When you’re pregnant, you might have an idea of what to expect in the first few weeks with your new baby—crying, sleeping, diaper changes, frequent feedings. But some women don’t quite know what to expect from their own bodies as they recover from the birth process.
Here are a few things you might experience as you recover from any kind of birth experience, whether vaginal or C-section.
Whether you deliver vaginally or via C-section, you can expect to experience vaginal bleeding as your body expels the tissue and blood that supported your baby during pregnancy. The bleeding will be heavy and bright red at first, and gradually decrease over time. This bleeding could last for several weeks, until around six weeks postpartum (We know. No fun.).
And remember—no tampons for at least six weeks after birth (or whenever you’re cleared by your provider). Tampons can increase the chance of infection due to unhealed areas where the placenta was attached. Heavy flow sanitary pads will be your go-to at first, and some new mamas even opt for disposable underwear or adult diapers until the heavy bleeding subsides. If you are passing large clots or bleeding through a pad or more an hour, call your doctor right away to rule out postpartum hemorrhage.
While this might seem like a no brainer, it’s important to remember that your body will go through a really intense birth process, no matter how you deliver. So even if you had an easy labor and delivery, chances are you’ll feel soreness in the first few weeks after birth. Cramping (similar to bad period cramps) happen in the first week or two as your uterus continues to shrink down to normal and can often feel worse if you’re breastfeeding.
If you deliver vaginally, your perineum area can feel really tender, swollen and painful for several weeks after birth. If you don’t tear, you might notice an improvement after three weeks or so; however, if you experience tearing or need an episiotomy it may be a bit longer.
Typically, mamas who need some stitches after delivery will notice that their wound heals up in seven to 10 days. However, the soreness and discomfort could last six weeks or more. If your soreness continues and you don't notice any improvement, schedule some time with your provider to discuss how to ease your discomfort.
C-section mamas can expect to experience soreness around their incision site, and in the abdominal area—after all, a C-section is a major surgery. You might experience a good amount of tenderness doing things like sitting up or getting out of bed for the first week or two. Experiment with rolling onto your side and pressing yourself up to help with the discomfort, and be sure to follow doctor's orders and take it easy as your body heals. We know some mamas want to be up and active after delivery, but it’s truly important to rest, heal, and snuggle with your sweet baby.
Constipation after giving birth is something you might not know to expect, but it's extremely common and has the potential to make going to the bathroom after delivery an intense experience, to say the least. Make sure you’re drinking a lot of fluids, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables to help keep your stool soft and easier to pass. If you’re not finding any relief, talk to your provider or nurse about an over-the-counter stool softener.
Hemorrhoids are a fact of postpartum life for some mamas. And whether you're aware of this possibility or not, it's good to prepare yourself to expect them. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the rectal area, and they can cause itching, pain, swelling and even bleeding during bowel movements.
Why do they happen? During pregnancy, pressure on the veins below your uterus can cause them to become enlarged (the same reason you might notice some varicose veins appear). The intense pushing during labor can also inflame, or even cause, hemorrhoids.
To get some relief from hemorrhoids:
- Use cold compresses with soothing witch hazel
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time to decrease the pressure on your veins.
- Soak your bottom using a sitz bath (a small basin that you fill with warm water and place over your toilet).
- Use soft, unscented toilet paper and your peri bottle to clean your bottom well after using the bathroom.
- Talk to your provider about over-the-counter treatments (including pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen). There are many over-the-counter hemorrhoid relief creams and suppositories on the market, but consulting with your provider will help ensure you're using one that is safe. For example, if you have stitches extending to your rectum, suppositories are not recommended.
In the days and weeks after delivery you might find yourself feeling sad, weepy or simply overwhelmed. And while it’s not an enjoyable way to feel, it’s fairly common for brand new mamas. The big swing in hormones, coupled with lack of sleep and feeling anxious about learning how to care for a new human can all contribute to the Baby Blues. While these feelings are normal, pay attention to how you’re feeling. If your feelings of sadness last for more than two weeks, schedule some time with your provider who will be able to determine if you have something more serious like postpartum anxiety or depression.
We know—this might sound like a lot of things to deal with postpartum. But try not to feel overwhelmed. Not all mamas experience all of these things. The truth is that preparing for these possibilities will help you feel more ready should they happen, and can help you anticipate how to find some relief. Chat with your provider and other mamas for tips and tricks on how to help you recover and keep comfortable postpartum. They can provide a wealth of information!