When a woman first finds out she is pregnant, life becomes surreal. She dreams of all the beautiful moments she will experience as a a mother-to-be and as a mother, never imaging what the immediate after birth will be like.
Moms chat and love to relay their own personal childbirth and after birth stories. If we were to interview 10 moms, I would bet most have stories related to the pain of the episiotomy and breastfeeding, the trouble they had with controlling their own body, and the blood....
The intensity and experiences will vary from one woman to the next, and out of the 15 on this list, it is likely that most women live through 12-14 of them. Childbirth, whether natural or via c-section wreaks havoc on our bodies, so what would make the after birth any different?
Of course, the reward and the reason we go through it all is so we can hold our baby, and in the end, it is truly all worth it.
So what are women so surprised about after giving birth?
15 What "Afterbirth" Actually Refers To
If you were to look up images of "afterbirth" on the internet you would see a series of bloody photos of the placenta. Yup, the afterbirth is everything that comes out following the birth of your baby; the placenta and fetal membranes that support the fetus throughout the 40 weeks of pregnancy.
So much has been written about the precious afterbirth, and you will find more details in the points below, but the two things you must know first and foremost are:
- it must be expelled from your body following childbirth
- it is meant for the baby and not for you
Either way the placenta must be delivered. It can take anywhere from a new minutes to a full half hour. Like everything else, there are risks when delivering the placenta such as haemorrhage, and if the placenta is not delivered, or only partially delivered, it can result in serious infection.
14 You Will Shiver And Shake Uncontrollably
No, it is not because of the cold delivery room. A woman can start shivering during the transition that will bring her to dilate to the last couple of centimetres, and she can continue shaking uncontrollably up to thirty minutes after the birth of the baby.
Full body shakes, in a moment when there is so much happening already can be quite a shock to the new mom. Knowing why this happens will help mom prepare for it and just accept it as a normal phase in the child-birthing stage.
The reasons you may shake following the birth of the baby are the following:
- an increase in endorphin (adrenaline) levels in your body
- a shifting of fluids in your body (elimination of amniotic fluid)
- the shifting of organs in your body
- medication you may have been given
- a change of body temperature after giving birth
Nurses and doctors will usually make sure your shaking stops, or help in the process, before your baby is handed over to you. If you feel unsure about holding your little one you should let the attendees know.
13 You Will Probably Need Stitches
This may be one of the most dreaded outcomes of natural child birth. Our lady parts can surely take the worst nature can offer, but there is a limit to how much the vaginal tissue can stretch!
The medical term for making an incision in the perineum, the tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus during childbirth, is episiotomy. Whoever is assisting the birth may decide there is too much strain on the perineum and alleviate pressure by making a clean cut (the length and direction of the cut will vary).
According to the Mayo Clinic, the number of episiotomies performed in delivery rooms nowadays is less. Studies have disproved theories that cutting through a woman's perineum can reduce the risk of damage to the muscular and connective tissue that supports the pelvic floor.
As a matter of fact, more current research suggests that routine episiotomies don't prevent the problem, and are only recommended if:
- extensive vaginal tearing appears likely
- the baby is in an abnormal position
- the baby is large (fetal macrosomia)
- the baby needs to be delivered quickly
In order to avoid large tearing, healthcare professionals may recommend :
- perineal massage at home from the 34th week of pregnancy
- perineal massage during the last phases of labour
- using a warm compress or warm mineral oil during the last phases of labour
Many women still experiencing episiotomies however, and because doctors tend to do incisions on the old scars, recovery, especially, the second or third time around can be quite uncomfortable.
12 Delivering The Placenta Is Not Easy
You delivered your baby and the hard part is over. But is it really? Women have had varied experiences in delivering the placenta following the birth of the baby. I for one, don't even remember delivering the placentas for either of my children, but I have also spoken to women who had parts of their placentas remaining in their bodies for days after.
From manual removal to surgery, to a smooth expulsion, anything can happen. Generally, if the placenta has not been expelled 30 minutes after delivery, manual removal of the placenta is carried out under anaesthesia. In extreme cases, when the placenta has torn and not all pieces can be recovered, then surgery may be necessary.
Retaining a placenta is generally due to malformations of the placenta itself, like placenta previa or placenta accreta.
If its removal is not done properly, the remaining pieces can cause important issues, including a 3% mortality rate due to infections. This is why nurses and doctors in delivery rooms literally puzzle the placenta back together before releasing the patient.
11 The Placenta Is Meant For Baby Not You
Every so often a trend comes along that is then blown out of proportion by dubious businesses trying to make a profit. We often see images in documentaries of animals eating the placenta of their young as they are born, to avoid predators following them and (perhaps) to help it recover its strength. Recent studies have found it should NOT be the case with humans.
