Nothing beats the feeling of holding your newborn baby in your arms for the first time.
For months prior to your delivery date, you’ve likely dreamt of that moment, and the moments leading up to the delivery. You attended birthing classes, your hospital bag is packed with everything but the kitchen sink, the nursery is complete, and the car seat is installed — you’re ready! But what you might not be thinking about are the days after giving birth — the postpartum experience of a momentous shift on your body and mind.
When pregnant, you likely followed a week-by-week guide to understand the changes going on inside your belly as you grew your tiny human, like whether your baby was the size of a peach or a watermelon. You were also able to confirm that the common symptoms you were experiencing were normal, given which trimester you were in. However, the hard-fast guidelines of what to expect postpartum may not be as clear.
What to expect the first week post birth
It’s common to feel tired and achy after labor. As the uterus contracts back to its normal size, many women feel abdominal aches and flutters, almost mimicking the feeling of menstrual cramps. The discomfort should subside after a few days and can be treated with over-the-counter pain medicine. It’s also common for breast engorgement to occur, which is when your breasts swell as they fill with milk. A few days after giving birth, you may notice your breasts feel tender and sore. The discomfort typically goes away once you start breastfeeding or pumping regularly, if you choose to do so. To ease the problem, take a warm shower or lay warm towels on your breasts to help with milk flow. Nursing pads are your friend. Place them in your bra so your clothes don’t get wet. Drink plenty of water and wear your comfiest clothing.
You may also have vaginal discharge known as lochia, which is benign leftover blood, mucus, and tissue from your uterus. This can occur for the first few weeks and can be as heavy as your period. Pads are recommended, as tampons can put you at risk for infection or cause further problems and irritation.
Other potential symptoms include:
- Nipple pain
- Pain or a burning sensation when urinating
- Swollen veins in and around the anus known as hemorrhoids
- Night sweats
- Hair loss
If problems or discomfort from any of these symptoms do not subside, contact your provider.
Gauge your mental status
Throughout your postpartum journey, it is normal to experience a bit of the “baby blues,” where mood swings, sad, anxious, or overwhelmed feelings, as well as a temporary loss of appetite, are normal. They typically don’t last longer than a couple of weeks as you adjust to motherhood. Postpartum depression, on the other hand, lasts longer and is more severe. In fact, one in seven women experiences postpartum depression. It can begin the first month after childbirth and last to up to a year after birth. Postpartum depression needs to be treated by a healthcare provider and is a serious mental illness that involves the brain and affects you both physically and mentally. Depression is indicated by sad or empty feelings that don’t subside. Those that have postpartum depression may feel unconnected to their baby. If these feelings occur, reach out to your healthcare provider immediately for help. There is light at the end of the tunnel; postpartum depression is common and treatable.
Each recovery is different
Everyone’s postpartum timeline varies, especially if you’ve had a C-section as opposed to a vaginal delivery. If you just gave birth to your third child in record time with no complications, your recovery will be different than a labor that resulted in an emergency C-section after 36 long hours. During your recovery process and beyond, say yes to help. If your friends and family are reaching out and asking to lend a hand, let them! Your body needs to heal, and in order to be the best mom you can be, you need to feel your best. Even in a pandemic, there are ways family and friends can help lighten the load a bit—whether it’s running errands, dropping groceries off on the front step, or connecting you with a new mom support group.
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