Health

Important Facts About Childbirth Recovery

After the delivery of your baby, you may experience post-pregnancy body changes that you were not expecting. The nine months of pregnancy cause your body to… Simi - February 20, 2018

After the delivery of your baby, you may experience post-pregnancy body changes that you were not expecting. The nine months of pregnancy cause your body to change in many ways and once your baby is born it takes time to recover. You were probably so focused on preparing for the birth that you may have spent less time thinking about what would happen to your body afterward. Your womb has to shrink back to pre-pregnancy size, you will usually bleed for a few weeks and soreness below around your private parts is common. You may have experienced tears during the birth and have a few stitches. All your lady parts feel sore and swollen. Your breasts start filling with milk and can become very full and painful.

Leaking of urine and constipation are other common problems. You are likely to have the ‘baby blues’ a day or two after the birth due to hormonal changes but your emotions soon stabilize. A few mothers may experience more serious postnatal depression. Most of what your body goes through after birth is part of the natural process of healing and returning to its pre-pregnancy state. It needs time to heal. The more you rest and look after yourself, the quicker you will heal. When you have a new baby, this is hard but not impossible. While healing takes place, symptoms can often be treated using simple, natural remedies. Here are 15 of the issues you may experience after a childbirth and some handy ways to deal with them.

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1. Bleeding and discharge

Every new mother bleeds after having a baby. At first, the blood is bright red and you may see some clots. You may bleed for only two or three weeks but it can last for as long as six weeks. It tapers off gradually, changing in color from red to pink and then to brown and yellow as it does so. You need to see your doctor if you’re passing clots bigger than a plum tomato or soaking through more than one pad an hour.

It is better not to use tampons at this time when your uterus is healing because it’s possible that they can carry bacteria. Rather wear extra-maxi pads. Overlapping two pads or putting them side-by-side will offer more protection. It doesn’t hurt to have some extra padding down there at a time when you are feeling tender. You can even use pads designed specifically for urinary incontinence because they are usually bigger and more absorbent.

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Overflow can be a problem, despite doubling up on pads. Use inner wears that are easily disposable and readily available in the hospital. Take a few home or buy some online.  They come in handy because you can just throw them out instead of adding them to your laundry pile. Another helpful item is a waterproof mattress pad that protects your mattress when nighttime leaks occur.

If your blood flow has subsided but it goes back to being heavy and red again, it could be a sign that you are overdoing it. Perhaps you have tried to do too much exercise too quickly. The best way to handle this is to rest more and see if it helps. If you don’t rest enough, your body takes much longer to heal.

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2. Postpartum Contractions

If you thought contractions were behind you, you may be surprised that you experience mild contractions after the birth called afterpains, especially when you are breastfeeding. This is because breastfeeding releases a chemical that causes your uterus to tighten. Your uterus needs to shrink because it stretches to at least 10 times its normal size during pregnancy. It usually takes six to eight weeks to shrink back to normal. These pains are often more intense with a second baby but first-time mothers experience them too.

These pains may be uncomfortable in the first few days after giving birth but they usually taper off a little every day. You can take pain medication regularly for a few days to stay on top of this pain. If you wait to experience the pain before taking medication, it is usually too late to help.

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Some painkillers are not suitable for nursing mothers but there are many safe choices. Ibuprofen is safe and taking 600mg every six hours is effective.  You can try deep breathing to relax through these mild contractions, just as you did when you experienced labor contractions. You can also place a heating pad turned down low or a warm rice sock over your abdomen to bring relief.

There are a number of herbal remedies that help to ease these afterpains. Catnip tea relieves muscle spasms and can also relieve pain. It tastes mild and you can sip it throughout the day. You can also use a tincture of cramp bark. Take 30-60 drops in a small glass of juice just before nursing. Another tip is to add a few drops of frankincense or lavender essential oil to a wet, warm washcloth and place it directly onto your lower abdomen.   

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3. Vaginal pain

Pushing a baby through a relatively small opening has an inevitable effect on your body.   Soreness, swelling, and tenderness are to be expected after a normal delivery. The soreness may be worse if you tore during the birth and needed stitches.    

