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Postpartum Pleasure and Pain: What to Expect in the First Weeks of Baby's Life


Preparing for the Changes

Your relationship with baby's other parent may change. Sex may have gotten you into this situation, but it's probably the last thing on your mind right now. You're both tired, you're healing from childbirth and with a new face in town there's a new dynamic to your relationship. If you're the mommy, you'll likely be looking at daddy in a whole new light now that you've seen him hold his son or daughter for the first time (you might even have caught him shedding a few tears of joy). Ditto for daddy, and even more so since he's seen you go through the heroics of childbirth. This change in dynamic is not necessarily a bad thing: You will probably feel even more love for this person than you did before. But from now on baby will hog most of your energy and focus, which will make an indelible mark on your relationship. Don't let this new aspect of your relationship freak you out. Your relationship will continue to evolve in lots of wild and wonderful ways as you get the hang of being parents.

No matter how prepared you thought you were, you still will not know what to do. Not all the time, of course, but there will definitely be moments when you have no idea what the perfect mommy or daddy is supposed to do and, unless Dr. Sears is your next door neighbor, you will have to wing it. That doesn't mean making totally uneducated decisions — there's the pediatrician, a lactation consultant, countless magazines and online forums, and even (gasp!) your own parents to ask for advice. But at some point you will have to figure it out on your own. The good news is that millions of parents before you have done the same thing and their children we're only mildly damaged. No, just kidding. Most of their kids are fine and they've since gone on to torture, I mean, raise kids of their own. So that should make you feel better.

Breastfeeding may be harder than you thought. If you thought your baby would lovingly cuddle up to you, bat those baby blues and nurse like a champ from day one, you're probably in for a surprise. It may be natural, but breastfeeding is far from second nature. You and your baby will need time — and probably help from a lactation consultant or other wise woman — to get the hang of it. Until then, prepare for the possibility of a little soreness and a lot of frustration. 

You may have more healing to do than you realized. Since many of the after effects of birth are decidedly, uh, personal in nature, exactly what will happen to your body in the days following birth often gets left unsaid. Whether you had a C-section or a vaginal birth, you can expect to bleed vaginally for several days to several weeks. For C-section mommies, the incision site will make movement (especially sitting up and getting to a standing position) painful for at least the first two weeks. If you have a vaginal delivery, you'll have anything from mild bruising and pain to an episiotomy or tear that needs to heal. And whatever mode of delivery, your first bowel movement will likely be painful and a little traumatic. Plus, you'll have to deal with the discomforts of having your milk come in (in most cases, even if you don't plan on breastfeeding) — which range from hot, painful breasts to mood swings and night sweats. These are just a few of the indignities of being a mommy, but after childbirth you should be able to handle anything.

You will feel amazement and love beyond your imagination. At the risk of sounding sappy, I will say it: You are going to feel an overpowering sense of love for your child. Of course there are exceptions, but after experiencing it myself I can finally believe those stories about mothers who lift 2-ton cars off their trapped child. Sometimes when I look at my son, I feel certain that I could lift a vehicle off him if the need ever arose. Of course, with all the sleepless nights he's subjected me to it would have to be a Volkswagen Beetle rather than a Ford Explorer, but you get the idea.

Having said all this, I must now add one small caveat: All of the above may or may not apply to you depending on your child and your unique circumstances. The fact of the matter is that all children are different and all parents are different, too. The main thing to remember is that the postpartum period is filled with unknowns (some of which would be better left unknown, but that is, alas, not an option). Had I known when he was born that six months later my son would still be waking up every two hours I probably would have gone into full panic mode at the thought of months without a decent stretch of sleep. Instead I've plowed ahead — always hopeful that tomorrow will bring better sleep, and never knowing quite when it will happen. Actually, unknowns can be kind of nice. And since you can't possibly predict exactly what will happen, it's best to be prepared for anything and have enough of an open mind to enjoy the challenges as well as the rewards. Have fun. After all, your little one will be all grown up soon enough. And then you can finally get some sleep.

Christina Breda Antoniades is a freelance writer and mother of 9-month-old Vasili. She has written extensively for Discovery.com including the Travel Channel Online and Discovery Health Online. In her nine months as a new mommy, Christina has come to learn the joys and pains of parenthood.

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