Recovery After Birth
After you’ve made and delivered a human, your body has to recover. It’s time to take care of yourself as well as your baby.
At a glance
All those changes in diet and hormone levels can affect your bowel movements after birth
Your breasts will get bigger and more tender as they start producing milk
Pelvic floor exercises should help if you find yourself having little ‘accidents’
If you’ve had a C-section take it easy and try not to lift more than your baby
Your body’s been through a lot of changes over the last 40 weeks or so. When it comes to recovery after birth it might take a while before you feel completely yourself – it’s normal to feel sore and very tired.
Your body after birth
You might not know this, but it’s not unusual to look about five (or more) months pregnant shortly after giving birth. Your skin might be a bit loose and your tummy might be a funny shape, but this is common. It’s just your organs taking time to go back to their normal places.
Your breasts after pregnancy will probably be a bit bigger than before as they’re getting into milk-making mode. If you start breastfeeding you can expect them to get quite full and firm and even change shape. Nipple cream can help and if you get really sore then cabbage leaves from the fridge (yes really), placed in your bra, can give soothing relief. Also, a well fitted and supportive feeding bra is a must.
You might find you’re weeing regularly, and the occasional ‘accident’ may occur when you sneeze or laugh. Don’t reduce your water intake if this happens – incontinence after birth is normal, and it’s important to drink plenty to stay hydrated. If you can, make a start on those pelvic floor exercises before birth, and then a few days afterwards - it really will pay dividends. The NHS has a really helpful app called Squeezy for this.
If you’ve had a vaginal birth, soreness in this area is a given. You may have had stitches and you’re more than likely feeling tender. One pro-tip to help with your recovery is to get a post-natal donut-shaped pillow to keep the pressure off your sore bits.
Bleeding after birth
They don’t always tell you this, but they should. There will be some heavy bleeding after you give birth. This is known as ‘lochia’ and occurs whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section. It’s wise to pack a decent amount of maternity pads as you’ll want to change them regularly. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly too.
Tampons aren’t recommended until after the six-week postnatal check as they could lead to an infection.
While breastfeeding you may notice bleeding becoming heavier and redder. This is because breastfeeding helps your womb contract, so you’ll probably feel some cramps, like period pains. This bleeding could last for a few weeks but it will gradually change to a brownish colour and become less heavy until it stops.
If you notice a lot of large blood clots tell your midwife in case it needs further attention.
Perineum tearing and episiotomy
Your doctor may have had to cut between the vagina and perineum during birth to make delivery easier or to avoid sudden tears, so you might have had an episiotomy. Even a natural childbirth may lead to perineum tears, so here’s a few ways to ease mind and body.
Episiotomy cuts are usually repaired within an hour of your baby being born. The cut (incision) may bleed quite a lot initially, but this should stop with pressure and stitches. If all goes to plan, your stitches should heal within one month of giving birth, although it can vary depending on the degree of the tear.
You’ll probably need to take paracetamol to help you cope with the pain. Ibuprofen and aspirin shouldn’t be taken if you’re breastfeeding as these can be passed to baby through your milk. Talk to your midwife for more information on pain, including if you’re one of the 1% of women who feel severe pain after an episiotomy.
To help ease pain try holding an ice pack (or cubes wrapped in a towel) on the incision. After using the toilet use warm water to rinse the sore areas. You might find squatting rather than sitting on the toilet reduces discomfort when urinating. Remember the main rule when wiping after a bowel movement, front to back, especially now, to avoid infection.
Talk to your midwife or obstetrician about which activities you should avoid during the healing period. If you require more information, the NHS has lots of detail on episiotomies and perineum tearing.
You may have more to show for your labour than just a beautiful baby. For example, it’s very common to have haemorrhoids after giving birth for a few days. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your midwife or doctor about this, they’ve seen it many times before. Try and eat healthy high-fibre foods for a while such as muesli or whole wheat bread and pasta. Finally, hydration is crucial to help make things easier down there.
On a similar note… You may end up constipated after labour for a number of reasons. Pain relief, prenatal vitamins that contain more than 30mg of iron, and C-sections can all lead to an uncomfortable time after birth. Try to become more active, drink lots of water and get some fibre into your diet. Talk to your midwife if you need further help.
Fluctuating hormone levels, medications, or anxiety may mean you have an upset tummy after birth. It’s not usual so speak to your doctor if you’re worried. Stay hydrated as there’s bound to be some fluid loss.
It takes at least six weeks to recover from a C-section and you’ll be told to take it easy after the birth. As a general rule you shouldn’t lift more than your baby’s weight. Post C-section, you also won’t be driving for a while so ask people to visit you at home if possible. Make sure you master the side-roll in and out of bed, it’s a total stitch-saver. Your midwife will be able to help you.
Baby blues and postnatal depression
It’s not just physical aftercare that’s important to your recovery after birth, mental health care is too. About 80% of mums go through ‘baby blues’ shortly after birth, while some experience postnatal depression in the first year. Talking to family and friends helps, but if you’re worried speak to your midwife or a healthcare professional. If you need more information on postnatal depression and baby blues, we have it.
While your uterus is gradually contracting and shrinking back to its normal size after delivery you may experience stomach pain after birth, similar to menstrual cramps.
The first two to three days after giving birth are usually the most intense, although the uterus can take six weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
These cramps often come on stronger during breastfeeding which stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that causes the uterus to contract. On the plus side, oxytocin also helps you bond with your baby.
In terms of after-birth care, there are lots of things you can do to take longer-term care of yourself. If you want to be prepared for the immediate (straight after birth) aftercare, you’ll have to get what you’ll need in advance. We have lots of advice on what to pack in your hospital bags here.