To reduce swelling and soreness in the area down there ice packs are most helpful. The coldness numbs the nerves and reduces swelling and pain. An ice pack should not be left on the area for more than 15 minutes. Use a thin, protective layer between the ice pack and sensitive skin.

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You can put water on a sanitary pad and freeze it to use as an icepack. Adding witch hazel aids healing. Put alcohol-free witch hazel in a spray bottle, put an extra maxi pad on a sheet of foil and spray it until it’s damp. Fold the pad, wrap in the foil and place in the freezer.  You use it just like any other ice pack.  You can wear an adult diaper over it to prevent dripping. If this sounds like too much trouble, simply wrap some ice blocks in a towel or fill a surgical glove with ice and apply to the swollen, sore area.

It will also help to keep pressure off the area. Lie and sleep on your side and don’t sit for too long. Take the pressure off when you sit by using an inflatable ring or a home ‘donut’ towel rolled up and made into a ring.  Tightening buttock muscles before sitting may also help. It’s better to wear baggy sweatpants than tight clothing which can irritate the area. You need to let the area breathe as much as possible for healing to take place.

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4. Uterine pain after the first 24 hours

In general, the deeper the tear, the longer the time it takes to recover. A small tear that involves skin rather than muscle may not even need stitches. These tears heal quickly. A tear which involves muscle and skin will need stitches and takes longer to heal. Your vulva is still likely to be swollen and tender, even if you do not have any stitches. Painful, itchy hemorrhoids may be worrying you too.

After the first 24 hours, ice is no longer the best way to dealing with these problems. This is when using a sitz bath can become a helpful part of your routine. A sitz bath is a small, shallow basin that fits over the toilet. It is a convenient way to soak the affected area a few times a day without having to fill a tub and completely undress every time.  Fill it with enough warm water to cover your hips and buttocks and sit in it for about 20 minutes. You can use it several times a day if necessary.  It helps to decrease swelling, clean the area and soothe any soreness.

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When you’ve finished soaking, rather not dry yourself with a towel or toilet paper. It gentle way to dry yourself is by using your hairdryer. Stand or sit with legs apart, set your hairdryer on the lowest setting and move it around about eight inches away from your nether regions. Do this for two to three minutes and no longer.

You will need to see your caregiver if you have any signs of infection such as a fever, increased pain or a foul-smelling discharge from your uterine. You may also need some pelvic rehab therapy if you are still feeling pain after several weeks.

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5. Tears that need stitches

Anyone birthing naturally is at risk of tears. Most women have at least a small tear. It is common to experience tears in the area between the female genital tract and buttocks due to pressure from the baby’s head pushing through. You will need stitches for deep tears. An episiotomy or a surgical a cut in the area between the vaginal opening and the buttocks is done in certain cases and also requires stitches.

Stitches can be quite sore at first before becoming itchy and eventually dissolving. They usually take a week or so to dissolve. The stitches need to be kept as clean and dry as possible to prevent infection and promote healing. Change your sanitary pad regularly and make sure it is not rubbing against your stitches.

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Urinating may be challenging because of the soreness. While urinating spray the area with warm water in a squirt bottle to prevent urine from stinging the skin. Don’t use toilet paper to dry after urinating but pat dry with gauze pads. It is also less painful to urinate if you drink enough water to keep your urine diluted.

Some women are fearful of tearing stitches when they have a bowel movement. Avoiding constipation helps as you are less likely to strain. If you have stitches, physical activity is likely to be painful for some time. You need to communicate with your partner about this. You must take the time you need to heal before having any physical activity again. Sometimes, no matter how well you look after them, you can develop an infection in your stitches. You will need to call your doctor if you experience a fever or increased pain. A thick yellow and green discharge coming from around the stitches is a sign of infection.

