You can never quite prepare for how your body will feel after labor. With every birth experience being unique, even those having their second or third child will find that their recovery varies significantly from one birth to the next.
During the postpartum recovery period, often described as the fourth trimester; there are a wide range of both physical and emotional symptoms you may experience. Here are some of the less glamorous postpartum symptoms you could expect and how to best manage them:
Sore Perineum – post labor it is incredibly common to experience some pain or discomfort in your perineum – the small area of flesh between your anus and vagina. Even if you managed to avoid tearing or requiring an episiotomy, your perineum is likely to have stretched and strained during labor and childbirth which can leave you feeling sore and somewhat uncomfortable. If you have stitches or are finding sitting painful, you may find sitting on a small pillow or cushion can help ease the symptoms. As much as your body needs the rest, try to avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time and lie on your side whilst sleeping to allow your perineum to heal as quickly as possible.
Post Birth Contractions – after childbirth, for the first few days in particular, you are likely to experience uterine contractions – otherwise known as afterbirth contractions. These can range from mild cramping sensations to quite painful contractions with women generally experiencing milder contractions with their first pregnancies and more significant pains for each consecutive labor. You may find that breastfeeding brings these pains on more intensely (as oxytocin can be a trigger), but generally these pains start to ease by around the third day post-labor. The good news is that the faster your uterus contracts, the sooner your lochia (post labor blood loss) will start to ease too.
Swelling – Due to extra fluids in your body, you may find that you experience some swelling in your ankles, feet or hands in the days following labor. Your rings may feel tight and you may notice your shoes feel more snug that usual! A small amount of swelling is very common post labor and thankfully usually goes away on its own within a few days. Try and drink lots of water and fluids to flush out any toxins and put your feet up when you can to elevate your feet and help with fluid retention. If nothing else, this is a good excuse to stay snuggled up on the couch enjoying the newborn baby cuddles.
Haemorrhoids – Another unwelcome treat for a new Mom, it is also quite common to experience hemmorrhoids or piles after labor. These swollen veins around your anus that can be sore or uncomfortable, are usually caused by the intense straining or pushing during childbirth. Quite often they will heal on their own given lots of rest, but you can also buy over the counter treatments that can help speed up the healing time.
Breast Engorgement – In the first week after giving birth, your breasts will go through a variety of changes as your milk ducts prepare to feed your baby. As your milk comes in, your breasts may become engorged – hard, swollen and tender to the touch. A warm compress and massage can help ease the discomfort, but generally your body will regulate within a few days once a feeding routine has been established with your baby.
It’s important to remember that giving birth to another human being is a big deal so some physical and mental challenges are to be expected.
Whilst none of these postpartum symptoms are particularly pleasant, the good news is that they are generally short lived and through rest and re-cooperation your body will gradually recover without requiring intervention.