Culturally in the United States, we don’t talk about the fact that you recover from birth and pregnancy. There are a lot of things that are normal and expected after you have a baby that no one tells you about. The good news is that this episode will not only give you a heads up about what is in your future but also help prepare you for life postpartum. Learn what to really expect and what is normal. Find out what products are must-haves, and what you can skip. Plus, some of the best advice to get you through those first days, weeks, and months of being a new parent.
Thank you to Tovah Haim of Bodily for sharing her passion for helping parents navigate life postpartum in this episode.
Tovah Haim was completely unprepared for how intense the recovery from birth would be when her first child was born in 2017. Feeling shaken by the bodily transformations, blindsided by the experience, astounded at the lack of credible information available to explain what was happening and shocked by the substandard product available to get through all of it—she decided to pivot from her career as a CFO and investor, and dive into women’s health. In creating Bodily, Tovah’s aim is to offer judgment-free, inclusive, evidence-led resources and design-forward products to a market that is often ignored completely. “Like so many areas of women’s health, we don’t talk about female physiology. It’s culturally taboo”, she says. “How can we expect society to give us time to recover if nobody knows what’s happening? We deserve better.”
You can see more postpartum resources by visiting the Bodily website.
Transcript and Resources
Vanessa: Today, on the podcast, I have Tovah Haim, who is the perfect guest to talk about being prepared for the postpartum period. After she had her first baby, she was completely unprepared for how intense the recovery from birth would be. She took that experience, plus all of her expertise as a CFO and investor, and founded Bodily. Of all the companies that I have found out about doing this podcast over the last five years, Bodily by far resonates the most with the message of the Pregnancy Podcast. This is a company that provides evidence-based research and design-led products for new parents. Tovah recently had another baby earlier this year; I want to talk about you having a baby during COVID, and she was much better prepared with baby number two. The goal of bringing Tovah on the podcast today is to have you walking away from this episode feeling a lot more prepared for life after birth. Tovah, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.
Tovah: Thank you so much for having me.
Birth Recovery Should Not Be a Taboo Subject
Vanessa: I want to start with talking about birth recovery being taboo. Can you talk a little bit about why we need to stop making this awkward subject that nobody talks about and why we need to focus more on it?
Tovah: Yeah, absolutely. This is core to why I decided to stop everything and start a company to solve these issues for people. I gave birth to my son in 2017. I’m a person who does a lot of research, in general, just on things. I had no idea what was going to happen to my body in the recovery from birth. Probably more significantly pregnancy, because we don’t talk about pregnancy as being a thing that you recover from, but it’s actually really intense. Nobody told me I didn’t have any of the things that I needed on hand to deal with that recovery. When it comes to menstruation, when it comes to periods, we tell our children about it or girls before they have their periods so that they have the things on hand. So they’re not scared that they’re suddenly bleeding and think that something really wrong is happening to them. But we don’t do that in the recovery from birth and pregnancy. That experience, the equivalent of that experience of not having something as critical as a maxi pad on hand, when you are bleeding and not knowing that bleeding vaginally doesn’t mean that you’re dying. It means that you’re going through a normal physiological process. We don’t talk about those things. We end up having these crises that are entirely preventable, and I think it’s really a problem. Not only I had the experience that so many people have, I didn’t know that coming out of my C-section, that I was going to bleed vaginally. I was not aware of that. That wasn’t an expectation for me. I didn’t have maxi pads. I had pantyliners, and pantyliners are laughably ineffective in the face of postpartum bleeding. So I didn’t have the things that I needed.
Tovah: I, like 25% of women in the United States, had to go back to work within 14 days of having a baby. And I didn’t have the things, and I didn’t know what was going to happen to my body. I think that it’s a massive problem. Culturally in the United States, we don’t talk about the fact that you recover from birth and pregnancy. Afterward. We kind of get very excited about the pregnancy. We tell women that they’re glowing. We celebrate them. We have baby showers. People are opening doors for you. They’re helping you cross the street. They’re doing all the things for you. Then you have the baby, and you’re just sort of like left out in the open. Everybody turns their attention to the baby, and you have a lot of things that are going on with you physiologically. And because we don’t talk about it because we ignore these things. Culturally, you’re left to that recovery on your own. When you also have a lot of other things that are happening in your life at that moment. Namely, you have a new baby that needs to be tended to round the clock. If we don’t recognize that you are also dealing with recovery, then we’re making your experience so much more challenging than it needs to be. All we need to do is talk about what happens head of time. So you can have the things on hand and be prepared.
