The first six weeks
The first six weeks after the birth of your baby are known as the puerperium or postnatal period, during which time you will experience physical and emotional changes. If you had a Caesarean section you will be recovering from the operation. After a vaginal birth, your perineum (tail end) may be uncomfortable or even painful because it may be swollen and bruised or because of any stitches you may have had. The physical changes are because your body is returning to its pre-pregnant state or as a result of your labour and birth experience. Speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP if you are worried about anything. They can also advise you how to reduce some of the symptoms you are experiencing.
Here are some things you will notice about your body:Immediately after the birth, your tummy will look saggy and soft. You may experience 'afterpains' which are like period pains and occur because your uterus (womb) is returning to its normal size. These can be stronger with your second baby onwards because of increased stretching of the muscles in your uterus. Afterpains are more noticeable when you are breastfeeding due to the effect of oxytocin which is needed to help milk release, which also causes your uterus to contract.
You may also experience general aches and pains over your body because of your efforts during your labour, but also because muscles and joints are returning to normal. Your breasts may feel uncomfortable even if you are not breastfeeding and your midwife will advise about breast care.
Lochia and bleeding
After you've had your baby, you will have a vaginal discharge called lochia. For the first three days it is red in colour and is a bit like the first days of your period. This red blood then turns pinkish brown in colour for four to ten days and then creamish for 11-21 days. The discharge should slow down after the first week, and you will need to use sanitary towels. Tampons are not suitable because of the risk of infection.
Get midwifery or medical advice if you experience any of the following
- if you think you are bleeding heavily
- your discharge has a smell
- you have a temperature
- you pass clots of blood after the first few days.
Constipation is a common problem - and worrying about your stitches may stop you from going to the toilet. Your stitches won't burst. Drink plenty of fluids, eat high fibre foods (including fruit and vegetables) and speak to your midwife about taking a laxative or stool softener.
You will pass more urine in the first few days. If you think you are struggling to empty your bladder it is important to let your midwife know. If you feel you are still wetting yourself (stress incontinence) after six weeks speak to your GP. However, don't forget to regularly do your pelvic floor exercises.