My little one is seven weeks old, and I am far from being all-knowing about all things mom. Having just been through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the postpartum stage, these things are at least fresh in my mind. The miracle of having a baby is wonderful and strange all at the same time. There are plenty of oddities you don’t learn about until they’re happening to you, which in some cases (hello, mucus plug), are blessings because you wouldn’t want to know ahead of time anyway.
Here are twelve things that surprised me about pregnancy, labor, and postpartum recovery as a first-time mom.
1. That bad taste in your mouth that never goes away
From pretty early on in pregnancy, I had a gross taste in my mouth that lingered for what felt like forever. It changed a little bit from week to week, making any solution I had figured out only effective for a short time. My remedies included water with lemon, water with tons of ice, peppermint, spearmint, ginger candy, sour candy, fruity gum, and fruity herbal tea. It got better near the end of the pregnancy, but it didn’t completely go away until after delivery. As far as pregnancy side effects go, though, this one was pretty manageable.
2. Bleeding gums
During pregnancy, your body is so focused on the baby that some parts of you get neglected. Your mouth is usually fighting bacteria that causes gingivitis, but those efforts get directed elsewhere during those nine months, which leads to gums that bleed much more easily that they did before. Spitting out blood when you brush your teeth? Not to worry. Simply start using mouthwash (bring out the big guns – get one with alcohol) after brushing in the morning and evening. You’ll notice a significant decrease in the bleeding pretty quickly.
3. Belly support band
Once my belly started getting big, putting on the Medela maternity support band was like heaven. A friend of mine gave me hers because she never used it, and I assumed I probably wouldn’t either. Boy, was I wrong! That thing provided such relief for my aching back muscles at the end of the day. I didn’t wear it to work because it was lumpy and showed through clothing, but once I was home at the end of the day, I was all about it.
4. One minute contractions, five minutes apart
The accepted standard for defining active labor is having contractions lasting for one minute and five minutes apart for an hour. Ha! That’s not a rule; it’s rather more like a guideline… My contractions were still averaging about eight minutes apart and lasting for 30 to 45 seconds when we went to the hospital because I couldn’t take the pain any longer. They admitted me because I was four centimeters dilated. Trust your instincts. Worst case scenario if you go to the hospital too early is that you spend a few hours around the hospital that you could have spent at home.
5. Bumps in the road
I’m talking about literal bumps in the road on your trip to the hospital. If there are multiple routes you can take to the hospital on the big day, pick the one with the smoothest pavement as long as it doesn’t add a lot of time to your trip. Every bump you hit on the road will feel like a giant pothole if you’re having a contraction. I know my husband was driving carefully and quickly on our way to the hospital, but I swear it felt like he was aiming for every bump. This is true for the trip home after baby is born, too. Everything hurts, and getting tossed around doesn’t make it feel better.
6. Pack two separate bags
I read all of the blog posts and asked my friends what I needed to pack in my bag to go to the hospital. I thought I was prepared. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the difference in what I needed while in labor and what I needed after giving birth. Realistically, all the stuff a first-time mom packs for the hospital needs a bellhop to get from the car to the room. You don’t stop to do luggage duty when you’re in labor. Pack one small bag with just the essentials you’ll need right away as you get settled into the hospital while battling contractions: slippers, sweatshirt for dad (hospitals are cold!), phone charger, and so on. Take that bag in with you when you first arrive. Leave the rest of the stuff in another bag in the car. No one needs yoga pants and travel shampoo in the room while giving birth. Dad can get it from the car later.
7. Pain and epidurals
I completely believe in having the birth you want, and for me, that included getting an epidural. Honestly, I think I was more scared of the epidural than actually pushing a baby out of my body. The idea of sticking a needle in my spine was more than enough to cause panic. Turned out that getting the massive IV placed in my hand hurt ten times worse than the epidural. Nothing to be afraid of here, ladies. Compared to the pain of your contractions, the epidural is a bee sting and then sweet, sweet relief.
8. Settling organs
After giving birth, there’s a huge space left in your abdomen where the baby and accompanying fluids used to be. When you stand up, you will feel your organs sliding around inside as everything tries to find its way back to its upright and locked position. You may want to hold a hand to your belly to provide some support initially. The feeling of your organs being out of place and sliding around doesn’t go away immediately, either. I used a Belly Bandit to help shove all my parts back where they belonged and not feel like everything was just going to spill out of me. I didn’t wear it all the time, but while I was standing or walking, it helped me feel more normal for the first week or so.
Another lovely result of that big, empty space left in your abdomen is that there is a lot of air inside you. How does that air get out, you ask? You fart. A lot. And you can’t control it. Get ready for a couple of gassy weeks. The big pooch that is your postpartum belly will shrink as you get all that air out of your system.
10. Tight, stretchy pants
The mesh panties and giant pads that the hospital gives you are great, but if you’re wearing a hospital gown or loose PJ pants, you’ll likely feel like the whole mess is falling off of you. Bring yoga-style pants to wear in the hospital after delivery to hold that big pad in place. Black ones won’t show stains in case you leak. Make sure the waistband is super soft, low, or folded in case you have a c-section incision.
11. When the milk comes in
I had no idea my boobs could hurt like that. As baby learns to latch and your milk comes in, it feels like your breasts are trying to kill you. I woke up in the middle of the night with feverish chills my first night home thanks to the arrival of my milk. Skip any nursing bras with shaped cups or underwires. You want the softest, stretchiest nursing bra or tank top possible over those sore girls. The slightest pressure can hurt. It gets better, though. Hang in there.
12. Pumping isn’t just for when you’re away from baby
As you establish your milk supply, a breast pump can make the process far less painful. Pumping can relieve engorgement or help build up a supply if your baby isn’t great at latching. My left side ended up cracked and bleeding, so I nursed my son on the right and pumped on the left for each feeding until I was healed. Even if you choose to exclusively breastfeed, having a pump is a wise decision.
Being a first-time mom is full of surprises. There are plenty of things to learn as you experience pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery. Once you feel like you have a pretty good handle on those challenges, a brand new adventure begins with adjusting to life with your newborn. Take it one day at a time, and good luck!