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Postpartum Afterpains

Postpartum Afterpains

Postpartum Afterpains

Postpartum afterpains

Many first time mothers have never even heard of them, and some won’t even notice the cramping sensation known as afterpains. Occurring after the delivery of the child, afterpains consist of postpartum cramping that is felt (or not noticed) after delivery of a baby and continues for a few days.

Especially noticeable during breastfeeding, postpartum afterpains are a sign that the uterus is cramping and shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy state. Postpartum afterpains serve an important purpose: helping the uerus become smaller so as to minimize blood loss. Because breastfeeding stimulates oxytocin production and oxytocin helps contract the uterus, women may have a constant, almost labor-like, feeling of cramping while they nurse their baby.

Just as with most topics relating to birth and postpartum, there is much variation in the way that women experience afterpains. Elisha, a mom of one and childbirth educator in Lewisville, TX says that, “Every time I nursed I felt my uterus contracting, but it would go away shortly after each nursing session began. I just knew the pain had a purpose, and couldn't let it interfere with my breastfeeding experience.” Some women, particularly first time mothers, may not even notice afterpains at all.

Women often report that the more babies they give birth to, the stronger and longer the postpartum afterpain sensation is.“With my second I mostly just had them while nursing. And with my third I had them all the time for at least three days postpartum. And they were so horrible and intense, I couldn't even hold the baby while having them,”  reports Holly, a Birth Boot Camp instructor in Denton, TX. Others report that after the sixth birth, afterpains diminish once again and are not as noticeable.

Postpartum Afterpain Relief

 There are many things that can be done to help relieve the pain and intensity of afterpains. Here are a few ideas. Take those that work for you and disregard those that don’t. We are all different!

 -Employ Relaxation Techniques-

Your childbirth class no doubt helped you tune in to your own ability to relax through times of stress, strain, and even pain. While the focus in a birth class is on using these tools for a natural birth, the ability to relax can be helpful in many different situations (especially as a parent!)

 Valerie, a Birth Boot Camp childbirth educator in Princeton, NJ, says, “All of my practice and education in dealing with labor contractions helped me, even after birth! Plus, just like with labor contractions, I knew that they had a purpose. Labor contractions were not frightening because I knew that they were intense for a reason (dilating my cervix, moving my baby down and out). And afterpains weren't frightening because I knew they were working to preventing excess bleeding (also a very good thing!). In both circumstances, knowing that it was normal and even useful eased my worries and concerns.” Just like with birth, knowledge and relaxation are helpful in dealing with afterpains.

Focusing on deep breathing, just as you did to relax through those contractions in labor, can help you relax through the contractions after labor. The deep and cleansing breath that reaches down to your abdomen and fully employs your diaphragm, can help you let tension leave your body during postpartum contractions just as it worked in labor.

 Rachael Hope, a Birth Boot Camp instructor in Bellingham, Washington, details what worked for her:

“I used a heating pad a lot in the first two weeks after my second was born, putting it on my front instead of my back. It seemed to help. Binding my stomach also seemed to help with the pain. The most helpful thing for me was just relaxing, breathing, and remembering that the afterpains were just my body readjusting after birth.”

 Other techniques that you liked for labor such as counting or distraction may also be useful. Find what works for you and use it as needed.

 -Alternative Pain Management-

There are a variety of products and herbal options available that experienced birthing and nursing mothers find helpful in dealing with afterpains. Earth Mama Angel Baby Comfort tea, Skullcap and cramp bark tincture, Arnica tablets, Afterease, liquid calcium-magnesium, and Motherwart are all things that can spell relief. As with any medical treatment, it is important to consult with your care provider when using natural remedies too. Your midwife will be able to guide you as you choose what works best for you.

 

Other alternative methods that may be helpful with afterpains include hot stone massage (done by some midwives), or abdominal wrapping. Abdominal wrapping is a common part of postpartum care and mother support in some cultures and many are finding it useful still in relieving postpartum afterpains.

 -Pharmacological Pain Relief-

Sometimes the pain associated with postpartum recovery, including afterpains, is such that a mother will have a difficult time recovering or sleeping, or even having a desire to breastfeed (especially if breastfeeding becomes associated with triggering afterpains.)

Kristi, a Birth Boot Camp instructor and doula in Houston, TX, who has had two natural births said that, “When I was nursing again, I broke down in tears and begged my husband to go get me some Motrin. He and my father-in-law, jumped in the car to go get me some. It really helped. Since then I've said, "I'm all about the natural birth, but I'm not all about the natural postpartum. Give me drugs!"”

