The first few weeks after having your child are full of wonder and change. You might be overjoyed and filled with love when with your baby— but at the same time, you might be overwhelmed by your new responsibilities, or fatigued from a lack of sleep. You could feel physical and emotional effects all at once, or they might appear over time as your body recovers from pregnancy. Every woman’s experience is different, but many new mothers encounter similar challenges, or must confront similar issues. If you are experiencing any difficult problems, or have questions and concerns, it is important to talk to your doctor or midwife. You may also want to share your feelings with your partner, family, or trusted friends— no matter how difficult or overwhelming your feelings seem, you aren’t alone.
What Should You Expect After Giving Birth?
Bleeding and Cramps
After giving birth, you will experience some period-like bleeding as your uterus gradually returns to a pre-pregnancy shape, and this will continue over the first few weeks. The flow will likely be heavy at first, and you will likely need super-absorbent sanitary pads. Over time, the bleeding will become more brownish in colour, and may continue for around two months. If you experience blood loss in large clots, consider saving your sanitary pads to show your midwife, as you may need treatment.
In addition, you may experience heavier bleeding while breastfeeding, as well as cramps known as afterbirth pains. These are often a result of uterine contractions and are more likely to be felt following subsequent births. They can be relieved by applying hot packs, or through simple pain medication like paracetamol taken half an hour before breastfeeding.
General Discomfort and Swelling
If you’ve had stitches after a caesarean, tearing, or an episiotomy, you may also experience discomfort and pain. Bathe in clean, warm water and dry yourself carefully while keeping pressure off the affected area. If you experience swelling or pain around the opening of your vagina, you can use a cold compress on the area for ten to twenty minutes at a time. You may need a thin cloth between the compress and your skin, or you might place the compress inside your pad.
Going to the Toilet
You may experience some grazes or tearing around the vaginal opening, which can make the thought of going to the toilet uncomfortable for a few days after giving birth. Drinking more fluids will help dilute your urine and reduce any stinging sensation. Alternatively, you can also try sitting in a few inches of warm water, or pouring warm water between your legs while on the toilet. If passing urine at all is very difficult, consult your doctor or midwife.
You will likely not need to open your bowels for a few days after birth, but it is important to prevent constipation. Haemorrhoids are also likely during pregnancy, and these too will usually disappear within a few days. To minimise constipation, haemorrhoids, and discomfort, increase your intake of water, and of fibre (through foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, and wholemeal bread). Even if your discomfort persists, it is very unlikely you will open any wounds or break your stitches— it might help to hold a clean pad or toilet tissue over your stitches during bowel movements.
A change in breast tissue is common during pregnancy, often resulting in increased size, firmness, and tenderness. As you begin to produce milk a few days after giving birth, your breasts may become engorged and uncomfortable. This can be managed with well-fitting maternity bras to provide support. If your milk is flowing, take warm showers and massage your breasts— this will help increase circulation, reduce lumps, and open the milk ducts. To manage additional discomfort, use warm or cold compresses, whichever provides relief.
When breastfeeding your baby, practice makes perfect. As your child masters the skill of attaching, suckling and emptying the breast, so will you. Have patience and be confident in yourself, even if breastfeeding seems challenging at first. Don’t misinterpret difficulties as signs that you or your baby is doing something wrong— but if you are struggling, don’t hesitate to ask advice from your midwife, lactation consultant or child health nurse.
How Can You Cope in The First Few Weeks After Birth?
It’s very easy to become tired and overwhelmed during the first few weeks with your baby, and you will need to focus your energy on yourself and adapting to the situation. Try to limit visitors and guests, even if you are excited. Maximise your opportunities for rest by attempting to sleep when your baby does, and allowing family and friends to bring you meals and do chores for you. Don’t expect to keep the house perfect, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Eating a variety of healthy food is important in maintaining your energy, and may help lose extra weight gained during your pregnancy. Try to consider the following when choosing what to eat:
- Calcium: increase your intake of dairy and leafy green vegetables, especially if breastfeeding.
- Fibre: eat plenty of fresh fruits and wholegrains, which will help activate your bowels.
- Protein: red meat, fish, poultry, eggs and legumes will help regain and maintain your strength.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Increase the number of serves of fruits and vegetables to promote healing. Limit your intake of canned fruit or juice however, as they are high in sugar with more limited nutritional value.
- Iron: eat iron-rich foods to replace what was lost by bleeding. These include red meats, seafood, leafy greens, legumes, and tofu.
- Fluids: increasing your fluids will help activate your bladder and bowels. Keep a glass of water within reach while you are breastfeeding, as many women feel quite thirsty when feeding their baby.
In general, don’t skip meals or go long periods without eating. Eat small, nutritious snacks throughout the day to maintain your energy levels.
Exercise will improve your mood and help your body return to its pre-pregnancy shape. Although you should take time to recover, some exercises can start the next day, such as breathing and leg exercises. This is important to get your muscles working again, but remember to take things slowly and gently.
Pelvic floor exercises can help prevent urine leakage, and weakness in the pelvic floor is very common. Firmly tense the muscles around your vagina and bottom as though you were trying to hold in gas. Hold these muscles as long as you can, before slowly relaxing and releasing them. Try not to squeeze your buttocks— you may have to try a few times to find the correct muscles. Attempt to perform at least twenty-five repetitions of this throughout the day, while standing or sitting. A good method is to practice while urinating. Contract to stop, and then relax to release the flow of urine. Only attempt this once a week, however, as your bladder may not empty the way it should if you interrupt your stream more often. If you find no improvement from these exercises after three months, consult your doctor or midwife.
In general, you can resume more regular exercise four to six weeks after giving birth. Before this time, however, try to get outside, take walks or engage in gentle workouts. Remember to be patient with yourself, and take a break if you are overtired, unwell, or in pain. Don’t be afraid to contact your doctor or midwife if you are uneasy, or unsure.
Share Your Experiences
It’s often said that motherhood should be the happiest time in a woman’s life, though motherhood is also a time of challenges and learning experiences. Many women feel self-conscious, or that they will be judged for not doing it ‘right’. It is far better to ask for help, or share how you feel with others if you are struggling. Every mother’s experience is different, but in sharing these experiences, you will learn that you are not alone, and grow more confident as you continue your journey with your child.
For more information on The First Few Weeks Following Birth, view The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines.
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