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Caring for Yourself After Birth

The first few weeks after birth can be both wonderful and chaotic. Whether this is your first baby or not, it is a time of adjustment for everyone.

Having a baby affects the whole family physically, emotionally and mentally but will affect you who have given birth the most.

Your body
Here are some changes you can expect in the early days and weeks after birth and info on when to seek help.

Your breasts will produce colostrum (early milk) until your regular milk comes in. It’s normal for your breasts to feel large, heavy and tender for a few days after birth as they become full with milk. Your regular milk will come in about 1-5 days after birth.

How You Can Help Yourself

  • breastfeed whenever your baby shows signs of hunger; 
  • place a warm pad (e.g. a warm wash cloth) on your breasts before feeding to help them release milk;
  • place a cold pad (e.g. cold cabbage leaves) on your breasts after feeding to ease pain.

When to Speak to a Healthcare Provider

Call your health care provider if you have signs of mastitis, a breast infection, which are: 
  • very sore or red breasts;
  • flu-like aches and pains;
  • fever.
  • Also call your health care provider if you have severe pain in your nipples.

For More Information

  1. BC Women’s Breastfeeding Clinic: Specially educated lactation consultants provide support for breastfeeding families and provide information and support to healthcare providers in BC.  
  2. Vancouver Breastfeeding Clinic: Advice and support for breastfeeding mothers provided by Family Physicians with specialized training in breastfeeding medicine. Information for physicians and healthcare providers also offered. Patients wishing to participate in this program must be referred by their healthcare provider: http://breastfeedingclinic.com/contact/
  3. VCH Breastfeeding Service: Breastfeeding support by public health nurses by phone or in person on a drop-in-basis. 

 
You may feel blocked or constipated the first few days after having a baby. Try to listen to your body’s cues about when to go to the toilet.

How You Can Help Yourself

  • drink lots of water and eat high-fibre foods;
  • take the stool softeners you may have been given in hospital (only use these for 5 days);
  • put a warm compress on your perineum (bottom) to offer comfort;
  • wash and pat your bottom dry after a bowel movement if you have haemorrhoids (swollen veins);
  • use a haemorrhoid cream to ease the pain (available without a prescription at a drugstore).

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • not had a bowel movement for more than 3 days;
  • blood in your stool;
  • painful hemorrhoids (swollen veins in your bottom).

For More Information

Healthy Families BC. Managing Bowel Movements After Pregnancy
 
Having a baby can weaken the pelvic floor and occasionally damage nerves controlling the bladder. Swelling around your pelvic floor can make urinating (peeing) the first few times after birth difficult. Leaking urine is common as well.

How You Can Help Yourself

Most problems with leaking urine go away within 3 months of birth. You can help yourself by:
  • urinating frequently to help your uterus contract and control bleeding;
  • doing specific exercises regularly to tone your pelvic floor muscles and give you more control over your bladder (known as Kegel exercises).

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • severe pain when urinating;
  • constant leaking; 
  • leaking for more than 3 months.

For More Information

 

It’s common to have cramping (after-pains) as your uterus returns to its regular size after birth. If you had a caesarean section (c-section), you may have stitches or staples in your lower abdomen. The stitches will go away within 2 weeks; the staples will be taken out sooner. It’s common to feel tender and numb around the incision (cut). It takes about 6 weeks for your uterus to return to normal size.


How You Can Help Yourself

  • take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to manage cramping pain and pain from a c-section incision.

If you had a c-section:

  • keep the incision clean and dry, using mild soap and warm water;
  • give yourself time to heal by resting and not doing too much;
  • try not to lift anything heavier than your baby.

When to Speak to a Health Care Provider

Call your health care provider if you notice any of the following around the c- section incision:

  • redness;
  • leaking from the incision;
  • bleeding;
  • worsening pain;
  • fever greater than 38 C or chills;
  • opening of the incision.

For More Information

HealthLink BC - What to Expect after a C-Section


 

During birth, your vagina may have torn or been cut (episiotomy). You may have had stitches. It’s normal to feel tender and sore for a few days, but the area will heal quickly and the stitches will dissolve on their own.


How You Can Help Yourself

  • place a cold compress or frozen sanitary pad on the sore area for relief;
  • have warm sitz baths (sitting in water up to the hips) for 10 minutes, 3 times a day after the first 24 hours to ease soreness;
  • take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain.

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • vaginal pain that is getting worse;
  • bad smelling discharge (fluid coming out of your vagina);
  • bleeding that fills a large pad within 1 hour.

For More Information

 

Blood loss after birth is called lochia. For the first two to three days after birth, the blood is bright red and the flow is heavy. Bleeding will slow down and change to a reddish-brown colour, then a pinky-white colour. Bleeding can last up to six weeks.


How You Can Help Yourself

  • use sanitary pads for bleeding, not tampons, to prevent infection;
  • change your pad every 4 hours if you had a vaginal tear to reduce your chance of infection;
  • bleeding may increase with activity, and is normal.

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • bright red, heavy bleeding even when resting;
  • passing blood clots larger than a loonie over several hours;
  • bleeding and filling a large pad within 1 hour;
  • bleeding that lasts beyond 6 weeks.

For More Information

Once you feel up to it, gentle exercise can relieve stress and give you energy. Leaking urine while exercising right after birth is common. Talk to your care provider about when to begin more strenuous activity. Hard or too much exercise may cause increased bleeding. Moderate exercise while you are breastfeeding won’t affect your breastmilk.

How You Can Help Yourself

  • Take easy walks or do light stretching.
  • Try simple exercises that help strengthen major muscle groups, including abdominal and back muscles.
  • Attend a physiotherapy class at BC Women’s for antepartum and peripartum women.
  • Slowly increase the level of activity after discussion with your care provider.
  • Remember even 10 minutes of exercise is good for your body.

When to Speak to a Health Care Provider

Call your health care provider if you have heavy bleeding that won’t stop after exercise.

For More Information

Your mood

You may feel down, or have moments of crying or feeling anxious about three to five days after having a baby. The ‘baby blues’ affects 8 in 10 new mothers and is due to hormonal changes. The feelings usually go away within 2 weeks without treatment.

How You Can Help Yourself

Try these self-care tips to help youfeel better:
  • eat nutritious food (fruit, vegetables, lean protein, grains);
  • move your body every day (walking, stretching);
  • sleep and rest when you can;
  • find a few moments each day to do something you find important;
  • ask family, friends and health care providers for help.

When to Speak to a Health Care Provider

If your mood doesn’t improve after two weeks you may have postpartum depression or anxiety. Get help. Call your health care provider if you:
  • feel down, sad or anxious most days for more than two weeks;
  • feel irritable or angry;
  • feel guilty or worthless;
  • feel hopeless or overwhelmed;
  • have difficulty managing daily activities or caring for your baby;
  • have thoughts about harming yourself or your baby.

For More Information

Support for postpartum/perinatal distress, depression and anxiety

Sex + birth control
You may feel like having sex days after delivering or much later - weeks or months after delivering. However, it is best if you wait until stitches or tears have healed and vaginal bleeding has lessened before having any sex involving the vagina. 

If you are having vaginal sex with a male partner, it's important to use birth control. You can still get pregnant after giving birth, even if you are breastfeeding or before your period starts again.


How You Can Help Yourself

  • use a lubricant during vaginal sex to help relieve vaginal dryness, which is common; 
  • breastfeed your baby before sex if you want to lower the chance of your breasts leaking;
  • explore other ways to be sexual or intimate with your partner if you do not want to have intercourse.

Call your health care provider if you have

severe, ongoing pain during sex more than six weeks after birth.

For More Information

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