What No One Tells You
Vanessa: It seems so simple when you put it that way. It’s shocking that so many women are still unprepared to go into this. I know that you say on your bio, on your website, you said after your first baby, you described your postpartum as feeling shaken by the bodily transformations, blindsided by the experience, astounded at the lack of credible information available to explain what was happening, and shocked by the substandard product available to get through all of it, which I think really encompasses all the feelings that you have. One thing I was completely blindsided with my first birth was vaginal tearing. No one told me that that was a thing. I was not expecting it. I had a pretty good tear that took a long time to heal. I felt almost tricked, like how could no one have told me that this is so insanely common?
Tovah: 90% of vaginal births result in some type of tear. Then 94% of those tears are actually first and second-degree tears. First-degree tears are superficial, almost like you skinned your knee. The second degree requires a few stitches. The third and fourth are more significant. 90% of births, that’s a lot 90% of vaginal births for people not to talk about that. That’s incredible and insane, really. There are things that you can do to prepare for that that can make a recovery from that so much easier.
Vanessa: Absolutely. Just knowing one that can happen. And then two, knowing what you can do to make yourself more comfortable. I mean, even with a first-degree tear, your perineum is a very sensitive area, and you don’t realize how you’re putting pressure on that. Every time you sit down or lay down.
Physical and Emotional Changes After Birth
Vanessa: Let’s talk about all of the physical and emotional changes that come after you have a baby.
Tovah: Yeah. So the list is long. I like to break it into two categories of things that happen to your body, there’s birth recovery, and there’s pregnancy recovery. I think it’s really important for us to view these things as being different and distinct from one another because pregnancy recovery happens to everyone who gives birth, no matter how you give birth. No matter your delivery type, cesarean birth, vaginal birth. No matter what your vaginal birth or cesarean birth experience was, days of labor, very short labor—the pregnancy recovery part, very consistent, very predictable. Birth recovery is based on your specific set of experiences but also predictable. Pregnancy recovery is also, by the way, shockingly, the thing that we don’t talk about, the thing that we don’t recognize my even saying pregnancy recovery, it’s, that’s like a new concept for a lot of people.
Tovah: If you think about what the body does through pregnancy, it makes all the sense in the world that it would be something that you recover from. To set the stage, because it’s so important for understanding what the recovery looks like, your uterus increases by 500%. The pre-pregnancy size over the course of pregnancy, over the course of nine months, which is a relatively short period of time for it to increase that much. It doesn’t just shrink back overnight. That makes no sense when you think about it. The idea that your uterus takes eight to 12 weeks to shrink back makes sense when you kind of think about it in the context of recovering from pregnancy. That’s something that a lot of people don’t expect. You might look like you’re five months pregnant after you give birth. You’ve delivered the baby, you’ve delivered the placenta, but your uterus, it increased pretty dramatically. And it takes time to come back.
Postpartum Bleeding and Lochia
Tovah: Inside of your uterus, you had two pounds of blood and tissue in the lining. Even though you delivered a baby and you deliver the placenta, and that’s a lot of things coming out of there, there’s still stuff leftover, and it has to come out. That’s lochia, which is, you know, basically profuse bleeding in the weeks after delivery. Whether you deliver vaginally or by C-section, it can go on for up to 45 days. 15% of people experience it for up to eight weeks. Most people experience it for a few weeks. You know, the pantyliner that I mentioned before is laughably inadequate for the amount of blood that you expel postpartum. You need a maternity maxi pad.
Swelling and Edema
Tovah: Your body also swells. So you have edema, and that is due to hormonal changes. It is exacerbated by an epidural or surgery. It’s normal. There’s also a level and a period that’s not normal. For me, the swelling after both of my births, I mean, I didn’t recognize my legs or my feet. I definitely could not fit into shoes of any sort. I had Crocs, and I could barely fit into my Crocs. That’s how much I had swelled, and that’s normal.
