The postpartum period, often called the time right after you have had your baby, lasts up to six weeks (42 days). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) suggests 12 weeks of support instead of just six, recognising the importance of extended care during this time.
Taking care of yourself after giving birth during the postpartum period is important for your long-term health and overall well-being. Although it is a period filled with joy and expectation, this "fourth trimester" brings notable challenges, including sleep deprivation, fatigue, pain, breastfeeding challenges, stress, mental health issues, decreased sexual desire, and urinary incontinence.
This guide will help you understand what to expect in the days after delivery and how to look after yourself during this time. Understanding the post-delivery needs of both the mother and baby will allow their family members to provide higher-quality postpartum care, which reduces the likelihood of any health complications.
Considerations for Postpartum Care
Following are some common aspects and considerations for postpartum care after birth.
- Vaginal discharge: Anticipate experiencing vaginal bleeding known as lochia for several weeks post-delivery. In the beginning, it will be red and heavy, resembling heavy menstrual period, but over time, it will lighten in colour and reduce in volume. You might experience cramps resembling period pains, especially if you are breastfeeding.
- Pain and discomfort: Feeling pain and discomfort in the perineal area and lower abdomen after giving birth is common. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter pain medication to help alleviate this discomfort. If you have titches due to an episiotomy or tearing, it is recommended to cleanse the affected area daily. Take a bath or shower using plain warm water and delicately pat yourself dry.
- Breast engorgement: Breast engorgement might happen in the initial days, leading to tenderness, swelling, and discomfort in your breasts, possibly accompanied by a fever. Adjustments in your baby's feeding routine can contribute to this discomfort. However, these symptoms typically subside as your baby becomes adept at latching on and feeding correctly. Maintain breast cleanliness, and if engorgement occurs, find relief through warm compresses or expressing milk. Ensure proper breast support by wearing a well-fitted bra.
- Emotional changes: Postpartum emotions can be intense, and it is completely normal to go through a range of feelings, from joy to anxiety and mood swings. 'Baby blues', characterised by mood swings, anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and crying spells, often resolve on their own. However, they can be challenging to navigate. If these feelings persist, it might indicate postpartum depression. If depressive symptoms last for more than two weeks, making it tough to care for yourself or your newborn, seeking medical attention is crucial.
- Pelvic floor changes: Kegel exercises are often recommended to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can be weakened during childbirth. These exercises can aid in the recovery of bladder control and vaginal tone.
Caring for Yourself After Birth
Taking care of newborns demands significant attention, but it is equally important for mothers to prioritise postpartum care. Here are some practical tips to facilitate a faster healing process after delivery.
- Get enough rest: The first item on your postpartum care checklist should be getting enough sleep although getting a whole night's uninterrupted sleep might seem impossible in the first few months. Try to sleep whenever the baby sleeps.
- Eat healthily: Dietary choices also play a huge role in your postpartum care plan. The ideal diet should have a good balance of foods rich in protein, fibre, and healthy fats.
- Light, non-strenuous exercise: Once your doctor gives the okay to start exercising, start with light workouts. These will help to improve sleep, lose weight, and reduce symptoms of the baby blues.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects: If you have had a Caesarean section, lifting heavy objects can strain your abdomen and uterus, leading to complications in your recovery. It is best to avoid doing so until your doctor gives you the go-ahead.
- Keep baby’s care routine simple: This can help reduce unnecessary stress and allow you to focus on your postpartum recovery.
- Ask for help: Call your family and friends for support after your child’s birth. Having additional assistance with household tasks such as chores and bringing food.
- It is okay to limit visitors: Friends and family may be eager to meet your bundle of joy, but if you are getting overwhelmed, it is okay to limit visitors. A mother’s well-being matters too, and well-wishers can always visit later.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Most doctors will schedule postpartum check-ups, but you should see a doctor if you are experiencing some complications such as pain or swelling in the calf muscle of one leg, chest pain, difficulty breathing, abnormally heavy vaginal bleeding, rapid heartbeat, fever, abdominal (tummy) pain, headache, vision changes, and vomiting.
Make an Appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals
Motherhood can be a rewarding job, but postpartum maternal care is essential. Caring for yourself helps you care for your baby. Childbirth can change your body in a lot of ways, so it helps to know what is normal and what is not. That way, if any complications arise, you will be able to identify the problem and seek medical help immediately.
We hope this guide has helped you understand the ins and outs of postpartum care, as well as tips on self-care as a new parent and common complications that may arise.
Get in touch with us to book an appointment today to consult with our Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialists, or find out more about our Obstetrics and Gynaecology Services at your nearest Gleneagles Hospital.