Speak to any mum about her post-birth recovery story and she'll likely tell you what she went through to produce a human – we basically wear our labour stories as a badge of honour.
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However, the bit we tend to gloss over is those first few months that pass by like a blur… recovering at home, adapting to this new pace of life with responsibility for another teeny person who keeps you awake all hours. As a mum of a 10-year-old and an eight-year-old, looking back on those early days there's a mix of nostalgia for those scrummy newborn snuggles and a feeling of relief at having survived.
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Yep, this is a collection of honest accounts of post-birth recovery or 'the fourth trimester' as many call it. You've grown a baby over nine months, got through birth and now it's time to be a mum. Except those few months at home can be seriously tough and there's a LOT to focus on.
There in your bubble of newborn bliss, new mums are faced with a totally new kind of day: feeding, nappy changes, a gazillion mini outfit changes, finding the time to dress and wash yourself and possibly coping with stitches down below or C-section healing. And repeat. It's both amazing and quite a shock.
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Babies are super cute but boy do they wear you out!
Breastfeeding product line Lansinoh has shared research that found a staggering 75 per cent of new mums feel unprepared for the physical pain and recovery in the 'fourth trimester'. The brand is looking to open up more conversations around post-birth recovery to help mums-to-be prepare and understand ways they can reduce post-partum discomfort.
Marley Hall, registered midwife and antenatal educator, says: "Having a baby is amazing but it can also be overwhelming. The birth, lack of sleep and the new responsibility of having a newborn can really take their toll on you both physically and emotionally. But if parents educated themselves on the fourth trimester during pregnancy, it can ease the shock a little.
"Any wounds you may have received as a result of birth – whether these are perineal or C-section wounds, will be healing and may be sore. Postpartum bleeding can also go on for several weeks too as the placental site starts to heal over. You may even experience ‘after pains' where the uterus continues to contract after the birth to reduce its size."
Here at HELLO!, we want to join the conversation about this tricky time for new mums, so they know more about what to expect. It's not simply, 'give birth, go home and parent'; there's so much more to be aware of and learn, and if we normalise the lows as well as the highs, parents will hopefully feel less alone as they adapt to caring for their baby.
Here, three mums share their post-birth experiences...
"My recovery period was awful as I tore quite badly after a difficult birth. My son was 4.2kg with a very big head and we ended up having to use a ventouse as well as my needing an awful lot of stitches. I couldn't hold my son and get out of the sofa at the same time - even holding him at times and walking seemed difficult. I NEVER gave the 'fourth trimester' a thought; I just assumed you bounced back. I knew there would be a lack of sleep, but it was brutal. I would say it took me six months to get back to normal.
"On my first night back at home, I felt the room move. I asked my sister if there was an earthquake happening. That's how deliriously tired I was. After that, I adjusted. You just do, don't you? It's been five years since that day, and I still don't sleep. I have a two-year-old who loves early mornings and people are fascinated by my energy despite the lack of sleep. You get used to it.
Sleep is the new 'going out' when you have a baby
"I was out and about soon after both children. With my first we left the house two days later to sort out the birth certificate etc, visiting coffee shops. And with my second, I was trick or treating with my eldest son the following day.
"With the recovery period, I think everyone has to live it as it comes to them. With everything, it doesn't matter how much you are told or warned, you always think your situation will be different so I don't think it matters to be told.
"My advice is that Google is your best friend. Talk to the doctor as much as you need and don't feel guilty about 'wasting' their time with questions. Follow your gut instinct AND you will always feel mum guilt, whatever you do, so just accept it and do what you can and what's best for you!"
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"The recovery period wasn't how I expected at all. I don't think anyone can really prepare you for any of it. Recovery was much better with my first baby than my second. I was induced with both but it was a very long labour with my first child and the recovery much longer too. You also don't really get time to recover because you have a new baby.
"I was in a lot of pain with my firstborn as she was born sunny side up and ended up being a ventouse delivery. However, I still recall having a sense of humour - especially when my husband brought me a rubber ring to use on the toilet. Never have I been so grateful for an inflatable!
