It took your body nine months to prepare for the birth of your baby. Now that your bundle of joy is here, it’s going to take a bit of time to adjust to having your old body back – especially if you’ve had a C-section (and I guess it never really is your old body, is it?).
At this point, you may have forgotten what it’s like to not be pregnant. Swollen breasts, aches, pains, and fatigue – these are all part of your new reality for the next while. You might even experience problems throughout recovery you wouldn’t relate with post-birth, such as constipation. Here are some tips to get you through the recovery process.
7 Sore and Engorged Breasts
Your breasts may have been tender during your pregnancy, but they will feel worse now that you’ve given birth. They will be engorged – full of milk—and be heavy and hard. Some women even feel feverish and breasts may feel warm to touch.
Engorgement happens for the first time in the days and weeks after you’ve had your baby. Two to four days after delivery, your milk will come in. This is a change from the thin, clear colostrum you may have fed your baby in the first few hours.
If you’re able to breastfeed your baby, feed him/her on demand to relieve some of that pressure. Let your baby finish feeding on one breast before switching to another. If you are still having some discomfort, you can express the rest of the milk by hand to rid yourself of that fullness. If you are having some problems with latching, see a lactation consultant for some tips on how to make the process easier.
What If I Can’t Breastfeed?
The reality is that not everyone wants to or can breastfeed. If this is the case, you’ll have to find a way to relieve the pressure in your heavy breasts. Here are some methods of relief:
- Apply a cold pack or crushed ice in a plastic bag to your breasts.
- Use an over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Expressing a little milk should also do the trick, without encouraging your body to produce more milk. That is the last thing you’ll want at this point.
- Wear a supportive and comfortable maternity bra at night.
- Place fresh cabbage leaves on your chest to help draw out excess fluid. Just be sure to change the leaves regularly when they become wet.
6 Dealing with Constipation
The dreaded “number two” can be a source of stress for new moms. It can be very normal to not have a bowel movement for a few days after giving birth. At least 20 percent of new moms suffer from mild constipation after having their babies. You may even be avoiding that trip to the toilet because the thought of having to push again is just too daunting.
Some of the causes of constipation include:
- A slower digestion system during labour
- Any pain relievers given during your delivery can be binding
- If you’re anemic, you may have been given iron supplements
- Severe tearing during delivery
Because you’re probably not completely unfamiliar with the concept of constipation, you might know that it can be helpful to drink a lot of water, make an effort to eat foods high in fiber, and avoid cheese like the plague (it is a delicious plague, though).
5 Healing From a Caesarean Section
A Caesarean section (or C-section, as it is commonly called) is considered major abdominal surgery. Recovery won’t take overnight. In fact, it generally takes six weeks before you’re considered fully recovered (and that’s providing there are no complications along the way).
Ultimately, take the time to rest as much as possible. I know, I know -- easier said than done. This is the perfect time to lean on your partner and loved ones as much as possible. Someone else can look after the cooking and cleaning for a bit while you sleep. If you’re in pain, don’t be afraid to take pain relievers recommended by your doctor, as they will make you more comfortable.
As tempting as it may be, try not to lift anything heavier than the weight of your baby until your abdominal muscles get stronger. So, if your baby is 10 lbs., that is the maximum weight you should be lifting.
If You See Signs of Infection…
Be on the lookout for the signs of infection. If your incision area looks red and swollen, or is leaking discharge, this is the time to call the doctor. You may also develop a fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or experience tearing.
4 Post-Delivery Intercourse
You’ve barely slept in days. You’ve pretty much forgotten what the word “free time” means. The baby is finally sleeping and you have a teeny bit of time to yourself. Do you sleep, or use that time to be intimate with your partner? If sleep can wait, and you’re in the mood, keep some things in mind before engaging in intercourse again.
You should wait until you are no longer bleeding before having sex. You could bleed for up to three weeks after delivery. This is simply because the wound left in your uterus by the placenta has to heal. You risk infection otherwise. Your body has been through a lot, and, if you experienced any kind of tearing during delivery, this will take time to heal.
Make sure you’re emotionally ready as well to enjoy intercourse. You have just been through an emotional roller coaster, so be patient with yourself. If you don’t feel ready to “go all the way,” there are plenty of other ways to be intimate with the one you love. Kissing, hugging, fondling – these are all ways to experience the closeness you may desire.
3 Healing From an Episiotomy
Vaginal delivery can put great strain on the perineum (the area between the vagina and anus). The perineum may tear during delivery, which can take a long time to heal. Your doctor may decide to do an episiotomy (a small, clean incision in the perineum) to make a wider opening for a baby’s head. The theory behind this is that a surgical incision will require less healing than a tear. Regardless, it can be painful after delivery.
The deeper the cut or tear is, the longer the healing will take. A first-degree tear may not even require stitches, whereas a second-degree tear, which involves skin and muscle, could take two or three weeks to heal. A severe tear that extends to the rectum may cause pain for a month or more.
You are more likely to have trouble urinating or having bowel movements in the first while after coming home.
What if my stitches are sore?
- Try a warm bath and pat your stitches dry afterward
- Place a cooled gel pack on your stitches
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen
- Practice some pelvic floor muscle exercises (given to you by your doctor) to speed healing and strengthen the area
2 Dealing with “After Pains” (Postpartum Cramps)
After birth, your uterus will contract in order to get back to its pre-pregnancy size. It can cause mild cramping in first-time moms and tend to intensify in subsequent pregnancies. This is simply because first-time mothers have better uterine muscle tone.
Cramping will be worse the first day or two after giving birth and usually tapers off by the third day. Breastfeeding can also trigger more intense cramps because the baby’s sucking triggers the release of oxytocin. This, in turn, causes contractions.
How Can I Help the Pain?
- Urinate as often as you can to reduce pressure in your belly
- A massage of the lower belly can help, so encourage your partner to give you some one-on-one time
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen
1 The Baby Blues
As wonderful as being a mother is, it’s also a completely overwhelming experience. The uncertainty of being a parent, mixed with pure exhaustion, can be a bad combination. For new moms it is even more overwhelming. Studies show that up to 80 percent of new moms experience what is referred to as “the baby blues” or “postpartum blues.”
This is caused by both physical and emotional changes going on in your life. Hormonally, levels will drop when your milk production comes in. You may be anxious about whether you’re properly caring for this little miracle you have brought into the world. Perhaps you even have some doubts about the entire thing. Did you do the right thing? Can you do this? These are natural feelings and nothing to feel guilty about. The transition to motherhood is not always a smooth one.
Luckily, baby blues by themselves are nothing to worry about and tend to pass relatively quickly, as your body and mind adjust to your new life.
What Is the Best Way to Handle Baby Blues?
Above all, a woman suffering from baby blues needs to be understood and to be listened to. Maybe she needs a good cry or just a good, long nap. Supportive family members can help her by making meals, assisting with housework, and caring for the baby. Visitors may need to be kept to a minimum so she can get some rest. Sleep deprivation makes even the most logical situation seem illogical.
If things are not getting better, watch for signs of postpartum depression. This is when baby blues extend way past two or three weeks and can be very serious if left untreated. Seeking professional support is wise at this stage.
Recovery from delivery can be a whirlwind of an experience for mothers. New moms are particularly vulnerable due to the complete lack of experience. Following your doctor’s orders and learning to rely on your partner and loved ones will help make recovery easier. The goal is to feel better so you can enjoy your beautiful bundle of joy that much faster.
Your body just gave birth to a human being after 9 months of supporting her, so try to be patient with your physical and emotional recovery. If you didn’t come out of birth with some lingering pains, you didn’t come out of birth at all.