As mothers and mothers to be, we typically spend a great deal of time planning and preparing for our child’s birth. We read books, take prenatal classes, write birth plans, pack bags, wash, fold and organize baby laundry and so much more in preparation for the big day. Very few of us however, give much thought to what the postpartum period will be like for OUR bodies. Consumed with the excitement of our baby to be, we may forget that once we bring home our bundle of joy we too will need care, rest and healing as we recover from the amazing feat of giving birth. Here are 5 things to expect from your postpartum recovery.
- Heavy bleeding: As your body sheds the uterine lining and also bleeds from where the placenta was attached, you will experience heavy bleeding known as lochia. You may see blood clots in this bleeding and it will likely appear bright red at first. The intensity of the bleeding should subside with time and gradually turn to spotting before it stops. Typically, this should last approximately 2-6 weeks after you give birth. To prepare, stock up on heavy duty overnight strength sanitary pads, mesh panties and even adult diapers can be a great option. This applies whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section.
- Some pain and discomfort: Take a moment to consider what an incredible thing it is that your body is going to birth a 6-10 pound baby. With this incredible miracle comes hard work and its fair share of aches and pains. Whether you have a natural birth or a C-section, you can expect to experience some cramping, soreness, muscle aches and joint pains. With a vaginal delivery you may also experience some burning and soreness of the perineum and with a C-section, pain at the incision site and abdominal pain as you recover from major surgery.
- Hormonal side effects: As your body seeks to adjust hormonally after giving birth, you will likely experience a few unpleasant side effects. These may include fluctuating emotions and weepiness, hot flashes, night sweats and chills, and continued feelings of clumsiness from the production of the hormone relaxin. Give yourself some grace during this period as you may not feel like yourself despite your excitement over your new baby. If you are concerned that the baby blues may be developing into something more serious like postpartum depression, contact your midwife, doctor or a counselor for support. There are many wonderful resources available for women suffering from postpartum depression. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Breast changes: As your milk comes in after baby is born, you may experience some engorgement and sore nipples and breasts as your supply adjusts to meet baby’s needs. You may also notice that your nipples appear darker. If you are recovering from a C-section, breastfeeding can initially be more challenging due to pain from your surgery and having to find a position that is comfortable for you and your newborn while you heal. Fear not though, it will get easier with time and your milk supply will adjust as you and your baby find your rhythm. Consider having nipple pads on hand for leaking breasts, cooling pads or ice packs for sore breasts and a nipple cream for aching and cracking nipples. Be sure to signup for our next Pumptalk 101 class if you have extra questions or would like some more suggestions.
- Constipation, incontinence, and frequent trips to the bathroom: Depending on how you delivered and your own personal recovery, you may experience a period of constipation following giving birth and/or urinary or fecal incontinence. A vaginal delivery can cause temporary nerve damage around the bladder making it more difficult to sense when you need to go to the bathroom. You may also have weakened bladder muscles, hemorrhoids and though less common, tears to the anal sphincter causing fecal leakage. Conversely, you may also experience constipation due to the slowing of your metabolism and digestive tract. Talk to your doctor or midwife for effective ways to manage these various side effects.
It’s not uncommon for the postpartum period to be filled with excitement, exhaustion, trepidation and feeling a bit overwhelmed. Make sure that amidst all the emotions and adjustments, you allow time for your own care and recovery. Your body has just undergone the incredible journey of childbirth and needs time to rest and heal so that you can focus on caring for your new, beautiful baby.