The knowledge of what happens during the first few weeks and months postpartum is going through a bit of a renaissance right now (thank goodness), but that doesn’t mean we all know what the hell is going to happen, or that certain myths and misconceptions don’t persist. Let’s be real- postpartum healing can be mystifying, confusing, and even troubling, so it’s easy to default back to our culture’s groupthink about what it should be like.
But I’m here to urge you to challenge the current thinking. I know that when you’re tender and your channels are open, it’s hard to draw a hard line that contradicts so much of the popular belief (and to be honest, you shouldn’t have to). So to help, I’m putting the kibosh on some of the most common postpartum myths that I can think of. My hope is that by busting through these, I can relieve some of the pressure you might feel as you navigate life after birth.
1. You’re gonna get your body back.
I’m not aiming to add anything else to the collection of opinion pieces amassed on the internet, but this myth was worth including if only for me to say this- I’m never going to promote the idea that “getting your body back” should be a priority after birth. The world is full of before and after pics of moms breaking a sweat with their babies in the background to get rock solid abs three months later, and I always wonder if they feel nourished and supported, too. Here's the truth: even if you do get fit, you’ll be changed. And that’s worth your love and acceptance. I think there’s a lot to be said for embracing a perspective of curiosity about the ways that motherhood change us, even physically. After three kids, my breasts slope to the side, my belly rolls, my ass jiggles, and I weigh 20 pounds more than I did eight years ago. I know that I want to feel and look better and stronger, but right now, I understand the season I am in and I’m in no rush to end it.
2. Mothering is an instinct.
Parenting is a skill. Yes, many of your decisions as a parent should, and will with time, come intuitively, but that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be confident right out of the gate. I included this on the list because I think it’s time to let go of the guilt trip we all seem to love to take about having to do the "right" thing all the time or beating ourselves up for things not being as easy as we think they should be. I am here to tell you that this is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done and that if you struggle with it, there’s nothing wrong with you. I promise.
3. You’ll instantly fall in love with your baby.
Oxytocin, the “love hormone”, the one that gets pumped out by your pituitary to create uterine contractions (and orgasms, by the way), is a magical thing. It will be flowing through your system when you bond with your baby after birth and will make you feel like you’re falling in love with them. That said, there are lots of reasons- clinically and otherwise- why the fabled sensation of falling instantly in love with your newborn may not happen for you. You might feel shocked, perplexed, or ambivalent. You might come up against feelings of grief for the pregnancy or your independence. All of these things are okay. Again, the guilt trip doesn’t get to tell us how we have to feel anymore. If you don’t fall in love with your baby instantly, it’s doesn’t mean you don’t care or that you are wrong or bad. Just keep going. (If feelings of ambivalence or grief persist for several weeks, it’s time to ask for help!)
4. All the pain is over the minute your baby is born.
Ha! If only someone had told me about the most horrible thing in the world which is so much worse than labor (IMO). FUNDAL MASSAGE. This is the one thing I probably hear more mamas wish they would have known about before going into it- how much it hurts to get your uterus rubbed down right after birth. There’s a good reason for doing this- your uterus has to contract to close the blood vessels that fed your placenta so you don’t bleed a bunch- but holy HELL does it hurt. Also, afterpains. It takes a hot minute for your uterus to return to its non-pregnant state, and it will continue to contract for the first several days. The more babies you’ve had, the worse it hurts, because it’s less toned to start (and has to compensate). So head’s up- if anyone tells you that birth is cool because the pain goes away the minute you’re done, they’re forgetting this part.
5. Breastfeeding should come naturally.
Yeeeaaaa…. This is another one of those guilt trip mythbusters. If breastfeeding is a struggle, it’s okay (especially for all you first time mamas out there). Breastfeeding is beautiful and most of us want to do it- a huge majority of us, in fact. But the numbers show that those of us who are actually still doing it 3 months and 6 months later are a whole lot lower . This means that a lot of us are turning to supplementation… without have planned on it. I’m not writing this to start a Mommy War, just to highlight that a ton of us struggle with breastfeeding. It seems to me that something that we assume is going to come naturally is actually a whole lot harder than we expect, and because so many of us are lacking resources and good examples of healthy breastfeeding relationships (a show of hands if your grandmothers, moms, sisters, or best friends breastfed…), we end up ending these relationships earlier than we want. I think it would be helpful for pregnant folks to understand that feeding your baby human milk is a skill, that it looks a little different for everyone, and that it takes time, resources, and patience.
6. You’ll know if you get postpartum depression.
You might be the kind of person who is totally in touch with every rippling emotion and see your mood swings coming from a mile away, who has resources and a plan on how to cope with it. Or if you’re like me, you'll find yourself sitting in the aftermath, wondering what the hell just happened, having alienated or hurt the people around you in the wake. Add hormones crashing, disordered sleeping, a lack of support, a family history of depression, an unhealthy relationship, financial hardship, AND a crying, hungry newborn that depends on you, and you may find yourself months along, wondering if this is normal. Know this: not all postpartum depression is the same. There is a wide spectrum of un-wellness, ranging from anxiety, depression, panic, disordered mood, and psychosis. Some mothers become obsessive about their baby’s health. Some have ideations of hurting their children. I did not identify my own postpartum depression until I was socially isolated, wanting to hurt myself, unable to leave the house, and my marriage was falling apart. I wish that I had talked about it more during pregnancy and had people around me who were aware of the signs and could step in and get me help.
7. You should be able to do it on your own.
I don’t get our society’s obsession with having to prove that we can do everything by ourselves, but mothers need to be the ones to step forward to end it. We cannot, and should never be expected to, survive on our own. That’s not how we evolved, and the expectation to do so has only existed for a tiny fraction of our species’ existence. You and I are meant to thrive on interdependence. It’s what our children need. It’s a key factor in our survival and our happiness. So notice the next time you put a bunch of pressure on yourself to NOT call (or "bother") a friend. To make it through the day on your own. Do you know how guilty I am of this? We all are. But the time to realize these basic truths about needing each other is NOW. This is enormously key to postpartum success.
As I hope you can see, I am passionate about all of us internalizing what’s good and true about life after birth. It is hard. It is messy. And it doesn’t come without its fair share of aches and pains. But with the right approach- and graceful expectations- postpartum healing can be full of beauty and wonder.
If any of this rings true for you today, I invite you to join my free 7-day email course, Creating a Nourished Postpartum. It's a rich week of mindset shifting around asking for help and building support, knowledge building around what to expect physically and emotionally, and skills training for healing well after birth. Click here to sign up and get started today!