Even if your labor and delivery was fast and easy or strenuous and long it will take some time for you to feel like your old self again. This may be hard, but try to remember that it took nine months to get here, so you won’t bounce back – physically or emotionally – overnight.
What to expect from your body:
- You’ll start losing weight right away and then some…
- While you probably won’t return to your pre-pregnancy weight for some time, most women are about 12 pounds lighter after delivering one 7- to 9-pound baby and losing another pound or two of placenta and another two pounds or so of blood and amniotic fluid. By the end of the first week, you’ll probably have lost about 4 pounds of water weight. BUT, the weight loss definitely slows down from then on, and it will be more difficult to lose the weight unless you exercise (pelvic and tummy exercise) at least for a few minutes a day.
- You will have a flabby tummy and/or a belly paunch
- No matter what type of delivery you’ve had – C-section or vaginal, once the baby is out, your tummy will look like a balloon that has had its air blown out. Your tummy may be a bit flabby and wrinkly, and your waistline is non-existent right now.
- You will have pains for a while
- You may feel sore after a tear or cut to the area between your vagina and back passage (perineum), or be in pain because you are recovering from a caesarean.
- An episiotomy or more severe tear (third-degree or fourth-degree tear) may take longer to heal. And stitches may be painful for a few days or even weeks.
- Your uterus (womb) is shrinking back to its normal size and position, and you may have afterpains as it contracts down. Afterpains feel like mild labour contractions, and often happen while you are breastfeeding. This is because the hormone oxytocin, which encourages your uterus to contract, is released while you’re feeding. It also can cause redder or heavier blood loss.
- You’ll have lochia discharge (Bleeding).
- However you gave birth, whether vaginally or by caesarean, you will have some bloody discharge from your vagina (lochia). After your baby is born, the cells that form the lining of your uterus will begin to slough off. This results in a discharge called lochia that lasts for weeks. At first, this discharge is mixed with blood, so it appears bright red and menstrual-like, then it gradually gets lighter in color, finally fading to white or yellow before it stops.
- Your emotions will be in flux.
- Within the first week or two of giving birth, many new moms experience the “baby blues.” You may find yourself moody and weepy, exhausted, unable to sleep, or feeling trapped or anxious. Your appetite can change, too – you might want to eat more or less. The good news is this emotional upheaval will generally pass within two to three weeks.
- Breasts & Nipples will hurt – even if you are not breastfeeding
- After birth your breasts will be soft, as they only contain a little colostrum. This is the rich, creamy first milk full of antibodies that help to protect your baby from infection. After a few days your breasts will begin to make milk and may feel hot, swollen and tender.
- At first, your nipples may feel very sensitive, with the first 10 or so seconds of each feed feeling uncomfortable. This usually begins to ease after about the fifth day. If it doesn’t, getting help with latching your baby on to your breast may make all the difference. Talk to your midwife or a breastfeeding counsellor.
- Even if you are not breastfeeding, your breasts will fill up with milk for the first few days, and this will put a lot of pressure on your breasts. Breastfeeding is all about supply and demand, so if the baby is not ‘demanding’ more milk (i.e. you are not breastfeeding), the supply dries up on its own within a few days. You will have engorged and painful breasts and nipples for a few days until your body accepts the signals that it should stop producing more milk and stops it altogether. Make sure you are NOT emptying or stimulating the breasts.
- Other changes: You may have a few niggles that take a little longer to fade:
- Piles or hemorrhoids may result during pregnancy or from labor itself. They may gradually disappear without treatment, but tell your midwife or GP if they are troublesome. They may prescribe an ointment or suppository. Eat fibre-rich foods, such as wholegrain rice, and drink plenty of fluids.
- Dry and itchy vagina. Due to lower levels of estrogen. This dryness will be even more pronounced if you’re breastfeeding, because nursing tends to keep estrogen levels down. Using a lubricant is a big help. (Be sure to buy a water-based lubricant, particularly if you’re using a barrier method of contraception. Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex, which can cause a condom to break or ruin a diaphragm.)
- Urinary Incontinence. It is both normal and temporary for many moms not to feel the urge to pee when the bladder is full, because they cannot feel anything down there. Within a few days to a few weeks, you’ll likely enjoy dry underwear once again.
- Stretch marks on your breasts, tummy and thighs.
- Swollen ankles for a week or so, as your body starts to move and lose the extra fluid you retained during pregnancy. Your feet may or may not go back to their previous size, so don’t throw out those pregnancy shoes yet!
- Some hair loss. During pregnancy, your hair will probably have become thicker and more luxuriant, because hormones prevented your usual hair loss. Once those hormones drop, you may start to lose the hair that you held on to during pregnancy. Don’t worry, your hair will return to what it was.
- Decreased muscle tone. As the level of the hormone progesterone in your body drops, the tone of smooth muscle throughout your body improves. Pregnancy hormones can still affect your joints for up to six months after giving birth, so keep exercise gentle for the first few months. Don’t do anything high-impact too soon.
Your body will have changed after pregnancy and childbirth, but try to be proud of it. It’s done a wonderful job of bringing your baby into the world!
Call your caregiver if:
- You have signs of abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as soaking more than one sanitary pad in an hour, passing blood clots bigger than a golf ball, or bright red bleeding that occurs four days or more after you give birth. You may have what’s called a delayed postpartum hemorrhage. (Note: Call 911 if you’re bleeding profusely or if you have any signs of shock, including lightheadedness, weakness, rapid heartbeat or palpitations, rapid or shallow breathing, clammy skin, restlessness, or confusion.)
- You have signs of infection, which may include any fever; lower abdominal pain or foul-smelling discharge (signs of endometritis); difficulty urinating, painful urination, cloudy or bloody urine (signs of a urinary tract infection); redness, tenderness, discharge, or swelling around the site of a wound (such as a c-section incision, episiotomy, or tear); a painful, hard, reddened area, usually only on one breast, and fever, chills, muscle aches or fatigue, and possibly a headache (signs of mastitis, a breast infection).
- You have signs of postpartum depression, such as being unable to sleep even when your baby is sleeping, having any thoughts of harming your child, crying all day long for several days in a row, or having panic attacks.
How to recover more quickly:
- Get as much rest as you can, and make an effort to sleep when your baby sleeps. This can be tough advice to follow, especially during the day, but it really helps.
- Limit visitors and the time you spend with them if it’s becoming overwhelming or preventing you from getting rest. Consider turning off the phone and posting a “we’re napping” message on your door to discourage drop-ins.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids.
- Accept all offers for help with cooking, cleaning, childcare, errands, and the like. If you aren’t receiving offers, ask for help. If you can’t get help for free, consider hiring a mother’s helper, cleaning lady, or others who can give you a break.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Talking to friends, relatives, and other new moms about your birth experience and life with a newborn can help you cope.