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WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER BIRTH: A GUIDE TO POSTPARTUM RECOVERY

With so much focus around the birth it's not surprising that post birth recovery isn't a topic that gets much airtime. So in case you’re to this whole birth thing here’s our day by day guide on how you’re gonna feel the first week after birth.

What to expect after giving birth during the postpartum fourth trimester

After the birth, focus tends to shift onto the baby. We act like our body recovers as soon as the baby is born. No discomfort, no crazy cocktail of hormones. How funny that in 2022 the postpartum period is still something that we find uncomfortable chatting about openly.


In the first few weeks after birth there will be so much going on with you, your body and mind. Everyone's birth experience is totally unique and so each postpartum recovery period varies too. That said there are lots of similarities whether you've had a vaginal or c-section delivery. Here's the low down on what to expect in the week after birth. Noting that the exact timelines and symptoms can vary from person to person.


Day 1

Your body will likely feel achy all over from the birth, in places you didn't even know you could feel pain.

You’ll have a postpartum bleeding or vaginal discharge called lochia after birth (whether vaginal or c-section). It is sort of like a really big period that goes on for up to six weeks. Time to pull out those maternity pads as the first week will be quite heavy and red. This will get lighter and change colour after a week or so. Unlike your period you are going to want to stay away from tampons and use maternity pads.


If you have gone into active labour and / or delivered vaginally you will have vaginal swelling. You may have tears or an episiotomy and it may feel sore to sit or burn a little when you wee, especially if you had stitches. At least one third of women in the UK and US have perineal tears that need stitches (Frolich and Kettle, 2015). There are quite a few items that will help make you more comfortable - our soothing perineal Bits Mist, Bits Bidet and Bits Therapy Ice Pack.


If you had a catheter, this will be removed. It is best to move around and use the bathroom to help with your reduce any stress or strain on your pelvic floor. Your midwife will usually ask you to measure how much wee you get before you're discharged from hospital to make sure your bladder is working as expected


If you give birth at the hospital you will be given paracetamol to ease the pain but if the pain is really bad, speak to your midwife.


If you have had a c-section you will have pain around your wound and may have quite significant bruising around your abdomen and legs. The bruising will fade over a number of weeks. Wear loose clothing to prevent further pressure on the wound. Moving maybe difficult but it is recommended you start to move around to prevent blood clots. Checkout our C-Section Recovery blog for more detailed info on what to expect after a c-section.


You will begin to have 'after pains' after delivery, they are sort of like period pains or mini contractions as your uterus contracts to its pre-pregnancy size. You may still look pregnant after birth. Your uterus is contracting but it can take up to 6 weeks to fully contract.


Your breasts will feel soft as you'll be producing thick colostrum rather than milk for the first few days.


Day 2

Continue drinking plenty and ensure you have fruit, vegetables and fibre rich foods in your diet to help with ‘the first poop’ to keep things regular and flowing! A lot of new mums are scared of the first poop, especially if you've had c-section or vaginal stitches. Try to relax as much as possible and take your time. Spraying warm water from your Squeezy Bits Bidet on your perineum helps too.


Your breasts will feel soft but begin to feel bigger as they become fuller and heavier.


Your c-section incision may still feel sore and this is completely normal. Look out for any signs of infection including any discharge or if it starts to smell.


Your postpartum bleeding will still be there. If you notice any large clots, if you are in hospital speak to you midwife if you are at home contact your GP.


Hemorrhoids may have made an appearance or have enlarged since the birth. This can cause itching or swelling.


If you are discharged from hospital pick up some Maternity Sheets to use at home so you don't risk staining your sheets.


After having the baby, it's really common to leak a bit of pee if you laugh, cough or when lifting the baby. This is because your pelvic floor has weakened during pregnancy and after giving birth. Start pelvic floor exercises when you feel up to it (no rush) as these can really help. If you have difficulties working with your pelvic floor or have little sensation then don't worry, just make sure to let your doctor . know during your 6 week check and they can refer you to a women's health physiotherapist.


If you are already at home, the midwife may plan their first visit to see you and baby. They midwife will check your stitches, if you had any, ask how you are feeling, check your breasts if you are breastfeeding and offer support & advice.


You may miss the feeling of being pregnant, especially the feeling of the baby moving inside you.


Day 3

Your breasts may feel pretty large and swollen around day 3 when your breastmilk starts to come in. We recommend applying hot / cold compress using our Breast Therapy Pack on them. You may worry they may be mahoosive forever but the will reduce in size in a few days.