Talk to your care provider about what they recommend in this instance. Certain painkillers are not ideal for nursing women. There is a wide range of choices safe for nursing mothers.. Your provider will help you choose what works best and is safe for you and baby.

 -Common Sense Comfort For Afterpains-

There are also simple solutions for dealing with afterpains. A warm cup of tea with milk as you settle and relax can be helpful. A hot water bottle or warmed rice pack over your abdomen can bring welcome relief during breastfeeding. The simple act of staying hydrated and eating nourishing, healthy food can be a comfort and aid during recovery.

Warm bone broth with vegetables, fresh fruits and nuts, green salads, and other nourishing postpartum foods that feed your recovering, hardworking body, cannot be underestimated at this transitional time of life. Allow and invite those around you to help nourish you as you recover. Or, if you know that support postpartum will be limited, seek to prepare beforehand so that you will have healthy things on hand after the time of birth. Don’t underestimate the joy of a freezer full of food.

Sometimes afterpains are more than just a physical occurrence, but can even serve as a reminder of the birth. For women who experienced very quick labors, the pain of afterpains can also serve as a sort of processing. As Nancy Rebarchik, a Birth Boot Camp instructor and doula in Hurst, TX, says, “After my second baby, a precipitous birth, the difficulty for me was more emotional. The afterpains made me feel like I was back in labor, which I was still emotionally processing. While they were intense, they allowed me to work through the emotional stuff most people process during labor. Sometimes, things that are hurtful can be very helpful. “

While not always pleasant, the experience of postpartum afterpains can serve multiple purposes. From helping mom slow down, to shrinking the uterus, and even helping ease the emotional transition into motherhood, this often secret but memorable experience is not one to be ignored.

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In many ways, the immediate postpartum period and the first few weeks after the birth of a baby are things that we keep secret and rarely talk about. While understandable considering the intimate nature of these powerful life events, silence regarding the many changes in the body often leaves women feeling vulnerable, unprepared and confused.

 Education and knowledge have the opposite effect. As Rachael says, ““I was so glad that both my midwife and a good friend warned me that the afterpains are more intense with the second baby than the first!"

Postpartum afterpains are one of these subjects that few realize even exists until they experience it for themselves. Sharing this knowledge is important preparation for a more pleasant entrance into the many joys (and sometimes unpleasant surprises) of motherhood.

blueberries are a great food for pregnancy

10 Most Nutritious Foods For Pregnancy and Postpartum

We are so excited to feature a post today detailing the 10 Most Nutritious Foods for Pregnancy & Postpartum from our resident pregnancy exercise and nutrition expert, Katie Dudley. We believe that part of preparing for a healthy, natural birth is preparing our bodies with optimal nutrition. Katie's list is something every pregnant woman should read.

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During our first few visits to our care provider, we often receive a long list of foods to avoid, but we rarely discuss the foods that we SHOULD consume to support a more safe and comfortable pregnancy. In preparation for baby we hear even less about what we should eat once baby has arrived and our body is healing to provide nourishment for our breastfeeding child. The following is a list of foods that help to combat many of the common pregnancy symptoms and well as provide you with better care for postpartum healing. Incorporating these foods on a regular basis will help to crowd out the less nutritious foods that may contribute to common ailments in pregnancy and postpartum.

Bananas

Photo credit: Billy Wilson Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: Billy Wilson Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC

Bananas contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that are perfect for many common pregnancy symptoms. Early on in pregnancy, bananas are a great source for alleviating nausea and morning sickness. They travel well, so keeping a banana on hand in your purse or bag is easy. This can come in handy for any muscle cramps and also regulating blood sugar during the day. Bananas are a great prebiotic food that aid in digestion and nutrient absorption for baby’s development. Another digestive benefit is they can help mom with symptoms of constipation and diarrhea that can occur throughout pregnancy. Later on in pregnancy, many of the nutrients found in bananas assist in reducing swelling and high blood pressure.

Berries

blueberries are a great food for pregnancy
Photo credit: maira.gall / Foter / CC BY-ND

Another excellent prebiotic food that promotes healthy digestion and nutrient absorption, berries are among the highest foods in antioxidants. Berries are considered superfoods as one of the best anti-inflammatory foods you can consume. They contain a high amount of fiber for regularity and satiety, but are low in sugars, helping keep mom’s blood sugar stable. They are the fruit of choice for mom’s who at a higher risk for gestational diabetes. High in vitamin C, berries give your immune system a boost to keep mom and baby well. Even better, they are a great natural source of folate, which your body can readily convert for baby’s development.