Tovah: Incontinence, stress incontinence, totally normal. One-third of people after their first delivery have incontinence. Stress incontinence is when you laugh, and you pee a little bit. Incontinence is, you know, you sort of pee a little bit. 60% of people recover from this within the first two months, but a lot of people experienced that for a lot longer, like 12 months afterward. Again, your body has experienced a lot during pregnancy. The incontinence is actually typically the result of the pregnancy experience and not necessarily the birth experience. Although birth can exacerbate it in particular, if you deliver vaginally.
Tovah: Constipation, another big one, very normal. Most people say that this is severe. 10% of people that we’ve surveyed report that it required medical intervention. The constipation is the result of hormonal changes that can be exacerbated by pain medication. There’s a lot of reasons that it makes sense that you end up as constipated as you do postpartum. Back to not talking about things like that, that’s something you just take some stool softener. You can get ahead of that and make it so much easier. Instead, we have like the notorious first poop that everybody talks about, and they are terrified to do. It’s so painful.
Tovah: I described this as an emotional cataclysm. You experience a 1000% change in key hormone levels over the course of only five days, which is the most significant hormonal change that we experience. Basically, what’s happening is over the course of your pregnancy, your hormones, estrogen, and progesterone increased by a thousand percent. What enables your body to do that is you created an entirely new organ called the placenta that didn’t exist before your body created it. That’s incredible. When you deliver your baby, you birth the placenta. That organ that enables your body to create a hormonal level that your body otherwise can’t create is no longer in your body. So you have this precipitous fall in these key hormone levels. It rose over the course of nine months. It drops over the course of five days.
Basically, your body’s releasing a higher level of an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters, impacts dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels. These are happy chemicals. So a lot of people report feeling fairly extreme levels of emotions and kind of describe it as a roller coaster. I consider it to be a little bit more like skydiving over and over again, or like bungee jumping repeatedly. There are real ups that are resulting from the fact that you have this incredible baby but also surges in oxytocin associated with breastfeeding and skin to skin contact. And that makes you feel happy. And then you have this kind of otherwise normal state of your hormones. These sort of changes that are happening in your body that depress those feelings. It’s like extreme highs, extreme lows. You add into it that even an abrupt decrease in progesterone, as well as surges of cortisol, and that’s linked to increased anxiety. So you’re all over the map emotionally. I felt unhinged, and that’s normal. By the way, pregnancy number one or birth number one, I felt unhinged. Birth number two, I felt pretty normal. It changes from person to person. It can change from delivery to delivery. Some people experience it in the kind of extreme way that I experienced in my first. Some people don’t experience it, and people are varying levels of in-between, which is all normal. Feeling very not normal, emotionally, is normal.
Vanessa: It’s mind-blowing how there’s such a perfect storm for, we call it, baby blues, postpartum depression. When I first started this podcast, I started out in chronological order, and episode 14 was on postpartum depression. I think to this day, that is still the episode that has the least amount of downloads. It’s interesting to me because I think so many women blow that off and think I’m not depressed. I’m fine. I’m going to be so excited to have this baby. I don’t think without going through it, you understand how out of control it is, you know, to have those swings.
Tovah: 7% to 25% of women experience postpartum depression. It’s actually a meaningful percentage of people who do. I don’t like to use the term baby blues at all. I think that it totally mischaracterizes what you experienced during that time. Like baby blues, to me, it sounds like I’m a little bit weepy. I did not feel a little bit weepy. I felt out of control and didn’t know that that was totally normal.
Back to the kind of thing that we were originally talking about, where people don’t talk about this stuff. Like if you don’t know that that’s normal, you don’t know to be prepared for it, whoever your supporter is, you know, maybe it’s a spouse, maybe it’s a partner, maybe it’s a friend or a family member, whoever it is. They may not know that it’s also normal. And so that can also cause like friction intention, unnecessarily and unfairly, you know, you’re just, your body is going through something that is totally normal. You just went through a major, major physical event. And the idea that you would have some momentous recovery makes sense, and we need to give space to it. But if we don’t talk about it and we don’t know about it, then how could you ever give space to it? How could you ever support it appropriately or be kind to yourself for those feelings and that feeling of being unhinged and also just know that it’ll pass. It does pass.
