Motherhood. How did you envision it? A beautiful young mother, hair done up, wearing a white, flowing gown, gazing lovingly at her brand-new infant while he sleeps? Try again. “During those early weeks, I barely remembered to brush my teeth. Going to the bathroom was a vacation,” laughs Paula Gillingham Bender of Honolulu and mom to little Sophie. “It was tough when [my husband] had to go back to work, but I would tell myself that it would get better as each day went by. And you know, it did.” While you are, of course, completely enchanted with your baby, the first months of motherhood can be tough on your body, mind and soul. On these pages, you’ll find expert tips on keeping it all together, plus a great hiking and strength-training workout.
Get some exercise
Your first six to eight weeks at home with the baby should be dedicated to getting as much rest as you can while slowly incorporating light exercise back into your life. Even a daily walk around the block will boost your spirits and improve your circulation. You could also try some belly breathing, gentle stretches and, of course, Kegel exercises. But be sure to keep a few cautions in mind. In his book Exercising Through Your Pregnancy (Human Kinetics, 1998), James F. Clapp III, M.D., warns of three conditions that make exercise an absolute no-no during the first six weeks after delivery: heavy bleeding, pain, and breast infection or abscess. Once you get the OK from your obstetrician-gynecologist to work out, try heading to the hills for an easy hike. Check out our hiking workout for new moms.
Ouch! Pain in strange places
Your perineum may be sensitive for several weeks after delivery, especially if stitches were used in the process. Solution? New mother Cathy Allison put a clean, damp sanitary napkin in the freezer and used it for a “peri-pad.” Another new mom, Judith Turner, cut a slit down the middle of a fresh disposable newborn diaper, filled it with crushed ice and applied it to her perineum for relief.
Whatever route you take, keep in mind that many experts recommend that wounds from delivery — episiotomy incision, perineal tear or a Cesarean-section incision — should always be kept clean and dry. Some women also experience a change in sensation in the area of their C-section incision. Some practitioners use vitamin E oil on the incision to assist in the healing process, says Peggy Matteson, R.N.C, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at Northeastern University in Boston and a specialist in women’s health. “Many women report that it helps,” she says. But vitamin E should not be applied to a raw incision; it may be used after a scab has formed.