Recovering From Childbirth

  • Your body goes through many changes during pregnancy
  • It can take close to 9 months for your body to return to the way it was
  • You'll experience emotional adjustments to your new role as a parent and hormonal changes that happen after childbirth

Things to keep in mind while you recover

  • Anyone who has given birth will experience lochia (vaginal discharge).
  • You can prevent engorgement by frequently nursing your baby.
  • Contact your health provider if your temperature is higher than 38 °C (100.4°F)
  • 80% of new mothers/birthing parents experience the “baby blues”.
  • You might still ovulate and get pregnant before your period returns.

Vaginal discharge (lochia)

    Lochia (vaginal discharge after giving birth) is made up of blood, mucous and tissue from the lining of the uterus. Anyone who has given birth - either vaginally or by caesarean section - will experience lochia after the baby is born.

Lochia stages

  • Right after your baby is born, your lochia will be bright red and might have a few clots in it. In the days (or weeks) following, it will turn a darker red; then pink; then whitish-yellow.
  • It's normal for vaginal discharge to become red again for a short period during or after breastfeeding. This happens because breastfeeding causes mild contractions of the uterus. Bright red blood might also reappear if you suddenly become more active.
  • Lochia can last from 10 days up to 6 weeks. To avoid infection use a sanitary napkin (pad) - not a tampon - during this time.

When to expect your period again

  • It will likely take at least 1-4 months for your body to be ready to have a period again.
  • If you're breastfeeding, it might take months before your period returns. Or you might not get your period until you stop breastfeeding.
  • You might still ovulate and get pregnant before your period returns.
  • If you DON'T want to get pregnant, use a reliable birth control method as soon as you become sexually active again.

When to contact your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if your bleeding or discharge:

  • Is heavier than your normal period or heavier than you think it should be
  • Has a bad smell
  • Becomes bright red again after it has slowed
  • Has clots that are larger than a "loonie" (Canadian $1 coin)

Vaginal pain/discomfort

Caring for your perineum after birth

    It's normal for your perineum (the skin between the anus and vagina) to be swollen, bruised and tender after you have a vaginal birth (especially if you have stitches). This area might be uncomfortable for up to 6 weeks.

You can help your perineum heal and ease your discomfort by:

  • Keeping the area clean. Prevent infection by changing your pads often and using a peri-bottle (a squirt bottle used to clean the perineum) with warm tap water to cleanse your perineum after you go to the bathroom.
  • Applying ice packs to reduce swelling. (A sanitary napkin moistened with water then frozen makes a good ice pack).
  • Air drying the area while resting.
  • Sitting on a cushion.
  • Using a warm sitz bath (a bath where you sit in warm water that covers your perineum). It helps if you dissolve Epsom salts in the water. Sitz baths can help relieve the itching you might feel when your stitches start to heal. You can buy plastic sitz baths at most pharmacies.
  • Resting as often as you can. When your baby is sleeping, sit down and put your feet up.
  • Talking to your health care provider about pain medications that are safe to take while breastfeeding.

When to contact your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if:

  • Your episiotomy (a surgical cut in your perineum) or perineal tear burns.
  • Your stitches open and begin to bleed.
  • You develop signs of an infection (fever, increasing pain, foul-smelling vaginal discharge).

After Pains

  • After delivering your baby, you might feel strong menstrual-like cramps known as "after pains."
  • After pains are caused by your uterus contracting to stop excessive bleeding after birth. They're often more noticeable when you're breastfeeding, and are stronger with second and subsequent pregnancies.
  • Your health care provider might suggest pain medications if your after pains are really painful.

Problems urinating

    In the days following the birth of your baby, you might find it hard to urinate (pee) if you had a catheter or if your perineum is bruised or swollen.

Starting the flow of urine

    Help yourself relax and start the flow of urine by using a peri-bottle with warm tap water and/or running the tap.

Stinging

    It might sting when you urinate if you have an episiotomy or small tears in your vagina. You can take away or ease stinging by using a peri-bottle to squirt warm tap water over the area when you urinate.

Leaking

    Since the pelvic floor muscles are stretched during pregnancy and childbirth, you might leak urine when you laugh, sneeze or cough. Doing Kegel exercises (exercises that strengthen and tone the pelvic floor) can help strengthen these muscles.

When to contact your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if you feel:

  • Pain and/or burning when urinating.
  • A frequent and urgent need to urinate.

Nervousness having a bowel movement

Constipation

  • If your perineum is already sore and/or you have hemorrhoids, you might worry about having a bowel movement after having your baby.
  • Not eating as much and taking pain medication can lessen your urge to have a bowel movement. But it's important to avoid becoming constipated. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating high fibre foods (whole grain foods, natural bran and flaxseed, nuts and seeds, legumes, fresh vegetables and fruits) can help prevent constipation.
  • If you think you're constipated, talk to your health care provider about safe stool softeners.