Placentophagy, or eating of the placenta dates back to biblical times, claiming to return strength to the woman after childbirth. References have been found in medical texts from the 15oo's, and throughout history. More recently, the "encapsulating and eating the placenta" trend claims miraculous benefits such as:
- preventing postpartum depression
- reducing pain and postpartum bleeding
- increasing breast milk production
- improving mother-infant bonding
- replenishes iron
Well, it is NOT the case. Although studies have not found direct risks to ingesting the placenta, researchers at Northwestern University School found no data to support the claims that eating the placenta either raw, cooked, or encapsulated offers any protection against any of these claims.
Bottom line, the placenta is meant to sustain baby and not mommy.
10 You Will Still Look Pregnant
Regardless of how much weight women gain during pregnancy, one thing is certain, it will generally take weeks or sometimes years to get back into shape.
One of the most surprising things women experience after giving birth is the remaining belly...You would expect that once an 8 pound infant is expelled from the body, in what ever which way...the placenta and amniotic fluid follow, and the tummy goes back to its "almost" normal size. Right? Wrong.
What we forget is that our bodies go through an extreme transformation during the 9 months:
- muscles and ligaments stretch
- the pelvic area makes space for the fetus to grow
- breasts become tender and swell
- oral health suffers
- stretch marks and brown patches may appear (melasma)
So with all these changes why would we expect our bodies to go back to their normal state within a few weeks?
9 You Are Stronger Than You Think
Becoming a mother is an incredible milestone for a woman in more ways than you can count. You will experience an overwhelming feeling you will not be able to put into words, and until you become a mother you will not know what maternal instinct is.
Sure, everyone loves children, most people love babies, but if you are an aunt, a caregiver, a baby doctor, and have no children of your own, you will still not understand what maternal instinct truly means.
- As a new mom you will find the strength to get up and pick up your crying baby when your body is screaming to stay in bed.
- As a new mom you will find the strength to keep breast feeding your baby when every suckle of your little one feels like a stab in the boob.
- As a new mom you will find the strength to stay awake an extra 15 minutes because your baby has to be fed.
As mothers we begin to understand what true empathy means because we now know the true value of a life and what it takes to bring it into the world.
8 You Will Need Much More Help Than You Think
As we learn our strengths we must also learn to accept our weaknesses. New mothers have to be mentally and physically capable of providing for their little one, but as the old saying goes, "it takes a village to raise a child". I am certain that the person who first coined this phrase, had first hand experience of what it meant to having to care for a newborn baby.
True, new moms feel they are the only ones who can do it best, but be humble when you need to and ask for help when you have to.
Here are a few things you can ask family and friends to help with during the first few days in the hospital or at home:
- pick up and comfort baby
- bathe baby
- prepare meals for the family
- help with simple chores like the laundry or vacuuming
- grocery shopping
People often focus on what baby needs the first few days, but the reality is mom will need more help than the new born baby.
7 The Pain Continues Even After Birth
Following the birth of your baby your body will go through a multitude of physical phases. If you are having a natural child birth, the overall muscle soreness due the the strenuous pushing can sometimes feel like you've just run a full marathon, without having trained for it. If you had a C-section the discomfort is different but no less bearable.
Remember the post on asking for help? Well, these are the reasons why you will have to.
Post-partum pains can be caused by:
- episiotomy stitches
- c-section birth and relative post-op care
- contractions of the uterus (can last a 6-8 weeks in some cases)
- vaginal soreness (for natural birth)
- swollen breasts due to engorgement
- initial phases of breastfeeding and baby not latching on properly
Although postpartum pains are manageable for most women, they can sometimes be severe and may require medication. Some of these experiences may last only a few hours and others may take weeks to subside.
6 Post C-Section Is More Painful Than Natural Childbirth
Although most C-Sections are performed for medical reasons and aimed at protecting the life of the baby and the mother, there has recently been an increase in elective c-sections throughout the industrialized world.
We are talking about major abdominal surgery, which means for a C-Section, cutting into multiple layers of muscle, fatty tissue, and skin, not excluding the uterus!
Whatever the reason however, postpartum C-Section recovery is painful, and the recovery period itself is at least double compared to a vaginal birth.
Complications that can arise from a C-Section birth are:
- intense pain
- post-op infections
- issues with wound closing properly
- pain from stitches
- scarred tissue
- in rare cases, hysterectomy
- not being able to take care of the baby for a longer period of time
Mothers who opt for elective C-sections are often seen as cowardly, but the reality is they are often well educated and their choice of choosing surgery rather than natural child birth is a well thought out one. They are well informed of the risks, and yet choose to go down this path. I would say that is rather courageous.
5 Feeding Baby Will Be A Challenge
One of the biggest challenges a new mom will face the first few days and weeks, is nursing her baby. As much as the majority of first time mothers may want to breastfeed their little one, it may not be possible for every woman.
