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What to expect when you’re recovering from delivery

Your baby’s finally here, and you’re thrilled. But you’re also exhausted, uncomfortable, on an emotional roller coaster, and wondering whether you’ll ever fit into your jeans again.

Childbirth classes helped prepare you for giving birth, but you weren’t prepared for all of this!

What to expect physically in the first few weeks

After your baby arrives, you’ll notice some changes — both physical and emotional.

Physically, you might experience:

  • Sore breasts. Your breasts may be painfully engorged for several days when your milk comes in and your nipples may be sore.
  • Constipation. The first postpartum bowel movement may be a few days after delivery, and sensitive hemorrhoids, healing episiotomies, and sore muscles can make it painful.
  • Episiotomy. If your perineum (the area of skin between the vagina and the anus) was cut by your doctor or if it was torn during the birth, the stitches may make it painful to sit or walk for a little while during healing. It also can be painful when you cough or sneeze during the healing time.
  • Hemorrhoids. Although common, hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels in the rectum) are frequently unexpected.
  • Hot and cold flashes. Your body’s adjustment to new hormone and blood flow levels can wreak havoc on your internal thermostat.
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence. The stretching of your muscles during delivery can cause you to inadvertently pass urine when you cough, laugh or strain, or may make it difficult to control your bowel movements, especially if a lengthy labor preceded a vaginal delivery.
  • “After pains.” After giving birth, your uterus will continue to have contractions for a few days. These are most noticeable when your baby nurses or when you’re given medication to reduce bleeding.
  • Vaginal discharge (lochia). Initially heavier than your period and often containing clots, vaginal discharge gradually fades to white or yellow and then stops within several weeks.
  • Weight. Your postpartum weight will probably be about 12 or 13 lbs. (the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid) below your full-term weight, before additional water weight drops off within the first week as your body regains its balance.

Emotionally, you may be feeling:

  • “Baby blues.” Many new moms experience irritability, sadness, crying or anxiety, beginning within days or weeks after giving birth. These baby blues are very common and may be related to physical changes (including hormonal changes, exhaustion and unexpected birth experiences) and the emotional transition as you adjust to changing roles and your new baby. Baby blues usually go away within a week.
  • Postpartum depression (PPD). More serious and longer lasting than the baby blues, this condition is present in 10% to 25% of new moms and may cause mood swings, anxiety, guilt and persistent sadness. PPD can be diagnosed up to a year after giving birth, and it’s more common in women with a history of depression, multiple life stressors, and a family history of depression.

In addition, when it comes to sexual relations, you and your partner may be on completely different pages. Your partner may be ready to pick up where you left off before baby’s arrival, whereas you may not feel comfortable enough and want nothing more than a good night’s sleep. Doctors often ask women to wait several weeks before having sex to allow healing to occur.

The healing process

It took your body months to prepare to give birth, and it takes time to recover. If you’ve had a cesarean section (C-section), it can take even longer because surgery requires a longer healing time. If unexpected, it may have also raised emotional issues.

Pain is greatest the first few days after the surgery and should gradually subside. Your doctor will advise you on precautions to take after surgery, and give you directions for bathing and how to begin gentle exercises to speed recovery and help avoid constipation.

Things to know:

  • Drink 8-10 glasses of water daily.
  • Expect vaginal discharge.
  • Avoid stairs and lifting until your doctor says these activities are OK.
  • Don’t drive until your doctor says it’s OK. Also wait until you can make sudden movements and wear a safety belt properly without discomfort.
  • If the incision becomes red or swollen, call your doctor.

When to call the doctor

You should call your doctor about your postpartum health if you:

  • experience a fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or above
  • soak more than one sanitary napkin an hour, pass large clots, or if the bleeding increases
  • had a C-section or episiotomy and the incision becomes very red or swollen or drains pus
  • have new pain, swelling, or tenderness in your legs
  • have hot-to-the-touch, reddened, sore breasts or any cracking or bleeding from the nipple or areola (the dark-colored area of the breast)
  • find your vaginal discharge has become foul-smelling
  • have painful urination or a sudden urge to urinate or inability to control urination
  • have increasing pain in the vaginal area
  • develop a cough or chest pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • become depressed or experience hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, or any thoughts of harming your baby

While recovering from delivery can be a lot to handle, things will get easier. Before you know it, you will be able to fully focus on enjoying your new baby.

© 2012.  Article adapted from The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. Used under license.

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