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Your body after birth

The Modern Midwife’s guide to post-partum recovery

Author Marie Louise
Categories   Postpartum

The Edit

Birth is such a unique experience and no matter how you gave birth, you did it mama! Your body is so incredible – it has grown your beautiful baby and now it’s entering a recovery period. The inbuilt intelligence your body has, as amazing as it is, can always do with a bit of input from yourself.

This is a time to take things as gently as you can and really listen to your body. The social media and celebrity myths depicting an almost instant recovery are misleading. The main thing to bear in mind is there is no rush to try to ‘bounce back’ to your pre-natal body.

Trying to do too much too soon could even prolong or jeopardise your recovery. It took 9-10 months to grow your baby and it can take that, and longer, to fully recover. Research shows that iron stores may take up to 18 months to replenish.

You may find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster ride. How you view your body or how you feel on particular days can be significantly impacted by your hormones. A passing comment can be really hurtful, and you may find yourself replaying conversions or comments in your head. This is very common during those early days, weeks or even months.

Give yourself time to adjust and go easy on yourself. If you feel that things in general are getting too much, ask for help, whether from your partner, family, friends or your midwife/GP. Try to rest and pace yourself and let go of expectations or previous standards where housekeeping is concerned.

"It took 9-10 months to grow your baby and it can take that, and longer, to fully recover."

If you’re not able to do this, you could try enlisting extra help, including paid help such as a cleaner. Often friends and family will offer help and want to feel useful, and accepting this could make things a lot easier. If they don’t offer during a visit, please have the confidence to ask them to pop the dishwasher on or unload the washing machine. The more we make this the norm, the better.

Keeping in touch with other new mums and/or joining groups will support you, by sharing concerns, tips and much more! It’s best not to compare yourself, rather accept the differences that make everyone unique. Some new mums feel guilty or bad about days that aren’t going so well or are particularly difficult. It can all seem so different to what you expected, and you don’t always feel elated.

Tiredness can influence your mood, emotions, patience and thought processes. By taking care of yourself, eating as well as you can, and trying to get as much rest as possible, you’ll start to feel more balanced and supported both in your body and mind.

Your baby will love just being with you; your smell, voice, the feeling of you and the security of knowing you are there. If you have a partner, they too will want to be included to help and share the new experiences that come with parenthood and a baby. Including your partner or a close family member will mean that you can have some breaks and some rest.

"It’s best not to compare yourself, rather accept the differences that make everyone unique."

Common post-partum changes

Hormonal changes will vary depending on whether you are breastfeeding or not. If you do decide to breastfeed, two hormones will be come into play – Oxytocin and Prolactin. If you don’t breastfeed, the hormones will diminish as they work on a supply and demand basis.

You will feel and look lighter than pre-birth, but you will still have a ‘bump’ for some days or even weeks after giving birth. Some mums say they return to their pre-pregnancy shape and others say they don’t. Both are normal unless you have pain, which should always be investigated.

If you had a Caesarean section, you will have an abdominal wound that needs some care. Your midwife will advise you on this depending on the type of stitches and dressing you have in place. Report any oozing or offensive smell right away, even if you’re still in hospital.

If you had a tear or episiotomy, you will have a vaginal wound to take care of. Lavender baths have been clinically proven to support healing.

You may experience contractions (‘after pains’) which can range from mild and uncomfortable to rather painful – the more babies you have, the stronger these are. The contractions tend to be worse during breastfeeding.

Soreness/swelling in and around the vagina and perineum. Cooling sanitary pads may help.

The soreness can be all over, especially if you had a particularly long and difficult labour leaving your muscles aching. If pain doesn’t settle or improve, please talk to your midwife about this before you are discharged from their care.

Your body and mind will feel different from day to day, week to week, and month to month after birth.

You will experience some vaginal bleeding (called ‘lochia’) even if you had a C-section.

Sore, engorged breasts. This usually happens on day 3-5 if you’re breastfeeding. To avoid mastitis, feed regularly and express if you need to, rather than let the milk build up. Ensure you also avoid tight clothes and underwired bras.

Constipation and haemorrhoids. Sometimes mums are really worried about going for a poo, especially if they have stitches. It’s really important to try and go as soon as you feel you need to. Eat LOTS of fibre and drink at least two litres of water per day. It’s hard to keep up with the fluids but I promise it helps.

"You will feel and look lighter than pre-birth, but you will still have a ‘bump’ for some days or even weeks after giving birth."

Pain relief

If you need pain relief, paracetamol and ibuprofen are safe to take. Avoid aspirin or aspirin-based medications if you are breastfeeding. If you need anything stronger, or are taking other medications, discuss this with your GP first. It’s important to start moving as soon as you can within your personal limits. Gentle movement such as walking and stretching can support healthy blood flow and recovery.

When to get medical help quickly

If you are passing large clots or more than 500ml (one pint) in the first 24 hours. This could be a post-partum haemorrhage.

If you experience shortness of breath and/or chest pain.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clot) is most common in the calf. Signs and symptoms include pain, swelling and tenderness in one leg, usually at the back of your calf, an achy feeling and warm/hot skin in that area and redness of skin at the back of your leg, below the knee.

In a word, the postpartum period is ‘transformative’. All bodies are different. You are a unique being, so avoid comparing yourself with others. Your post birth recovery will depend on lots of factors. Probably the single most common influence will be down to your birth experience.

Ask your midwife what you need to do to support your physical recovery. For example, how much blood did you lose? Would you possibly benefit from iron supplementation? Or should you consider seeing a women’s health physiotherapist?

Your midwife and GP will be monitoring both yours and your baby’s progress regularly, as well as follow up visits and doctor’s checks. And don’t forget, you can contact your health professionals at any time – day or night.

Author Marie Louise

Marie Louise is an experienced Midwife, PTLLS adult educator and hypno-birthing teacher from the UK. She has travelled extensively to learn about midwifery in different cultures and has also practised in Australia. She runs ‘Modern Midwives Meetups’ which provide a safe space for midwives to share best practice and hear from experts in the maternity field. Marie Louise is a sought after expert and has most recently been invited to Parliament to discuss maternal mental health and maternity discrimination. She's also a communications partner for Child.Org, an equal opportunities charity for children and advises Cocoon Family Health, a perinatal mental health charity based in London.

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