Vanessa: Yeah. Just because something is normal doesn’t mean that you just have to power through it. Like it’s normal, suck it up. Everybody goes through this. If you’re experiencing anything that you’re concerned about, please call your doctor, talk to someone, especially with postpartum depression. If you’re having a hard time coping emotionally, I think it’s important to talk to somebody about that and not just try to power through it.
Tovah: A hundred percent. Postpartum depression is a real state and chemical imbalance that you can be thrown into even if you’re not prone to depression, otherwise, because of all of the incredible things that are happening in your body. You’re totally right. There is a level at which it is not normal. If you are concerned, if you’re feeling like you’re not effectively bonding with your baby, if you’re feeling a level of sadness that feels scary to you, if you’re feeling like doing harm to yourself or anything else that feels not okay, there are quizzes that are available online. We have it on our website. Absolutely recommend taking it. I took it myself just to make sure that I was okay, and it made me feel so much more to know that that I was okay. And that it was normal, but it’s an important checkpoint just in case you’re not.
Vanessa: It is interesting to me that I feel like so many people think about pregnancy recovery as we have to lose the baby weight. I like you going through all of these things because it’s so much more. It has nothing to do with losing weight. Your body grew an organ and grew a human, and everything changes. It takes a long time to recover from that.
Postpartum Hair Loss and Excessive Hair Shedding
Tovah: We just went through the things that occur in the first two months of the recovery from pregnancy. There are things that occur a little bit further out than that as well. There’s hair loss, postpartum hair loss, three to four months out. It feels like hair loss. It’s more appropriate to call it excessive hair shedding. You basically held onto a bunch of hair in pregnancy that you would have otherwise lost. You have more volume of hair than you would usually have. Then suddenly, at three to four months out from delivery, it all drops in like a crazy dramatic way. I thought with my first delivery that I think I might have bald spots. That’s how much hair I’m losing. It wasn’t, I didn’t know that it was this excessive hair shedding. I thought that I was losing just my normal amount of hair. So it was scary, but that’s something very normal that happens.
Tovah: Our abdominal muscles take several months to come back together. So even if you did lose the weight, which I don’t know that that should be the objective. Everybody, you do your own thing. If you did lose the weight, your uterus still bigger, eight to 12 weeks out. Your abdominal muscles take several months to come back together. You could have diastasis recti, which is where your abdominal muscles don’t come back together. I have that. It’s very common. You can mend that, by the way, through physical therapy, but your body can look different. And it’s also going through all of these incredible changes. We didn’t even talk about postpartum contractions, night sweats, right?
Vanessa: Breastfeeding is a whole other topic too. All of those changes.
Changes to Your Feet
Tovah: You know, because you, you work with Mommy Steps, but you know, 60 to 70% of people have a permanent change in their foot size. 60% have an increased foot size by half a sizer or a full size, and 70% find that that it’s wider. Those are permanent changes. Again, due to the incredible things that your body has done to create an entirely new human being and then deliver it. Your body released relaxin, and that’s relaxing your skeleton basically so that it can move and make space for the baby and make space to be able to deliver. But it’s sort of relaxes everything, including your feet. So your feet get longer and wider. I didn’t know to expect that I don’t fit into any of my pre-pregnancy shoes, which is so sad, but all gone.
Vanessa: It’s a lot, all of those things.
Getting Educated so You are Not Blindsided
Vanessa: I certainly don’t want to freak anybody out about going through all these things, but I do like talking about them so that it’s not going to blindside you. So you have an idea of what to expect and an idea of what’s normal.
Tovah: I really think that we need to think about pregnancy recovery as being sort of similar to getting our periods. It’s different in all the ways, right? There are so many more vectors to pregnancy recovery, to postpartum. Getting your period is a normal physiological thing that you go through if you have the tools on hand, whatever tools are, your choice, tampon, maxi pad, cup, free bleed, whatever you do. If you have the tools, you can manage it. If you know to expect it, it’s not scary. Maybe you also know about yourself that you feel some emotional changes around that time or that you break out or whatever it is, but, you know, to expect those things and have the tools to be able to deal with it. Maybe, it feels like an inconvenience, but it doesn’t feel like a crisis.
