Ahhh the joys of parenthood! In this short post I want to share with you some of the things I have learned during those first 13 days of being a parent to Loulou Maya. If you are a parent already, you will probably laugh with my ignorance pre-parenthood but if you are not a parent yet, I am pretty sure you will be amazed by some of the facts on this list. I threw some pics of Loulou Maya in there as well, to try and convince you that this whole ordeal is totally worth it.
THINGS I LEARNED
- Your belly won’t disappear right after birth. In fact, after birth it will be just as if you are still pregnant, but it will feel soft and squishy and strange.
- If you breastfeed, the first week your uterus will contract every time you breastfeed and it will feel like period pains, only worse.
- Your belly will eventually start getting smaller, as your uterus contracts. For me, almost two weeks postpartum, I would say it is about 20% bigger than my pre-pregnancy size. And I even have a belly button again! (instead of a protruding ON/OFF button).
- If you get stitches, for the first week you won’t be able to sit normally, but you have to sit normally and on hard surfaces, if you want your stitches to heal faster. Even if you have stitches that get absorbed and don’t require cutting, ask your healthcare provider to cut the knot after 6-7 days. You will be able to walk much easier and there will be less itching.
- Post-partum bleeding: Fun! Especially at night, when you turn around to find the most convenient position to breast-feed and you end up with blood everywhere in your panties and as high up as your waist (but that might be just me). Don’t worry though, because I found a very glamorous solution to that! Incontinence panties! Yes, the ones old people wear! My mom actually found some cute ones with purple stripes. They were great for the first week, that I had a lot of blood loss. But the last day it was so hot that I woke up covered in sweat, due to the non-breathable panties material. Then I stopped using them.
- Nipples: More sensitive than you think. When your healthcare professional asks if your nipples hurt, don’t do what I did and say “not much”. Even a bit of pain can mean that you will have sore, cracked nipples within a day. Just say that you hurt and ask for a good nipple cream. I thought I was some kind of breastfeeding superhero and didn’t complain about nipple pain until my nipples were cracked. It took about 4 days to heal them and trust me, breastfeeding with cracked nipples is a nightmare! Also, babies are more greedy when it comes to nipple sucking, than teenage boys.
- Engorgement. On day 10 I woke up and my right breast was as hard as a rock and it hurt. I felt it was really heavy and I also felt like crap. It turned out I also had fever. I freaked out because I thought it was mastitis (which is really easy to get, especially with cracked nipples). Fortunately it was “just” engorgement and it went away with paracetamol, hand-expressing milk between feedings and (I am a bit ashamed to admit it) cabbage leaf compresses. I know there is no scientific evidence that cabbage helps draw excess fluids, but at that point I was desperate to get better and continue breastfeeding so yes, I did stuff my bra with cabbage leaves. And yes, I do think it helped.
- Touching. After having around 6 people putting their hands (or should I say arms?) in me during birth, having stitches, bleeding and sore nipples, just the idea of people touching me freaked me out a bit. Fortunately my mom is not the touchy type of mom and N. was very understanding. After the stitches were gone and my breasts recovered, I do enjoy hugs again now, but I hear that for many women it takes much much longer.
- Your baby might not look like you. At all. This was the case with Loulou Maya. When she was born, she looked just like N.. There wasn’t a single feature on her face that I recognized. I mean, if I were not her mother, I would doubt she is mine. This made it harder for me to get used to her the first hours. Of course I was amazed by her, but she just didn’t feel like she was mine. After a couple of days though, I was head over heels in love with her (and I do believe she has my chin and lips, to be completely honest).
- You will start recognizing the different cries of your baby within a few days. I think that by day 5 I could recognize if she was crying because she was hungry, had cramps or needed a diaper change. This skill gets more and more refined every day. I can’t explain how it happens, but it does.
- Your baby might love baby-wearing. I know that Loulou Maya does and it is the only thing that can relieve her from cramps some times. It is also a great way to bond with the father as well. We have a mei tai and a “je port mon bebe” wrap and they both work well. The mei tai is probably best for warm summer months though, as the wrap covers the baby with 3 or more layers of fabric. For the Dutch climate that is fine, but for warmer climates it might be too much.
- Your baby might hate long trips. Yeahhh, about that… Yesterday I was feeling great. So I thought it would be a great idea to take Loulou Maya to The Hague with my mother. My poor mother has only been to Schiedam this time, taking care of us, cooking, doing the laundry, ironing and cleaning the house. I wanted her to have some fun as well. So I wore Loulou Maya, took my mother and off we went. Loulou Maya behaved greatly. She slept most of the trip, I breastfed her in the train tram and a cafe and I even changed her diaper outside (lots of firsts!). BUT once we were back home, she kept crying and crying and crying. My conclusion is that she was over-stimulated by all those new sensations and she was so frustrated, she could not relax. After N. took her for a small walk at night, she was a bit more relaxed. She cried for another hour and finally fell asleep, sleeping five hours straight. I felt uber-guilty for causing so much distress to a newborn, but now I know her limits.
- You don’t need a baby bath for a newborn. A bucket will do and in fact newborns feel much more secure and cozy in a bucket, because it reminds them of the uterus.
- When your baby cries, your nipples will start to leak. True story.
- When you breastfeed from one breast, the other will leak at the same time. True story as well.
IF YOU ARE IN THE NETHERLANDS
- Kraamzorg, the lady who comes at your home every day for the first week after you give birth, is a valuable help. Even though my mother was here to support us, Mariska, our kraamzorg lady taught us a ton of things. She showed us how to safely wash Loulou Maya in a bucket and in the shower, how often to feed her, different breastfeeding positions, how to recognize a good latch, how much poop and pee is normal, what vitamins to give and when, when to use a warm water bottle, how to recognize sickness etc. On top of it, she did laundry and ironing and she was here only for 3 hours a day, while you can choose to have kraamzorg for as much as eight hours per day!
- The midwives might give different advice than the kraamzorg person. For us, this was true in the case of breastfeeding. Loulou Maya suffered from cramps and they gave us different advice regarding how often to feed her, if we should wake her up at night to feed her and so on. We chose to follow the kraamzorg lady’s advice for the most part, as she spent more time with us and she knew the baby and had a better idea of my milk production.
- The Consultatiebureau don’t know everything. But they do know a lot. For those of you outside the Netherlands, Consultatiebureau is a sort of prevention institute for children’s health. You can go there to weigh and measure your baby and to ask questions about minor issues, like skin rashes or a fever. You can also do your child’s vaccination there. Both nurses and doctors work at the Bureau and if they think that something is wrong with the baby, they will send you to a specialist. Many moms complain that the guidelines of the Bureau are sometimes too rigid, strict or outdated. Many others though find the advice valuable. I only had the intake meeting with them (they come at your place the first time) and I found the nurse lovely, but that is all I know so far.
These first thirteen days have been full of changes. And they have been full of happy moments and lots of love. And there have been many moments of doubt and cries that we were not able to stop. But we are thrilled that we took this crazy step, because despite the exhaustion and dark circles under our eyes, we are experiencing a kind of love we never knew existed.
Enjoy the weekend and I will be back to you with more boring baby updates pretty soon.
*You can check out all the “Family and Parenting” posts here*