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.
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.
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.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.bumpbabyandme.ie
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