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Postpartum Recovery is Not Linear

Postpartum recovery is not linear. As much as we want it to be, it doesn’t always work that way!

As I live through my second postpartum recovery, I’m finding myself comparing the experience to my first.

What’s different, what’s the same? 

How has my level of support from family/friends/community differed? 

How do I feel day to day?
How are my expectations different?

What’s my motivation/ability/mindset around life, work, and all the things?

I shared some thoughts on this over on Instagram last month and I had far more responses than anticipated.

Safe to say that my words rang true for many parents out there, so I want to share it here.

 

Postpartum Recovery is NOT Linear

You know that saying “two steps forward, one step back”? That is postpartum recovery. It’s not linear.

After the first few weeks, you might feel like you should be back to your old self—and maybe you feel that way some days—but it’s ok to not feel that way all the time.

Even after the 4th trimester (first 3 months post birth), your body is still recovering. Yeah, most of the major physical healing has taken place, but hormones are still in flux, your adrenals and thyroid are working hard, your pelvic floor is still recovering… If you’re breastfeeding, your body is still partitioning energy and micronutrients into breast milk. You get the idea.

It’s also around the close of the 4th trimester (or somewhere in the 3-5 month range) when baby becomes much more alert, active, clingy, unsettled at night… perhaps they have started teething or want to practice new skills?

Right when you feel like you should really “have your sh*t together by now,” you’re actually in the stage where I most often see mom’s health take a nose dive. 

Sleep deprivation has reached critical mass, or so it feels. This is also when community/family support has usually dried up (RIP meal trains and/or freezer meals).

THIS is the time to let go of societal expectations about what you “should” be doing, how your body “should” look, how you “should” parent or not, how your baby “should” do xyz (psst – burn all the baby books, IMO!).

This is the time to take a deep breath.

Acknowledge all that you are doing.

Acknowledge how far you’ve come.

Acknowledge the huge journey your body and family has taken in the last year.

Acknowledge that no one *really* has it all together. 

Embrace the “full catastrophe,” as mindfulness pioneer, Jon Kabat-Zinn might say. And just take it hour by hour, day by day.

No, my friends. Postpartum recovery is not linear. And that’s OK.

Who’s with me?

If you need me, I’ll be in bed by 8.

 

Until next week,

Lily

 

PS – If this post rings true for you, please share in the comments how you feel postpartum recovery is different than you anticipated.

Also, if you can think of any mom friends that might benefit from this message, share this post on social media or via email. You never know how helpful a simple reframe is when you’re “in the thick of it.”

PPS – Some people assumed when reading my original post that my postpartum recovery is not going well this round. That’s actually not the case AT ALL.

My postpartum recovery after this second pregnancy has been more supported (i.e. I asked for more help), better nourished (thanks to all the postpartum recovery meal prep and a meal train; see this post for real food postpartum recovery meals and 50+ recipes), and my body feels STRONG thanks to all that I’ve implemented both during and after pregnancy for a solid recovery.

If you want that basics on postpartum recovery and navigating the 4th trimester with more ease, see Ch 12 of Real Food for Pregnancy.

If you want a super in-depth look at this topic, see my professional continuing education webinar on Postpartum Recovery and Nutrient Repletion that I teach through the Women’s Health Nutrition Academy.

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Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, researcher, and author with a passion for evidence-based prenatal nutrition and exercise. Her work is known for being research-focused, thorough, and unapologetically critical of outdated dietary guidelines. She is the author of two bestselling books, Real Food for Pregnancy and Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.

19 Comments

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  1. I’m 2 months postpartum and was surprised how well I did overall (thanks in large part to finding Real Food for Pregnancy in my first trimester and then having Real Food for Gestational Diabetes to refer to when I was diagnosed in my third trimester). I do however find that each day is a different story regarding the degree to which I feel I have my ducks in line. One day I’ll feel like a rockstar – baby and I feel in sync, I feel rested and we have lots of awesome moments together. Other days not so much. I’m learning to really take each moment as it comes and to keep a list of the things I can do to help take a step back and a deep breath. It’s good to know that there is always another day, hour and moment and with the game always changing, the hardest moments will pass.

