Caring for Yourself After Losing a Baby (Pregnancy Loss)
There are so many resources for women about how to care for themselves after they have babies. Unfortunately, there aren’t many resources for women after they lose a baby, or at least there weren’t when I was going through my loses. For example, it was hard to have to go to a lactation resources that are intended for healthy new moms to find out how to dry up your milk for the baby you don’t have. So, in this article, I want to take some time to offer some information on how to care for yourself after losing a baby.
Before I go any further, I do want to make it very clear that while I am an RN, I am in no way here to override your doctor or give medical advice. I am not a labor and delivery nurse and have never worked in that field. My only nursing experience was in clinicals during nursing school and the GYN floor for about two years at a hospital, but it was mostly female surgeries like hysterectomies. With that said, I just want to make sure you all understand that you should follow your doctor’s advice first and foremost. Most of what I am sharing is from personal experience; but, some is from the medical knowledge that I have learned over the years as a nurse.
My first words of advice are not to be afraid to ask questions about your health and what medical terms or symptoms mean. Doctors are sometimes prone to glossing over things and not fully explaining them. This often leaves you with many unanswered questions. If you don’t understand what happened, is happening, or misunderstand what the doctor is telling you it can be very destructive to you.
For example, when my doctor said that my “placenta clotted off and starved our baby,” what I heard was “your body killed your baby.” I needed to have asked more questions about what really happened so I could better understand. I let my understanding of the situation make me suicidal and very depressed. You should also know that just because one doctor says something that is only one medical opinion. You may need another’s view if you are unsure about what your doctor is saying.
Try to remember that doctors deal with these situations on a regular basis and can forget that you don’t. They may be less sensitive to your feelings and your individual needs and concerns. My doctor told me, just one week after we lost our second baby, that I might have Lupus and never be able to have kids. While this may have been the truth, she said this before any test was done. It was way too early for her to have said that. After we lost our third baby and I nearly died my regular doctor came in after being off all weekend, and his first words were “ hmmm, you had a rough weekend.” I wanted to say “you think” and come out of that bed to choke him.
Anyway, I guess I kind of went on a rabbit trail. Back to caring for yourself. The hospital hopefully gave you info on things to expect and how to deal with them, but some are more educational than others.
You are likely to have your milk come in after a day or two if you were more than a few months along. I did not have that problem when I miscarried at one month, but with the two I lost at five months, I did. It is already hard dealing with what has happened, and now you have yet another painful reminder, milk, and no baby. The best thing to do is to bind your breasts from day one. Wear a sports bra and wrap binding like ace bandages around you, be careful to ensure that they are not too tight. You can take Tylenol or pain meds for discomfort if it isn’t contraindicated with any other medications you might be on.
Cabbage leaves in your bra are also a good help in drying up your milk. It is a little smelly, but it does help. Leave the leaves on the breast until they wilt, then apply new leaves as often as needed for comfort. I was told do not express the milk because it will just make you produce more. This makes sense to me, and I do believe it to be true. However, I became so miserable that I did express the milk and for me, it helped. I guess God was just merciful and it did not come back much after that. I would certainly not advise doing it often, but if you get so full that you just can’t bare it expressing it, at least once, might help as long as you continue the binding.
Sex and Tampons
You will be bleeding, I am sure the doctor told you, no sex for 4-6 weeks or until they release you. No tampons or douching(not that you ever should) because your cervix can still be open and needs time to close. If you introduce things into the vaginal area before it closes, you can risk infection. For the most part, the no sex is not a problem as you are hurting and not in the mood.
At the same time, though I needed to know that my husband still loved me and wanted me even though I failed to carry our child. In the same way, he needed to know that I loved him. We still needed the closeness and comfort of each other. Don’t forget that just because you can’t have penetrative sex, you can always cuddle, kiss, and caress each other. Time together is essential for both of you during this time.
Eat Well and Rest
Make sure you are eating and getting plenty of rest. I know that sometimes this is difficult, but these are vital for you to heal properly. Think of it like this, as much as it hurts that your baby is gone, being sick and miserable, doesn’t change anything. You need to heal and recover so that you can carry their memory on and honor their life with your own. I tried to remind myself to live on and live well so that my babies deaths were not in vain, and I could live to tell their stories.
Talk About It, Share Your Feelings
It is crucial that you talk about what is going on. You cannot internalize everything and bottle it up. You have to get it out. If you don’t have close family or friends for support, find it in a support group, clergy or a counselor. It helps to find a person or people who have been through similar experiences. No two people have the same feelings or have the same story, but they will have an idea of what is going on and what you may be feeling. I found that writing in a journal helped me articulate my feelings. If you can’t talk it out, try writing it out, the pages won’t judge if your thoughts and feelings come out confused.
