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What No One Tells You About Recovering from Childbirth

post birth recovery

Yay! The baby’s here! What a miracle. But post-birth recovery…it’s not exactly a picnic. After you’ve given birth, you will experience myriad mental and physical changes, from bleeding to mood swings. So how do you know which changes are normal and which ones warrant a call to the doc? Read on for a rundown of what to expect, how to cope and when to ask for help.


What’s normal: It’s normal to have bleeding, similar to a heavy period, for up to six weeks. The lining of the uterus is shedding, so it may be heavy early on but it should lighten over the next few weeks. You may also experience increased bleeding and pain similar to contractions while breastfeeding, as nursing stimulates oxytocin, which affects all of the smooth muscles in your body. This process is helping your uterus to contract back to its pre-pregnancy size.

What’s not normal: Contact your doctor if you are soaking through a pad every hour, if you are passing clots greater than the size of a loonie, or if you have foul-smelling discharge or a fever. It may be an infection or retained placenta.


What’s normal: Many women tear or have an episiotomy during delivery, so it’s common for the area to be sore and uncomfortable for up to a few weeks (you likely have stitches, so this makes sense!). Use a peri bottle filled with water after urination or bowel movements to keep the area clean. Some women use ice packs (or maxi pads soaked in water and frozen), especially 24 to 72 hours after delivery, to help bring down the swelling. It’s also recommended to sit on a donut pillow and use a stool softener to stay ahead of the pain.

What’s not normal: If you’ve taken Tylenol or Advil and you still have substantial pain, or if the pain gets worse, call your doctor.


What’s normal: It is very common for women to develop hemorrhoids during pregnancy or during the delivery. Basically, intra-abdominal pressure forces veins to swell and stretch around the anal area. You can treat the symptoms of pain, itching and discomfort by taking regular, 10-minute sitz baths (a shallow bath with warm water). Also be sure to drink lots of water and eat a high fibre diet to avoid straining. You can also apply witch hazel, which is soothing, or use an over-the-counter product containing hydrocortisone and zinc oxide.

What’s not normal: For many women, the hemorrhoids will eventually go away, but others will have them long term. Consult with your doctor if you’re bleeding or are in a lot of pain.


What’s normal: After delivery, your breasts will fill with milk and become engorged. Often, it is difficult for newborns to help relieve the engorgement because they can’t yet suck hard enough. Some babies also have trouble latching, which can cause moms to have bleeding or cracked nipples. For engorgement, use Tylenol or Advil to treat the pain (cool compresses and even cabbage leaves can also help) but you’ll also need to relieve the pressure: Try hand-expressing or pumping and you should see an improvement fairly quickly. If you have sore nipples, lanolin or other cream developed for nipples can help, but you should also see a lactation consultant to see if you can tweak your nursing techniques or positions. Otherwise, the pain will worsen.

What’s not normal: Call your doctor if your breast is sore, hard and red, or if you have a fever. It could be an infection called mastitis and you may need antibiotics.


What’s normal: Follow your doctor’s directions to care for your C-section scar. Once the staples come out, you will likely get steri-strip bandages, which you should leave on for as long as your doctor advises. When you remove them, keep the area clean by gently cleansing with soap and water.

What’s not normal: If your scar is an angry colour of red, oozing or smelly, contact your doctor.


What’s normal: Forty to 80 per cent of women will develop what’s commonly called “the baby blues.” This is normal. This mood issue is related to the change in post-birth hormones and it usually starts during the first postpartum week. It can last for a few days up to a few weeks. Rely on the support of your friends and family to get through it.

What’s not normal: Up to 10 per cent of women may develop postpartum depression, which can appear anytime within 12 months of delivery. If you have substantial sadness or anxiety, or are having trouble caring for your baby, see your doctor. Anxiety can be common, but if it interferes with eating and sleeping and you are agitated all the time, take it as a warning sign. It can be treated with a range of therapies including individual therapy, group therapy or medication. Women who have had postpartum depression before are more likely to experience it again.

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