post-birth recovery
Labour & birth

Post-birth recovery

It’s important to make your health a priority in the weeks following your baby’s birth. Doing so will help you to regain your energy and strength allowing you to take care of yourself and your new arrival.

Your body has just achieved an amazing feat of nature.

Pregnancy and giving birth are physically and nutritionally draining, so it’s really important to give your body time to recover. For the first six weeks after the birth, make sure to eat a varied, healthy diet to help your body heal and keep up with the demands of being a new parent. You can begin to do some gentle exercise like short walks, but now is not the time for strenuous workouts. Give your body the time it needs to get back to its pre pregnancy state to ensure that you recover fully. A new mother needs plenty of rest, good nutrition and help during the first few weeks. Here’s how to help your post-birth recovery.

Postnatal GP check-up

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. Your GP/hospital doctor will discuss any health problems. 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 enquire 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.

Postnatal body changes to expect

1. Blood loss

Women will experience a period-like discharge after the birth. This can last for weeks and can be quite heavy at first, so you will need to use very absorbent sanitary towels. Do not use tampons as they can cause infection. The bleeding will over time become a brownish colour and will lessen until it stops. If you notice that you are losing large clots, save your sanitary towels to show your GP or midwife as you may need to have some treatment.

2. After pains

You may feel mild contractions in the first few days after delivery as the uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. Painkillers such as paracetamol, (but take care not to exceed the stated dose), may relieve the discomfort.

3. Perineum

If you have torn the perineum (the area around the vaginal opening) or have had an episiotomy and stitches, you are bound to feel sore and uncomfortable for the first few days. Make sure that you take medication to relieve the soreness. If you have had stitches, these take about two weeks to dissolve. Clean the area after going to the toilet. Avoid constipation and drink plenty of fluids in order to keep your urine diluted and reduce the stinging. Do not use soap, oils or perfumed products in the bath, keep the area clean and dry, and rest as much as possible until the stitches feel more comfortable.

4. Breast changes

Your breasts will produce a yellowish liquid called colostrum for your baby in the beginning. They might start to feel hard and tender as they start to produce milk on the third or fourth day. It is important to wear a well fitting and supportive bra during this time. You may also feel more comfortable wearing it at night.

 5. Look after your bladder

It’s quite common after having a baby to leak urine accidentally if you laugh, cough or move suddenly. Pelvic floor exercises can help with this. 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. Cut down on bladder irritants such as coffee, tea and cola drinks.

6. C-section

Women generally stay in hospital for three to four days after a Caesarean section. If you and your baby are well following a Caesarean and want to go home earlier, speak to your doctor or midwife and ask if this is possible. In the first few weeks after a Caesarean, try to get as much rest as possible. Avoid walking up and down stairs too often as your tummy may be sore. Do take gentle walks daily to reduce your risk of blood clotting. You should be given a prescription for regular painkillers to take at home for as long as you need them. Your midwife should also give you advice on how to look after your wound to prevent infection, such as wearing loose comfortable clothing and cotton underwear, and gently cleaning and drying the wound daily.

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

Close up your back passage or anus as if you’re trying to prevent a bowel movement or breaking wind. At the same time, draw in your vagina and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine. At first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately. Then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax. Try counting to ten while you do this. Try to do three sets of ten squeezes every day.

Fitness advice

When you have recovered from birth and feel a little more organised, you may feel ready to start doing some exercise. Physical exercise increases endorphins in the body so after doing some (safe) movement you should find yourself feeling really good both physically and mentally.

1. Pelvic muscles

A good exercise to start soon after childbirth, regardless of what way you delivered your baby, is pelvic floor exercises (contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles). This ‘sling’ of muscle, which supports the weight of your pelvic organs, supported the weight of your baby during your pregnancy and they also act as a continence mechanism.

Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken these muscles so it’s important to practise pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and during the postnatal period too. Looking after these muscles can help prevent continence issues like leaking when you run, jump, sneeze or cough or more severe issues like pelvic prolapse.

2. Abdomen muscles

Breath work (engaging your transverse abdominal muscles while breathing in and exhale your naval to spine) is also a good starting point after birth. Your stomach muscles will have stretched to accommodate your growing baby and approx.

One in three pregnancies experience ‘Diastasis Recti’, which is the separation of the connective tissue between the rectus abdominal muscles. So many women are not aware of this condition so that’s why I recommend every new mum to get a postnatal check with a qualified physiotherapist/osteopath or physical therapist who specialises in women’s health. If you have any physical concerns or are unsure how to start back exercising postnatally, get in touch with a good yoga teacher, coach or therapist who specialises in women’s health.

Remember, along with caring for your baby it’s important to practice some self-care too!

Kathy, who runs Bump Baby and Me teaches pre/postnatal classes and workshops in North Dublin.

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.


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Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….