Exhaustion maybe creeping in as the endorphins from giving birth slowly wear off. Also late night and early morning feeds start to catch up and can make you feel like you are a zombie, it will get easier over time we promise! Try to find moments when you can rest. Your body is recovering from carrying your baby for 9 months and birth, whether vaginal or c-section, and there is a lot of healing to do.


The health visitor will pop over to meet you and the baby, if you weren't given your baby's red book at the hospital they will give you one now. They will talk about the support health visitors offer and provide over the coming years and offer any advice, so maybe worthwhile having a list of questions drawn up before they arrive.


Day 4

You may notice a change in your mood or sudden bouts of teariness, also known as the 'baby blues'. This is believed to happen with the sudden change in hormones. It should pass within a few days but if you still feel emotional after this time, contact your healthcare provider.


Your breasts may still feel a little uncomfortable but should soften between feeds. The let down may also kick in leaving you with damp patches. Use Breast Pads to catch up milk while out and about or catch it to pick up any liquid cold to store. This may also be a time to begin using suction pump such as the Haakaa or Elvie Curve to build up a milk supply.


If you're breastfeeding your nipples maybe sore and chapped which is super common as you and your baby work on the latch and as your nipples get used to breastfeeding.


Day 5

You may still find yourself a rather emotional and have bouts of crying over the smallest thing. If you've had a particularly traumatic birth then you may find it helpful to speak with the hospital to see if they provide a listening service, so you can talk it through with someone. Or if you feel comfortable speak with a friend.


You may still feel quite sore after your c-section but may find it easier to move around.


You may wake up completely soaked due to something called night sweats. They are caused by your hormone levels trying to help your body to remove all the excess fluids. They will usually take a few weeks to subside.


There may be some itchiness to your c-section incision but this is a sign it is healing so try not to irritate it more by scratching it. Wear loose breathable clothes to prevent further irritation.


Day 6-7

Your postpartum bleeding will be slightly lighter in colour but don't worry if it isn't yet everybody's changes slightly differently.


Emotionally you may still be feeling quite fragile but if you are feeling extremely anxious, not sleeping or feel you may harm your baby. Speak with your GP, midwife or health visitor and there are also charities dedicated to helping if you are struggling or feeling low.


Your nipples may be feeling rough and if they feel like lightening every time your baby latches contact your GP or midwife for support and to make sure it doesn't develop into mastitis.


You may want to get out and about for walks, this is great, but go gently as your body is still recovering. As you walk you may get more swollen in the vaginal area so try to increase distance gradually.


Week 2 Onwards - Self Care

You'll likely still be feeling some discomfort, but hopefully are seeing some improvement now you're past the first week. As new mums we have a tendency to focus so much on the baby and forget to take care of ourselves. So we're here to remind you that your wellness is a priority too. Now's the time to book in some well deserved me-time. We totally recommend booking in for a postnatal massage to soothe those aches and pains.


Here's our handy quick guide for a recap.

A guide for post birth recovery postpartum and fourth trimester

Handy Resources

There are lots of organisations with excellent resources to help you with your postpartum journey.


Pandas Foundation

www.pandasfoundation.org.uk/

trusted support service for families and their networks who may be suffering with perinatal mental illness, including prenatal (antenatal) and postnatal depression


Association for Post Natal Illness - APNI

www.apni.org

Provides support to mothers with postnatal depression. The Association has a countrywide network of phone, e-mail and postal volunteers, who have had, and recovered from post-natal illness.


The Breastfeeding Network:

www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/

The Breastfeeding Network (BfN) aims to be an independent source of support and information for breastfeeding


Masic Foundation

www.masic.org.uk/about-masic/

The MASIC Foundation is the only multi-disciplinary UK charity to support women who have suffered severe perineal injuries during childbirth known as OASI (Obstetric Anal Sphincter Injury).


Birth Trauma Association

www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/

A charity that supports women who suffer birth trauma


Pelvic Partnership: www.pelvicpartnership.org.uk/

The Pelvic Partnership provides women and healthcare professionals with information about best practice for the treatment and management of pregnancy-related Pelvic Girdle Pain, and to enable and empower women to access the right treatment.


Why Mums Don't Jump:

www.whymumsdontjump.com/

Busting taboos about leaks & lumps after childbirth. A kick ass podcast about incontinence, prolapse and pelvic pain.


Please bear in mind that everyone’s birth and recovery is different so symptoms and timelines may vary from person to person. Always seek medical guidance from you doctor or midwife.


Sources

https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/after-the-birth/your-body/


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