After the birth of your baby, the changes that pregnancy brought on are gradually reversed, and your body will begin to return to its non-pregnant state. The time required for this process varies depending on the type of delivery you had and any other medical conditions you may have.
As your uterus shrinks, the muscle fibers contract, causing afterbirth pains. Afterbirth pains help the uterus return to its normal size and reduce blood loss after delivery. These contractions are much less painful than labor contractions and are the most noticeable during the first three to four days following birth. You may notice increased contractions when you are breastfeeding.
Showers are usually fine as soon as you are able to walk after giving birth. Sitz or tub baths are usually safe after the second day postpartum, and can help relieve discomfort due to hemorrhoids, soreness, episiotomy or vaginal discharge. Douching is not recommend until after your postpartum checkup.
Your vagina, which has stretched to accommodate the birth of your baby, gradually returns to its previous condition by the end of your third postpartum week. The muscles in your pelvic floor and other supporting structures may not return to normal for six to seven weeks after the birth of your baby. If you had an episiotomy during delivery, it should heal in four to six weeks.
Some women may require catheters after birth because their bladders may not empty. It is very important that you try to empty your bladder every three to four hours while in the hospital, especially immediately following your baby's birth. Because your body needs to get rid of extra fluid that caused swelling in your hands and legs late in your pregnancy, you may notice that you eliminate large amounts of urine during the first few days after delivery.
Hormones, medication, dehydration, perineal pain and decreased physical activity may make your bowel function sluggish after birth. You can expect to have a bowel movement within two to three days after delivery. Temporary constipation is not harmful, but can cause you to feel full and experience gas. If needed, a laxative or stool softener may provide relief from constipation and hemorrhoids that develop during and after labor. You should also be sure to eat a variety of high-fiber foods and drink lots of water. If you are breastfeeding, you should consult your physician before taking any medication, including laxatives.
The vigorous bearing down during labor can sometimes cause bleeding beneath the white of your eye. This usually clears by itself in a few weeks without special treatment.
You should get up and move around as soon as possible after birth, but you should check with your physician or nurse to make sure it is safe. Moving around minimizes the risk of blood clots in the veins of your pelvis and lower extremities and helps to improve bladder and bowel function.
Talk to your physician about when you can begin light exercise, such as Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor and help prevent bladder control problems. Walking at a leisurely pace is another great form of exercise in the weeks after giving birth. You should be able to gradually increase the intensity and frequency of your exercise sessions as your body returns to normal.
A few weeks after giving birth, you may notice that you are losing large amounts of hair. This is a common problem that should resolve itself in a few months.
Hemorrhoids are best treated by cold compresses, topical ointments and pain medications prescribed by your health care provider. A stool softener or laxative may help prevent further irritation. Severe pain from hemorrhoids may also cause constipation. If you are experiencing pain or irritation, you should contact your physician.
If you had an episiotomy, you should be sure to change your sanitary pad frequently and clean your perineum with lukewarm water two to three times a day after urination and bowel movements to reduce the risk of infection. You should use a handheld shower, a squeeze bottle or a sitz bath to cleanse the episiotomy site.
You may also want to use antiseptic spray or antibiotic cream to provide relief. Antiseptic towelettes and toilet paper can be used to pat the perineum dry. You should also be sure to wipe and wash from front to back to prevent contamination and avoid infection. Keeping your episiotomy site clean and dry will help it to heal more quickly.
If you are breastfeeding, your menstrual cycle will usually be delayed. Most women will get their first period within seven to nine weeks after giving birth. If you are nursing, you will probably resume having menstrual periods by 12 weeks postpartum, but you may not have a period until you stop breastfeeding. Your body may begin producing eggs prior to the start of your menstrual cycle, making pregnancy possible.
In the first couple of days following childbirth, you may feel muscle aches and fatigue in your shoulders, neck and arms as a result of the physical exertion of labor. Joint stiffness in the hands is common due to a natural redistribution of fluids that occurs after pregnancy. You may also find that your abdominal muscles are weak, soft and flabby after giving birth. Sometimes, your abdominal muscles can separate with a bulge in between them. Your health care provider can suggest some helpful exercises and provide guidance on when it is safe to begin exercising.
Your physician will let you know when it is safe to resume sexual activity. You should discuss resuming sex with your partner to prevent frustrations and misunderstandings. You may experience a decreased sex drive due to fatigue and the time demands of your baby, and you may be concerned about discomfort if you had a tear, episiotomy or cesarean incision.
When you resume sexual activity, you can expect vaginal dryness due to the hormones of pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is safe to use a water-soluble cream or jelly to help with this problem. If difficulty with sexual intercourse persists, you should talk to your physician.
Many skin changes are caused by an increase in hormones during pregnancy. Skin changes, such as rashes, tiny red blood vessel spots, blotchiness on your face or a dark line on your lower abdomen, will gradually disappear several months after childbirth. Stretch marks will usually fade to silvery lines, but do not disappear completely.
During pregnancy, the weight of your uterus will increase to more than two pounds, which is approximately 11 times its non-pregnancy weight. After the birth of your baby, it will take some time for your uterus to shrink back to its normal weight, which is a mere two ounces.
The discharge from your vagina following birth is called lochia. During the first few days after your baby's birth, you will experience a discharge similar to your menstrual flow. Three to four days after birth, the discharge becomes more watery and pale. By the second week, lochia is thicker and more yellowish in color. After four weeks, as your uterine lining heals, the discharge decreases substantially.
If you developed varicose veins during pregnancy, leg elevation and use of elastic support hose when walking or standing are recommended for the first six weeks postpartum. If your varicose veins do not improve within six months of giving birth, you should talk to your physician about treatment or surgery.
You probably won't return to your pre-pregnancy weight for some time after the birth of your baby, but you can expect to lose a significant amount of weight immediately after delivery. Most new moms are about 12 pounds lighter after giving birth. More weight loss typically occurs during the postpartum period as your body's fluid levels return to normal. If you need to lose more weight, your physician can provide guidance on safe exercises and nutritious eating programs. Do not diet or starve yourself, as healthy eating is required to help you maintain a strong postpartum body.
It is normal to experience the “baby blues” after giving birth. Learn more about postpartum depression or call your doctor for more information.
Learn more about our new mom support groups.
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