Having a baby is a life-changing experience, and there's no way to know just how exhilarating and challenging the first few months can be. From the wealth of new emotions you'll be feeling, to the physical recovery you face after giving birth, these first few weeks will be some of the most intense you'll ever face. To help you know what to expect, we've talked to some experts to help you prepare for the exciting ride ahead.
After pains are real. During the first weeks after delivery, your uterus will shrink. This process causes cramps that may last a few days or a week. They tend to last longer after each additional pregnancy. If you are breastfeeding, after pains may be stronger during feedings.
Vaginal bleeding is caused by the uterus cleaning out tissue. You will need to wear a sanitary pad. Do not use tampons without your doctor's permission. The bleeding can continue for several weeks. For the first two weeks, the bleeding may be bright red, like a period, then it becomes lighter.
If you had an episiotomy, your incision should heal quickly. Keep the area around your vagina and rectum clean and dry. Talk to your health care provider about how to care for your episiotomy.
The baby blues may happen. Most new mothers experience some form of the baby blues. These mood swings are caused by hormonal shifts in your body. Stress from the recent changes in your life and lack of sleep also have an effect. The baby blues may last a few days or even weeks. You may feel a sense of loss, frustration, or anger. Or you may be sad that having a baby isn't what you imagined. Contact your health care provider if your symptoms become severe.
Feeling tired is an almost universal condition for the postpartum period.
Whether you're breastfeeding or not, wash your breasts with water daily and let them air-dry. Don't use soap, alcohol, or scented soaps. These can dry or crack your nipples.
A few days after giving birth, your breasts will swell and feel heavy and hard. They may leak milk. If you are breastfeeding, frequent feedings and warm showers help. If you are not breastfeeding, do NOT pump milk out of your breasts; this makes your body continue to make milk. Instead, try wrapping your breasts with an elastic bandage, and placing a small bag of ice on them.
Wear the right size bra. It should have wide straps and good support.
You and your partner both may feel periods of intense joy, unbelievable sadness, or a combination of emotions. In addition, many women experience mood swings as a result of changing hormone levels. It may be helpful to remember that this is normal for the first few weeks after delivery.
You may experience constipation and/or hemorrhoids. Using a stool softener is a good idea to help prevent straining. Be sure to ask your doctor which brand to use. It can also help to drink plenty of fluids and eat more fiber-rich foods.
As you heal, put aside chores and cooking for at least the first week. Instead, order out or enlist help from family and friends. Consider asking a parent or friend to stay with you for a few days. Asking for extra help is especially important if you've had a cesarean section, as it will take you longer to recover.
Navigating breastfeeding roadblocks
If you choose to breastfeed, you may think that it will be the most natural thing in the world. But many new mothers find that it takes time and patience to get it right.
For mothers who choose to do so, the benefits are great for both baby and mother. Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, allergies, vomiting, and diarrhea. In addition, several studies show that mothers who breastfeed may help lower their risk for breast cancer. The first three weeks of breastfeeding may be the toughest for new moms. Talking with a breastfeeding counselor can help you get through this period. It's also important to find a pediatrician who supports breastfeeding.
Enjoy the ride
There are some simple things that you can do to help keep your energy up. This will make it easier for you to enjoy this special time as a new family.
Take naps when your baby is sleeping. Forget about the chores for now. You'll find that getting rest is invaluable in those early weeks.
Shower and get dressed every day. Five minutes alone in the shower can do wonders for your self-esteem and energy level.
Try to get out of the house at least once a day. Just a walk around the block can be invigorating, and it's a great way to calm a fussy baby.
Talk with other new mothers and more experienced moms. This can help you keep your perspective when you feel overwhelmed and reduce your sense of isolation during the first few months.
Most important—try to relax and enjoy your baby. Encourage your partner to do so as well. As you begin to learn your baby's cues and eventually settle into a schedule, you will both feel more confident as parents and life will roll along more smoothly.
What to watch for
Call your health care provider if you have ANY of the following:
Fever of 100.4 degrees Fahreinheit (38.6 degrees Celsius) or higher
Bleeding that requires a new sanitary pad every hour, or if you pass a clot the size of a walnut or bigger, or you notice a change in the smell of your blood flow
Pain or burning during urination
Redness, discharge, or pain at the incision site that becomes worse
Severe abdominal pain
A hot, red, hard, or painful area in a leg
You have any pain you can't explain
Red streaks or hard, lumpy areas in a breast
Cracked or bleeding nipples
Baby blues (mood swings and a problem concentrating) that last more than a couple of weeks or that are severe