Preparing for childbirth is such a mammoth task that women often don’t have time to think about the fourth trimester – the first three months after the birth. While you may be looking forward to maternity leave, any seasoned mother will tell you it’s no holiday. Remember, it takes nine months to make a baby − it will take at least another nine to recover.
The first few days
Text books call this the “sensitive period”, because everything hurts. The euphoric hormonal high that women experience immediately after birth will help you get through the first “magic hour” of skin-to-skin with your newborn, but this is short-lived and you will soon want to be left alone to sleep and process what’s just happened.
Over the next few days, you’ll feel sensitivity in your breasts. If you had a vaginal birth, your perineum (area between the vagina and the anus) will feel sore and if you had a C-section you’ll have an incision to contend with. Sometimes, haemorroids become an issue.
You will also be feeling emotionally sensitive – the birth may not have gone the way you wanted, newborns are extremely demanding and you may feel convinced that your partner doesn’t understand what you’re going through.
By the third day, your milk will have “come in” and you’ll go home from hospital.
- Get up and walk as much as possible.
- Keep your energy up by eating regular, nutritious meals and snacks.
- Take painkillers according to instructions from your healthcare provider and don’t wait until you feel the pain to take them.
- Avoid constipation by drinking plenty of water and including fibre in your diet.
- Have a bath as soon as you can.
The first six weeks
This time is known as the “babymoon” and is when you will recover and bond with your baby. Recuperation is individual – while some women quickly bounce back, others take longer. A few struggle physically and emotionally, but the secret is to be yourself and not compare motherhood with your friend, what you’ve read or even a previous birth. Every mother is different – and so is her baby. You have instincts that will teach you what to do and each mother and baby needs to do this in her own way and in her own time.
- Encourage your partner to ask for paternity leave.
- Keep a cabbage in the fridge for full, heavy breasts – applying a leaf under your bra can help engorgement.
- When nothing else helps, have a hot bath and turn up the music.
- When friends offer to help, accept it.
- Sleep or rest when your baby does.
Motherhood brings new responsibilities, like taking your baby to the clinic for shots, weigh-ins and check-ups. Your baby also needs to be registered with an ID number and added to the family medical aid. On top of this, he needs regular feeding and changing. All this is time-consuming work, but remember that babies adapt to the way they’re mothered.
- Ask for advice, but learn to solve your own problems.
- Your circle of friends will change. Your friends who don’t have babies will get bored with your baby chatter− don’t take this personally. You’ll soon identify with a new circle of friends who have babies.
- Pack a practical nappy bag.
- Start getting into a daily routine.
Getting ready to go back to work
While some women can’t wait to start working again, others dread leaving their precious babies in the care of a crèche or nanny.
- Research and visit day cares that are close to where you live or work.
- Speak to a lactation consultant about how you can return to work and continue breastfeeding.
- Be practical about what you’ll be able to achieve in a day.
- Cook and freeze meals.
- Focus on the essentials and learn to say no.
Just because you are educated and hold a responsible position in the working world, it doesn’t mean you’ll instinctively know what to do as a new mother.
With very little training, you’re expected to know what to do when you come home from the hospital with a helpless, fragile human being. When your baby cries, you’re expected to know what’s wrong. But if you take one day at a time, learn from your mistakes and trust your instincts, you’ll be just fine!
How is your partner doing?
While a woman’s life is turned upside down, men only have to make a few changes like eating take-aways and seriously staggered sex. To be fair, standing by and watching his partner cope with labour pain is not easy, and neither is resisting the urge to faint or leave the operating theatre during the birth. Although your partner may seem to be indifferent to what’s important to you, he will be concerned about new responsibilities like finances, keeping his family safe and trying to be helpful.
- Don’t hand the baby to him and blame him for your terrible day as soon as he walks through the door.
- Make an effort to avoid baby chatter when the two of you are alone.
- Pop a small bottle of sparkling wine to help you relax the first time you have sex.
- Warn him in advance when he doesn’t have a clean shirt for work the next day.
- Ask for his advice or opinion and include him in decisions relating to the baby.