I was completely unprepared when it came to my postpartum recovery.
My husband and I sat in various NHS-run parenting classes where labour was discussed in depth. Natural birth was rammed down your throat, one midwife proudly declared how she had eight children and that not once did she request an epidural. (No pressure then)
I remember being taught how to put on a nappy and was reminded to practice getting the baby seat in and out of the car a few times. Then there were the breastfeeding videos, showing babies latching onto the breast with ease.
The postpartum recovery period wasn’t really talked about.
I was told I might be a bit sore after giving birth. Something about getting stitched up down there but other than that the information we got on postpartum recovery after giving birth was scarce at best.
I expected to bounce back in around a week.
Watching Kate Middleton emerge out of Lindo Wing, hours after giving birth to her third child made me want to give her a hug. In all likelihood, she would have been feeling sore and exhausted.
I could barely shuffle to go to the bathroom without assistance, let alone face the world’s media.
Postpartum recovery is rarely talked about perhaps because the reality is so different for everyone. I wish I’d had more information on the postpartum recovery and what to expect, so I could have prepared myself better.
So here are a few things I wish I had been told to expect after giving birth.
Postpartum Recovery Time Varies
This is completely different for everyone. Some women may feel okay the day after giving birth while others will take longer.
I’d read that it takes you 6 weeks to recover from a vaginal delivery and around 12 weeks for a c-section.
With my first, I had Keillands forceps (the worst kind of forceps), an episiotomy, a failed epidural and a major postpartum haemorrhage. There was no bouncing back. I couldn’t even walk upstairs without help. Nearly four years on, I still get back pain at the site of the failed epidural and the haemorrhage left me feeling weak for around 6 months.
Having said that, my second labour was very straightforward and returning home after a couple of days in the hospital, I (physically) almost felt back to normal. It just goes to show that there is no typical recovery period and how important it is to take it slowly during those first few weeks.
Bleeding after Birth
I knew I’d have a bit of bleeding after giving birth, but I didn’t quite realise how much and for how long.
Lochia is bleeding that is slightly heavier than your period. It is caused by bleeding from the site where the placenta was attached and shedding from your uterine lining. Don’t be surprised if you are still bleeding two weeks after giving birth and it should stop altogether by 6-8 weeks.
If you are bleeding through one pad every hour or you spot large clots then call your doctor or midwife for advice straight away as this may be a sign of postpartum haemorrhage.
Thought you were done with painful cramps after going through labour? I hate to break it to you, but you will still be getting cramps for a few weeks while your uterus shrinks back down to size.
For first time mums, the cramps are usually pretty mild. My midwife informed me (after I moaned) that after giving birth to your second baby, the cramps can feel a little more intense.
Given, they aren’t as bad as labour pains and probably more in line with bad period pains.
Afterbirth cramps may feel more intense with breastfeeding too. This is because the baby’s sucking triggers a release of the hormone oxytocin which causes contractions. The good news is that while breastfeeding may cause painful cramps, it can help your uterus shrink back to its normal size much quicker.
Breastfeeding Makes You Sleepy
I found it hard not to nod off while breastfeeding my youngest. While recovering in hospital following George’s labour, I asked the midwife to stay nearby because I kept dozing off whenever he had a big feed.
This never happened with Jack, I think perhaps because my milk didn’t come in until well over a week later.
Apparently there is a biological reason why you feel so sleepy while breastfeeding. Oxytocin allows the milk let down, which makes mums and baby feel relaxed enough to fall asleep.
Your First Bowel Movement
….is scary as hell.
That tear. Those stitches. Everything ‘down there’ is feeling a sore and not quite as it should. Your stomach muscles are weakened and your bowel doesn’t want to get back to work.
And you need to go, nature is calling. But you really don’t want to in case your nether regions fall apart.
The first bowel movement can take time and courage. Even though you worry that your stitches will split, they won’t.
To make things a little easier, drink plenty of water and eat fibre-rich foods. If you are struggling then perhaps speak to your doctors or midwife about taking a stool softener or a laxative to help that first movement be a little less uncomfortable.
You Swell Up
After you give birth your ankles, feet and hands may swell up. I could barely fit into my shoes after I had given birth to Jack and pictures show me with massive swollen feet and ankles – far worse than it was during pregnancy. This is called postpartum edema, the fluid usually eliminated in sweat and urine is leaked from your from your blood vessels into your tissue causing them to swell.
It usually nothing serious and goes away within a week or two. To help the swelling go down, advice is to elevate your feet above your ankles when you get the chance to lie down and drink plenty of water. If you have any concerns or other symptoms then call your doctor immediately:
Blurry vision, headaches, dizziness (signs of high blood pressure)
Swelling or pain in one leg (signals blood clot)
Swelling accompanied by severe chest pain and difficulty breathing (blood clot on lung or heart condition)
Your hormones are a little all over the place after giving birth. This can make you feel pretty weepy or sad. You may also feel exhausted and irritable too.
This strikes around 3 to 4 days after giving birth, is perfectly normal and luckily short lived.
My advice is to seek support from your family and friends. Get some rest, eat cake and don’t turn down offers of help.
I think postnatal depression becoming better understood and more talked about over the last couple of years.
There used to be a lack of support for new mums who were trying to get to grips with becoming a parent while struggling with depression.
Despite the traumatic labour, I never had postnatal depression first time around but it hit me like a ton of bricks after the birth of my second child. I thought that perhaps because I’d had a normal and straightforward birth, that I was going to be okay.
It’s hard to predict if you will get postnatal depression but treatment is available should you need it. Even if you are six months down the line then you can still ask for help from your GP who can discuss how to treat your postnatal depression through medication or therapy. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.
What do you wish you had been told about postpartum recovery?
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