Since I returned to work last week, I’ve finally started to wrap my head around what my new life as a parent is like. (“Started” being the operative word.) Mostly, I’ve finally wrapped my head around what just happened to me and my body a mere four and a half months ago. Although I was pretty much the last of my friends to get pregnant/have a baby, there’s still so much I didn’t expect. There are so many things they don’t tell you! In some cases, that’s probably a good thing because if I knew I’d probably never have a baby; other things I wish I knew.
Things I wish they told me
- You still look pregnant. Like, very pregnant. I left the hospital looking about 6.5 months pregnant. The belly steadily went down over the next several weeks (yes, plural), but it’s a very strange thing to look pregnant while not actually being pregnant.
- You bleed. Forever. For a month. Since I had a c-section and my vajeen remained in tact, I didn’t imagine I would have any blood in that region. Oh how wrong I was.
- After a c-section, you have to relearn how to sit/get up. You also have zero feeling between your belly button and incision since they cut through layers of nerves. I’m still waiting for the feeling to return. The worst was that it took about a week and a half to not feel pain when I coughed/sneezed/laughed hard. About four days after giving birth I let out a sneeze and thought I was going to rip open. The pain was searing through my abdomen. That said, my recovery was pretty easy. Once I got back from the hospital I took a total of three doses of regular strength Tylenol (that I wasn’t even dying for) and was otherwise good to go. I credit my very active pregnancy for a large part of that. It’s important to note, however, that everyone’s recuperation experience is different and even for the toughest of cookies, it’s still major surgery so you will need help. Let your partner step in and take the brunt of the load in the beginning. I literally didn’t change a single diaper for the first two weeks.
- Nursing is HARD. And it hurts. [For me] all that special bonding a mother gets through nursing is b.s. I didn’t feel any more connected nursing than when holding him close while bottle feeding. If anything, I was more resentful while nursing because it was so painful. I still tried…and cried plenty. I knew I wanted him to get breast milk because I really wanted the extra nutrients and COVID antibodies (and, if I’m honest with myself, because it had become a challenge that I then felt I needed to meet). My goalposts quickly shifted and that’s ok. I originally figured I’d breastfeed for a year since it seemed like so many people did. (Note: That’s rarely the case nowadays.) All my friends seemed able to plop out a boob on the couch or at a restaurant table and their baby would easily lap it up while they calmly carried on a conversation. That was NOT my experience. I pretty much immediately shifted to a goal of six months because it felt substantial and would take us to the point of introducing solids. I very soon made a goal of three months when it seemed I was producing enough to get by but not stashing extra. In the end, I made it to the 4-month mark of exclusively pumping (supplementing with formula for 20% of feeds) and stashed enough for about 2-3 weeks of additional milk. Oh and when your milk comes in your boobs are more massive than you ever thought possible. Like three cup sizes. And that engorgement is painful. You may also experience clogged ducts (I had quite a few) which is was like a reprise of my milk coming in. When that happened, the only thing that helped was a mini massager from this kit that my beau so amazingly found when I was in pain. It may be packaged differently, but let’s call it what it is: a vibrator. If you have one of those lying around for your kinkier moments, just use that.
- Breastfeeding doesn’t have to mean nursing. Like I mentioned, nursing was very difficult for me and at about five weeks I gave up trying. It wasn’t worth it. He was a lazy/sleepy nurser and I could tell he wasn’t getting enough from the boob since he wasn’t sleeping as long. Out of seven feeds in a 24 hour period, I had been shooting for two nursing, three pumped bottles, and two formula bottles (for the nighttime feeds). Now all five breast milk bottles are pumped (and when we moved to 5 bottles, it became 4 breast milk and 1 formula). I like that I know exactly how much he’s getting and I’m no longer in pain. Before, I nearly yelped when a towel grazed my nip as I got out of the shower and I was pretty much in tears whenever he latched. Pumping is definitely more time consuming. Instead of just feeding him from the breast for 20 minutes, you’re bottle feeding for 20 minutes AND pumping for 20-30 minutes. Factor in the time it takes to burp, store the pumped milk, clean the parts, etc. and you’re creeping up on an hour per feed. I did kinda feel tethered to the pump and unable to leave the apartment, but I’m happier than I was when I was trying to nurse. Do whatever you need to do to stay sane. I started weaning at the very end of March in preparation of a busy April/returning to work and feel good about how far I made it.
- Breastfeeding makes you so thirsty. The second I start pumping I need to chug from a bottle of water – it’s crazy.
- You can’t stop breastfeeding cold turkey. I may not have been nursing, but to your body nursing and pumping are the same. Breastfeeding is based on supply and demand – the more you do it, the more you’ll produce so you need to wean yourself when you’re ready to stop. I realized I was done with my pumping journey when I was at peak production and stupidly thought I could just not do it anymore. Nope. Engorgement is insane and if you don’t do it properly, you’ll leak all over the place. I did it [mostly] properly and I still leaked all over the place.
- You still can’t drink. I had all these visions of finally having a bottle of vino after giving birth, but as long as you’re breastfeeding drinking is a no no. Yes, if you time it right and pump and dump you can have some drinks, but I’m too nervous and the math is too much for me.
- The hospital doesn’t offer too much guidance. They were amazing when it came to my care; however, they don’t tell you too much about how to care for the baby. For example, we didn’t realize it was ok to wake him for feedings (or that we should start increasing how much we were giving him) so we just let him sleep. They only told us to “feed on demand” in the first two weeks and he didn’t seem to be demanding so he lost a bit too much weight in the first week. Nobody gave us the heads up that with a baby born nearly three weeks early, his body still thought it was in the womb and wouldn’t eat/sleep like a full term child, necessitating a little intervention on our part. A heads up would have been nice! I practically expected a childcare manual as we were leaving the hospital and there was no such thing.
- He’ll pee everywhere. I had been warned that boys can pee in every direction with their wily winkies (he’s Jackson Pollack’ed his wall more than once) but I had not been warned of the sheer volume. This boy can fill a diaper. In fact, he’ll often pee enough in one sitting to go through the diaper, his pjs, the swaddle, and mattress cover. And he pees a million times per day. Apparently it’s different with girls, but all I know is that this boy is a pee machine.
- You’ll spend hours each day washing bottles. Sometimes I think it’s all I do. [Note: This mostly applies to people exclusively pumping/formula feeding.]
- Zip onesies and swaddles should be at the top of your shopping list. They’re just so much easier. For anything over the head, make sure it has a wide neck. The Love To Dream swaddle is super easy for parents to put on and literally impossible for babies to break out of.
- The day is over in an instant. I’m feeding him, not able to leave because he’s napping, or I’m pumping…and then suddenly it’s 5 pm. I look up and feel like I’ve accomplished nothing and yet never felt like I had a moment to spare. The world opened up a bit once he had his 2 month shots and I felt more comfortable bringing him places.
- Hormonal sweats are a thing. Every night for the first five weeks I woke up at 1 am to pump and had fully sweat through my pjs. I’d heard you do a ton of laundry since babies spit up all over the place, but I didn’t anticipate how much of my own laundry I’d be doing. I sweat through all my pajamas and get spit-up over the rest of my clothes.