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You are about to embark on a great lifelong adventure! Congratulations! Take a moment to relax and enjoy the possibilities. Take comfort in the knowledge that each phase and stage of parenting is only temporary and before you know it, your children will be full-grown, independent adults. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

If you are pregnant and it was an unplanned pregnancy, this can be a time of very mixed emotions. If you're not sure what to do or whether you would like to continue with your pregnancy, speak to someone you trust. If you do not have supports in your life who you can safely talk to, there are many Manitoba-based care and supports available. These services offer nonjudgmental care, and will provide you with the information you need to make the best decision that is right for you.

Emotional Aspects of Pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body is going to change rapidly. But did you know that some of those changes don't affect your developing baby – they are all about you? As your body changes and your middle grows larger, for example, your centre of gravity will shift and you might find yourself tripping, falling or losing your balance more often than you normally would. Because of this, you may want to pay close attention to both your footwear and where you are walking. Curbs can be particularly challenging (and embarrassing) when you stumble over one during your lunch break on a busy downtown sidewalk.

Dreaming of your baby? Wondering whether it's a boy or girl? Wondering if he'll have your sense of humour? Wishing she'd have Grandma's nose and your partner's eye colour? All of these thoughts and hopes are part of the wonder of expecting a child. While you can find out some information prior to giving birth, much about your child will remain a mystery throughout your pregnancy. If you find yourself staring off into space thinking about your little one, you are not alone. Many women have difficulty concentrating and experience bouts of forgetfulness when they are pregnant.

You might also experience intense feelings about the baby, your relationships or your life in general. This, too, is normal. Hormonal and physical changes, exhaustion and increased stress likely mean that you have fewer personal resources to deal with all of the challenges in your life. Even if you are thrilled to be pregnant, all of these changes can accumulate into difficult times. But just remember that you can talk to someone you trust about your feelings.

First Six Weeks After Birth

Wow! That amazing bundle (or bundles) of joy requires a lot of energy! If you are feeling like an empty sock, welcome to the club! The first few weeks are exhausting as you try to organize your family around your new addition. Breastfeeding challenges, odd sleeping hours, healing stitches and squeezing in a moment with your other children, partner or on your own can be absolutely exhausting.

There are a few things you can do ahead of time to try to help yourself get through these first weeks after birth. Preparing meals and freezing them ahead of time (perhaps during your nesting phase) will save you time without costing you a healthy meal and depleting the nutrient resources in your body. You will probably want to increase your fiber intake and make sure you drink plenty of water in the first week or so. Your healing body will be tender and you'll be glad you upped your fiber when it comes time to use the bathroom. Eating properly will give you the energy you need to make it through the first weeks and beyond!

It is very important that you continue to care for your body after your baby is born. Caring for your body includes caring for other aspects of health including your mental, emotional, physical and sexual health. Many women experience highs and lows during the first few weeks after giving birth. It's no wonder – all of the hormonal changes coupled with life changes are able to make even the most organized person feel exhausted and depleted. Know that it is normal to feel a variety of positive and negative emotions after giving birth and adjusting to your new family dynamics.

Speaking to someone you trust about your feelings can go a long way to giving you the support and help you need to make it through. Your medical professional, midwife and public health nurse are great people to speak to if you have persistent negative thoughts. If you find yourself very frustrated or upset, are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, or if you are worried you might shake or harm your newborn, put her somewhere safe – like her crib – and call someone to come help you. Though all new parents feel overwhelmed at times, it is never okay to hit, shake or hurt your child.

If you do not have someone you can call or can't reach someone right away, call the 24 hour Klinic Crisis Line at 204-786-8686 or toll free at 1-888-322-3019.

Your health care provider or midwife will likely tell you to refrain from sexual intercourse for at least six weeks after birth. Many women must wait longer to ensure their bodies have healed entirely. It is a good idea to have your post-birth physical check-up before resuming sexual activity. You might want to speak with your health care provider to ensure that your body has healed and to discuss birth control options. Research shows that exclusive breastfeeding is not effective in preventing pregnancy.

