After your baby’s birth, taking care of yourself is top priority. From getting enough sleep to coping with changing emotions, get tips for surviving those first few weeks with your newborn.
Your body has been through a massive change over the past nine months; it is important to give yourself and your partner time to settle into your new roles and to adjust both mentally and physically. Your last check-up with your GP will be about six weeks after giving birth. If you have a C-section, you may have an appointment sooner to make sure you’re healing well after surgery.
The doctor may check your breasts for lumps and any abnormal discharge. If you are breastfeeding, the doctor may make sure that the milk ducts aren’t clogged and that you don’t have an infection. They will check your abdomen for muscle tone. A pelvic exam may be done to see if the uterus is back to its pre-pregnancy size and that the cervix is closed. They will also check how well an episiotomy or any lacerations have healed.
Your doctor may also check your weight, blood pressure and inquire about how your life is with baby during this visit. Any necessary blood tests will also be taken, such as a blood count, especially if you lost a lot of blood during birth. It may be the last time you see your doctor for some time, so ask all of the questions you need to at that stage.
Here’s what to expect from your post birth body:
When your breast milk ‘comes in’ your breasts can become large and often very hard and tender, which is perfectly normal. The first milk produced is colostrum, which is quite yellow and in small quantities. It is your baby’s sucking reflex that encourages further production of milk, and this ‘letdown’ reflex can cause abdominal cramping for a while. Again, this is entirely normal. Use nursing pads for leaking or dripping breasts postnatal and opt for dark patterned tops that won’t showcase the damp dots right where your nipples are.
You may feel perineal pain. For women who have had a vaginal birth, the perineum – the area from the vagina to the rectum – can feel tender, especially if there was a tear or an episiotomy or if you were cut during labour. Ease perineal swelling with an ice pack or a heating pad, and try pelvic floor exercises to get the circulation going and speed the healing process.
Also some women experience tenderness in the vagina. Lukewarm shallow bathing once or twice a day with salt (half a cup per bath) or tea tree oil (five drops per bath), ice packs or sitting on an air-filled ring cushion or child’s seaside flotation ring can help. Your obstetrician or GP will prescribe pain relief for you, which will be safe if you’re breastfeeding.
If you lost a lot of blood at the birth, you will need to watch your iron levels. Include red meat or pulses like chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils in your diet. If you are breastfeeding, calcium is a key requirement and yoghurts make for a convenient fridge staple.
Fibre-rich foods are especially important if you had stitches as eating fibre will help you to avoid straining when using the toilet. Try to eat every three to four hours. Make it easy for yourself by having healthy snacks such as nuts and dried and fresh fruits at the ready. You can find information on healthy eating during and after pregnancy on the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute website – http://www.indi.ie
Watch your back
For an achy back, try focusing on bending from your knees when you lift the baby, and using a footrest to elevate your feet when breastfeeding or sitting.
After the birth, you will bleed from your vagina. This will be quite heavy at first, which is why you’ll need super-absorbent sanitary towels. Do not use tampons until after your postnatal check because they can cause infection.
While breastfeeding you may notice that the bleeding is redder and heavier. You may also feel cramps like period pains, known as ‘after pains’. These are both because feeding causes the womb (uterus) to contract. Gradually the bleeding will become a brownish colour and may continue for some weeks, getting less and less until it stops. If you find you are losing blood in large clots, tell your midwife as you may need some treatment.
Two out of three pregnant women will experience some form of bladder weakness during and after pregnancy. This is because pregnancy, labour and birth place additional strain on the pelvic floor muscles, thus weakening them. You may leak a few drops when you sneeze, cough or laugh. Some women find this to be a real problem. So to avoid any embarrassment, particularly while you are building up the strength of your pelvic floor muscles, wear a panty liner.
Help your bladder
The good news is that you can do a lot to help your bladder to stay healthy. We asked the experts from lights by Tena for a few tips on bladder health.
- Drink plenty of fluids, but if you find you have to go to the toilet frequently during the night then cut out drinking before bedtime but make sure you make up for it during the day.
- When you are on the toilet, try rocking backwards and forwards. This lessens the pressure of the womb on the bladder so that you can empty it properly. If you do this, you won’t need to pass water quite as often as before.
- Don’t go to the toilet ‘just in case’ or every time you get the urge – try to hold on. We can all train our bladders to hold more urine. When you feel comfortable and are in surroundings where you know there is a toilet available try to delay urination for five minutes when you feel the urge to go. It will be a little uncomfortable but try to bear it. Then each day successively delay urination by a little bit longer, aiming to work up to a delay of 15 minutes. Your bladder should begin to hold more wee and you will need to urinate less frequently. Too many women make the assumption that by cutting back on the amount they drink, they’ll naturally reduce the risk of needing to urinate. This is not true – cutting back on water will only put you at risk of dehydration and make your urine more concentrated. This actually irritates the bladder making the urge to go stronger.
- Limiting the amount of caffeine you drink can help stop excess urination – caffeine is a diuretic, which, needless to say, will not help the problem. Eat a balanced diet but remember that fruits and vegetables contain large amounts of fluids thus increasing your daily intake of fluids. Avoid soft drinks and alcohol, all of which can irritate your bladder and make it harder to control the urge.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Learn to do pelvic floor exercises.
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