From pain relief recovery to new-mum hormones, you can help the healing process after you’ve had your baby
Your birth plan is sorted, you’ve mastered your breathing techniques and started your NCT classes…
When you’re pregnant, so much is geared towards the moment you finally have your amazing baby. But what happens after he or she arrives?
While you bond with your newborn, your body is working overtime to recover from all that hard work. Every mum recovers in her own way and it can take anywhere from two to six weeks for your body to heal – sometimes longer.
Whether it’s new-mum tiredness or sore stitches, there are ways to help the healing process and start feeling better.
You’re sore after an epidural
An epidural or spinal block can take a couple of hours to wear off. You’ll know it’s happening as you’ll start to feel tingling sensations in your legs and a throbbing pain in your stomach.
‘If you’ve had a caesarean, you’ll usually be offered morphine while you’re still in hospital to help with the pain,’ says midwife Virginia Howes. ‘If you’ve had a ventouse or forceps birth, you may also be given a suppository of Voltarol, an anti-inflammatory, to reduce swelling and help ease discomfort.’
Once you’re home, if your doctor hasn’t prescribed painkillers, you can take the recommended dose of paracetamol to deal with soreness. Even though a tiny amount can go into your breastmilk, it won’t harm your baby.
While you bond with your newborn, your body is working overtime to recover from all that hard work
You could have stitches
If you’ve had an episiotomy – a surgical cut to your perineum to allow your baby out – or have torn during labour, you’ll be given stitches.
‘The midwife will use dissolvable thread, so you won’t need to have them removed,’ says midwife Sarah Noble. ‘You may feel sore for a couple of weeks, particularly when you pee, as urine is acidic. Pouring warm water over yourself, or even peeing while in the shower, can alleviate this.’
Also, mix four drops of lavender oil with two tablespoons of milk to help it disperse, then add to your bath – it has antiseptic, healing and painkilling properties.
Your midwife will look at your stitches during your postnatal check-up but, if you notice they’re swollen or smell, see your GP as it could be a sign of infection.
Care for your c-section scar
With a caesarean, your consultant will use dissolvable stitches or special staples to seal the surgical opening.
‘A dressing protects the wound for a couple of days, then the stitches should dissolve after a week, or you’ll have the staples removed after around five days,’ says Virginia. ‘Don’t lift anything other than your baby for the first six weeks – overdoing it could put pressure on the scar and make it reopen.’
You should avoid driving for six weeks, and don’t exercise until eight to 10 weeks after the birth. Once your scar has started healing, apply creams or oils to reduce redness. Vitamin E is good for fading scars, as are products containing jojoba or wheatgerm oils.
If you have piles
These can appear during pregnancy or after labour.
‘Pushing your baby out can put pressure on the veins around your bottom, causing piles,’ says Virginia. ‘They’ll appear as lumps by your anus and might be itchy. If they bleed, you may notice bright red blood on the toilet paper or in the toilet.’
A healthy diet helps prevent constipation, which can aggravate piles. Eat high-fibre foods, including fruit, vegetables, wholemeal cereals and oats.
Drink two litres of fluid each day to keep stools soft, too, especially if you’re also breastfeeding, as this can leave you feeling dehydrated.
Topical creams from the chemist will help to relieve the pain and itchiness and, if you follow a healthy diet and don’t strain yourself, they should disappear in a couple of weeks. But if they start bulging out – known as a prolapse – or are painful, see your GP.
Er yes, you could still look pregnant
Ignore celebs who seem to bounce back straight after birth.
‘It can take around 10 days for your uterus to sink back into your pelvis, and up to six weeks for it to return to its pre-birth proportions,’ says Sarah. ‘You’ll feel stomach cramps a bit like period pains during this time, which may be stronger when you breastfeed. This is because the hormone oxytocin, which encourages your uterus to contract, is released during feeding.’
Your stomach muscles will have stretched by up to 4cm during pregnancy, so getting a flat tummy will take even longer.
‘Build up your stomach muscles slowly,’ says Sarah. ‘Start by sitting upright and tensing them, but don’t try a stomach crunch until you’ve had your six-week check-up. Straining the muscles could do more harm than good.’
Exhaustion could set in
For the first 24 hours, you’ll be carried along by adrenalin and excitement but, once you get home, tiredness will hit.
‘Now’s the time to call in favours from family and friends to help with any chores, so you can catch up on some rest,’ says Virginia.
Eating well will also help. Foods that release their energy slowly, such as oats, brown bread and wholewheat pasta, will keep you going. If you need a quick boost, have a banana.
You'll feel hormonal
The baby blues are common, affecting around eight out of 10 new mums, and are thought to be linked to hormonal changes in your body. Levels of oestrogen and progesterone drop, while prolactin, which stimulates milk production, increases.
‘These changes can leave you feeling weepy three or four days after your baby is born,’ says Sarah. ‘You may also get angry or upset over harmless comments or events. This is normal, and you should start feeling better after a couple of weeks.’
If you’re still feeling down after a month, talk to your GP – it could be a sign of postnatal depression