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6. Breast soreness

Immediately after the birth, your breasts will be soft. At this stage they only contain colostrum. This thick, yellowish fluid is full of antibodies and other properties that help your baby’s health.  It is only produced in small amounts because the baby does not need much. After a few days, the breasts become heavier and the color of the milk becomes whiter. You start producing larger volumes of milk and your breasts may start feeling tender, hot and swollen. Your nipples may also feel very sensitive at first.

When your baby sucks on your breast, it stimulates the production of two hormones, prolactin, and oxytocin. Each time the baby sucks, the body sends signals to the brain to produce these hormones to make more milk. As your baby feeds, your breast empties and your body is triggered to produce more milk. Night time feeds play an important role in keeping the supply going. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you make.

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Some women stop breastfeeding because they are fearful the baby isn’t getting enough milk. You’re likely to be producing more than you realize and if your baby is putting on weight, you are producing enough. If your nipples are sore, make sure the baby is latching on properly. Try to feed your baby often enough or use a pump to prevent breasts from feeling engorged or leaking. You can use hot compresses to relieve engorgement.

Wear a good nursing bra that offers enough support and use breast pads to prevent leakage. If you don’t want to breastfeed, your body will still produce milk at first and your breasts may become engorged. When demand to make more milk ceases, it eventually dries up.

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7. Constipation

Drugs used to relieve birth pain can slow down bowel movements. If you’re breastfeeding and not drinking enough water, you can also become constipated. Perhaps you have been given iron to bring your blood count up to normal and iron is well known to cause constipation. Women often become tense about having that first bowel movement after birth and this tenseness makes it worse.

The problem is that if you hold it in, it just becomes bigger. A trick that can help you to relax is to use a clean pad and apply pressure over your stitches while you push. This can relieve fears of splitting open stitches and help you to relax so you can pass the first stool.  You are usually given you a stool softener while in the hospital to help you. It’s not good to be constipated, especially when you’re trying to heal down there.

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You need to let your doctor know if you have not had a bowel movement for a couple of days. He may need to prescribe medication such as a stool softener. Probiotic supplements may also useful in helping to relieve constipation. They repopulate your stomach with good bacteria to aid digestion and help with proper stool formation. They must be taken with meals and you need to ask your doctor about taking them, especially if you are breastfeeding.

Some other ways to help with constipation is to eat fruit such as prunes, whole grain foods and other foods rich in fiber. Drink plenty of water and avoid coffee and carbonated drinks. Foods rich in fiber make your stools more moisture-filled and easier to pass. The more water in your system, the looser your stools will be. Exercise also helps to reduce constipation.

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8. Urinary incontinence

Many women struggle with urine leakage after the birth. This is because birth compresses the pelvic nerves and weakens the pelvic floor muscles that help to control the bladder. Pregnancy hormones can also affect bladder control and uterine pressure can change the angle of the urethra which can also cause urine loss. A little leakage when laughing, coughing, sneezing or exercising is not unusual. This leakage usually resolves on its own after several weeks.

However, some women still complain about stress incontinence years after delivery, especially after a natural birth process. Pelvic floor exercises, called Kegel exercises, can be done to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.  Squeeze the muscles you use to stop urine flow. Hold for 10 seconds and release for 10 seconds. Repeat this about 10 times. Do these exercises two or three times every day to increase muscle tone.

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Try to avoid drinking too much coffee, citrus juice, fizzy drinks, and alcohol. All of these can irritate your bladder and affect bladder control. Trying to drink less to control peeing will only make you dehydrated and more likely to suffer from a bladder infection. If you feel burning when you pee or keeping feeling the urge to pee, you may have an infection and you will need to see a doctor.

Persistent leakage can be treated by fitting a small silicone ring. You place this ring down there in the morning and remove it at night. Some women use it only while exercising. If bladder control is ruining your life, a quick, minimally invasive surgical procedure is possible. A surgeon will insert a sling to give permanent support to the urethra. This procedure has a 90% success rate for stress incontinence.