You will probably have some depression. Needing medication or counseling is ok. It is ok to cry, scream, and be sad. Make sure you’re not constantly alone. Don’t get bent out of shape if someone suggests that you might need medication or counseling; they are not calling you crazy. They are just worried about you.
Medication can also be an issue. You will likely be sent home on pain medications, just be mindful of any symptoms that you are having an allergic reaction if it is a medication that you have never taken before. I had a severe allergic reaction to a pain medication they sent me home on and almost had to go to the ER. If Solomon had not recognized that I was having an allergic reaction and given me a Benadryl, it could have been much worse. In my case, we caught it early enough, and the allergic reaction was not too bad, but keep in mind, reactions can be dangerous and need immediate medical treatment.
I was sent home on Xanax after my second pregnancy to keep me “calm.” The doctor had me taking it three times a day. He said when I felt like I didn’t need it anymore to cut out my middle dose and then gradually the others one at a time. What he didn’t tell my husband or me was to watch for withdrawal symptoms. After a few weeks, one day I decided to cut out my middle dose. I did not tell Solomon that I was doing it.
Unfortunately, I flipped out on him after I got home from work over nothing. He playfully asked me what I wanted for dinner one time too many times, and I went off like a crazy woman yelling, hitting, and throwing things. He was totally caught off guard and didn’t know what was wrong with me. After he finally got me calmed down, I realized what was happing and told him I had decreased my medication. We approached stopping the rest of it with much more caution after that.
I was also put on blood pressure medication due to my high blood pressure during pregnancy. I was not warned that as my body returned to its pre-pregnancy state, my blood pressure probably would too since I didn’t usually have high blood pressure. One day, while I was at a restaurant having lunch with Solomon, I suddenly got dizzy, vomited on my plate of food, and practically blacked out because my blood pressure had bottomed out.
Don’t Rush Your Recovery
I can not stress enough the importance of listening to your body. Don’t try to rush back into regular activity too fast. There are some things that pregnancy changed for me forever. During pregnancy, I became lactose intolerant, and I assumed that it would go away once I was not pregnant anymore because I had never had any problems with dairy before. I was wrong, and it took me a while to realize that one of my food sensitivity issues was dairy. I may have had this problem before, and it was just not so obvious, but I don’t think so. My belief is that many of my health issues were there lying dormant until pregnancy made them more pronounced.
Caution With Contraceptives
Consider your options very wisely too. The doctors may throw different possibilities at you for contraceptives while they figure out if it is safe for you to get pregnant again. Do your homework on anything they suggest. You don’t want their band-aid to cause you more problems later. For example, my doctor put a Marina IUD in me. I didn’t have the first clue about it but then learned that there was a significant risk of scar tissue forming that could prevent further pregnancy (it was also really uncomfortable during sex).
Recently, there have been several studies that show both migraines and a brain swelling issue are related to this contraceptive. I don’t think my migraines are directly related to this, but you never know. That research may not have been out showing the risk at the time, but I know I didn’t do any research. I was scared and took whatever the doctor said for fact and put myself at risk.
Be Your Own Health Advocate
With any health issues, don’t make any decisions without being fully informed. Everything the doctor said I pretty much just took without doing my own research and without seeking second opinions. I can’t help now, but look back sometimes and wonder. If I had not just taken every band-aid medication that they gave me to treat symptoms, but had sought out the causes, could have I prevented some of my health declines? I feel that I part of the problem has been all the drugs, and procedures that I went through without being informed of their side effects and interactions.
Lastly, I will close with a little extra advice. If you have lost a baby and you feel you want to try again. Maybe you don’t have any significant medical problems, perhaps you do. If you are tempted to rush in and try again, like I was, please wait. Give your body time to heal. What until you have the facts back about your health and the causes of the miscarriage. Think about how long a woman takes to return to regular menstrual cycles etc after a full term non-complicated pregnancy. They say to wait until at least after your first full normal period, but I would say wait even six months to a year.
Make health positive life changes and give your body time to heal and recover from any changes before trying again. Wait until you know as much as you can about what you’re dealing with health-wise and until you can ensure you are doing and have been doing everything you can to be healthy for a least six months. Also, give yourself the proper time to grieve. I got pregnant one month after my first miscarriage, so while it affected me, I spent more time focused on the new pregnancy. It was years later before I truly grieved that first loss.
So take time, listen to your body, ask questions, and do your homework. Find both your new normal and joy in life.