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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. 

 

Constipation: You may feel blocked or constipated the first few days after having a baby. 


How you can help yourself

  • drink lots of water and eat high-fibre foods;
  • take stool softeners (only use these for 5 days).

Fecal incontinence: inability to control your bowel movements.


How you can help yourself 

  • talk with your care provider immediately about possible causes;
  • speak with a BCW physiotherapist about pelvic floor retraining.

Haemorrhoids: swollen veins near your rectum/anus.


How you can help yourself 

  • use a haemorrhoid cream
  • avoid straining with a bowel movement
  • rest lying down to relieve the pressure

Call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • not had a bowel movement for more than 3 days;

  • blood in your stool (poo);

  • inability to control your stool;

  • painful haemorrhoids.

For more information

Healthy Families BC. Managing Bowel Movements After Pregnancy

 

Having a baby can stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles and occasionally affect the nerves controlling the bladder.  Leaking urine is common for the first six weeks following delivery.


Urinary Incontinence: involuntary loss of urine.


How you can help yourself

  • frequently empty your bladder in the first few days after birth.
  • attend the Postpartum Physiotherapy Class at BC Women's and learn how to find your pelvic floor muscles and do Kegel exercises correctly. 

Call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • severe pain when urinating;
  • constant leaking; 
  • inability to pee;
  • a strong need to pee but very little comes out;
  • leaking for more than 6 weeks after delivery.

For more information

 

Cramping (after-pains) is common after birth as your uterus returns to its regular size. Cramps are often more intense when breastfeeding. It takes about 6 weeks for your uterus to return to normal size. 


Take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to manage pain.


If you had a c-section, you may have stitches or staples in your lower abdomen.  The stitches will go away (dissolve) within 2 weeks; the staples will be taken out before you leave the hospital. It is common to feel tender and numb around the incision (cut).


If you had a c-section help yourself by

  • keeping the incision clean and dry; 

  • shower using mild soap and warm water;

  • giving yourself time to heal by resting and not doing too much;

  • trying not to lift anything heavier than your baby;

  • not driving until you are pain-free and moving well.

Call your healthcare provider if you had a c-section and notice any of the following:

  • 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 delivery you may have had vaginal tearing, or you may have had an episiotomy (cut) requiring stitches. Your vaginal area will take time to heal and the stitches will dissolve on their own. It's common to feel tender and sore for a few days or longer. 


How you can help yourself

  • place a cold compress or frozen sanitary pad wrapped in a thin cloth on the sore area for 10 minutes at a time 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 pain;
  • rest lying down to relieve the pressure and improve swelling or pain;
  • take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain.

Call your healthcare provider if you have:

  • vaginal pain that is getting worse;
  • increasing swelling between your vagina and anus;
  • stitches coming out.

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 healthcare provider if you have:

  • bright red, heavy bleeding even when resting;
  • bad smelling vaginal bleeding;
  • passing blood clots larger than a loonie over several hours;
  • bleeding soaks more than 1 large pad an hour for more than 2 hours;
  • bleeding that lasts beyond 6 weeks.

For more information

Start moving right away but increase your activity gradually. It takes time to heal. 

How you can help yourself

Postpartum Physiotherapy Class

  • learn to recognize the signs of healthy recovery in the days, weeks, and months postpartum;
  • find out how to take care of yourself while taking care of your newborn;
  • get the right information about how to begin early, safe, exercies (following a vaginal or c-section birth);
  • learn how and when to progress your exercise;
  • learn more about ongoing back or pelvic pain, leaking urine, gas or stool, bulging abdominal muscles, and/or pain or numbness in your hands. 

When to Speak to a healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have increased bleeding that won’t stop.

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 healthcare providers for help.

When to speak to a healthcare provider

If your mood doesn’t improve after two weeks you may have postpartum depression or anxiety. Get help. Call your healthcare 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 healthcare provider if you have

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

For more information

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