Giving birth can be a nerve-wracking experience, and more than likely you’ve done all you can to prepare for it. But did you know it’s important to plan for your recovery after birth as well? Rashmi Bolinjkar, M.D., OB/GYN at Texas Health Women’s Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice in Allen, TX, and on the medical staff at Texas Health Allen, at shares what every woman should know about recovery after childbirth.
Recovery can look different from woman to woman, depending on whether you delivered your baby vaginally or had a C-section.
If you had a C-section, Bolinjkar says you can expect to stay at the hospital for at least three to four days. Vaginal births are discharged quicker—usually within a day or two, barring there are no birth complications.
After you’ve left the hospital, your body will continue to recover at home. Here’s what you can expect.
“The area between your vagina and anus may be sore, and [that soreness may last for] several weeks,” claims Bolinjkar. “If you had stitches due to a torn perineum, they should heal in about 7-8 days. In the case of a C-section, stitches might take 12 weeks to heal.”
The uterus stretches immensely during pregnancy, which means that after birth, it must return back to its normal shape and size. As it does so, “You may experience pain in the lower belly,” Bolinjkar remarks. “This [pain] is common during breastfeeding as it stimulates a chemical in your body that causes the uterus to tighten.”
Initially, breastfeeding can also be a source of pain as it results in sore breasts and cracked, bleeding nipples while your body adjusts to feeding your baby.
Due to the added weight on your body during pregnancy, as well as the pressure and strain of pushing during delivery, the development of hemorrhoids is typical. While they are most often harmless, hemorrhoids can be uncomfortable. Until they heal, Bolinjkar says you may have pain and bleeding during bowel movements.
And speaking of bowel movements, constipation is common after giving birth and can contribute to hemorrhoids as well.
After childbirth, the hormones in your body need time to level out. These fluctuating hormones are responsible for a variety of postpartum symptoms.
For example, if you notice the swelling you developed during pregnancy or delivery is not going down right away, this is normal. Bolinjkar claims that the hormone progesterone causes the body to retain water. After about a week’s time, any swelling should begin to lessen.
Low levels of the hormone estrogen are attributed to night sweats and hair loss.
Hormone changes also lead to frequent mood swings. If you find yourself more emotional postpartum, your fluctuating hormones are definitely to blame.
You might have heard of women having “baby blues”. This is a term doctors use to describe these mood swings.
“Baby blues is a feeling where you are excited to bring your baby home [but] you’re sad the very next minute,” Bolinjkar explains.
These rapid changes in mood can be distressing but are usually short-term.
A lot of women are concerned about weight loss postpartum. Give yourself some leeway in that regard. Bolinjkar notes that it could take several months, and sometimes even longer, to lose the baby weight you gained during pregnancy.
“All in all, recovery for most women will last about 6 to 8 weeks. But it might even be longer in some cases,” Bolinjkar states. This may seem like a long time, but your body needs that time to fully heal.
Recovery Do’s and Don’ts
Bolinjkar underlines the importance of rest, relaxation, and eating well post-birth.
“Pay close attention to your body,” she recommends. “Do not overdo it. Overdoing it after birth can set you back in your recovery and lead to injury, muscle strain, and feelings of anxiety.”
Apply ice to your perineal area for 24 hours after giving birth to reduce swelling and pain.
“Keep yourself hydrated and eat nutritious, fiber-rich foods,” Bolinjkar adds. This ensures easy and pain-free bowel movements.
If you experience discomfort while urinating, spray warm water over your perineal area before, during, and after using the restroom.
Although you’ll need to wait a while before going back to your regular workout routine, if you feel up to it, taking walks is great for your physical and mental health.
And if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your pelvic floor after giving birth, Bolinjkar says to perform regular Kegel exercises.
Your 6-week postpartum checkup is an essential part of your recovery. Your provider will check your perineal area and/or your C-section stitches to assess your healing. If everything looks good, you’ll be cleared to resume your normal activities, including sex.
Here are some other things to bring up with your provider at your 6-week postpartum checkup:
Birth control. It is possible to get pregnant quickly after childbirth, sometimes as soon as 6 to 8 weeks postpartum. If you’re not ready to become pregnant again, Bolinjkar says to talk to your doctor about your birth control options.
Hard to handle feelings. Postpartum depression can develop shortly after giving birth. This type of depression is similar to baby blues but is more severe and longer-lasting. In fact, Bolinjkar states that if your baby blues last for longer than two weeks, let your doctor know right away. Your provider will be able to evaluate your symptoms and prescribe an appropriate treatment, if necessary.
While no one wishes to develop complications after childbirth, it’s beneficial to understand what to look out for should any problems arise.
Bolinjkar lists some of the common postpartum complications as vaginal pain or discharge, urinary or fecal incontinence, hair loss, and sleep deprivation, all of which can impact daily functioning.
Additionally, there are more severe complications such as infection (of the uterus), hemorrhaging (excessive bleeding), cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, stroke, deep vein thrombosis or thrombotic pulmonary embolism (blood clots), and postpartum depression.
“Don’t ignore pain,” stresses Bolinjkar. And if anything ever feels off, reach out to your provider. It doesn’t hurt to get things checked out. The earlier the intervention, the better.