"The lack of sleep is hard, there is no getting around it. Sleep deprivation and play with your mind and your emotions and I certainly felt I was losing it at times. But with the feeding through the night, you get used to that. I ended up quite enjoying it as it was a quiet time when I could read my book or catch up on a show on Netflix."
Your house quickly fills up with all the baby paraphernalia
"I was surprised how little aftercare there was. My children were born in America and the day after the birth I was sent home, and the only phone call I got afterwards was to rate the hospital. Had I not had the support of my husband and my mum flying over to help, I would have been completely on my own with a newborn.
"I wish I'd been told that it's totally normal to feel like you aren't enjoying it after birth! I remember the moment about four months in with my daughter when I finally thought, 'Ok, this could be ok'. Four months is a long time on little sleep.
"I know how important it is to get up and put some makeup on and get out of pyjamas, even when you don't feel like it. You don't have to get glammed up, but making a small effort helps. I also wanted to get outside with my children and not stay cooped up. Even if just for a walk. My advice is to take help, don't stress about being perfect. Happy mum is a happy baby."
"I don't think I felt fully recovered from birth until my daughter was six weeks old - even then, I never felt quite back to normal (maybe that's normal in itself!)
"I had a third-degree tear and was PETRIFIED of doing something to rip the stitches. I couldn't sit down properly and kept asking the midwife to check them - some were happy to, others weren't which made me feel somewhat awful, as you can imagine.
"Without being THAT person, I weirdly enjoyed the night feeds. It was our special time, just us and I got used to the lack of sleep really quickly. I slept in a different room to my partner, so he was more awake in the day than me, and would watch TV while doing the night feeds. My daughter didn't seem to care!
"I was surprised how things didn't come naturally. I genuinely was terrified to change her nappy for the first two to three weeks, as she was so tiny. Breastfeeding was FAR more painful and FAR more difficult than I was prepped for. Despite NCT classes, plenty of friends telling me so, I never realised quite how.... awful I'd find it. It took us about six weeks to feel like we had a handle on ANY of it. I stayed in bed for the first four to five days, only going downstairs to eat dinner. Because my baby breastfed all the time, I felt safer and less exposed upstairs.
New mums can experience tough days as they adapt to parenthood
"I do wish I'd known how my mental health would be affected. Again, I thought I was prepared for it, but it hit me after two months like a crash what I'd been through. My body had healed, but my mind hadn't.
"It's a cliché - and I could have screamed anytime anyone said this to me - but it DOES get easier. You do find your groove, your way. And no, it isn't easy but you WILL get there. Be patient with yourself, don't expect you'll be hitting baby classes or coffee shops on week one. It's totally OK if you don't!"
Mums share post-birth anecdotes:
"I think one thing that I remember clearly after birth is that feeling that I was so exhausted and in pain, as though I'd had a major operation or been in a fight. But the difference was that if any of those things had actually happened to me I'd have been in bed recovering for a few weeks, getting lots of sleep and time to repair. Instead, I was expected to keep a brand new little human being alive on zero sleep, whilst bleeding heavily and riding a hormone rollercoaster!
"I also remember being in the maternity ward and wandering up to the reception desk, and flopping my breast out at the nurse to show her a blister on the end of my nipple - something I'd think twice about now. I mean, nipple blisters.... who tells you about these?"
"I remember I enjoyed a trip to hospital when my daughter was very small, to resolve a birth-related problem, and I begged the surgeon to let me stay overnight so I could get some sleep. It was amazing AND I ate some food using both hands.
"A midwife also kindly came to our house to show us how to bath my son, as we had avoided doing it for ages as we were so worried we’d drown him."
"One friend gave me some laxatives with a quiet 'take this' instruction. No medic told me that - such good advice! I also remember the stress of trying to keep my baby's tiny fingernails short so they don’t scratch themselves without actually cutting fingers."
"My lovely neighbour came to see me after various hormonal texts from me in week one of my daughter's arrival. She came upstairs to find me with my boobs out, crying (I had mastitis). Whenever she says to me now, something like, 'Sorry to ask, but can I…' I usually respond, 'Don’t be sorry, I flopped my boobs out in front of you once'. I’ll never forget it and I’m sure she won’t."
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