If you just had a baby, let us congratulate yourself on growing a human being inside your body for forty weeks! It’s an incredible feat, and absolutely normal to see changes from head to toe. In the short term (6 weeks post-partum), there are many temporary aches and pains to deal with as your body begins to settle back into its pre-pregnancy state.
General postpartum symptoms
- Many women experience post-birth chills and shaking in the hours after giving birth. This should subside within a few minutes or hours. A warm blanket will make you more comfortable.
- You will have a post-birth bump for six to eight weeks as the uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. Some new mothers in Hong Kong opt for specialized treatments after birth to increase circulation and perhaps reduce their post-birth bumps and lose water weight more quickly. With the nod from your OBGYN these can be done soon after birth. Treatments such as abdominal binding, Jamu massage and manual lymph draining are a good way to take some time out for yourself and improve circulation.
- Lochia is the vaginal discharge, made up of blood, mucus and tissue you can expect after a vaginal or C-section birth. It will be dark red for the first three days post-delivery and you may pass small blood clots. From the fourth to tenth day post-delivery, it will be more watery and pinkish or brownish in color. After about two weeks, lochia will be creamy or yellowish and can last for up to two months. Ensure you have a stash of maternity pads (available at many grocery stores and pharmacies) for your first few weeks.
- Many new mothers experience an increase in perspiration, especially at night as their hormones settle after giving birth. A lot of this perspiration is the water weight you lose within a few weeks of giving birth and is a good reason to keep your fluid intake up. Sleeping on top of a towel can make you a bit more comfortable.
Perineal and elimination postpartum issues
- If you had a natural birth, you will have perineal soreness as your perineum stretches and may tear during birth. With a tear or episiotomy, you may be sore for up to two weeks. Bring an ice pack wrapped in a towel and a spray bottle with cold distilled water to the hospital in order to soothe the area after urination to help ease the pain. When you return home, if you are still sore, take a sitz bath with Epsom salts to soothe and keep the area clean.
- As a result of a natural birth tear or episiotomy, or a catheter during an assisted natural birth or C-section, you may have trouble urinating in the first few days. Some of this may be a very normal psychological aversion after the trauma of birth. In the delicate first few days after birth, it’s important to keep your fluids up as you will be losing a lot of water.
- Contrary to our last point, you can also experience urinary incontinence which may be worse when you cough, laugh or sneeze. It’s important to begin strengthening the pelvic floor with Kegel exercises as soon as you feel comfortable doing so.
- Constipation is also a common post-birth side effect. Like urination, many women are nervous about their first bowel movement. Drinking fluids and plenty of fibrous foods (fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, a fibre supplement) will make the process run much more smoothly.
Other postpartum pain
- In order to return to its original size, you will have uterine contractions for up to six weeks post-partum. They may be more noticeable during breastfeeding.
- If you had a C-section, you will experience soreness around the incision and may need medication for one to two weeks. With your medical team’s approval, you will likely be moving within 24 hours of your surgery – the longer you wait, the more challenging it will be. C-section abdominal binders and belts are available at many hospitals and pharmacies and can be very helpful to protect the incision area as well as support your back as you move around.
- The change in your posture during pregnancy, the effects of childbirth and the day-to-day caring for your baby can all lead to back pain. To ease back pain, make sure you protect your back while bending to pick up your baby and consider a breastfeeding pillow to avoid being hunched over during the many, many hours you will spend feeding. Binders and belts can help support the back but won’t make your tummy disappear!
- Breast engorgement is a swelling of the breasts and is another reason to bring an ice pack (or 2) to the hospital! While feeding or pumping is the only way to ‘cure’ engorgement, there are many things you can do to ease the discomfort: applying cold, warmth, gentle massage, and cold cabbage leaves. You can expect to experience breast engorgement for a few days after birth, regardless of whether you are breastfeeding. Breasts will be warm, hard and heavy. It occurs as a result of several factors:
- in the first two to five days after birth as your milk comes in;
- if you miss a feed or two; or
- if you suddenly stop breastfeeding.
- If you are breastfeeding, you can expect some breast discharge. Disposable or washable bra inserts can be found at many mom and baby stores and will help you avoid any embarrassing shirt stains.
Postpartum depression and mental health
- Have a family member/partner/helper/someone you trust watch the baby while you catch up on sleep. Ideally this should be out of earshot so you can sleep undisturbed – even half an hour helps.
- Leave your baby with someone while you do something that connects you to your pre-baby self – pampering yourself, exercising, or visiting friends are some suggestions.
- In moments of desperation, place the baby somewhere safe (cot, fastened in the pram etc.) and go to the other room or in the shower to take some deep breaths. Just a few minutes’ break will make a difference.
- Making connections with women who have given birth at a similar time as you can go a very long way toward maintaining sanity. The WhatsApp messages you will exchange when you’re awake at 3 am will make you feel less alone. Now that you’re working on a 24-hour, 7-days a week clock, having friends available who you can talk to about dirty diapers at 10am on a Tuesday will make you feel like you have a social life.
Managing your postpartum health – Preparation is key
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