How to Have an Easier Postpartum Recovery: Tips from an L&D Nurse
How to Have an Easier Postpartum Recovery: Tips from an L&D Nurse
November 23, 2020

How to Have an Easier Postpartum Recovery: Tips from an L&D Nurse

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How to Have an Easier Postpartum Recovery: Tips from an L&D Nurse

You might say Liesel Teen knows a little bit about pregnancy, birth and postpartum. As a Labor and Delivery Nurse, mother of two and creator of the popular Mommy Labor Nurse website and Instagram, she’s passionate about educating expecting parents about birth and parenthood.

We sat down with Liesel to talk about one of the most important—and most often overlooked—parts of birth: the postpartum period. She offers tips and advice, tons of useful information and her own personal experience as both an L&D nurse and a mom on this crucial time post-birth.

Lots of birthing parents are taken by surprise during the postpartum period. It feels like there’s a lot of information out there around the process of getting pregnant and giving birth, but when it comes to postpartum and recovery, there’s a big gap. Why do you think that is?

Mostly I think it’s lack of awareness and misguided assumptions! Until recently, standard U.S. maternity care guidelines only included one postpartum checkup. This leads to the myth that postpartum isn’t a big deal and that it’s a time that doesn’t need a ton of attention or preparation.

The good news is that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends that postpartum should be an ongoing process rather than a single encounter and that all birthing people have contact with their healthcare providers.

We’re still slowly learning how to implement this—and many practices are still only seeing patients at one six-week visit. Our healthcare system falls terribly short in providing postnatal care for the very typical challenges nearly every person encounters after birth. Our bodies don’t just “snap back” as most of us assume; our hormones, pelvis, core, urogenital systems and nutrient stores are greatly impacted, as well as our relationships, self-image and adjustment to our professional lives. And this is a big issue because postpartum health outcomes impact a person’s overall future health as well as the health of future pregnancies.

There are parts of the postpartum experience that seem like they’re more common and readily discussed—things like being tired, sore or extra hormonal. Can you talk a bit about those, but also about some of the things birthing parents can expect postpartum that aren’t as widely talked about and might catch them by surprise?

The more common themes you bring up are true. Often when we talk about postpartum, we talk about the emotions and discomforts, which of course are important and valid. I mean, I’m not sure where I’d be without a good sitz bath and dermoplast for these dang hemorrhoids. Oh, and the padsicles, we can’t forget the padsicles!

But here are a few of postpartum realities you don’t hear about as often—and I’m trying to get the word out.

  • Postpartum anxiety: I can honestly say that before becoming educated on this diagnosis (and experiencing it for myself), I’d never even heard of this before. Symptoms of postpartum anxiety (PPA) can include constant worry, racing thoughts, disturbance of sleep and appetite and even physical symptoms like dizziness or hot flashes. After my experience with PPA, I wanted to make sure other parents were aware of it as well.
  • Your change in identity. Especially for first time moms, it’s hard to prepare for this. I always think of the quote that says a birth of a child is also a birth of a mother. You almost have to mourn the loss of your pre-mother self.
  • Pelvic floor health. I think we do such a disservice to people that have given birth surrounding pelvic floor rehab and health. It’s too accepted that after you have a baby you’ll just pee your pants sometimes when you laugh or sneeze, or that your abs will never come back together if they’ve separated. And that’s simply not true! All birthing people should see a pelvic floor physical therapist (PT) for at least a baseline and see if you can benefit from some PT. I’m doing that this time, and my personal PT said that if we can intervene right after birth, many people won’t suffer from things like urinary incontinence when you are in your 50s, 60s and beyond.
  • Breastfeeding. Nursing is often challenging, especially in the beginning, and learning as much as you can ahead of time and leaning on professional support once you’re in it is so important.
  • Strange postpartum symptoms. Things like cramping, muscle aches and vaginal pain are some of the stranger, less talked about postpartum issues that are often very common after birth. These symptoms may not be on your radar but are important to learn about so you can gauge what’s normal versus what’s not during your postpartum period.

You talk a lot about the importance of prepping for the postpartum period in the same way you prep for giving birth and bringing home baby. Why, and what are a few essential things parents should do to prepare for this crucial time to ensure an easier recovery?