Hemorrhoids

  • Hemorrhoids are stretched and swollen veins around the rectum. Hemorrhoids might hurt and bleed during a bowel movement and can be painful and itchy in general.
  • If you're experiencing the discomfort of hemorrhoids, try lying down rather than sitting. Applying ice packs, witch hazel and over-the-counter products can also help reduce hemorrhoid pain.

When to contact your health care provider

Contact your health care provider if you experience:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Increasing problems with constipation
  • Pain when having a bowel movement

Excessive sweating

    It's common to sweat a lot in the first few weeks after having a baby, especially at night. Sweating is one way that your body gets rid of the extra fluid it retained during pregnancy. You might also notice that you're urinating more often.

You can reduce the discomfort and inconvenience of excessive sweating by:

  • Drinking more fluids to replace what you have lost
  • Sleeping on a towel to help keep your sheets and pillow dry
  • Using only light blankets and sheets when sleeping
  • Wearing lightweight clothes to sleep in
  • Keeping a fan near your bed

When to contact your health care provider

    If you are feeling sad or depressed (known as baby blues) for longer than 2 weeks could be a sign of a postpartum mood disorder. Talk to your health care provider if the "baby blues" don't go away.

Related links:

Adapted with permission from The Region of Peel (external link)

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Key points

  • Full recovery can take 4-6 weeks.
  • Ask family and friends for help as you recover.
  • Walking and eating healthy will help your body heal.
  • Use safe pain medications: tell your health care provider that you're breastfeeding.

A caesarean section (or "C-section") is the delivery of a baby through a surgical cut (incision) in the parent’s abdomen and uterus.

Except for vaginal discomfort, when you have a caesarean section, you will experience the normal physical and emotional changes following childbirth. However you'll also experience the effects of major abdominal surgery at the same time.

Fully recovering from a caesarean section usually takes 4-6 weeks. Feeling tired is common. You'll need to take good care of yourself and your baby, so asking family and friends to help with care for older children and household chores is important.

Resting & walking

Get lots of rest

  • Plan to get lots of rest when you bring your baby home.
  • Organize diapers, wipes, extra clothes and other baby items in one place to avoid unnecessary trips up and down the stairs. When you first come home from the hospital, don't lift anything heavier than your baby.

Start walking - when you feel ready

  • Although resting is important, you'll need to get up and walk.
  • Walking helps your body heal and prevents complications like blood clots. Walking should become easier with each passing day.
  • Listen to your body to decide when - and how far - to walk. Stop and rest if you start feeling tired or a lot of pain and discomfort while walking.

Pain relief

    It's normal to feel pain in and around your incision. You might also feel numbness and itching as your incision heals.

Your pain following a caesarean section should lessen every day. You might also reduce your discomfort by:

  • Supporting your abdomen near your incision when moving suddenly or coughing or laughing.
  • Using extra pillows for extra support while breastfeeding.

Safe pain medications while breastfeeding

  • Speak to your health care provider about over-the-counter pain medications you can take to relieve the pain from your surgery.
  • Some pain medications can pass through breast milk to your baby, so when seeking pain relief, be sure to tell your health care provider that you're breastfeeding. Your health care provider will tell you which pain medications are both effective and safe for your baby.

Eating healthy

  • Follow the Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide (external link) to help your body heal and support breastfeeding.
  • Eating healthy - such as choosing high-fibre foods and drinking lots of fluids - can help prevent constipation caused by being less active and taking certain pain medications.
  • Talk to your health care provider if you're experiencing constipation.

Feelings of disappointment

  • You may feel disappointed after having a caesarean section, especially if it was unplanned.
  • Talk to your health care provider if these feelings of disappointment last longer than 2 weeks.

When to contact your health care provider

    A caesarean section is a major surgery, so it carries more risk than a vaginal birth.

Contact your health care provider if you experience any of these symptoms after you get home:

  • Fever
  • Signs of infection around your incision (swelling, redness, warmth, or pus)
  • Pain around your incision or in your abdomen that comes on suddenly or gets worse
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding
  • Leg pains
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain

Contact HaltonParents

  • Dial 311 to speak to a HaltonParents public health nurse
    • Monday to Friday
      8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Adapted with permission from The Region of Peel (external link)

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Remember: it's important to take time for yourself and your own health needs.

  • Your health care provider will ask you to make an appointment 6 weeks after your baby is born.
  • Be sure to make - and keep - this important appointment.
  • The purpose of this check up is to make sure that you're recovering well - both physically and emotionally - from the birth of your baby.
  • Take this opportunity to discuss birth control and any other concerns you have. If possible, have someone care for your baby during your appointment so you won't be distracted.

Adapted with permission from The Region of Peel (external link)

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