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9. Piles (hemorrhoids)

Some women develop piles during pregnancy while others may only get them during labor. Piles are swollen veins that develop outside or inside the rectum. The swelling can make bowel movements very painful. Piles may disappear gradually without any treatment but sometimes they do not. They can cause pain, itching, and aching. Sometimes women fear having a bowel movement because of the pain caused by piles.

Making some lifestyle changes may be necessary to avoid placing more pressure on your piles. One of these may be to lose any excess weight gained during pregnancy. Another is to avoid constipation because piles can be made worse by straining to have a bowel movement. Avoid painkillers that contain codeine because they can cause constipation. Gradually increase the amount of fiber in your diet and make sure to drink enough water.

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Over the counter ointments and creams can help to shrink piles and relieve the pain. A prescription ointment may be necessary for severe piles. Medicine may pass through your milk if you are breastfeeding so before using it, talk to your pharmacist about any risks. You can use ibuprofen for a few days for the pain but it is better to try using more natural remedies over the long term such as a sitz bath, cold packs or a gentle cleansing routine.

Witch hazel, a herbal remedy, is often used to treat piles. Soak a pad a spray bottle of witch hazel, fold it and freeze it in foil. Use it as an ice pack. Some women add five to ten drops of other essential oils to the witch hazel such as frankincense, lavender, rosemary or geranium oil.  These essential oils reduce inflammation and support tissue regeneration.

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10. Exhaustion

One of the most common problems experienced by mothers after the birth is exhaustion. Your body is recovering, you are trying to adjust to being a mother and you are not having enough sleep. It is very hard to get any sleep in those first few months when your baby might have colic and you are trying to breastfeed through the night. Even six months into motherhood, fatigue is a common complaint. When you’re exhausted, your ability to perform even the simplest tasks is compromised.

New mothers are often given the advice that they should sleep when their babies are sleeping. It may be hard to try and sleep when your house is dirty and you don’t think you can just switch off. Try closing the curtains, lying down on the bed and closing your eyes. You may just fall asleep quicker than you expect. If you have other children to take care of, get family and friends to help out.

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You need to find the time to take care of yourself. You may just want to stay in your pajamas or yoga pants and a t-shirt all day and that is okay for a while. But try putting on a little makeup every day – when you look less tired, you tend to feel less tired. Rope in friends or family to look after the baby once a week so you can do something you enjoy like going for a massage.

It may help to join a support group for new moms. You won’t be so stressed about concerns that may be bothering you and wearing you out because you will be able to talk about them and discuss solutions. Other new mothers won’t judge you because they are going through the same experiences.

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11. Physical intercourse

It’s usually the dads rather than the moms who want to know when they can have physical activity again. Mothers usually have some anxiety about having physical activity after giving birth. It’s generally recommended to wait about six weeks. This is because there is increased risk of getting an infection when your uterus is still healing. Bacteria can be introduced during intercourse. It can also take about six weeks for you to recover completely.

Remember down there, you may never be quite the same after birth and it can take a while to feel you are ready for physical activity again. Lack of sleep, possible body image issues and being responsible for a new baby hardly puts you in the mood for activity. Add to this the fact that oxytocin produced while breastfeeding lowers your libido.  You don’t have to feel guilty that you don’t feel like having physical activity – it’s a perfectly normal response.

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You do need to express physical intimacy during this time or you can start to lose that connection with your husband. While you’re not having physical activity, just touching and kissing can help you to feel connected. This period may be the beginning of drifting apart or it may solidify your relationship, depending on how it is handled.  If you are dreading having physical activity again, take it slow and remember you won’t feel like this forever.

When you’re ready for physical activity, a sense of humor, a glass of wine and some lubrication will definitely help! You are low on estrogen after delivery and this causes dryness due to the vaginal mucosa being thinner. You may need to figure out different times to have physical activity. Weekend afternoons, while the baby is napping, may be a good time. It can take the pressure off having to have physical activity at night when you’re exhausted. Some women report that physical activity is better after childbirth because they are more comfortable with their bodies and their potential for pleasure increases.

