What to Expect After Birth: Your Guide to Postpartum Recovery
When you’re pregnant, you spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how to have the healthiest pregnancy possible and properly prepare yourself for the challenge of labor and delivery. But, there’s another equally important thing to think about if you are an expectant mother: your postpartum period.
Pregnancy is a huge change for your body, and it’s a journey that will continue to affect your body long after you give birth to your little one in the hospital. It takes nine months for your body to prepare itself for delivery, and can take just as long (or longer) to get back to your pre-pregnancy body.
So, if you’re wondering what to expect after birth and how to recover after delivery, you’ve come to the right place. While your doctor is always the best person to guide you through what to expect after delivery, and the information presented in this article should not be taken as medical advice, it is a helpful first step for what to know after giving birth.
Want to learn more? Read below for an extensive guide of things to expect after giving birth today.
What to Expect Postpartum
When it comes to what to expect after childbirth, there are a few things you should know first.
Your doctor is always the best person to educate you on what to expect after you have a baby. You will need to have regular postpartum appointments to ensure your body is healing properly and all of your questions and concerns are addressed by a qualified medical professional. No information you find on the internet can replace the expertise of your doctor.
You should also be aware that every woman’s postpartum experience is different, just as every woman’s pregnancy and labor is. While there are certain things most women can expect after their birth, they may not always apply to your situation. Again, this is why a medical professional is so important; they can determine if what you are experiencing is normal or a cause for concern.
Finally, how to heal after giving birth will vary based on your delivery procedure — that is, whether you delivered vaginally or through a cesarean-section. In this article, we’ll focus on the healing period after a vaginal birth, as it is still the most common way for women to deliver their babies. If you want to learn more about how to recover after giving birth via C-section, please speak with your doctor.
What to Expect Immediately After Giving Birth
Before we get into what to expect post-pregnancy, it’s important that you are ready for what to expect immediately after giving birth. You may not know this, but after you deliver your child, you will also need to deliver the placenta. For most women, this is delivered about 30 to 60 minutes after your baby.
Once the placenta is delivered, your uterus will start to contract (either naturally or after medication) to prevent excessive bleeding. Your genital area will be cleaned and repaired (with stitches, if necessary), and a sanitary pad will be placed underneath for any residual blood. You will be given underwear with pads, as you will experience vaginal bleeding after birth. If you are breastfeeding, you will start this process, and a lactation specialist will be available should you need one.
Because your uterus and abdominal muscles are stretched during pregnancy and delivery, you will still have a “baby belly” after birth. You may also experience stomach cramps as your uterus continues to contract, most notably when you breastfeed. You can also expect some difficulties going to the bathroom after delivery; urinating and defecating can cause pain in the sore muscles around your perineum.
Finally, you will be pretty sore after delivery. Your muscles will need to heal from the stretching and swelling of pregnancy and delivery, and it may hurt to sit down at first. This soreness will take time to go away.
What to Expect Post-Pregnancy
A lot of the things that you experience immediately after birth will continue to be postpartum symptoms for weeks and even months after delivery. As mentioned, it takes a great deal of time to heal from childbirth. Most women feel mostly recovered by six to eight weeks, but it may take longer for you. This is normal; how to heal after giving birth is different for everyone and occurs on different timetables.
There are a few common things to expect after giving birth vaginally:
- Abdominal Pain: Your uterus will continue to shrink back to its normal size and shape over the next few weeks, and this often causes pain and cramping, known as “afterpains.”
- Constipation: It’s normal to have difficulty passing stool after childbirth. Some pain medications slow down your bowels. Sometimes, it’s simply fear of reopening wounds and the pain of stretching overworked muscles that lead women to avoid bowel movements.
- Hemorrhoids: On the same note, you may have developed swelling of veins in the rectum during your pregnancy or delivery. These can cause additional pain and bleeding after a bowel movement.
- Soreness of the Perineum: The muscles around and between your vagina and anus are stretched immensely during vaginal childbirth, and they may even tear. Whether you require stitches or not, your perineum will likely be sore and swollen after childbirth.
- Sore Nipples and Breasts: If you are breastfeeding your child, there will be an adjustment period of soreness. Don’t be afraid to contact a lactation specialist if the pain does not ease up more than a few days after delivery.
- Vaginal Bleeding and Discharge: Whether you deliver vaginally or by C-section, you will experience vaginal bleeding and discharge (called lochia) after delivery. This eliminates extra blood and tissue used to grow and nourish your baby. Heavy bleeding can last up to 10 days, and light bleeding can continue for up to six weeks after delivery.
- Hormonal Shifts: Changes in hormones can cause side effects such as night sweats, hair loss and more. Your body is going through a huge adjustment, and hormone changes are an important part of how to heal after giving birth.
- Mood Swings: Because of changing hormones and the new changes in your life after bringing your baby home, you may go from overjoyed to sad in minutes — without knowing why. These mood swings are normal and are commonly known as “baby blues.” There is also the potential for developing postpartum depression after delivery.
How to Recover After Giving Birth
While what you actually experience in the list of things to expect after giving birth will vary, there are a few common tips that you will want to incorporate into your daily routine if you have delivered vaginally. As always, talk with your doctor about what he or she recommends for you after childbirth.
If he or she gives you the go-ahead, make sure to follow these tips for how to recover after delivery:
- Wear pads (not tampons!) to absorb the flow of vaginal bleeding and discharge.
- Take acetaminophen for pain relief.
- Keep your perineal area clean and comfortable with cold packs; warm sitz baths; local anesthetic spray, cream, or ointment; squirting the area with warm water after going to the bathroom; wearing loose clothing; and doing Kegel exercises when you feel up to it.
- Take it easy and listen to your body; avoid heavy lifting and other strenuous activity for a few weeks after delivery.
- Drink lots of fluids and eat fiber-rich foods to induce urination and bowel movements.
- Use warm compresses on any sore areas, like the abdomen and the breasts.
When it comes to what to know after giving birth, don’t forget to take stock of your mental state, too. Make sure you have a support system to help you out during this time, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed, angry or depressed. For those women who have chosen adoption, their physical postpartum will likely go quicker with no baby to take care of, but their mental health can be in a vulnerable state for months (or even years) to come. Support is so important during your postpartum recovery, so don’t hesitate to reach out to loved ones if you need it.
In addition, don’t forget about your postpartum checkups. It’s recommended that you see your doctor within the first three weeks of giving birth and follow up with regular check-ins as needed. Be ready to talk to your doctor about any postpartum side effects that worry you. Your doctor will help you understand what to expect after labor and delivery, however long it has been since you delivered.
With the proper care and the foresight of knowing exactly what to expect after you give birth, you can have a successful postpartum healing process!
Need help finding an obstetrician for your prenatal and postpartum care? Start your search here.