By Aubrey Everett
Pregnancy brings forth a unique combination of symptoms and overall stress on the body. Many of those physical ailments end at birth, but then a whole new set of aches and pains may set in. The first year of motherhood is often filled with long days, sleepless nights and hormonal adjustments. But there can be other minor, and often very frustrating, physical struggles that occur with little notice.
I was prepared for the challenges that can accompany breastfeeding, but nursing came naturally to my newborn. With the help of nurses and lactation consultants we got off to a great start in the hospital and continued our feeding routine at home. Every two to three hours he was ready to eat and it gave our days (and nights) a foundational routine. While exhausting, nursing proved to be one of the things that calmed my son, so I looked forward to our frequent breastfeeding sessions.
Doctors warned me about mastitis and I knew which symptoms to look for. What I didn’t realize would become such a common and frequent occurrence were clogged milk ducts. In the early weeks I noticed one every few days, and the problem didn’t completely disappear until around four months. I was able to treat them myself using a warm compress and gently massaging the tender area in the shower, but every time I thought I had solved the problem, it seemed a new one would crop up. While nowhere near as painful and dangerous as mastitis, clogged milk ducts were a constant nursing nuisance during an already strenuous time.
I returned to work when my son was four months old and the first day was a huge success. I had my commute in place, he drank bottles of pumped milk, and seemed happy with his caretaker. I was feeling particularly proud about mastering this difficult transition.
On day two I woke up early, made coffee, and hustled around the house preparing everything we needed for the day. As I was rushing from one room to another I banged my foot into a kitchen stool. Ouch, I thought. And then I looked down. My pinky toe was pointing in an unnatural direction and, let’s just say, I wasn’t going to be putting a shoe on that morning.
The next hour was spent canceling meetings (on day two!), scheduling an x-ray, realizing my pump was at work and that I didn’t have a back up, and more chaotic planning and emailing. Everything worked out in the end -- my toe was broken but healed nicely -- and I was thankful for my team of understanding coworkers. Banging into furniture became somewhat of a staple of my and my husband’s first year of parenthood. We were tired, often carrying things around, and usually in a rush. We tried our best to keep an eye out for sharp corners and chair legs, but the truth is we were constantly sporting bruises.
Banging into furniture became somewhat of a staple of my and my husband’s first year of parenthood.
When my son was about eight months old and I had been nursing and pumping all day every day, my shoulders and neck started to ache. At first it was just a tightness and could be relieved with a hot shower, but one day I woke up and realized it had become much worse. I could barely lift my left shoulder and every small movement brought intense pain. It turned out to be a muscle spasm and for three days I was in constant pain. The way the spasm was affecting my upper back prevented me from being able to lay down, and I had to sleep in a sitting position, propped up with multiple pillows.
I finally found relief with a chiropractor. The constant lifting and hunching over a nursing baby had put strain on the various muscles in my upper back, shoulder and neck area, causing the spasm. The chiropractor was able to loosen everything up and do some adjustments that relieved the pain. She suggested daily stretching and strengthening movements and focusing on my posture to help prevent future spams.
Approaching my son’s first birthday, I had finally found my way back into a routine of weekly yoga practices. My body felt different, but mostly good. I was strong in places I had not been before, but other things felt off. In many common yoga positions, including downward dog, my right wrist was very sore and felt inflexible. I had never experienced this ache before and still don’t know exactly where it originated. It made practicing yoga difficult, but not impossible. My instructor gave me some modifications to ease the pain and I was able to continue.
Approaching my son’s first birthday, I had finally found my way back into a routine of weekly yoga practices. My body felt different, but mostly good.
What I learned over the first year of motherhood was to be gentle with myself and appreciate my body in new ways. I don’t feel the same as I did before having kids, but in some ways that is a good thing. My arms are stronger after lifting a car seat over and over again, and my core is strengthened from picking things up off the floor, lowering my baby into the crib, and being in a constant state of motion. I tried to take each of these aches and pains in stride and recognize the positives. Being able to get adequate care, while slowing down and asking for help when I needed to, allowed me to move into toddlerhood with increased strength and resilience.
About the author: Aubrey works in higher education and is the mother to an active and inquisitive son. She lives in the Boston area where she enjoys taking family walks along the beach, reading books, and introducing new foods to her son. Writing about motherhood allows her to connect to other parents and give voice to a challenging yet exciting time. About the author: Kara is a teacher, author, and mother of two vivacious daughters. A Maryland native, she and her husband are restoring an 18th-century farm in Susquehanna State Park. Her writing centers on literature, art, nature, disability, and working parenthood.