The days and weeks after giving birth can be one of the most challenging times for new mothers. Although you may want to focus every moment on your new infant, your own physical discomforts can get in the way. In addition to caring for your new baby, vaginal bleeding, uterine cramping, breast pain and postpartum depression can require your attention.
The postpartum period includes the first few weeks following the birth of your baby. Depending on your health and the difficulty of your baby’s delivery, you may spend one to two days in the hospital following the birth. Cesarean deliveries often require a longer hospital stay. While you are in the hospital and for several weeks thereafter, your body will undergo several adjustments as your uterus sheds blood and tissue, your breasts begin producing milk and your hormones return to their former levels.
During the first few days and weeks after pregnancy, you may experience sore breasts as your milk comes in and your nipples adjust to breastfeeding. Cold washcloths or icepacks as well as warm showers may help ease breast pain. Postpartum cramping, known as after-birth pain, occurs in the postpartum period as your uterus gradually shrinks in size. This cramping can increase in intensity with subsequent births. Vaginal tears or an episiotomy can make urinating painful. MayoClinic.com recommends soaking in a warm tub and using a squirt bottle to wash your wound after using the toilet. High-fiber foods can help treat hemorrhoids and constipation, other discomforts that often plague new mothers.
Following the birth of your baby, your body adjusts to a non-pregnancy state. Vaginal discharge may start out heavier than a normal period, gradually lessening over a period up to six weeks. Your doctor may advise you to use sanitary pads rather than tampons during this period. Breast milk normally comes in about two to four days after delivery, making your breasts feel heavy and swollen. Nursing your baby or using a breast pump can ease your discomfort. Nursing pads can help absorb leaking milk, a common occurrence in new mothers. If you are not breastfeeding, your regular menstrual period may start after six to eight weeks. If you don’t want another baby right away, use birth control prior to having sex.
Difficult vaginal deliveries and women who have Cesarean sections require special care during the postpartum period. Regular physical tasks may be painful and you may require prescription medications. Your doctor may restrict your activities for several weeks, limiting your ability to lift heavy items, climb stairs, take baths, have sex and swim. Extra rest during your post-pregnancy period can help you relax and enjoy your new baby.
Some new mothers experience complications during the postpartum period. Uterine bleeding and breast infections all require medical care. Contact your doctor if you experience a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, pain in one or both breasts, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, burning during urination, severe headache or a sudden onset of pain in your abdominal area. Postpartum depression can cause feelings of profound sadness and alienation from your baby, and can be helped with medication and therapy. Contact your doctor at any time if you have concerns regarding your health or the health of your new baby.