YOUR POSTPARTUM BODY - WHAT TO EXPECT
YOUR POSTPARTUM BODY - WHAT TO EXPECT
Your body works hard in the weeks after the birth. Here's what's happening.
During pregnancy, women usually look forward to the day when their bodies will be “back to normal.” But if you expect this to happen right after the birth, you’ll be in for a shock. Your body has a lot of work to do in the postpartum weeks: recovering from the hard work of labour, healing any tears or bruised tissue and getting milk production underway. It will take time for your body to return to its non-pregnant state.
Your uterus, stretched to many times its original size, must contract over the next few weeks until it’s nearly as small as before your first pregnancy. It is important that it contract efficiently right after the birth, to prevent excess blood loss. (You may receive an injection to help the process.)
The uterus sheds its lining as it contracts, so you will have bleeding from the vagina, much like a menstrual period. This will gradually diminish to a light-coloured discharge which may last for up to six weeks after the baby’s birth.
When you breastfeed your baby, her suckling will stimulate your uterus to contract further. This may be uncomfortable for a few days, and may cause a gush of blood from your vagina, but it helps to reduce the total amount of blood loss and returns your uterus to its non-pregnant size.
Urinating for the first time after delivery can be challenging it’s as though your body has forgotten how! Once you get the plumbing working again, you may discover that urine stings the sensitive perineal tissues surrounding the vagina. Using a squirt bottle to pour warm water over your perineum as you urinate will make it more comfortable, and help to keep any tears clean. You may also worry about the first bowel movement, especially if there are stitches. Plenty of fruits, vegetables and water will help keep your stools soft, so you don’t have to strain.
You may have had a tear or an episiotomy during the delivery of your baby. Even if you haven’t, your perineum may be quite swollen and tender. An ice pack, made from a plastic sandwich bag filled with crushed ice or frozen peas, will reduce the swelling and discomfort.
Whether or not you plan to breastfeed your new baby, your breasts will produce milk. In the first few days, the milk is called colostrum and is a creamy yellow colour. There won’t seem to be much of it but it is just what your newborn needs. After about the third day, your breasts will become fuller and may be quite tender as the “mature” milk comes in. Frequent nursing will help keep engorgement to a minimum. If you do become engorged (your breasts will be hot, hard, and uncomfortable), ice packs wrapped in a towel may reduce the swelling. About 15 minutes before the next feeding, switch to warm, wet washcloths or run a gentle shower spray over your breasts, and then express a small amount of milk. If you are wearing a bra, make sure it is large enough and does not constrict the milk ducts. And take heart the engorgement should pass in a day or two.
Breastfeeding mothers may find that their breasts leak milk between feedings, or leak on one side while the baby nurses on the other. This does settle down eventually. In the meantime, cotton nursing pads inside your bra will absorb the milk but be sure to change them frequently.
Some women develop stress incontinence after birth. This means that when they sneeze, cough or even laugh hard, a small amount of urine is released. The muscles can be strengthened again with Kegel exercises: tighten the muscles that control the urine flow (practise on the toilet if you’re not sure which muscles to contract) frequently throughout the day.
You may also find the appearance of your abdomen discouraging. Those abdominal muscles have been stretched to their limits over the past few months, and they won’t “snap back” overnight. Nor, for that matter, will your weight. Expect a gradual weight loss, and don’t stress your body with drastic diets. You need good food to stay healthy.
Some experts suggest that you should consider your pregnancy to be 12 months long instead of nine. The “fourth trimester” (as the early postpartum months are sometimes called) is a time to recover physically, establish breastfeeding, and adjust to life with a new baby. Try not to worry yet about how your body looks. Eating well, getting as much rest as possible, and gradually returning to light exercise will help you make the transition from expectant mother to busy parent.
You didn’t just have a baby you had major abdominal surgery as well! Your hospital stay will be longer than that of a mother who gave birth vaginally, and you may need extra pain-relieving medication while you recover.
Mothers are encouraged to be up and walking as soon as possible after surgery but you also need extra rest. You will need help with the housework once you return home.
It’s scary but normal to feel as though the incision will burst open every time you laugh or cough. It won’t, but you’ll probably feel more comfortable if you use a pillow or rolled-up towel to support the incision.
Finding a comfortable breastfeeding position can also be a challenge. Many Caesarean mothers prefer lying on one side (perhaps with a pillow against the abdomen) to nurse; others use the football hold, which keeps the baby’s body alongside the mother’s rather than resting on the incision. The nurses at the hospital can help you try out these positions.
While your recovery may take a little longer, be reassured that with rest and good nutrition, your body will soon heal.
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