Updated: Apr 26, 2022
Congratulations Mumma! Hopefully these little insights into the first few weeks following birth will help, sometimes what you read in books, read on instagram and hear from friends paints a magical picture and when you don't fall into the mould you might feel a bit out of place. Just remember that everybody's birth is different, so so is everybody's recovery pace, time and speed and never be afraid to ask for help.
After the birth of my first daughter I had quite a rough time recovering from the epidural as the drugs made me feel very nauseous and quite uneasy for a few days after birth, coupling that with the hormones fluctuating I found it very hard to smile and be happy - despite the fact i was so happy with my brand new bundle, your body and mind just don't sync! Four days after birth I finally got my first block of a few hours sleep as the adrenaline left my body. The ‘baby blues’ which came a few days after I left the hospital really knocked me for 6 but after a good cry and some chocolate biscuits I was feeling better again (normally coincides with your breast milk coming in by the way). No book or person can prepare you for the initial stages following birth. So having had two very different births - one with pain relief and one without - I have learnt a few things about the postnatal days and I hope these insights which stuck out for me can help:
Crazy hormones - Regardless of your birth method, so many changes will be happening in the body immediately following birth such as hormone fluctuations, you can go from feeling ecstatic to feeling really low and it's nothing to be ashamed of. This is your body’s way of trying to regulate hormone levels back to a steady state. Ride the wave of emotions in the days following birth!
Say no to visitors (if you want) unless they are bringing food or childcare for baby number one! - its your baby, your recovery, your time to bond, if you don't want people calling in just tell them. They will understand and wont take offence. It's a very overwhelming time, so throw a few family members into the mix who have been sleeping well recently… and soon their chirpiness is not welcome!
The saying “Sleep when baby sleeps” isn't helpful, no matter how many people say it - Nothing on this earth could have made me sleep in the days following birth. So REST when baby sleeps is a way more appropriate saying. Whack on Netflix, get your feet up, close your eyes and doze or watch mindless TV - just switch off your mind. If you are recovering from pain relief like an epidural, it can take some time for it to ‘leave’ your body and you might feel a bit ‘jelly like’ all over, so make sure you take it easy getting in and out of bed and rest as much as possible and get all the help you can
'The Baby Blues' - ALL the emotions come out following birth thanks to all the hormones fluctuating and coming back to a steady state. You are elated one moment and bursting into tears the next. When your breast milk comes in you may experience a bout of baby blues, or just at any stage in the days following birth. My advice CRY.IT.OUT. and you’ll feel so much better! I had a good friend ring me the day my milk came in and she just knew there was something up, I cried and cried on the phone and she just listened and straight after I felt so much better. Remember though if you feel like your baby blues aren't going and not just temporary, don't be afraid to reach out to your consultant, GP or public health nurse in understanding if it could be postnatal depression. Another very common postnatal feel and a topic often under-discussed during pregnancy but important to know the signs.
Due to blood loss during birth, your blood glucose (sugar) levels will be down - so it's important to have lots of snacks and food when you feel you can eat. I know after my first baby the adrenaline pumping through me meant the last thing on my mind was food so I had little snacks regularly as I didn't feel like meals.
If you had stitches (episiotomy or cesarean section) its important to keep the wound clean and air it as much as possible. Stitches can be quite nerve racking and perhaps you didn't have the birth you wanted, but our bodies are amazing and the healing process will have begun immediately. Start your pelvic floor squeezes a few days following birth and although you might not feel much sensation, by practicing your squeezes you are bringing blood to the area and blood will help to heal the incision. Our bodies work in amazing ways! Stitches can be very ‘twingy’ so be very careful when sitting up in bed at night for feeds and have multiple cushions ready for propping up. If you are worried about the healing or potential infection, speak with your GP as you may have done everything you can possible to keep it clean, but infection can still occur so its important to act fast if it feels more sore than usual, smells or has visible pus.
Extreme fatigue - you may have had a long labour and/or the adrenaline after birth has meant you haven't slept for what feels like days, then throw in looking after a newborn and the heeling from birth...its completely exhausting! So it's important to make sure you’re taking on lots of water, minerals and food. It's NOT the time to start eating low calorie foods, load up on lots of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrate dense foods to help with energy. If you are breastfeeding you may feel ravenous as your body needs anything from 300-500 extra calories a day just to provide milk for the baby.
