As your due date approaches, you may be wondering what to expect for your own recovery after giving birth. There is often so much focus on the excitement of having a new baby that women give little forethought to postpartum recovery. Preparing for postpartum is the key to having a smooth transition. You can expect your body to undergo a series of physical and hormonal changes following birth. These changes come in addition to the competing feelings of sheer joy and utter exhaustion as you adjust to your new life as a parent. Below is a list of physical and emotional side effects that you may experience following the birth of your child.
Vaginal Pain, Soreness and Bleeding:
Whether you have perennial tearing, require an episiotomy, or simply have normal vaginal stretching to allow the baby through the birth canal, you will likely have some pain and soreness for several weeks. It is also normal to have postpartum bleeding and discharge, called lochia, for up to a month following childbirth. The bleeding and discharge will initially be red and heavy in the early days but should eventually become lighter in color and volume. To alleviate vaginal pain, consider sitting on a pillow, utilizing cold witch hazel soaked sanitary pads and cleansing the area after urinating with warm water in a peri bottle.
Sore & Engorged Breasts:
As your body works to adjust its milk production to your infant’s needs, many women experience engorgement and leaking milk. Your breasts may feel swollen, hard and sensitive. You may be more likely to experience painful symptoms such as clogged ducts and nipple soreness during these early days. To reduce pain and continue to encourage milk production, nurse often and pump when needed. Alternate between placing a warm wash cloth on the breasts and using ice packs to alleviate soreness between feeding sessions. Taking hot showers to encourage milk letdown can also help with engorgement and breast pain. Thankfully, most insurance companies now cover the costs of breastfeeding support and services.
You may experience contractions or ‘after pains’ that feel similar to menstrual cramps in the days following your delivery. This is caused by the uterus beginning to shrink and compress to prevent excess bleeding. Consider using an over-the-counter pain killer if these or any postpartum symptoms are causing you considerable discomfort.
Problems with urination following childbirth are not uncommon due to pain, bruising and swelling surrounding the perinneal area. While this will typically resolve on its own as the area heals, stretching of the tissue surrounding the bladder can often result in leaking of urine and unintended elimination when sneezing, laughing or straining. To minimize the effects of damaged muscles and nerves of the bladder and urethra, do your Kegel exercises often during pregnancy and after.
Finally, a good postpartum symptom! Most women will lose more than ten pounds immediately following childbirth that is the result of the loss of the weight of baby, the placenta and the amniotic fluids. You may still look six months pregnant as your stomach has stretched to accommodate your growing babe, but with a healthy diet and exercise, you should continue to lose your remaining weight over the coming months.
Skin and Hair Changes:
While pregnancy can often come with the added benefits of glowing skin and healthy thick hair, the postpartum period may be a rude awakening for your voluminous locks. The extra hair growth experienced and retained during pregnancy is typically lost over the six months following childbirth and often leaves you pulling clumps from your brush. Although skin problems such as dryness and itchiness may present themselves due to hormonal changes, you are also likely to see a lightening of both stretch marks and linea nigra during the postpartum period.
Constipation, Hemorrhoids and Bowels:
Whether you have a vaginal birth or a Cesarean section delivery, many women experience symptoms of constipation and difficulty passing bowel movements after giving birth. While pain killers and the residual effects of an epidural can make you constipated, you may also have pain, bruising or tearing surrounding the perineum from a natural birth. This may leave you wanting to avoid the added pressure of bowel movements all together. Unfortunately, another common problem experienced during pregnancy and post birth are hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids occur when pressure causes the veins surrounding the rectum to become swollen and the skin to become irritated. To reduce the pain caused by the pressure of bowel movements, consider using a stool softener or laxative in the days following your delivery. As always, be sure to eat a healthy diet that is rich in fiber and to drink lots of water. Probiotics also have many benefits during postpartum, for mom and for baby that can help relieve constipation.
The birth of your child will likely be accompanied by some of the most powerful emotions that you and your partner have ever experienced. The excitement and joy of new life, the trepidation of being new parents and the exhaustion from sleep deprivation are all common things to feel in the days following your baby’s arrival. It is not uncommon to experience what’s known as the ‘baby blues’ or a mild period of depression in the first two weeks. While the ‘baby blues’ are usually nothing to be concerned about, if you find yourself slipping into a more concerning depression, feeling hopeless and despondent or having thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, contact your health care provider immediately to seek support for postpartum depression.
Despite the best laid plans for a vaginal or natural delivery, many births each year necessitate a Cesarean section due to complications with the mother or baby. The recovery from a C-section can be different from a vaginal birth, and may require that you allow a couple extra weeks for rest and recuperation. Common discomforts that can occur during your recovery include pain in the abdomen and area surrounding the incision site, difficulty walking and standing, pain in the abdomen when sneezing, coughing or laughing and numbness and swelling around the incision. Take care to ensure that you are getting enough rest, drinking plenty of water and limiting lifting and physical activity until your doctor clears you at your postpartum checkup.
If at any time during your recovery period you experience concerning symptoms such as a fever above 100.4 degrees, abnormally heavy vaginal bleeding, foul smelling discharge or pain, redness and discharge around the incision site of a C-section, contact your health care provider to be seen. Although you may be swept up in the excitement and responsibility of caring for your newborn, it is also imperative that you care for yourself during this recovery period. Nap when your baby naps, ask friends and family for help with household chores and be sure to nourish yourself with a healthy diet and plenty of water. Remember that your body just went through a major physical accomplishment and will need some TLC of its own in order to be at your best while you care for your new little one.