Bone Broth

Bone broth is excellent for pregnancy
Photo credit: looseends / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Bone broth can be an excellent source of protein and fat to enhance mom’s immune function and provides essential amino acids for growing baby. Essential minerals that aid in brain and nerve functioning are also found in fresh bone broth. With its rich nutritional content, bone broth is great way to reduce symptoms of morning sickness. This is particularly helpful when it is difficult to get foods in. The vitamins and minerals in homemade broth make a perfect food for both pregnancy and postpartum as they aid in the growth of nails, skin, hair and connective tissues. This serves as an important function as they help mom’s body grow with baby as well as recover once baby is here. These same nutrients also condition the digestive tract and keep things working smoothly.

Dark Chocolate (Real)

Dark chocolate can be excellent food for pregnancy
Photo credit: Chocolate Reviews / Foter / CC BY-ND

Yes! Dark Chocolate. Real dark chocolate (not the processed, sugary kind) has some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any foods. It is higher than berries, red wine, and high quality dark chocolate (70% or more cacoa) made from raw cacao, is quite the nutritious food and is a perfect option for those sweet pregnancy cravings. A surprising source of fiber, dark chocolate can even contribute to good digestion. High in minerals like iron, magnesium, cooper, zinc, selenium, potassium, and manganese cacao keeps mom energized for baby’s growth and development. The varieties of minerals also improve circulation and lower blood pressure. Quality dark chocolate can also be a nutritious pick me up for mom with a small amount of natural caffeine. With less caffeine than a cup of coffee, be aware of consuming this late at night and when breastfeeding.

Cultured Foods

Yogurt and other fermented foods are excellent during pregnancy
Photo credit: roboppy / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Found in cultures around the world throughout history, cultured and fermented foods like real yogurt (read ingredients), sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kefir, pickled vegetables, coconut yogurt, organic buttermilk, organic sour cream and probiotics are a healthy way to incorporate healthy bacteria into mom’s system. A balance of bacteria in the body is necessary for many bodily functions like making B vitamins, good digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function and mood. The bacterial flora in mom’s body is especially important for the baby as he passes through the birth canal and takes on the flora from mom. This is also true during breastfeeding. Recent studies have even shown that the bacteria are also found in the placenta and may help prevent preterm births. There is current evidence that if mom and baby have a healthy balance of flora, there is also less chance of colic, thrush, digestive upsets, and allergies. Consuming cultured foods is particularly beneficial to moms that have GBS, have been on antibiotics or have a history of taking them.

Eggs

Eggs are packed with nutrients necessary during pregnancy
Photo credit: cobalt123 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

This nutrient dense, superfood will keep mom satiated and energized throughout the day. Eggs are an excellent whole foods source of protein during pregnancy and postpartum. Eating a sufficient amount of protein in a balanced diet protects mom from various health concerns like gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. High quality eggs are also a source of healthy fats, that are important in baby’s brain development as well as help to lower mom’s risk of postpartum depression. In addition to healthy fats and protein, pregnant and nursing moms can get many of their essential vitamins and minerals from eggs like iron, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins and minerals are important in supporting a healthy pregnancy as well as postpartum healing and recovery.

Green Vegetables

Leafy greens are an excellent source of nutrition during pregnancy
Photo credit: jirfy / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Dark leafy green vegetables are the ultimate superfoods full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants perfect for mom and baby. With a recommended 9-11 servings of vegetables and fruit a day, incorporating several servings of greens provides an excellent source of natural folate for baby’s development that your body can easily convert. They are full of fiber to keep mom full and her digestive system running smoothly. Nutrient dense dark greens like kale, spinach, broccoli, swiss chard, and arugula are a non-dairy source of calcium and full of immune boosting minerals. These help to prevent many pregnancy related complications like pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and anemia. Incorporating green vegetables throughout the day keeps moms energy levels stable without raising her blood sugar. If you have difficulty getting greens in at multiple meals, add them to a smoothie, mix them in a stir fry, add them to eggs, or have a side salad.