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12. Postpartum diet issues

You may have picked up some weight during your pregnancy and now you want to lose it again. It is important to keep your body well nourished after giving birth, especially if you are breastfeeding. Breastfeeding burns about 500 calories every day and if you consume less than 1,500 calories a day, you may become nutritionally deficient.  Exhaustion is more likely to set in if your diet is poor and you are just grabbing the nearest sweet snack instead of thinking about what you are eating.

Eating colorful foods and getting plenty of protein and fiber is important if you want your body to heal quickly. Your body has to have that balance of lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates for energy. It helps to prepare some healthy meals and freeze them ahead of time.

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Switching to healthy snacks such as apples with peanut butter can make a big difference to your energy levels. You won’t have that sugar crash you experience when eating unhealthy, sweet snacks. Too much iron can cause constipation so do not take an iron supplement unless it is recommended by your doctor. You can get iron from plenty of food sources such as meat, lentils, beans, and broccoli.

The internet is full of long lists of foods breastfeeding moms should avoid. You might start feeling as though you literally can’t eat anything without some risk. The best advice is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and not avoid a long list of foods unless an issue arises.  Breast milk is made from the mom’s blood and not what passes through her digestive tract. Cow’s milk, soy, wheat, peanuts, egg, and corn may be the exception as some babies are allergic to these foods. You can start eliminating these foods one by one if you suspect they might be causing problems.  

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13. Postpartum exercise

You may have stayed fit and healthy throughout your pregnancy and if this is the case, exercising after the birth will be easier. If you were not active during your pregnancy or had a difficult delivery, you probably need to begin gently and listen to your body. You will need to be patient and realistic. If you push yourself too hard in the beginning, you can delay healing.

Exercising has many benefits for you as a new mum because it gives you a boost of energy, lowers your stress levels and can improve your sleep quality. Keeping your body moving daily will also help you to digest your food and prevent constipation. It will also help you to drop any extra weight you may have picked up during pregnancy.

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The simplest way to exercise is to go for a walk with your baby in a stroller. It is probably better to wait until after your postnatal check at six to eight weeks before doing any other types of exercise (apart from Kegels!). If you start doing heavier exercises and you find that bleeding gets stronger again after having tapered down, it’s a sign that your body needs more time to heal.

Some women are able to begin an exercise routine some days after the birth but most need much longer to recover. You may be worried about your flabby stomach. It had to stretch so much while your baby grew and all you can think about is trying to get it back in shape. Be careful about doing abdominal exercises during those first six weeks. Some of them, like traditional crunches, can cause damage. It’s better to wait until you stop bleeding, your stitches have dissolved and you have no more swelling or inflammation before doing any serious exercise. 

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14. The ‘baby blues’ and postnatal depression

It is perfectly normal to feel plenty of emotions in the few days after the birth. Giving birth is a tiring and emotional experience, so it’s not surprising if you feel ecstatic and overwhelmed all at the same time. You may feel physical discomfort, you’re going through hormonal changes, and you’re worried about the demands of caring for your new baby.

You are probably just experiencing the baby blues’. As a new mum, you are highly likely to go through this short-lived period when you feel moody, sad or weepy. Experiencing a traumatic birth, sleep deprivation and difficulty with breastfeeding are just some issues that can add to the state of your emotions. These feelings may last up to two weeks of giving birth.

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If you are feeling ‘blue’, try to go outside and get some natural light. The light tells your brain to produce serotonin, a key player regulating your emotions. All you need to do is to sit outside for a while in the fresh air. You don’t even have to do any exercise although exercise can also lift your mood. Eating a healthy diet can also contribute to your emotional well-being as can getting enough rest and sleep.

If the feelings of anxiety don’t fade and you feel progressively worse instead of better, you could be experiencing postnatal depression. You may experience changes in eating and sleeping habits, difficulty concentrating and feelings of hopelessness. You may feel increasingly as though you can’t cope. Some women lose interest in their babies and are unable to care for them. Postpartum depression is serious and you shouldn’t have to handle it alone.  You may benefit from psychotherapy, medication, a combination of the two and attending a support group.

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