Breathing - One thing that will hugely help with fatigue is breathing properly. I spoke about deep diaphragmatic breathing (DDB) in my trimester videos (see the video here) but in the early stages post birth its very beneficial to start DDB again. Firstly it will relax you, in those few moments you get to yourself it will be a lovely relaxant. Again if adrenaline is still racing, this will help to calm you down! I didn't sleep for the first 4 days following birth and only when I listened to my own advice of breathing, I finally fell into a deep sleep. Shallow breathing happens in trimester three onwards as the baby pushes up into the diaphragm, BIG deep breaths through DDB will soon fill the body with tonnes of oxygen and help make you relax
Incontinence - in the days immediately following a natural birth you may find ‘leaking’ of urine or faeces and loss of control of your muscles down there. Regardless of your birth, your pelvic floor has been under a lot of pressure for 9 months and if you had a natural birth it has been battered, bruised and stretched by the baby passing through so naturally things can be a bit sluggish! Its important to start pelvic floor squeezes as soon as possible - REGARDLESS OF YOUR BIRTH METHOD! Just a few gentle squeezes to try and get sensation back ‘down there’. These squeezes bring blood to the area and blood = faster healing! If you are finding that you’re still leaking a week after birth it's important to tell your GP, consultant or public health nurse so they can assist with a pelvic floor plan. There are also amazing women's pelvic health physios - I cant recommend seeing one enough!
Postpartum bleeding - regardless of your birth method, you will be passing blood anything from 5 days to a good few weeks post birth, so stock up on maternity pads (NOT sanitary pads or any plastic backed pads as these can cause infection) and change them regularly, showering without soap as often as possible. This is particularly relevant for those who have had an episiotomy to keep the area clean. If you have an open wound you will not be able to use medicated perineum pads or sprays, these are only advised for bruising post birth, so stick to airing it as much as possible and allowing the stitches to heel
Uterus contractions post birth (like heavy period pains) - Thought the contractions were over...nope! This one really threw me as a few hours after birth, I could feel the contraction sensations all over again. This is particularly prevalent in the first few days following birth, especially if you decide to breastfeed. The cramping is caused by a release of oxytocin during feeding, so you might find it quite uncomfortable for the initial few days of feeding, but it's your body doing an amazing job to bring your uterus back down to its original size - cool huh!
Overall body weakness - you have just grown and pushed out a baby - regardless of your birth method your body has GIVEN BIRTH so naturally you will feel pretty weak as your body recovers from the trauma of birth. Be kind to yourself in these days and weeks following birth, ask people for help to get you snacks and drinks and really make the most of the time bonding with your baby - the laundry can wait - what's important is sitting or lying on the sofa and just soaking up the newborn goodness.
Breastfeeding and nipple pain - you may find the breasts to be quite tender and sore, especially the nipples if you are breastfeeding, when your milk comes in particularly! Even if you are not breastfeeding you can still get soreness in the breasts so massage them in a warm shower to help avoid mastitis or pain.
Nipple damage from the baby - yes, it happens! The baby may have the best latch in the world but still nothing prepares your nipples for the battering they’re about to get. Ask your midwife to check the latch and to assist with breastfeeding in the early stages to avoid bad habits forming. A good latch will reduce the pain, but it will still be painful initially as they get used to it. Stock up on silver nipple plates (silver has healing qualities) and nipple creams.
Airing them as much as possible helps too!
Postpartum Poop and poo anxiety - Regardless of your birth method the first poop is a scary one as any more pushing ‘down there’ seems out of the question. Don't try and hold it in, if you need to go, go. By practicing DDB it helps to relax your pelvic floor and your rectum - voila, poop! If you are worried about stitches, hold a clean maternity pad against the stitches, don't push or force out the poop. Relax, listen to some music and just BREATHE into the tummy - it might take half an hour, or an hour, but you’ll get there.
Fibre and nutritious foods - keep eating as much fibre as possible as your intestines can become quite sluggish after birth, also the presence of the relaxin hormone too so its important to give your digestive system a helping hand with nutritious foods. Have a look at nutritionally balanced meals you can order online from local companies, there are plenty out there. Or ask a friend or neighbour to drop round some home cooked meals to help. We want to avoid constipation as that in turn can create ‘poo anxiety’ post birth so keep up the water, fluids and fibre!
Haemorrhoids - common in pregnancy and common in birth, keep the fibre intake up and if you are experiencing pain tell your doctor or pharmacist and they can advise on what to do to relieve the pain. Again, keep up fibrous food, straining is what causes them (hence they can often happen with birth) so we want to avoid any more ‘pushing’ down there!
Pelvic floor squeezes - regardless of your birth method, your pelvic floor muscles were under a significant amount of pressure and load from the baby for many months prior to birth. If you had a vaginal birth the pelvic floor does experience ‘trauma’ (for want of a better word) during birth, however it doesn't mean that cesarean section you are clear of pelvic floor weakness following birth. It's important to get straight back to your PF squeezes as soon as you can. By stimulating the muscles (please bear in mind if you had a vaginal birth you may not be able to feel them initially but it will come back with time and practice) and this stimulation will in turn increase blood flow to the area and that promotes healing.
Most importantly just soak up that lovely 'newborness', the smell, the cuteness the everything. You wont get these newborn days back so make the most of it. Congratulations mumma!