Healthy Fats

Avocado and other sources of healthy fat are excellent for pregnancy
Photo credit: mikemennonno / Foter / CC BY-NC

Healthy fats play an essential role in baby’s growth and development. They are particularly important in eye and brain development or as Dr. Sears would say, “Growing a little fathead”. Ours brains consist of almost sixty percent fat and it is important that enough fat is provided for proper brain function. According to several studies from the Harvard School of Public Health, they found that pregnant women who eat a diet rich in healthy fats reduce their chances of allergies and developmental delays. Consuming a variety of healthy fats is crucial for mom and baby throughout pregnancy and postpartum. During pregnancy they will help mom to stabilize her blood sugar, improve digestion, and regulate blood pressure. With less sleep and a more demanding schedule, moms need all the help they can get. Eating various healthy fats like a moderate amount of cold water fish, avocados, flaxseed, flax oil, chia seed, olive oil, coconut oil, organic grassed meat, and nuts assist mom in absorbing the nutrients her body needs for sustained energy as well as postpartum healing.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a great nutritional source for pregnant women.
Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

Mushrooms are often overlooked for their nutritional benefits, but they are actually packed with essential vitamins and minerals. In fact, they are one of the few food sources of Vitamin D. This comes in handy during those winter months when it is more difficult to get appropriate levels of vitamin D from being outdoors. In combination with the antioxidants, D can boost mom’s immune system as well, keeping risk of infections lower. Sufficient levels of vitamin D will also support baby’s bone and teeth development. Recent research has been shown that proper levels of vitamin D in women reduce chances of postpartum depression. With an abundance of B vitamins, mushrooms can alleviate symptoms of morning sickness and increase mom’s energy levels. Mushrooms are also an iron rich food, helping with the increased blood volume during pregnancy.

Onions & Garlic

Garlic and onions are a fantastic source of healthy nutrition for pregnancy.
Photo credit: Ruby's Feast / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Part of the allium family, not only do they help our meals taste great, but onions and garlic are some of nature’s greatest medicines. They both are excellent anti inflammatory foods as well as support your immune system and balanced cholesterol. Rich in antioxidants, garlic and onions protect moms from various health conditions during pregnancy like pre-eclampsia and high blood pressure by promoting healthy circulation. By increasing circulation, these properties reduce pregnancy related swelling. Raw garlic also contains antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which may assist in keeping illness and infections away. This can be beneficial for pregnant and breastfeeding moms avoiding unnecessary medications. Check out our free pregnancy nutritional e-book for more information and ideas for recipes.


Katie Dudley, nutritional and exercise expert for Birth Boot Camp Childbirth Education.

Katie Dudley, HHC, CPT, CES, PES is passionate about natural health and wellness. She enjoys educating and empowering others to take control of their own health.  She believes women can have an amazing pregnancy and birth. Katie earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from the University of Georgia with a focus in Child and Family Development and Educational Psychology. Following her love of fitness and nutrition, a trainer since 2005, she is a Certified Corrective Exercise and Performance Enhancement Specialist and a Board Certified Holistic Health Coach. Katie currently has a private Holistic Health Coaching Practice, Cornerstone Integrative Fitness and Wellness, where she works with women and families all over the country. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.

Read more from Katie!

Exercises for a great pregnancy and birth.

Foam rolling for pregnancy.

newborn breastfeeding

Newborn Breastfeeding and the 10th Day Growth Spurt

newborn breastfeeding

Breastfeeding success has always been an important goal for Birth Boot Camp and breastfeeding education is included in our online and in-person classes through a long and detailed video presentation by Mellanie Sheppard, IBCLC. One thing that often throws people off in their breastfeeding journey is the very early days and the confusion and lack of personal confidence that unexpected growth spurts can cause for the nursing mother. We love this guest today from Alex Rounds, an experienced breastfeeding mother and lactation counselor. Our hope is that you will read this and share it with expecting mothers so that they can thrive during the first months of breastfeeding. And, if you are really passionate about breastfeeding, taking her advice and giving mom a gift during this "10th day growth spurt" just might change a life and help preserve a nursing relationship. 

Enjoy!

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Experienced parents recognize some baby shower gifts don’t end up getting much use. We can’t predict what we’re really going to need until we meet our babies. But there are some things about infants that are predictable, like dirty diapers, sleep debt and growth spurts. We know babies grow quickly by the sheer volume of newborn to 0-3 month clothes on the registry, but the actual implications in terms of feeding aren’t often talked about. So I want to share a proposal that would make a fantastic tradition of giving a 10 day growth spurt gift/IOU to every mom out there. Women Infant and Children (WIC) Director Peter Schlichting brought up the idea with intent to give new moms extra attention and love at a time when hormone levels are dropping and infant needs are increasing as a way to promote continued breastfeeding, but a 10 Day Growth Spurt Gift should be for all moms.