    Thanks for all you do Lily! You have been guiding light on my journey to and through motherhood

    • Hour by hour, day by day. Some days go well over here and some are a disaster! We’re all in this together. <3

  2. The weight isn’t “melting” off like it did last time despite me eating the same diet and following the same exercise routine. I am trying to give myself grace (I’m only 10 weeks postpartum). Your post gave me reassurance, I forgot I am still in 4th trimester!

    • So, so many mothers find that the weight doesn’t come off as quickly with the second. Don’t worry. 10 week is still very early postpartum! I actually felt like retaining a little more weight early in my second postpartum recovery helped me recover stronger. The body has its reasons. <3

  3. Love this so much, Lily. I’m 4 months postpartum and ALL of this resonates.

  4. Lily,
    I don’t usually comment on blogs but I want to today. My postpartum was NOT what I expected. As a high school & college athlete, I was still going to the gym right up to the day I gave birth. My pregnancy was a cake walk. I never swelled, I wore 4 inch heels to church the Sunday before she was born. In fact, my doctor was worried that my fundal height was too low even though I was forcing myself to eat way more than I wanted. I thought I would bounce right back after birth. I never even gave my own recovery any thought – just focused on doing everything I could to ensure my baby was healthy.
    Oh how wrong!
    I stumbled into your blog the middle of my second trimester & quickly incorporated your eating guidelines. I had made my pantry stocked with bone broth & some in the freezer that I had made; I was drinking tea with gelatin on a daily basis; I had eggs every morning & was downing the whole milk just to name a few.
    I ripped deep & required more stitches than a friend who gave birth via caesarean.
    I did not anticipate how much help I would need & the people whom I thought would be a support system were very happy to come over & hold my baby but no one acknowledged that I might need help. I remember three days postpartum my dad asking me to take out the trash he had filled up in the guest bedroom, the day I came home from the hospital my grandma popped me in the stomach & stated that I needed a belly band to get rid of that flab (remember I had barely gained enough during pregnancy), my mother in law would come over, take the baby then bark orders at me to do things for her so she didn’t have to disturb the sleeping baby.
    I watched friends get back on their feet while I was still in so much pain “down there”. I struggled to sleep at night (the few hours the baby would allow me to sleep). I went back to work at 4 weeks b/c that’s when my boss went back & she was fine – I struggled to walk from my office to my car at the end of the day & sat on an icepack in pain when I got home for several months. At 6 weeks my doctor determined I was malnourished & that’s why I wasn’t healing correctly, had me take an IV vitamin infusion & instructed me to eat more (I was already eating what felt like so much because I was also struggling with milk supply & had discovered that the more fatty foods I ate – whole milk, eggs, fish – the better my production). The pain persisted until I finally went back to the MD & got some answers at 5 months. I couldn’t take the pain anymore. She said I was developing a “super scar” & sent me to a pelvic floor PT. Game changer.
    I’m 8 months out now & mostly healed. My body still lets me know if I overdo it. I had planned on being back to running by now but I’m not quite there. It’s coming though.
    I don’t say all this (& honestly I said way more than I meant to) to give you my life story, but b/c I want to thank you for advocating for women on this journey. If not for people like you I wouldn’t have emotionally survived. The average woman doesn’t get it. I had other mothers at work call me out for walking weird (bowlegged to keep the stitches from rubbing worse) stating that my baby was old enough now I had no reason to be acting like something was wrong. It wasn’t until the “super scar” diagnosis that my own mother finally took me serious that something wasn’t right, I wasn’t just being a big baby. Please keep sending out your encouragement & more importantly your knowledge because when we’re armed with knowledge we can take care of ourselves when no one else will.

    • I’m so very sorry to hear about the challenging recovery and lack of *actual* support from your family. That’s so hard. So many of our mothers and grandmothers didn’t receive quality support during this time that it seems like they also dismiss/don’t know how to provide real support to new moms as a result. It’s such a shame that western culture has lost sight of postpartum traditions and fails miserably at supporting mothers and babies. I started writing Real Food for Pregnancy at 10 months postpartum with my first, which is why the last chapter on the 4th trimester is SO DAMN LONG! <3

      Glad you hear that pelvic floor PT has been helpful. They are heroes!

  5. I feel this do much. I am at +4 months and started to feel similar anxieties (about brain fog, exhaustion, eye fatigue, etc), frustration and hormonal waves as I did in the fourth trimester. It’s a tricky time in baby’s development with sleep differences and fussiness so this article (and affirmation) couldn’t have come at a better time.

