Postpartum recovery, Episode 2

In the first instalment of the postpartum recovery post, I shared what I viewed were the top 5 resources/products to help with the practical aspects of physically healing after the birth, as well as anticipating the baby’s needs as they hit key developmental milestones. In this instalment, I would like to share my thoughts on the other practical aspects of the fourth trimester that are easier to navigate when best prepared. This episode focuses on breastfeeding, as well as your own needs as a new mother.

Here are some of the products and resources I found helpful.

1. Nipple Cream

After a couple of days of breastfeeding, you may find that you experience some chafing as your delicate breast skin isn’t quite used to so much friction. A good nipple cream that is formulated specifically for this purpose and is therefore safe for baby, is a good call. I personally used the Expert Midwife’s nipple balm, but a lot of the fellow new mums in my pre-natal yoga that I stayed friends with swore by the Lanolin version. You may find that’s there’s plenty left after you need it; I’ve taken to using mine as a lip balm!

2. Good nursing bra

When searching for a nursing bra, I looked for comfort, robust support and ease of accessibility for breastfeeding. The comfort factor was key when considering that I also needed to sleep in one. After the milk came in my breast grew exponentially and were incredibly heavy, so something with good support would have been great. Faffing about with bra straps while juggling a hungry newborn was also not something I wanted. And then there was also the small matter of wanting to look good in clothes - I didn’t want a uniboob, I didn’t care for that look on top of everything else.

I will admit however that everything I tried fell short. Some bras I bought and started wearing while I was still pregnant at the recommendation of most pregnancy support resources, but I found this meant I bought the wrong size to transition well into the breastfeeding stage, even when I bought the bras towards the later part of the third trimester. A blogger I loved following mentioned that she used this one by Projectme, and while I did not try it out myself I liked the fact that the cups didn’t have quite so much structure to them. The softer cups means the bra is more likely to contour with the breasts and create less bulk and separation between the breast cup and the breast itself. Or so I hope.

In the end I personally just bought standard bras, and went for bralette style (still with underwire) for the soft cups. This has worked better for me, and access is no issue with the softer cups.

3. Breast pads

While things did settle down after about 6 weeks, I found that I struggled a lot with leaking during the early days. I was constantly soaked wet, particularly during feeds when the other breast would decide to go into let-down. Breast pads were a lifesaver, although I found the disposable ones scratchy and less than ideal, not to mention the environmental impact of course. Without a good support bra the pad shifted around a lot and was ineffective. I had started researching alternatives when I stumbled on these Lansinoh reusable versions, although I never got a chance to use them as things eased up for me by then.

4. Mastitis and clogged ducts

This is another one where I assumed, rather wrongly, that I would just sail through without much fuss. I reckoned that women had been breastfeeding since the dawn of time, and so there mustn’t be anything more to it than just taking the breast to the newborn right? Not quite.

When my milk came in, it came in hard and fast, in both breasts. As my son would cluster feed to signal he needed more food, my body would respond by producing more milk. While I was getting the hang of feeding and alternating between breasts, I found that sometimes I struggled to get through the supply in one breast fast enough. So my breast would swell up to a point of being rather painful, and rock solid hard. Which is when I started frantically googling for solutions and learning about the possibility of clogged milk ducts and mastitis, and how to prevent them.

There’s a lot of reputable sources online on how to prevent and treat both clogged ducts and mastitis, so I won’t attempt to duplicate that here. My only wish is that you know of them beforehand, and have a plan of action to prevent them if you can, or know how to deal with them well before they become a big problem.

5. Breast inserts

Once your baby has settled into breastfeeding, you may find that they have a preference for one breast over the other. I’m not quite sure why this is, but my son certainly did, and that meant that I ended up quite lopsided as he was feeding exclusively from one side, and the other stopped producing milk. I fretted and fussed over the neglected breast, took to expressing out of that side to try and balance things, and generally made myself miserable fighting a losing battle. The lactation specialist I consulted around this time told me that this is quite common, and that things should revert to being balanced after breastfeeding.

I chose in the end to pick my battles, and let go of this notion that everything needed to be perfect or just the same as everyone else. After a little google search I stumbled on these silicone breast inserts, which I found did the trick to make my chest appear balanced in the meantime.

And finally, I’ll preface the last two by confessing that I realise that these are not absolute necessities. Having said that, healing to some is not just about the physical aspects. A holistic approach to finding one’s balance again, to nursing yourself back to health and growing into the new role as a mother, can be just as worthwhile. I found it a lot easier to bear the two-hourly feeds when I knew there’d be hot chocolate waiting for me the second I put the baby down again. So with that I give you the last two recommendations:

6. Reusable coffee cup and/or flask

Popping into the kitchen to make a fresh cup of tea or the soul-soothing hot chocolate at two in the morning may prove to be a little impractical, if not demoralising. There’s also the tiny problem of your cup of tea constantly getting cold before you can even get to it because there’s always something else to do just as you’re about to drink it! Keeping my tea or hot chocolate in a generous flask meant that I had ample supply of my hot drink of choice to relax into after a series of gruelling non-stop feeding sessions. Think of this one as more therapy for the soul. It is incredibly exhausting work looking after a newborn baby, and you mustn’t forget to find little ways to take care of yourself in the midst of all of that. For me, hot chocolate was my self-care language. For you it may very well be something else. I’d use the time in the lead-up to the baby’s arrival to find out what you love the most, and how you can bring a little piece of that into your new routine without much effort once the baby has arrived.

7. Water bottle with in-built straw

I don’t quite remember being constantly this thirsty as when I was breastfeeding. Having a bottle of water readily available saved me on numerous occasions, especially as the thirst would decide to rear its head just as I’d settled in with a baby in my lap to start nursing. I preferred the option with an in-built straw because it was more leak-proof, and it meant I could drink while also lying on my side in the early days when we had to breastfeed lying down as we recovered. Another added advantage of this version is that you can use it during labour to keep hydrated, when they recommend that you use straws to sip your drinks as that’s more practical with everything going on.

I do hope you’ve found these pointers helpful, or at the very least thought-provoking so you can best figure out what you will need to think about to better prepare for your postpartum recovery. It’s unlikely we can ever be fully prepared for every single eventuality, but some fore-guarding is always helpful.

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