All moms can probably use a little extra attention during the postpartum period, but breastfeeding moms and their newborns may especially benefit from a reminder around the time of the first major growth spurt. The gift of time and companionship when a new mom is home alone with what may seem to be an insatiable newborn can be incredible. In the United States, breastfeeding initiation rates are almost 80% but rates drop to 40% by 3 months (CDC, 2014), a drop largely attributed to concerns regarding milk supply (Li, R., Fein, S., Chen, J., & Grummer-Strawn, L 2008). Often this is misguided: it is not necessarily a supply issue but a growth spurt. If we can help moms get through the first growth spurt, maybe we can help increase breastfeeding rates at 3 months and beyond.

The gift can be anything from a pedicure, massage, lunch date or anything special for the mom. It should be something for the woman, not for her baby, and adaptable to whatever the moms needs are at the time. After giving birth, focus shifts from the woman to her baby, a new mother’s hormones are in flux and if she is like most women, she has lost a little sleep since her darling little one arrived. The combination of a baby with a growth spurt and a hormonal shifts can be rough on Moms to put it mildly, so a little extra attention and focus on the Mom can help her adapt and give Mom the boost she probably needs.

Getting out of the house might be a treat at this stage, but not all women are ready to venture out, so keep in mind your friend’s perspective. If you plan a trip out- you might want to include an hour of your time to help Mom get out the door with her little one, and to offer to drive. For Moms who aren’t ready to leave home, bringing take out lunch from a favorite restaurant or having a home visit by a massage therapist with postpartum experience can be phenomenal. Take the time together to ask how she is doing, if she’s getting enough help and how breastfeeding is going for her.

The first growth spurt usually occurs between 10 and 14 days and comes at an often difficult time for breastfeeding moms. Whether breastfeeding has started off without a hitch or with challenges, the breastfeeding mom may feel that things should be getting easier. But then a few weeks after birth the baby will increase the frequency and often amount of time spent at feedings. Uplifting mother centered support can be the light that helps her get through the frequent feedings that come with growth spurts. When you give her the 10 Day Growth Spurt Gift, talk with her, she how she’s doing, and ask her if she has noticed a growth spurt, and if she hasn’t yet, you can remind her to expect one soon.

Some points that are important to know about breastfeeding that can help Mom, family and friends understand breastfeeding are:

Milk production is triggered by demand. The more a baby nurses, the more milk will be produced.

Frequent feedings are normal for a few days during growth spurts but typically space out within 2-3 days.

Breastfeeding takes more time in the beginning but long term is less time consuming than formula feeding.

Breast milk is easy for babies to digest. It moves through their digestive system with ease. That’s why babies need to nurse frequently. Formula is more difficult to digest.

Newborns should breastfeed 12 or more times in 24 hours. At the same time, it’s important to watch babies hunger cues, and not necessarily go by the clock.

Babies may cluster feed, or feed several times over several hours, then take a break. This is normal.

If your friend who has planned to breastfeed is having trouble or has questions, many communities have La Leche League Chapters (find them here http://www.llli.org/webus.html) which typically hold monthly woman to woman support meetings. LLL leaders, Breastfeeding or Lactation Counselors, International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and other professionals who specialize in breastfeeding are great resources too!

A little extra support, a treat, and a reminder about normal developments can help a new Mom when things may seem hard. Let’s do our best to help new moms transition into motherhood. Let’s make sure new Moms know they have a community that cares, who they can lean on, and that there are resources. And most of all, let’s take care of them.

Alex Rounds, Doula

In a nutshell, Alex Rounds is a moderately well-adjusted human being.  She is a member of La Leche League, a Breastfeeding Counselor, and Mom with a total of 8 years personal experience breastfeeding, not all of which were easy.  She has three fun, quirky and ever-challenging sweet kids. Presently, Alex's time is consumed with homeschooling, studying midwifery, volunteering, providing breastfeeding support, and attending birth as a doula.

 

postpartumdad

10 Ways to Support Dad Postpartum

When we talk about the postpartum period, we tend to concentrate on the help and rest that mom needs after the labor and birth. In our often nuclear families, the expectation is that dad will automatically do the bulk of the work that needs to be done around the house. He is also expected to take on the additional responsibility of caring for a mother that truly needs her rest so she can focus on baby. Read more

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Placenta Encapsulation: Mother Nature’s Gift for Postpartum Wellness

At Birth Boot Camp we are surrounded by simply amazing and talented instructors. We love them and the skills they bring to the table. One of our most recently certified instructors is Carmen Calvo who teaches in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a placenta encapsulation specialist (and an excellent writer) and a mother of two. Today our guest post is from her and we think you will love it! Feel free to ask questions in the comments and share with your friends. Basic information on placenta encapsulation is also included in the Field Manual that comes with your birth class. Read more

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