What Happens After Giving Birth - 10 Things You May Not Know

by - Tuesday, February 05, 2013

During pregnancy, you'll find a plethora of literature and advice about dealing with your growing baby and what to expect during the birth. Unfortunately there is little mention about what happens to a mother after baby is delivered. And ladies, these are things you really need to be prepared for!

1. You will still look pregnant

After nine months of bodily expansion, you can't expect to return to your pre-pregnancy shape right away! In all likelihood, your tummy will still be swollen and rounded for some weeks after giving birth and it could take months to lose the baby fat altogether.

Expect that you'll need to wear maternity clothes for a little while after baby is born, and that you might need to wear clothes a size or two bigger than usual.

Unless you're one of the lucky few who sheds the roundness right away... You'll probably hate me for saying this, but after giving birth to my eldest my tummy swelling went down right away. I couldn't understand why people in the hospital were commenting about it! Admittedly I was only seventeen at the time and had been scarily slim prior to pregnancy. My bodily dysfunction after giving birth a second time more than compensated for my easy ride the first time though - it took literally years to lose the baby weight, I had to buy a complete new wardrobe!

2. You will have a mammoth bleed

Be sure to stock up on super-absorbent maternity towels as you will likely bleed for several weeks after giving birth. This bleeding is called lochia (from the Greek word which means "relating to childbirth") and for the first few days will be bright red in colour.

This happens because there are open blood vessels in your uterus from where the placenta was attached. After your placenta is delivered, the uterus continues to contract, slowly closing these open vessels and reducing the bleeding.

The flow of blood may be even or intermittent, though if you've been laying down for some time you may feel your pad become suddenly wet when you stand up again.

The lochia tapers off over time, first becoming watery and pinkish, then more like a mild discharge which should cease altogether a month or so after baby is born. If you find you are still bleeding heavily after a couple of weeks, or your lochia smells bad, be sure to bring this up with your midwife or health visitor as this indicates a possible infection.

3. Breastfeeding is not easy (and it's okay to ask for help!)

Our female bodies are designed to produce milk for our children, but that does not mean that breastfeeding is simple. Both mother and baby need to learn the skills required to breastfeed successfully!

Helping baby to latch on correctly is a skill you may need help with more than once in order to avoid the pain and cracked nipples often associated with baby not latching on correctly. What's more, your breast milk may not "come in" until a few days after the birth, leaving you feeling that you may not be producing enough sustenance for your little bundle of joy.

It's okay to ask for help with breastfeeding, and to expect to receive it! Likewise, if you really feel that breastfeeding is making you miserable, don't punish yourself for not trying - do what is best for you and your baby.

4. You will need breast pads even if you choose to bottle-feed

One of the most embarrassing lessons I learned about a mother's post-pregnancy body happened a few days after giving birth to my eldest. During a family gathering to welcome baby into our lives, my boobs unexpectedly began to leek - my milk had "come in", an event I had absolutely no idea would happen to a bottle-feeding mum! To make matters worse, I was wearing a bright polyester top and the wet round spots were very visible.

I'm sure most of the mums reading this will be quite aware of breast-milk leakage and the painful swelling, though as no-one had warned be beforehand it was quite a revelation!

5. Going to the toilet will be painful at first

Only a lucky few manage to give birth without tearing their lady-parts, and even if you didn't need stitches it's likely you'll still feel sore and swollen down below.

It's not recommended to use toilet paper in the days after giving birth so you might want to take a squirty bottle of water with which to clean after going for a pee. Have a sanitary pad on hand to press against your sore parts the first few times you need a number two - the pressure can alleviate some of the pain.

If you've had a caesarean, going to the toilet can present a whole new set of problems. For a little while you'll be hooked up to a catheter until you're well enough to walk to the toilet, though hopefully you won't experience much soreness in that department. However, your poop will likely be black and difficult to pass for a couple of days. Straining can cause pain to your healing wound, so don't be afraid to ask for a mild laxative if you need it.

6. You may experience sweatiness

Many women experiences uncomfortable perspiration in the days following birth, particularly those who are breastfeeding. This is our bodies' way of expelling excess water gained during pregnancy. You may need to pee more often too though many women notice the discomfort of sweating more prominently.

Weirdly I don't remember sweating excessively after giving birth to my first two children, though after Babyman was born I remember days of feeling very hot and flustered to the point where Mum was so worried about me she called the nurse to check that I was okay!

Perhaps the best way to deal with this is to wear light clothes in natural fabrics and shower as often as you feel comfortable. From what I've experienced (and what other mums have related) this phase passes quickly and is nothing to worry about.

7. You may feel weepy

Between 50 and 80% of new mothers experience "the baby blues" soon after giving birth. While feeling blessed and exhilarated at having a new addition to the family, it's not unusual to feel weepy and easily upset about things which normally wouldn't bother you in the slightest.

These feelings are caused by a combination of factors: physical bodily changes, a drop on hormone levels and emotional issues (being concerned about your child's well-being, for example). Generally baby blues calm after a couple of weeks, though if you're at all concerned that these feelings are worsening it's important to seek advice from your health professional.

8. Your hair may fall out

During pregnancy, many women find their tresses become thicker and luxurious. This is because the increased levels of oestrogen in your body prolong the growing stage of your hair. Most women lose an average of 100 hairs per day, though during pregnancy will lose significantly less.

Since your oestrogen levels drop after you have given birth, much more of your hair will enter the resting stage of growth, and you may experience much more hair loss than usual. This is only temporary though - by baby's first birthday your tresses should be back to their normal growth cycle.

9. You may have swollen feet

This was something I only experienced mildly after having c-sections, though swollen feet is a condition which affects many new mothers after giving birth.

More blood is produced by our bodies during pregnancy, and after giving birth the uterus squeezes excess blood into our bodies. Often this blood goes to our feet, causing swelling and often an increase in shoe size. Swelling should calm down in time as the excess fluids drain from your body, though many women report a small but permanent increase in shoe size.

10. You'll really need to do those pelvic floor exercises!

Giving birth really takes its toll on our lady parts. During labour, the wall of the vagina receives a lot of pressure causing it to stretch; furthermore, nerves may be damaged making it difficult to really know when we ought to be going to the loo. Even those who have had a c-section can find nerves are damaged during the procedure.

Pelvic floor exercises can help bring back our sense of "tightness" down there and put an end to the need to wear sanitary pads which protect our undies from getting soaked. Plus there's the added bonus of increased sensation when you and your partner feel ready to be intimate again...

It's not all bad though!

One more thing I'd like to add is that no matter how long and painful your labour, it's difficult to remember how bad it felt once you're holding your little bundle of joy! Not all women suffer these post-partum issues, and personally I consider the discomfort of pregnancy to far outweigh any negative conditions which affect our bodies after giving birth. 

Don't forget to check out the great big list of pregnancy freebies, even if your baby has already arrived in the world - there's plenty available for mums of young children and it's well worth subscribing to the sites mentioned to test out new products.

What would you add to this list?

What surprised you most about your changing body after giving birth? Did you experience any (or all) of the symptoms above, or could you add more uncomfortable changes to this list?

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below - we'd love to hear more post-pregnancy stories!

Image credit: David Terrazas, via Flickr

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