Taking care of your postpartum body
Having a baby is physically taxing. Whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section, there are things you need to do to take care of your body in the days and weeks that follow the big event.
Part one of this two part series discussed the ways in which you can help your mind and enhance your rest, which you need in the postpartum period. This post will review what you need to do to take care of your body.
Recovery differences between a C-section and vaginal birth
It’s important to note that there are some significant differences in terms of the recovery:
- While a vaginal birth can see a new mother be well on the mend within a week or two, a C-section can take upwards of 6 weeks recovery time. Obviously, the incision with a C-section makes it a much more intensive recovery.
- You may have more difficulty with skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding after a C-section, due again to incision pain. Even later, you’ll be limited in terms of your ability to lift the baby for a while, to say nothing of older children!
- Depending on whether you had tearing of your perineum during a vaginal delivery, you could have received an episiotomy and stitches, which require more care. This can range from a small tear to a 3rd degree laceration, so recovery and care will vary.
One aspect that is the same for both a vaginal birth and C-section is lochia—that is, the vaginal bleeding and discharge caused by the uterus sloughing off the lining it built up for baby. This can take up to 4 weeks to resolve. At first, it will seem like a very heavy period and will, after a few days to a week, start to slow down. Typically, there is far less bleeding with a C-section.
Physical care after a C-section or vaginal birth
- Soreness in the perineal area is normal, with or without episiotomy stitches. Many women are sore generally: giving birth is a serious physical challenge that uses muscles you probably weren’t aware of before!
- Sitz baths—where you sit in a couple of inches of warm water—can help with the tenderness.
- Ice packs, wrapped in cloth, can also ease any discomfort. If you’ve had stitches, avoiding sitting on them directly (lying down, or reclining, instead) can take the pressure off them and speed up healing. Another option is to soak and freeze maxi pads!
- Avoid wiping with toilet paper at first, to ensure that you don’t pull on stitches or tears.
- Constipation is a fairly common consequence after birth, so much so that most hospitals will give you a stool softener to take before you go home. The sitz baths can help to ensure that the area remains clean, as a significant tear can go as far as the anal wall.
- Skip sex for about 6 weeks but check in with your doctor to be sure.
- Incision pain in your lower abdomen area may require a week or two of pain medication to aid in your recovery.
- Avoid strenuous movements for about 6 weeks; you will be able to lift your baby but nothing more!
- Hold your abdominal area at first, if you need to cough or sneeze, to support it.
- You can shower after a C-section: just make sure to pat the incision area dry after each one.
Either vaginal or C-section birth
- Most women also experience contractions—called afterpains—for several days after birth, as the uterus goes back to its previous shape / size. It can take up to 8 weeks for the uterus to return to fully return to its pre pregnancy shape.
- You need to be prepared for breast engorgement as you milk supply starts to come in, within two or three days. This can cause swelling and some discomfort. Warm compresses can help with this. If you aren’t planning to breastfeed, there can be some pain as you staunch the flow and stop the milk production.
Things you will need to support your physical care
We all know what the baby needs as a newborn, but what about Mom? Here are a few essentials:
Pads – not your basic maxi pads but the full size gargantuan ones are best. Trust us! And if you can get a few pairs of the mesh panties that the hospital usually gives you, do! If you have any leaks, better to ruin those than your underwear. Speaking of underwear, you likely won’t fit in to your old ones right away, so have some bigger ones handy, particularly in the event of a C-section: you won’t want anything pressing on or near the incision area.
Nipple pads – these are to prevent leaks from your nipples, which can let down milk at pretty much any time. They’ll save your clothes! You may also want to have nipple cream on hand, to avoid dryness or soreness as you begin the adventure that is breastfeeding, if that’s your plan!
Peri or plastic squeeze bottle – this is the ideal way to flush the vaginal area when wiping is still OUT of the question! You just squeeze a little water after urinating or a bowel movement to keep things fresh.
Basically, with all the self care that needs to be happening, this is a perfect time to declare yourself queen of your castle and that you aren’t moving around too much for a little while. After all, it took 9 months to build a human: you need, and deserve, a little recovery time. A postpartum doula can make your recovery a lot easier by taking away some of the tasks and simply being an experienced sounding board when you have any questions. Think about it!