I think we live in a world right now where postpartum or pregnancy recovery feels like a crisis when it hits because we don’t know what to expect, and we don’t have the things on hand, but I really think it’s as simple as the way that we deal with menstruation, just know about it ahead of time, have the tools you’ll get through it. These are normal physiological changes that our bodies go through, and it’s totally manageable and navigable. And it does not have to be scary at all. Just know ahead of time you have the tools. I really think it’s as simple as that.
The Tools You Need Postpartum and What You Can Skip
Vanessa: You put it perfectly talking about the tools. Let’s talk about some of those. Obviously, you founded Bodily to create a lot of the products where the market was really missing the mark; there weren’t great products. Can you talk a little bit about that and some of the things that Bodily has?
Tovah: Yeah. I tried to create an assortment of things that are just the things that you need, and, you know, we then put them into bundles so that it’s easy to kind of navigate. We have a bundle, that’s the pregnancy recovery bundle.
Maternity Maxi Pads
Tovah: The bundle has maternity maxi pads. That’s a critical need. You, you need maxi pads and regular maxi pads, or even overnight pads are very insufficient for most people. Maternity maxi pads hold significantly more volume. They’re longer, they’re also softer. Especially if you’ve had a vaginal birth, that’s going to be a lot more comfortable. I think a maternity maxi pad is a must-have.
I think that stool softener is a must-have. You know, postpartum constipation is going to be real for most people. It’s severe. If you take stool softener ahead of time, check with your doctor, you can get ahead of it and have it be a lot less painful. The pain, just to hit on that for a second, it’s not just that pain from constipation. If you had a vaginal birth, you have stitches in this area where you’re putting a strain on to poop. If you had a C-section, your abdomen has stitches. So there’s a strain in your abdomen also when you’re constipated. Constipation isn’t just like pre-pregnancy constipation where that’s frustrating, annoying, and difficult. It actually results in real pain if you don’t get ahead of it. I think stool softener is a must-have.
Vanessa: Plus, I think just the anxiety of having to go through that first bowel movement when your perineum is super sore. I remember having so much anxiety about that and being so scared, putting it off as long as I possibly could. I think just preemptively taking a stool softener can kind of take some of that anxiety out as well.
Tovah: Totally. The last thing and the pregnancy recovery must, must, must-haves are mesh undies, which is the sleeper product. Who knew that mesh undies would be so your best friend in postpartum, or like what are mesh undies anyway? They’re usually these really stretchy, one size fits most products that most hospitals issue. They don’t really look like underwear, but they do the trick, and they hold in your swollen and sensitive body, as well as giant maxi pads, which are necessary for lochia or postpartum bleeding. Then, of course, if you have any tearing, it’s kind of holding you all together with tearing as well as your C-section. If you have a C-section, you have your incision and all of your bandages there. Mesh undies kind of hold all of that together.
I think that those are all must-haves. There are some breastfeeding products that I think are must-haves for going into the hospital and having a baby or, birth center, wherever you choose to give birth. Breastfeeding can be hard. For most people, the first week is painful on your nipples in particular. It’s usually because of something with your baby’s latch, just that they’re new at it. Sometimes there’s a problem. You’re new to it. There’s a bunch of reasons.
Cooling Nipple Gel Pads
I think that having some cooling nipple products on hand is super helpful, and that can just be something that applies like an ice pack or something like this, or there are some great products out there that are actually like cooling nipple gel pads that I recommend and have used, and they are great.
Breast pads. We’re not talking about breastfeeding, but engorgement is experienced by most people in the first few weeks after delivery. What comes along with engorgement is leaking. Some people just leak regularly. I leak regularly, and breast pads basically just keep you dry. So I think that those are a must-have.
Nipple balms are really helpful to help speed the healing.
If you do have any issues with birth recovery, you mentioned the tear that you weren’t expecting. I think that an inflatable cushion is a great thing to bring with you wherever you’re going. If you’re going somewhere or have around the house, it’s like a donut cushion.
