A lot of women describe their postpartum shower using hyperbole. The image brought to mind is often that of a woman ecstatically shampooing her hair in a mashup of Herbal Essences and Calgon commercials. The truth is, of course, somewhere in the middle. Indeed, that first postpartum shower can feel like the ultimate luxury but, let's face it, that's because it follows a grueling (and sometimes gruesome) period of labor and delivery. There are a lot of things no one will tell you about that first postpartum shower, but I will.
My particular experience with the postpartum shower was in a hospital setting, so it may be different for those women who choose a home birth. I've heard of things like doulas preparing herbal baths for mom and baby right after the birth, and I can't lie: that sounds like heave. Still, for me and my comfort level, I chose what others might describe as the cold, sterile environment of a hospital for the two c-sections I had with my two boys. The surgery with my first born was rough on me, especially because it was an emergency cesarean. I had a lot of bleeding post-surgery and the recovery was not easy immediately after. I had to wait a while before I could pee without a catheter, let alone walk to a bathroom and shower, so when I first felt that running water on my body it felt like heaven despite the cramping, the searing pain around my scar, and the gas pains and bloating.
I'm sorry to ruin it for you folks, but that first shower is not all bubbles and steam. I mean, it mostly is, but some of that very first shower after baby entails things that you may not expect to encounter. Here are a few of them:
It May Sting A Little At First
If you had a few stitches from an episiotomy, or a whole lot of stitches from a c-section, the contact with water could sting a bit. Still, the refreshing feeling of a hot shower after hours of having not showered (and being covered in sweat and general yuck) is worth a little bit of the pain.
Besides, look what you just did. You gave birth to an entire human. You can totally deal with some stinging, right? No pain, no gain.
You Might Have To Wait Before You Can Take One
If you have a catheter, or if you haven't been given the go-ahead to move around yet, then it's not shower time yet. When I first attempted to walk from my hospital bed to the bathroom for my first postpartum pee in a toilet, a huge flood of blood gushed out of my body and onto the floor (TMI?). So I think we waited a day and a half (or maybe it was two) before I was able to take that life-changing shower.
You May Need Some Assistance Getting There
My c-section required that I walk quite gingerly to and from my hospital bed, so the nurse had to assist me to the bathroom for my first shower. I was a little bit afraid to be standing up for such a long period of time but she assured me I would be OK and, of course, we had the doctor's blessing as well.
This is not the time to try to be a hero. Allow your nurses to help you. This is their job and they do not want you to collapse en route to the bathroom. You do not want you to collapse, either. After all, you kind of have this task of learning how to care for, feed, and sustain the life of a small person from now on.
There Will Probably Be Some Blood
Stuff is still getting settled down there, so there are a lot of, um, moveable parts. You probably will experience postpartum bleeding after giving birth, and, similar to when you're having a heavy period, the bleeding could be heavier when standing up.
Try not to freak out about the clumps of blood and tissue swirling down the drain and, instead, focus on how amazing it feels to be standing under hot, clean water and sudsing up in some of your favorite-smelling (but non-astringent) soap from home.
You Might Want Someone Nearby, Just In Case
Some women experience dizziness or fainting during their first shower. This could happen for a number of reasons, be it from the lingering effects of the epidural, or from having been lying down for such a long period of time, or utter exhaustion from an intense delivery or surgery.
Your nurse or doctor will most likely suggest that a family member or friend stay in the room while you shower just in case you need some help. Some new moms might require a chair to sit on in the shower so they can take a rest while enjoying the hot water.
You May Not Like What You See
Your first postpartum shower will require that you are fully naked for what might be the first time since you gave birth. This is one of those "Come to Jesus" moments that can be a real game-changer for a new mom. I hadn't much considered what my body looked like the day or so after my c-section when I showered. I wasn't expecting Teyana Taylor-type abs to be staring back at me in the mirror, but I was horrified about a few things when I dared look at my body before hobbling into the shower. I actually looked more pregnant than when I went into the hospital. This was mind blowing, but my doctor later explained that when my body was opened up for surgery, a lot of fluids got pumped into me and things were still kind of settling in. Plus, I was constipated and gassy.
The other horrifying thing was my awful c-section scar, which was red and protruding and angry looking. Lastly, and scariest of all, was that I had a lot of fluid retention in my labial area. At the time, I actually thought I was deformed and would look that way forever.
You Should Probably Just Ignore The Fact That It May Not Be The Cleanest
You are certainly not in a spa or a beautiful, tropical rainforest. In fact, a hospital bathroom is probably up there with some of the gnarlier bathrooms you will ever shower in (like the locker rooms in high school or that really busted gym you joined because it had the lowest member fees). Hopefully you will have remembered to pack some flip flops in your hospital overnight bag, so you can focus on how great it feels to be warm and clean instead of the possible athlete's foot you could be catching.
Eventually You Won't Want To Come Out
In that first postpartum shower, your muscles relax, the soreness from labor or pushing or surgery eases, and you can wash the "just had a baby" and hospital feelings off of you.
My first shower was also one of the first moments when I was truly alone, with no one popping in to take my vitals and no one visiting me. I knew that for those ten minutes or so, the baby was absolutely not my responsibility and the last 24 hours of pure chaos slowed down to just the running water and me, and my thoughts.
You Will Emerge Feeling Like A New Person
When I came out of my first shower in the hospital, I felt like I had been pushed out of a weird vortex and returned to my normal state. Pre-shower, I was a frightened, post-surgery, somewhat traumatized woman who had "seen some things" she could never un-see. Post-shower, I had renewed energy (if only for a little while, until tending to a newborn kicked my butt again), a little more pep in my step, and damn it, I didn't smell like a dump truck.