- there will not be a feeding schedule
- there may not be enough natural milk for baby
- your nipples will crack and bleed
- baby may not latch on properly
- breasts may become engorged and you may develop mastitis
True, the above are all negative aspects of the breastfeeding experience but also remember, you ARE stronger than you think, and the benefits of nursing your baby outweigh the cons. Even though, new mothers should not be shamed for not being able to breastfeed. Baby needs to eat and as long as it is getting the nutrients he or she needs to grow healthy, mom is doing a good job!
4 The Hormones And Those Baby Blues
We are increasingly hearing about postpartum depression (PPD), formerly known as "baby blues". We still sometimes identify symptoms of sadness and loneliness as such, but in reality it is so much more.
According to the CDC, 15% of women suffer from PPD, and it can come on quite suddenly following the birth. In addition, women who miscarry or have still births are also susceptible to it, and are not included in these numbers. Unfortunately, the CDC confirms that PPD is the most common complication of childbirth.
How can a happy and confident woman suddenly succumb to such a serious mental illness? Studies have found the following:
Emotional issues :
- feeling incompetent as a new mom
- struggle with sense of identity
- feeling less attractive
- drop in estrogen and progesterone levels
- a change in the levels of other hormones produced by the thyroid gland
- more likely in women who have already suffered depression
Luckily an increasing number of hospitals have set up screenings to identify the early symptoms of PPD in women, which the Mayo Clinic has identified below:
- mood swings
- feeling overwhelmed
- reduced concentration
- appetite problems
- trouble sleeping
If you are anyone you know suffers from a combination of these PPD symptoms it is important to get professional help.
3 Your Normal Period Will Be A Memory
Most women have regular menstrual cycles before their pregnancy. What will change immediately after birth and perhaps for months to come? The general answer is, a lot of blood and then random, for weeks or months to come.
The bleeding and discharge after birth is called lochia and most of the blood will come from where the placenta and the uterus were attached. This happens to every woman regardless of how the baby comes to light and can last up to 6 weeks. Six weeks is a long time to have a so called period, but it does become increasingly lighter as the days go by, with its heaviest flow during the first week.
If you are breastfeeding it will take a few months to get back to a regular menstrual cycle, and either way, expect it to be heavier than what it was before baby. The irregularity of the cycle during breast feeding can be due to the following:
- breastfeeding frequency
- number of bottle supplements
- length of naps baby takes
- each woman's individual body chemistry
Generally, any time the stimulation to the breast is decreased, especially at night, menstruation is more likely to return soon after
2 Your Bodily Functions Will Not Be Your Own
Starting from your leaky breasts to your bleeding lady parts...you will have no control over some of your bodily functions.
Two of the most uncomfortable postpartum symptoms are constipation and incontinence. You will pee when you don't mean to and you won't be able to poo when you most want to.
As a matter of fact incontinence is directly associated with natural child birth, and can continue for weeks after giving before. Some women also experience it before giving birth, and for their entire lives after.
Causes of incontinence:
- weakened muscles around the bladder and pelvis
- uterus shrinkage will place it on the bladder compressing it
What to do? Odds are it won't last very long and the issue can be solved by using pads and kegel exercises which can help restrengthen weakened muscles.
Constipation during the postpartum phase is extremely uncomfortable, and most hospitals will not discharge patients unless they have had a bowel movement.
The reasons women have difficulty in going number two can vary, but mainly it is because:
- you may have already been constipated before due to the levels of the progesterone in your body
- your digestive system is in slow motion while you are in labour
- pain management medication can reduce bowel activity
- iron supplements
- stitches and haemorrhoids contributing to the pain
What to do? Be patient and use stool softeners...it will happen.
1 Your Baby May Need Extra Medical Care
One thing parents do not want to hear is that baby needs extra care after s/he is born. It may be something trivial, or it may be something more serious, but if you are not ready to receive the news, it can be heart breaking.
Although prenatal care and diagnostics have greatly reduced the chances of surprises once the little one is born, there is still a chance that he or she may not be well.
In addition, there are unforeseen circumstances which can contribute to an extended stay:
- baby may have jaundice due to a high bilirubin which can cause brain damage if not treated properly
- baby may aspirate meconium, mixed with the amniotic fluid, during vaginal birth, the fluid can block small airways and prevent the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide
- baby may experience trauma due to vacuuming during birth and in some cases may lead to skull fractures and bleeding
- baby may experience congenital dislocation of hips or shoulders
If baby is too weak to suckle form your breast you will be most likely asked to provide breast-milk for baby's extended stay.
So yes, expect lots of surprises during the very early stages of the baby's birth. Also know however, that every stage is a learning experience leading to you becoming an awesome parent!
Sources: helathline.com, evidencebasedbirth.com, WebMd.com, Mayo Clinic, Cdc.org, Parents.com