If you have a vaginal birth and have any type of recovery, it’s really nice to have a peri bottle. Did you use a peri bottle?
Vanessa: Yes. That’s like you have to have 100%.
Tovah: Whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section, by the way. I used to think about peri bottles, mostly as vaginal births. I was given one for my C-section my second time around. It’s really helpful. You know you are crunching over when you have an incision through your abdomen is painful. Using a peri bottle instead when you go to the bathroom is really helpful.
A belly band. Did you use a belly band?
Vanessa: I did. After my second birth, my midwife actually wrapped my belly. It’s a strange sensation after you have a baby and your belly just feels kind of empty. Things feel out of place. She wrapped me, and it just felt so much better. It was just like a comforting, kind of held everything together and gave me some support.
Tovah: Your abdominal muscles are flaccid after delivery. They stretched to hold a baby and your placenta and like all of this fluid and tissue in there. Then it’s not there, and they haven’t regained their tone. People feel very commonly like, jelly belly or the flaccid abdominal wall. A belly band is a must-have. For a C-section, I think really nice to have slash highly recommended for any delivery for a C-section. It applies pressure to the incision, which sounds like that wouldn’t be something that feels good, but it really does provide relief. I think it also kind of helps you to not strain yourself in ways that can cause minor re-injury and, therefore, pain. It just kind of holds you in. I think a belly band is a must-have.
High Waisted Underwear for a C-Section
High-waisted underwear for a C-section. This is an absolute must-have. You had a vaginal birth. Did you wear them after your vaginal birth?
Vanessa: I went out and bought a pack of Hanes boy short underwear. You’re bleeding a lot after having a baby; normal underwear just wasn’t as comfortable as I needed. Obviously, Bodily was not around, and I didn’t have a hospital birth, so I couldn’t steal mesh underwear from the hospital. I felt like normal underwear just wouldn’t cut it, especially with big maxi pads. Plus, you’re probably going to ruin some pairs of underwear. So that was my solution at the time. I do think having some really comfy underwear is very helpful for sure.
Tovah: This is a product that I’m very passionate about. You’re swollen, your body is just, you know, from pregnancy, you gained weight. Most people gain weight. You don’t just suddenly become your pre-pregnant self after you have a baby. It takes time. Having a panty that’s got some give that’s really stretchy is helpful. I think it’s also just helpful for feeling good about yourself. I know all of these things that happen to your body going into my second delivery, which was nine months ago. I knew all of these things, and I still looked at myself and was like, oh. I think it’s just natural for some people to do that. For me, that’s natural for me to do that. Having a panty that enabled me to feel good about myself, even though my body was far from my pre-pregnancy self, and I had the swelling and kind of all the other stuff. For me, it was a really important emotional, self-esteem thing to just have high-waisted underwear that holds my flaccid abdominal wall in my jelly belly that isn’t pinching in all the wrong places. It’s not giving me horrible panty lines. For your emotional self, I feel like this is an important one. Also, if you have a C-section incision, your normal panty, the panty line is probably going to rub around where your incision is, which is why a high-waisted is just like supercritical. So that’s, that’s one that I think is kind of underappreciated sometimes, but a really important one. I mean, the list goes on and on.
You Don’t Need Your Own Labor Gown
Tovah: There are all kinds of things that I brought with me the first time around that I didn’t use
Vanessa: Can you talk about some of those things that people might want to skip in their hospital bags?
Tovah: Yeah. I brought with me the first, I bought a labor gown the first time, and it’s just like a Jersey gown that has an opening in the back for the epidural and all the things that the doctors are going to do. I really didn’t need it. The second time around, I just wore my hospital gown, and it was like, totally fine.
I think a nursing bra is a must-have there’s, and there are so many reasons, and nursing bras must have, you know, if you are breastfeeding, it is a must-have. If you are breastfeeding, having a bra that’s appropriate for the engorgement that most people experience is really critical. Underwires are an absolute no-no. Anything that compresses your breast tissue is an absolute no-no. The reason is that it increases your risk of clogged ducts and mastitis. That is particularly true when you get into the engorgement time, which most people experienced in those first couple of weeks. Some people experience it for a lot longer than that as well, but so having an appropriate nursing bra, I think, is super important.