    • So tricky as baby’s needs shift. As new parents, it’s learning that everything changes.

  6. I couldn’t agree more with your post! I have also gone through two postpartum recoveries. The second time I asked for more help and was more mentally prepared regarding what the postpartum period can bring (even though every pregnancy is different). I understood the importance of being prepared before baby arrived, i.e. prepping food, stocking up on household essentials and all that jazz. However, around the 3-4 month mark in both of my 4th trimesters was the crashing point. The little one wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t sleeping and everything seemed to be going wrong lol. I agree that the recovery is not linear and it’s important to take it day-by-day and understand that nothing lasts forever. All of us mamas and parents need to be easier on ourselves and each other. Give yourself time to adjust and recover! However long it takes. My motto is never have any rigid expectations and don’t think any routine is going to last forever. Babies development and postpartum recover should be fluid, everything ebbs and flows.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Lori!

  7. This is helpful to me as I am 6 months postpartum, and while I thought that I did pretty well for the first few months, I feel like I am getting hit hard now. Everyone seems to say “Well isn’t the baby sleeping now?” and yes, she is, but that isn’t a miracle cure for me. Things just seem HARD right now, so this part really resonated: “Right when you feel like you should really “have your sh*t together by now,” you’re actually in the stage where I most often see mom’s health take a nose dive.” Thanks for acknowledging how hard this all is, at any stage.

  8. Hi Lily,

    Thanks for this post. I feel very much like this now that I’m at nearly the 4-month mark with our third babe. I felt like while I was on my 12-week-long maternity leave I was able to take better care of myself (making sure I was eating well every morning, waking up a a nice big glass of water, making sure I was getting all my vitamins/supplements in, taking naps when I needed to, etc.). Now that I’m back to work full-time and pumping/bottle making, kids to get ready in the AM, and drop-off of 3 kids at three different locations (on top of a very busy and stressful time at work) I’m finding my self-care out the window. I’m now regularly (but not intentionally) skipping meals/breakfasts, have days where I only get in 1/2 doses of my vitamins/supplements, and am unable to break for a friendly conversation with colleagues or friends. It really does feel like the mindful and calculated hard work I out into my well-being in the first 3 months is somehow out the window. Any advice for getting back on track?

  9. Thanks for this. Hearing the acknowledgment is such a comfort.
    I come from a long line of “easy birthers” and both my pregnancy’s were wonderful and healthy but getting that baby out of my body was a challenge both times for different reasons. I found your book for the second pregnancy and loved following it, growing a 10.7 pound healthy baby (yikes!) producing a placenta that was double the average size and watching as my body shrunk to smaller than my pre-pregnancy size with no effort other than focusing on nutrient dense foods. But recovery wise? I developed postpartum preeclampsia that kept me in the hospital for a week (what? How? I had NONE of the typical risk factors and I felt betrayed by my body) I ended up with a third degree tear that healed well but needed extra care and PT 6 weeks later because it over healed in a spot (didn’t know that was a thing!) which meant more doctors and more worry. I had great support and wonderful healthy kids…so to be honest, now six months out and feeling more myself I’m still confused about how I feel about the whole thing.
    Dang, its just no joke. No joke at all.

  10. Thank you so much for this! It means a lot that I’m not alone in that and so many other girls in the comments share the same feelings as well. I definitely did not expect a recovery to be that long! My expectations were 2 months at most and then everything will be back at norm. But I’m almost 6 months in and nothing feels normal at all. Especially now that my girl is starting to move a little, teeth problems arise as well and all of it just piling on top of each other… I hope everything gets better after a year, right? …Right?

    • With babies/kids, everything is a phase! xoxo

  11. I’m a bit over a year postpartum. No one ever ever warned me about the hormones and mental health changes. WHEW! After weaning from breastfeeding about 6 weeks ago, my hormones have literally gone nuts and made me feel nuts! I’ve been diagnosed with postpartum OCD and my body feels like the biggest stranger To me. Praying these hormones level out soon!!! Thankful for support from other mamas out there!

  12. Lily,
    I’m 22 weeks pregnant and, because I have a lot of extra time thanks to Covid19, I’d like to start preparing and freezing meals for postpartum. Do you have some advice on the best method to use when freezing meals? How about thawing and recooking them?
    Thanks!
    Varonica

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