If you have recently given birth to a baby, you already know your body is adjusting to no longer being pregnant. If you are pregnant, you might be concerned about the changes that lie ahead for you. All women experience a transition phase after giving birth that can increase in severity depending on the type of birth and any difficulties experienced during labor and delivery.
What can women expect in the days and weeks after childbirth?
Some pain is normal after childbirth. Most women are exhausted, yet still exhilarated, in the hours after their child is born. They feel achy and tired, and this feeling might continue for a few days after childbirth. These feelings are exacerbated as your body adjusts to breastfeeding and an unusual sleep schedule.
Localized pain can also occur in the body following childbirth. Many women experience uterine contractions as the body adjusts to no longer having a baby inside it. These contractions usually last about a week and are not extreme. Usually, a heating pad is enough to ease the discomfort.
Women who give birth vaginally will likely experience tenderness in the genital area, including the perineum. This is the area between the vagina and anus that sometimes needs to be cut during the birth process. This is called an episiotomy and when the procedure is not performed, tearing can occur. If you experience perineum pain, you can apply a cold pack to the area, relax in a warm bath, apply healing creams, or try over-the-counter painkillers. Be sure to speak with your doctor before using any pain relief measures, especially if you are breastfeeding. Women who experience stinging or burning during urination can use warm water to dilute urine.
Bleeding after childbirth, for which the medical term is “lochia,” is perfectly normal. Postnatal discharge is a mix of tissue, blood, and mucus, which is usually heavy and very red in the days following birth. Over the course of the weeks following childbirth, bleeding tapers off, similar to an extended menstrual period. As long as the bleeding stops by the time you visit your doctor by your six-month health check-up, everything is normal. Should bleeding be persistently heavy or begin again after fading, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.
You can avoid problems with leakage by practicing pelvic floor exercises before, during, and after childbirth. Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles and also make intercourse more enjoyable after childbirth. If these exercises are not enough to keep your bladder muscles strong, speak with your doctor about special treatment that can help you restore muscle strength.
Bowel issues are common following pregnancy and childbirth. Many women are constipated in the days after delivery and gas can also be a problem. It can also be a frightening experience when the time arrives for a bowel movement, especially if you are afraid to pop stitches. Few women experience problems with stitches when using the bathroom after childbirth and you should look forward to your first post-birth bowel movement because it means your body is returning to normal. If hemorrhoids are a problem, speak with your doctor about topical creams that can ease the temporary discomfort.
Stretch marks are a common problem following pregnancy and childbirth. Nearly every mother has them, so do not feel as if your body is the only one affected by the stretching and pulling of pregnancy. Many women find applying vitamin E oil or cocoa butter during pregnancy is an effective way to lighten marks. There is no scientific evidence proving these techniques work, but they might work for you. It is possible to lighten stretch marks with laser treatment, but this can be expensive.
The following symptoms are considered out of the ordinary and you should contact your doctor right away if you experience the following:
Chest pain or shortness of breath
Severe headaches, vomiting, dizziness, or blurry vision
Swelling or pain in the legs
Persistent, severe pain in the perineum or abdomen