Pumping bra, did you have a pumping bra with you?
Vanessa: I literally cut holes in a sports bra. Honestly, it looked ridiculous, but it worked great.
Tovah: I think I, a lot of people, especially if you have a C-section, it takes a few days for your milk to come in, and if you have a C-section, it’s often delayed. For my first C-section, I ended up having to pump at the hospital and, having a pumping bra would have just been so nice. Otherwise, you’re sitting there holding the flanges to your breasts, and you can’t do anything else. They have pumping bras, or you could cut holes in your sports bra where you don’t have to hold them. Especially when you’re early, you could be pumping for a while, and you’re pumping often. I think that’s a nice thing to have.
Huge Shoes or Flip Flops
Huge shoes, I think, is a must-have, maybe it’s flip-flops maybe it’s Crocs. Something to anticipate the edema that most people experience is an important one in my book.
Vanessa: I think that’s probably a good thing to have.
Focusing on the Right Things
Vanessa: Was there anything else that you brought that you, in hindsight, said like this was useless? I didn’t need it?
Tovah: I think the things that I most unnecessary were the labor gown and a robe. As I mentioned, I didn’t have any understanding of what the birth recovery process was gonna look like. I was really focused on having really nice socks and like a really nice robe. Maybe a playlist and like the right lighting and aromatherapy. That type of stuff I think can be really helpful and important in the birth process. But like none of it anticipates the afterbirth process. I think that the robe and the labor gown took up enough space that it wasn’t worth foregoing maxi pads and mesh undies, which my first time around is what I did. It was just focused on the wrong things.
Vanessa: That is definitely helpful, to know kind of the things that you definitely will want to have on hand
The BEST Postpartum Advice
Before we end this call today, I definitely want to talk a little bit about you giving birth during COVID this year. Is there anything else that you want to touch on in regards to all the postpartum stuff? I feel like we could easily talk for days on this topic.
Tovah: Yeah. I mean, I think that the thing that I’ll say is that your body went through something pretty incredible to create a new human, to create space for a new human, and to prepare to deliver that small baby. When you appreciate what’s going on physiologically, it’s very incredible what your body is doing. It’s incredible that your body does all the things to prepare, to make delivery possible. Your body does a lot of things on the other side of it also. And it makes sense when you appreciate what it does during pregnancy that it then needs to do a lot of things to kind of get back. I just think that knowing what those things are ahead of time. Read up. We created resources that are really easy to digest articles that just break it down into bullet points for you. Just, just know what it is ahead of time. Just like you know about your period ahead of time, know what things you need and what’s going to happen. So you’re prepared and not blindsided and make sure that you have at least the basics on hand and know where to get the other things in case you encounter whatever your delivery and recovery path is. I just think that that’s so important.
Vanessa: I agree. Absolutely. I love everything that Bodily is doing. I do love your articles are very short, very concise, to the point, evidence-based, and really helpful. I think for anyone to read through some of those, to get an idea of what may be coming down the road after they have their baby.
Birth During COVID-19
I do want to pick your brain a little bit since you had a baby in March in New York, which certainly at that time was the epicenter of COVID-19 in the US. Right now, we’re recording this at the beginning of December 2020, we’ve got cases rising back up. I know hospital policies and procedures have constantly been evolving. I assume that we’ll see more of that in the coming months, depending on what’s going on with how many cases there are. Can you talk a little bit about your experience with COVID and how you navigated some of the challenges that were new due to COVID during that process?
Tovah: Yeah, I gave birth on March 12th in New York City, and March 12th for, for those who remember, was the day that Tom Hanks reported being COVID positive. It was really when things started to become very real. My experience was right before they stopped allowing partners and supporters in the delivery room, although there were no visitors allowed for sure—the differences between my first birth and my second first birth, 2017, definitely pre-COVID birth. My second was right at the beginning of COVID. No visitors were allowed, there were temperature checks and people sort of tended to stay in their rooms a bit more, and everyone’s wearing masks all the time and gloves all the time. My stay in the hospital was shorter as well. I had a C-section my second time around as well. And I was released after a day and a half, which is very early in a non-COVID time for a C-section. My first time around, I was there for three and a half days. Those were really the differences. Apart from that, everything was pretty much the same.
