Regardless of the birth-outcome the mother’s body is on a hormone roller coaster during these first few weeks. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically, which can contribute to the “baby blues” (mood swings, anxiety, sadness or irritability, which resolve within a few weeks or so of birth).
As the body recovers from the pregnancy and the birthing process, it’s normal to experience the following:
Tender Perineum– Moderate perineal discomfort or pain. In the first 24 hours, sitting on an ice-pack helps. Thereafter, sitz baths (very hot, shallow 15-minute baths for the perineal area, either hot water alone or infused with a handful of calendula flowers) can help. Lining your sanitary napkin with witch-hazel or Tucks’ Pads can be cool comfort, and they may also help ease the pain of hemorrhoids. Consider refrigerating the pads for maximum coolness.
Painful Bowel Movements – Mild discomfort with the first bowel movement (and possibly a lot of nervousness about the big event). A mild stool softener such as CALM or glycerin suppository can help you get things moving smoothly, as can warm prune juice and dried fruits. And, of course, staying hydrated is essential!
Lo- cha cha chia – Lochia is the normal blood flow from the uterus as the placental site heals and the uterus returns to its non-pregnant size. The flow of blood is heaviest in the first few days, when you will need to use large sanitary napkins.
- After a few days you will see a change from red blood to brown, and then, by the end of the second week, the discharge will be whitish.
- The flow of lochia can last several weeks.
- However, if you suddenly have a return to bright red blood, or pass large clots (or enough blood to soak a sanitary napkin is under an hour), it is worth a call to your care provider.
- Over-exerting yourself in the early weeks can cause a hemorrhage, so remind yourself to take it easy.
Afterpains- These are the contractions of the uterus as it returns to its pre-pregnancy size. Don’t panic: they are not as bad as the labor contractions. If this was your first birth you may not feel them at all; if you do experience after-pains they will usually coincide with nursing since the uterus contracts in response to the baby’s suckling.
Nipple Pain- It can take a while to get comfortable nursing a baby, and some nipple pain is pretty common during the learning process. Coconut oil, shea butter or cool glycerin pads can help, but the best way to heal is to focus on learning a correct latch. Many moms have some nipple soreness for the first days that gets better on its own, as the mom-baby pair learn to latch comfortably. On the other hand, if the pain is persisting or getting worse after the third day, or if your baby’s latch causes you to grasp or cry out in pain throughout the feeding, un-latch her and try again, repeating until you can get a latch that feels more comfortable to you. There is nothing heroic about leaving the baby at the breast with a painful latch; the pain will only get worse.
- Remind yourself, as you breathe deeply, that this is the first week’s problem and will resolve itself as you learn – and if you are struggling you can find knowledgeable support people who can help teach you.
- Breastfeeding often comes with soreness at the beginning but it shouldn’t be excruciating.
- If the mere thought of the pain of the next feeding has you in tears, it is time to call in a lactation consultant or another experienced support person to help you get on the right track.
Stitch-Pain- If you had stitches – from an episiotomy or from a cesarean birth – you may experience ‘tightness’ around the stitches starting several days after the birth. Usually, a mild analgesic will help with the pain. Many women report pain around the episiotomy site is worst three days after birth – this is because the hormonal changes of lactation can cause vaginal dryness. This will pass as your body’s hormones balance out.
- If you have episiotomy stitches, use a spray bottle of warm water (‘peri-bottle’) while you urinate in the first week; avoid using toilet paper.
- For all stitches, look out for signs of infection, which merit a call to your caregiver: redness, swelling or an unusual ‘funky’ smell
Jelly Belly– A still-pregnant-looking belly. Your body returns to its non-pregnant shape gradually. In the first weeks after the birth, you will still feel most comfortable in maternity clothes and can expect to look several months pregnant.
Full of Fluid– There will be lots of urine and sweat. Remember, during pregnancy, your blood volume increases by 50%. After the birth, you will lose a lot of that excess fluid. Frequent trips to the bathroom are familiar by now, but you may also find yourself seating and, consequently, shivering (because sweating cools the body dramatically). Try to remember to dress in layers so that you can peel a layer off as necessary.
Hunger and Thirst- Although it’s not universal, many women find that they are even hungrier after the birth than they were while pregnant. If you’re suddenly ravenous, remember that it’s your body demanding the extra 500 calories a day that nursing requires.
- You may find that as soon as the baby latches on to the breast your mouth feels parched. In time you’ll remember to have a glass of water nearby; at first, your supportive loved ones can be on-call to fetch you the beverage of your choice.
- Get enough to eat so that you feel satisfied and energetic in those first weeks.
Fatigue- You just labored and pushed a baby out (or had major abdominal surgery). Although many moms spend the first few days postpartum on an ‘adrenaline high’, most moms begin to feel the fatigue taking its toll pretty early on. Sleep deprivation is one of the major challenges of new parenthood, and yet so many moms find it hard to follow the advice to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. Remind yourself that you do more good for your baby by being good to yourself. If you can’t nap, at least rest with your eyes closed and feet up for a while when your baby nods off. And while you’re at it, treat yourself to wholesome food and good showers.
Hiring a POSTPARTUM DOULA can help you adjust to the demands of new motherhood and new parenthood.