After making it through a seemingly endless pregnancy plus labor and delivery, you might think all the tough stuff is over. But the truth is, managing your post-natal health is just as important -- and sometimes just as tough -- as managing your pre-natal health.
The silver lining? You've got an adorable tiny miracle in your arms while you're navigating the sometimes tumultuous post-natal waters.
To get the facts on post-natal health that every new mom should know, we spoke with Nurse Barb Dehn, a practicing Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, award winning author and nationally recognized health expert.
Why is postpartum health so important?
"It's normal and natural to focus most of your attention on the baby's delivery and their health and overlook what happens to you after you bring your sweet baby home," Nurse Barb explains. "But recovering from pregnancy and childbirth takes time and some thought. You're tired!" And the reason for that is not just from getting out of bed every few hours for a feeding. "Delivery brings with it blood loss; if a mom was anemic to begin with, then she needs time to recover."
Nutrition plays a key role in the recovery process as well. "Eating lots of healthy foods and being sure to take your prenatal vitamin is key. Your body is depleted and it's difficult to get the five servings of fruits and vegetables you need every day.
What changes can women expect to see in their bodies?
One of the toughest parts of bouncing back from having a baby is seeing – and accepting – the changes in our bodies. Nurse Barb tell us to keep realistic expectations in mind while going through this phase. "Unlike many celebrities, it's unrealistic and impossible for 99% of the rest of us to regain our pre-pregnancy body within 6 weeks of delivery. Don't expect to fit into your skinny jeans or anything without an elastic waistband for a while."
She explains that women might also notice some hair loss near their temples, just above their ears. This is normal and to be expected, because most women actually have more hair growth during pregnancy. Taking a quality prenatal vitamin will help restore the essential nutrients necessary to regain that shiny mane.
If you're breastfeeding, you can also expect to see a lot of changes in how you lose weight. "Sometimes it takes a few months, as the baby's calorie needs increase to see your weight start to drop," Nurse Barb says. "Keep up all your good healthy habits, drinking lots of fluids, eating healthy foods and by all means continue taking quality prenatal vitamins."
What else should women keep in mind after giving birth?
Even though adjusting to a new life with a newborn baby can be overwhelming, there are things that can make the transition a little easier. "Lots of moms don't realize how important it is to continue taking prenatal vitamins even after delivery," Nurse Barb points out. "This is especially important when she's breastfeeding. So many women are in such a rush to end taking prenatal vitamins because they're so inconvenient, but there are alternatives now. OB Complete Gold is a new prenatal vitamin that I always recommend because it's a small soft gel that doesn't cause belching or make your breath smell and it's effective."
But the most important thing to keep in mind now is that everything is different and it's normal to feel completely overwhelmed by the experience of becoming a new mom. But Nurse Barb tells us there is a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. "Try not to compare yourself or your baby to others. Everyone is different and what most people post on social media is probably the highlight of the week, not the spit up and poopy diapers, the cringe-worthy hair and fights with their partner. Becoming parents is wonderful! There's so much love and so much that's new and difficult and yet none of us would ever trade this experience for anything."
For one more thing that can ease the stress of postpartum, check out our Womanista Approved list of nursing bras.