When I gave birth, there was definitely the fear of being in a hospital when COVID cases are spiking. That’s real. I mean, that’s a fear that we live within any scenario in COVID being anywhere when hospital cases are spiking. I think that the good thing now, nine months later, is that hospitals know how to take precautionary measures and are very good about keeping people separated, identifying people ahead of time who might be COVID positive, who are absolutely still going to be served and should be served, but are put in typically in like a negative pressure room that can reduce spread. When I gave birth, those procedures were not yet developed, you know, while it was scary giving birth in COVID. I think that giving birth now in COVID, even though cases are on the rise, we are in a much better place because we know how to deal with it so much better.
Postpartum During COVID-19
I think that the part that was probably more challenging was postpartum in COVID. Hindsight’s 20/20, and so I’ve thought back to things that I could have done differently to make it less challenging. I think it’s a pretty doable list. You know, I think having resources teed up ahead of time is just really important. We’re in isolation for the most part in COVID. And when you are in recovery, and you have a small baby, both of those things are kind of their own challenges when you’re alone, and I think it’s more difficult. I think one of the things that’s really important to do in COVID is to put a support system in place, a virtual support system in place before you give birth so that when you come out, it’s already there because thinking through what you need, when you have a new baby that you know, needs to eat every couple of hours around the clock, whether it’s day or night, it’s just more challenging to put that stuff in place. I think identifying it ahead of time is pretty key
The support system can be professionals like a lactation consultant. I think it’s super important to have a lactation consultant teed up before you give birth and just have a virtual check-in your first week, no matter what. Lactation consultants are covered by a lot of insurance companies. If it’s not covered for you, there’s La Leche League. There are other resources available where you can have, or, or friends or family who are experienced in breastfeeding, but having someone on hand who’s experienced in breastfeeding to do a virtual session with you, I think is really important just to catch anything that you could optimize or that you might need to change early.
I think a postpartum doula, which is someone described it to me as like a concierge to postpartum somebody or a sherpa for postpartum. It’s somebody who holds your hand through it. We just went through all of these things, there’s a lot of things. Again, we made a website and put the information up there so you can navigate it there as well. A postpartum doula is somebody who holds your hand through the physiological recovery, as well as the early days of caretaking for a new baby. I think video chat has made that a lot more accessible. If that is something that is accessible to you, I highly recommend doing that.
Pass the Birth Baton
The other thing is if you’re a person who has given birth before, you know how complex postpartum can be. And I think that it is dependent on all of us to, what we call it at Bodily is pass the birth baton and be there for somebody who has given birth more now than you would otherwise. Being there just means video call them, just check-in. Let’s get past the taboo and ask them what you might otherwise feel uncomfortable asking. I think that all of what I’m saying is reach out now more than ever because it’s easy in COVID to become very isolated. We have tools to reach out to; FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp, whatever your video tool of choice is. I really think this is the time to just do it, even if it feels silly or unnecessary, or I’m fine, all of those feelings, like just do it to touch base. I wish I had done that more in my postpartum this time around that’s my like hindsight is 20/20 insight.
Vanessa: That’s so good. Tovah that might be my favorite takeaway from this episode. Especially like you said, with passing the baton, it’s one thing for you to get through this, but you’re inevitably around other parents who are going to go through the same thing. I love the idea of just checking in, especially now I think we’re more isolated than normal.
Tovah: Absolutely. I really think that it goes such a long way for new parents. Just do it.
Vanessa: I love it. I think that is probably a fantastic place to end this call today. Tovah, thank you so much. I’m so glad that we finally got you on the podcast.
Tovah: Thanks for having me. I could obviously talk about postpartum birth recovery and breastfeeding for forever. We do offer resources for free on Bodily, and it’s all evidence-based and validated by medical professionals. We have guide books, they’re pocket-sized guide books make it all easy as well. Helping people have a good postpartum experience is something I’m so passionate about. It’s as easy as having the information and the tools.
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