Don't feel pressured to engage in any sexual activity even after you have been given the okay from your health care provider. Many women are sore, tired and emotionally unprepared to resume a sexual relationship with their partners. Many women can barely summon the energy to shower daily, let alone think about sex! Your partner may also be less interested in sex during these first few weeks and months after birth as well. This is okay. You can talk to your partner about your feelings and his feelings. Remember that sex often provides feelings of intimacy and closeness that can be provided in other ways.

The first few weeks after having a baby can be a very busy and exhausting time. It's okay to ask friends and family for help. Maybe ask a close friend or relative to come by and help clean your house or watch your baby for an hour while you nap. If you have older children in school, you could arrange for another parent or friend to pick up and drop off your older children for a week or two. Let your partner pick up the slack around the house for a while – the dishes, laundry, yard work. Or delegate any and all chores and responsibilities to others for at least the first few weeks. It's okay to give yourself time to heal and bond with your child.

Mothers of multiples (twins, triplets and more) will have even less time to care for themselves and their newborns. It is important if you are a mom to multiples that you ask for help from others. You might want to think about having someone stay with you during the first few weeks to help you with diapering and caring for your children. It might feel like all you do is breastfeed (which could be true!) and if someone is around to help you during this time you can direct all of your energy to feeding, bonding and resting.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a great, convenient way to ensure your baby gets the nutrition she needs. As she grows older and her nutritional needs change, your breast milk will change to fit her needs. It also has antibodies and enzymes that will protect your baby from some infections and diseases. Not to mention that it's free!

Breastfeeding is a natural experience but that doesn't mean it's always easy. If you have breastfed before, you will know what worked for you with your last child, but remember that each baby is different and what worked well last time may not work the same way with your next child. When you first attempt to breastfeed, you may have the assistance of a midwife, nurse or lactation consultant to show you how to get your baby latched properly. You can also ask your health care provider for assistance or materials on breastfeeding.

While there isn't much you can do to prepare for breastfeeding while you're pregnant, you can learn about breastfeeding techniques, challenges and resources in advance of your child's birth.

It's always a good idea to plan ahead by learning about breastfeeding and getting a few items that might help you during the first few weeks. For example, many women find the use of a breastfeeding pillow (or regular pillow) as a support for their arm to be comfortable and helpful in preventing muscle strain.

If you do experience difficulty breastfeeding, you can contact your public health nurse or call the Breastfeeding Hotline – Info Santé nurse at 204-788-8200 or toll-free 1-888-315-9257. Remember, once established, breastfeeding can be a very pleasant experience for both you and your baby.

Sleeping

Sleep will seem like a dream in these first few weeks and many people will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps – no matter if there are dishes in the sink or your dog hasn't been walked. When your baby sleeps, it's a great time for you to sleep too. You probably won't be sleeping through the night for a very long time and even then you'll be getting up for the occasional bad dream, glass of water or trip to the bathroom. So it's best to follow the age-old advice and work some naps into your day if you can. The world won't fall apart while you rest, but you could fall apart if you don't get the rest you need.

Other Effects

Some other things you may want to have in the house that will provide some comfort to your sore and tired body includes stool softeners, ice packs, hemorrhoid treatment pads, a pillow to sit on, comfy clothing, and enough menstrual pads for six weeks. Most women experience vaginal bleeding for two to six weeks after birth. If you are concerned about any bleeding, speak to your medical professional or midwife.

You will likely have a few medical appointments – for yourself and your baby – and a visit from a community health nurse in the first few weeks after delivery. The community health nurse will likely weigh your baby, check any episiotomy or C-section stitches for follow-up care, and ask you how things are going. This is a great time to ask any questions you might have about your body or your baby.

These first few weeks can be very challenging for parents so try to keep in mind the most important things over the next few weeks: caring for your newborn and caring for yourself. Try not to feel pressured to be the perfect mom fitting into your skinny jeans, joining a mommy-and-me yoga class, or shopping during the first few weeks. The perfect mom is one who is willing to make her child and herself the priority during these challenging weeks. Sleep. Feed. Bond. Eat well. All the other stuff will come later, when your new routine has been established.