Once your precious bundle is born, the toughest part of your pregnancy journey may indeed be over, but the process of childbirth continues for a couple of weeks as your body starts to recover and adjust to its new role. Here’s a look at what you’ll likely encounter in your first day as a mother. Yes, some stuff is challenging (or painful or gross), but it’s all temporary — and one look at that tiny face and you’ll know it’s all worth it.
A POST-BABY BELLY
Remember Her Royal Highness Kate Middleton’s still-round belly during her baby prince’s debut? Just like the duchess, you’ll still have a baby belly even after the baby’s out. You probably know the reason why: During pregnancy, the uterus, abdominal muscles, and skin are stretched (and stretched and stretched) over a nine-month period, so it’s no wonder it takes weeks (if not longer) for that area to shrink back after giving birth. If you have a C-section, you should also expect some extra weakness and swelling in the abdomen due to the incision.
EXCESS WATER WEIGHT
First, the good news: Immediately after giving birth you will lose about 10 to 13 pounds, which includes the weight of the baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid. But you’ll still be carrying excess weight in those first 24 hours, much of which is water. (After a C-section you’ll probably notice extra swelling throughout your body as a result of the IV fluids you receive during the procedure.) Fortunately, this water weight is not yours to keep — you’ll start shedding it within a week after delivery, so be prepared for plenty of peeing and perspiring. Night sweats are particularly common after giving birth, so consider sleeping on a towel you can change out in the middle of the night until your fluid levels are back to normal.
After a vaginal delivery or C-section, you’ll experience a vaginal discharge called lochia, which consists of leftover blood, mucus, and sloughed-off tissue from the lining of the uterus. For lots of women, the bleeding is quite heavy in the first three to 10 days postpartum (sometimes heavier than a menstrual period), but this is perfectly normal and will taper off over the next several weeks. And don’t be alarmed if you notice sudden gushes of blood or blood clots either — this is also standard. Just load up on pads and wait it out. If, however, you think your bleeding is excessive, let your practitioner know ASAP.
Sorry, Mom, but those darned contractions last well after giving birth. Once the baby arrives, your uterus starts to tighten as it returns to its pre-pregnancy size and location. That means shrinking from more than two pounds to about two ounces and making its way back down into the pelvis. These postpartum contractions are called after pains — they’re particularly noticeable when you breastfeed, which triggers the production of oxytocin, the hormone that causes the contractions. The good news is that after pains are short-lived, with the most noticeable contractions subsiding within a week (even the most subtle contractions disappear within six weeks). Just think of these pesky cramps as a reminder that things (namely, your uterus) are getting back to normal.
This one comes as no surprise: After giving birth, it takes time to heal. If you deliver vaginally, your perineum (the area between the rectum and the vagina) will be stretched, swollen, bruised, and possibly torn. Whether you need stitches to repair the perineum or not, it may be uncomfortable to sit down at first. Ease pain with a sitz bath (where you soak the perineum in water), and use a squirt bottle with warm water to clean up after going to the bathroom. It’s also helpful to place ice packs and witch-hazel pads on the area to alleviate swelling and pain.
If you have a C-section, you’ll be recovering from major abdominal surgery, which will likely cause soreness around the incision, nausea (a side effect of anesthesia), constipation, and exhaustion. Your practitioner can give you pain relievers that are safe to take if you’re nursing, and you’ll likely need to stay in the hospital for three to four days after giving birth. Once you’re home, if you see redness, swelling, or oozing around the incision, notify your doctor right away.
After you’ve pushed out that baby, the thought of pushing anything else out of your body can be a little intimidating. If you delivered via C-section, peeing can be difficult once the catheter is removed, and anesthesia can slow the bowels down, resulting in constipation. With a vaginal delivery, a bruised bladder and sore perineum can make it painful to pee. What’s more, all of the pushing involved in delivering a baby often causes a sore rectum and hemorrhoids, which can lead to some pretty uncomfortable postpartum BMs. The simplest way to get things moving is to drink lots of water and eat high-fiber foods.
While breast milk doesn’t usually come in until the third or fourth day postpartum, your breasts will produce small amounts of colostrum (a thick, yellowish precursor to breast milk) immediately after you give birth. Because newborns tend to be very alert within the first two hours after delivery, this is an ideal time to try that first feeding. But know that as the two of you work together on perfecting the latch, your nipples will likely feel tender and sore. The best way to alleviate nipple pain — and future breastfeeding problems — is to get help from a lactation consultant or other expert early on to ensure that your baby is latched on correctly. Once you get that right, nipple pain should ease up.
The day your baby arrives will be among the happiest of your life, but it’s also normal to experience emotional highs and lows in the first days or weeks after giving birth. There’s a lot going on to trigger mood swings, including hormonal changes, physical discomfort, and getting used to your newborn’s demands, which translate into a shocking lack of sleep for you. To cope, be sure to give yourself time to adjust to the new normal, enlist help from family and friends, and try to rest whenever you can, all of which will help stabilize your mood. If you continue to feel down for more than two weeks, or if you feel like you can’t take care of your baby, don’t keep it to yourself. Tell your partner or a friend, and seek professional help as soon as possible.