There are lots of things you can do pre-birth to prepare for the postpartum period. Here are a few I always recommend:

  • Line up support. Having the right support in place, whether that’s a therapist, family or loved ones to help with meals, housework, childcare, etc. is a big one. Surround yourself with people and professionals who will help you. Learn about new parent groups and breastfeeding support groups in your area or online; these can be such a lifeline for new parents, especially if you don’t have a ton of family around.
  • Learn about newborns. Learn about how to care for a newborn and what to expect from newborn sleep. So many people invest in a birth course (obviously important and a passion of mine), but it’s just as important to learn about that newborn care. It can help so much with anxiety and confidence for new parents.
  • Prepare to breastfeed. Take a breastfeeding course. First-time parents often have the goal to breastfeed and don’t realize the learning curve associated with it. I suffered from low supply the first time around, and I actually attribute some of that to lack of education about just how often I needed to nurse my baby.
  • Stock your freezer. If you don’t have loved ones in the area and don’t want to spend a ton on takeout, I always recommend stocking your freezer with some meals to pop in the oven or dump in the crock pot. It’s a very actionable thing that can be a lifesaver on the other end.
  • Learn about postpartum recovery. Knowing about discomforts and healing ahead of time can temper expectations and help you to prepare. And don’t forget to stock up on some postpartum care products, too.
  • Keep perspective. This is a tough one in the moment but an important one. Remember: babies do get older and can eventually tell you what they need. That was the hardest part for me as a first-time mom, not knowing what my baby needed and feeling overwhelmed and stressed by that. Prepare yourself mentally that this season of life won’t last forever.

Talk a little bit about non-birth parents and the postpartum period. What is a partner’s role postpartum, and what are some things they can do to help the birthing parent?

I think preparation and education ahead of time is huge for the non-birthing parent too! This will give them the confidence they need to step in. If you can learn about newborn care together, it also can prevent falling into the trap of the birthing parent knowing more and knowing what to do better than the non-birthing parent. It’s also a good idea to mentally prepare ahead of time for the non-birthing parent to take up more of the slack around the house—especially if the birthing parent is breastfeeding.

Remember to check in on the birthing parent and ask what they need and how they’re doing; sometimes they won’t know what to ask for until you directly ask HOW you can help.

And never underestimate the power of PRESENCE as the non-birthing parent. Being a brand new parent during the postpartum period can be horribly lonely and isolating, especially if you don’t have a ton of family or support around. Your presence and company can go a long way.

If you’re not actually giving birth—if you’re growing your family through adoption, for example, or using a surrogate—what can you expect from the postpartum period and what can you do to prepare for it?

For parents that are growing their family in other ways, you can still do many of the same things to prepare. You won’t be dealing with the physical recovery or the hormonal roller coaster, but caring for a newborn is still a challenging time!

Keep in mind that mental health issues can occur even if you didn’t give birth. Anxiety and depression are possible for any parent of a newborn, whether they were a birthing parent or not.

Specifically:

  • Learn about newborn care and newborn sleep
  • Get educated about colic and babies
  • Have freezer meals stocked
  • Gather support—family, loved ones, new parent support groups, therapist, etc.

I know you’re also a mom as well as an L&D nurse. How did your perception of the postpartum period and postpartum recovery change after you gave birth yourself?

I feel like I SERIOUSLY underestimated how challenging it would be. I knew pregnancy and birth were going to be hard and I needed to prepare for that, but nobody really told me exactly how hard postpartum was and how to prepare for that. I kind of thought I knew what I was getting into, but it was pretty tough.

It wasn’t as hard the second time around because I had an idea of what to expect and what support I would need, but there were still challenges. Emotions and lack of sleep, and especially with your first baby your “normal” becomes SO different, and it’s hard to be ready for that. I was not ready the first time around for the slap in the face that postpartum felt like and suddenly having a newborn completely dependent on me.

I don’t mean this in a bad way or to scare pregnant people! I just want to spread awareness so that they can prepare for this time frame, which can be super challenging. Adjusting to being a parent, recovering from childbirth, taking care of a newborn, getting very little sleep, learning how to breastfeed. It’s a lot. And it’s really hard to wrap your head around until you’re in it.

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