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

Well, you somehow managed to get through the nine months of waiting (including, miraculously, those last few weeks of swollen ankles and nonstop trips to the bathroom), you survived the birth process and you are more than ready to begin life with baby. This is the fun part, right? Of course. But while the first few weeks are filled with plenty of new adventures and rewarding moments, they are also a time of adjustment. You, your baby and the rest of the family will use this time to figure each other out. So, just to be sure that you're prepared for snuggles and cuddles and all the rest, here's a quick rundown of what to expect:

You may feel euphoric. Or depressed. Or like a basket case. For some women, the first few days are full of emotional turmoil. I personally didn't take a ride on the emotional roller coaster until well into baby's second month (at which time I hopped into the front car and haven't gotten off since ... but that's another story for another day). During the four days I spent in the hospital recovering from a C-section, and the following three or four weeks, I felt overwhelmingly happy and completely besotted with my son. Of course, this could be attributed to the fact that I was popping narcotics every few hours, but we'll leave that for the medical experts to debate. The fact is that not everyone feels this sense of euphoria immediately following birth. Raging hormones, exhaustion and the overwhelming impact of bringing a new life into the world all take their toll on your emotional stability. If you're euphoric, your high might linger or it might be replaced in the coming days or weeks by feelings of uncertainty, fear or even sadness. And if your initial reactions swing the other way, they'll probably be replaced in the weeks to come by more settled emotions as you get into the swing of things. Whatever the case, the only constant is change. Welcome to parenthood: As a bonus prize, you get to relive these dramatic shifts in emotion regularly over the next 20 years as you watch your little one grow.

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Baby's first night home may be a rocky one. When my husband and I brought our son home from the hospital, we swaddled him tightly in his blanket and laid him gently down in his cradle, all the while cooing about how sweet and angelic he looked. Twenty minutes later he let out a wail that didn't die down for a good 12 hours. No amount of rocking, strolling, nursing or outright bribery made a dent in his resolve to scream the hours away. While not all babies have such a reaction to coming home, a first night of unrest is not uncommon, according to the experts. Maybe it's nature's way of inoculating you against the sleepless nights to come (after a first night like I had, no other night seemed quite as bad), or maybe it's just that your little one is freaked out from the change in scenery. If you're lucky enough to have a baby who takes this latest change in stride, count your blessings. If not, just remember that you're not alone and that things will likely change again soon. For example ...

Your baby will sleep. A lot. After an initial period of alertness, your baby will likely go into mini-hibernation that will last from several days to a week or even more. Learn from my example: Do not spend this time bragging to anyone who will listen how easy this parenting gig is. There is no time for boasting, and besides, unless you are extraordinarily lucky, your baby will soon prove you wrong. Take advantage of this long slumber and get as much rest as you can. Don't even think about doing laundry, cleaning your house or writing thank you notes. This is a good time to hole up in your living room, bassinet close by, and alternate between snoozing and staring at your baby. Snooze, stare, snooze, repeat. And try not to feel impatient with your little one's lack of activity. You'll have plenty of time to teach her cute baby tricks once she wakes up.

You will have lots of visitors. Of course, if you live on the top of a mountain or on another planet (in more ways than one), this may not be true. But in most cases, especially if this is your first baby, you will have an endless stream of family and friends who want to drop in, meet your little one and shower you with gifts (well, actually the gifts are for the baby, but you might get some chocolates and flowers out of it, too). This outpouring of love is very nice, and it is possible that you will really feel like entertaining the masses and playing perfect hostess, but it's more likely that you'll want to put your hair in a ponytail, live in your jammies and spend some quality time with your new family. Either way, don't be shy in telling your family and (more gently) friends what you want. And since you're supposed to be sleeping and staring at your baby (see above), enlist your visitors to take care of some important non-baby matters. Offload as much laundry, cooking and cleaning as you can now. Trust me, in a few weeks the stream of visitors will fade to a trickle, and if you didn't play it smart, you'll be left alone with your screaming infant and a pile of laundry the size of New Jersey.

You will not look like you did before you got pregnant. You might have dropped 20 pounds (or less, or more, depending on how much you gained while you were pregnant and how much of that gain was fueled by late night trips to Taco Bell), but you still probably won't fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes. Even if you don't have a lot of baby fat to lose, it will be a few weeks before your uterus contracts and your belly gets flatter (notice I said "flattER" and not "flat"). After that it will probably a few take months before you've shed those extra pounds for good. Be patient. You are a mommy, not a miracle worker. Although, it IS called the "miracle of life."

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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.

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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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