair, I consoled myself with the fact that, fortunately, I’ve got enough hair to sustain the loss.
The interminable regrowth that then followed was a lot worse. Or rather, the baby hairs that grow at your hairline – first, sticking out in all directions and soon forming so-called «postpartum baby bangs». Put simply, you’ll look like you haven’t been to the hairdresser in a year.
10. Your feet will grow as well as your belly
They say your feet grow during pregnancy. You’ll go up a shoe size per child, in fact. Did you, like me, dismiss that as an old wives’ tale? So, it’s half true. Due to water retention, many women’s feet swell during pregnancy and shrink again after the birth.
Researchers at the University of Iowa in the US, however, found that some women actually continue to have larger feet for several months. They attribute the change to the heavy stress placed on the bones and ligaments during pregnancy. The extra weight creates downward pressure, which can lead to a splay foot – or widening of the forefoot. But only during your first pregnancy.
Big feet, long feeds, giant pads: I wish I’d known about these ten things before I gave birth for the first time. Not that it’d have changed my desire to have a child. But it would’ve at least helped me mentally prepare for what followed. Because sometimes «sharing is caring» is a far more pleasant method than «learning by doing».
*Your experiences are important too: what do you wish you’d known before giving birth? Let me know in the comments!
Mom of Anna and Elsa, aperitif expert, group fitness fanatic, aspiring dancer and gossip lover. Often a multitasker and a person who wants it all, sometimes a chocolate chef and queen of the couch.
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