Top 10 Doctor Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period
Your pregnancy has probably been a 9-month journey, complete with emotional and physical highs and lows. The final weeks leading up to the actual delivery can be especially difficult and unpredictable. Once your baby is born, you think your body has done all the hard work. So how come the postpartum period can sometimes feel like a perfect storm?
The least talked about time during the pregnancy cycle is the postpartum phase. The exact duration varies, but for most women, the postpartum period begins immediately after delivery and lasts for the first year.
Hours after delivery, your body dramatically begins to transition and hormonal fluctuations take over. Your body is getting rid of the 40% more blood and fluid volume that was needed to support your pregnancy. Within the first 48 hours you start to have intense sweats, typically at nighttime, that can leave your pajamas drenched. The sweats are a result of plummeting estrogen levels and an elevation of your prolactin, which occurs in preparation for breastfeeding. The abrupt lowering of the body’s estrogen levels parallels what menopausal women go through when they have hot flashes. I refer to this period of time as “postpartum menopause.” Luckily, it’s temporary but the effects on women are intense, dramatic and memorable. Even if you decide not to breastfed, these hormonal cycles will still happen but to a lesser degree. As your milk supply dries up, your prolactin and estrogen levels begin to normalize.
You and your newborn are getting to know each other and day and night become one as you adjust to the feeding schedule and other nuances of having a newborn around. The first 6 weeks are definitely the hardest. Not sleeping well, feeling exhausted, breasts leaking milk and carrying around the extra baby weight makes the postpartum “blues” a common experience, affecting 80% of women. A lot of new moms don’t realize that they should continue taking their prenatal vitamin even after they deliver. Caring for a newborn and breast feeding require an enormous amount of energy and the vitamin can help bolster the mother’s nutritional reserves to better meet the demands of postpartum. If you are breast feeding, your baby also benefits when you continue your vitamin regimen since Vitamin D and Omega 3 are recognized as crucial for babies. Taking fish oil during pregnancy may promote higher DHA concentration in the newborn through the mother’s blood and breast milk. DHA may be important in the growth and development of the infant brain and has been studied for potential benefits in preventing respiratory illnesses during the first year of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “all breastfed infants receive vitamin D supplementation starting within the first few days after delivery.”
At the 6 week postpartum visit, your obstetrician will perform an exam and pap smear and discuss birth control options. Women are usually given permission to have sex and get back into the bathtub again. For the majority of women, the bathtub sounds great while the thought of having sex again is the last thing on their mind. If you had a vaginal birth your vagina is finally healing from the trauma of the delivery. If you are breastfeeding, you are still in “postpartum menopause” which means you feel like you have no libido and your vagina may be dr. Sex is usually the last thing that you are interested in, but with patience, time and KY, it can feel enjoyable again. Plus, it allows you and your partner time to reconnect.
Here is my top 10 list of tips to help you through postpartum:
Get your rest. Even if it means taking naps alongside your newborn.
Drink plenty of liquids; at least 8 to 12 glasses of water or the equivalent a day.
Do your Kegel exercises.
Eat healthy, well balanced meals at regular intervals.
Talk daily walks with the baby for exercise.
Don’t forget to take your prenatal vitamins, vitamin D and omega 3 fish oil.
Communicate openly and honest with your partner.
Use KY or another water-based lubricant during sex.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, especially from your family and friends.
Be patient. Everyone who has ever had a baby has gone through the same experiences.
By 6 to 9 months, life as you remember it is slowly returning to normal. Hormonally you are back on track. Even those who are breastfeeding have a handle on their hormones. Exercise is now happening regularly and the pregnancy weight is coming off. This combination of exercise and weight-loss for most women is the perfect prescription for feeling better and developing a renewed interest in sex.
I always tell my patients that it takes you 9 months to go through the pregnancy process. Allow yourself another 9 months during the postpartum process to have your body and vagina return to normal…and hopefully your sex life, too!