You and your body after birth
The first few days after your baby's born can be tough because you’re likely to be tired, sore and uncomfortable. It takes a while for your body to recover and for you to adjust to everything that’s changed. Try and take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard.
How you might be feeling
People react to becoming a parent in different ways. You might feel:
- excited and exhausted - it may take a while to get used to your new baby and to figure out everything they want and need
- scared or a bit resentful when you realise how much life's changing
- shaky because your body's produced lots of adrenaline to get you through labour
- like you’re on a high from the whole experience and the joy of meeting your baby
Partners and dads can feel a bit left out at this point, especially if they’re leaving you and your baby in hospital while they go home. It’s important to involve and get support from the people close to you, and for them to get to know the newest member of the family.
More about bonding with your baby
Some women can find it hard to pay attention to their baby if they’ve had a long labour. If this happens to you there’s nothing wrong with your maternal instincts – you’re simply exhausted. What you’re feeling is normal and it should pass. If it doesn’t, talk to your midwife, health visitor, family nurse or GP.
- take your time
- get some rest - lots of mums find that it helps to sleep during the day when their baby does, and that’s okay
- have something to eat and drink if you can
You should find that when you feel better you’ll want to get to know your baby and hold them.
Severe tiredness can be one of the signs of depression, so it’s important to get checked if you’re worried.
How your body's changing
Now your pregnancy's at an end your body will be recovering from labour and birth and start to return to how it was before you were pregnant.
- tummy will look saggy and soft immediately after the birth - for some women this tones up and goes back into shape after a while, but this doesn’t happen for everyone
- muscles and joints might ache or be painful because of the effort you put in during labour
- breasts may feel uncomfortable even if you’re not breastfeeding. - your midwife will give you advice and information about how to look after your breasts
You might also have:
- perineal pain
- postpartum haemorrhage
- stress incontinence
Afterpains are like period pains. These happen when your womb goes back to its normal size.
They can be:
- stronger with your second baby onwards because the muscles in your womb are more stretched
- more noticeable if you’re breastfeeding because the oxytocin that releases your milk also makes your womb muscles tighten
Constipation's a common issue after you’ve had a baby.
Being anxious about your stitches might make you nervous about going to the toilet, but don’t worry – your stitches won't burst.
To make it easier to go to the toilet:
- drink plenty of fluids
- eat high fibre foods, such as fruit and vegetables
If you think you might be constipated, talk to your midwife about taking a laxative or stool softener.
More about treating constipation
Constipation can cause piles (haemorrhoids). These are very common after birth, but they usually disappear in a few days.
Tell your midwife if you feel very uncomfortable and they can arrange a prescription for an ointment to ease the discomfort. You can also ask about taking a laxative or stool softener.
More about treating piles
After a vaginal birth, the area between your vagina and your anus (your perineum) may feel uncomfortable or painful because it’s swollen and bruised.
If you’ve had stitches after an episiotomy or a tear they can be uncomfortable too. Your stitches will dissolve so you won’t need to have them taken out. Keep the area clean and dry to prevent infection.
You’ll have a vaginal discharge called lochia. This will:
- be red for the first 3 days to a week - a bit like the first days of your period
- start to slow down and settle by turning lighter and pinkish brown (like the end of a period)
- be cream and settle down, but may take three to four weeks to stop completely
The discharge should slow down after the first week.
While you have bleeding and lochia, use sanitary towels instead of tampons. Tampons could make an infection more likely.
Speak to your GP or midwife if you have lochia and:
- heavy bleeding
- smelly discharge from your vagina
- a fever – you’ll probably feel hot and clammy
- you’re passing clots of blood after the first few days
You can also have secondary post-partum haemorrhage. This is:
- abnormal or heavy vaginal bleeding between 24 hours and 12 weeks after the birth
- often linked to an infection in your womb
Speak to your GP or midwife if:
- your bleeding's getting heavier
- lochia smells bad
- you feel unwell
You may be given antibiotics to treat any infection. If the bleeding's heavy or it carries on, you may need to go to hospital for more tests and treatment.
More about post-partum haemorrhage
You’ll pass more urine in the first few days after birth as your body gets rid of the extra fluid you carried when you were pregnant.
If you think you’re not emptying your bladder fully, it’s important to tell your midwife. They can check for:
- bladder issues
- problems with the tube where your urine comes out (urethra)
Stress incontinence is when you leak a few drops of urine when you cough, laugh or run.
It’s very common to feel you have no control over your bladder for days or weeks after birth.
About 1 in 3 women experience bladder control issues after having a baby. Some women feel they have less control over their bowel as well. This can be hard to cope with and it can sometimes have a real impact on mental health and wellbeing. In fact, you’re twice as likely to develop postnatal depression if you have stress incontinence.
Treating stress incontinence
Stress incontinence can be successfully treated by:
- having physiotherapy
- using pelvic floor exercises
- making lifestyle changes
Lots of women don’t ask for help and put up with it in silence. If you’re still having issues with stress incontinence after 6 weeks, talk to your GP, family nurse or health visitor for help and support.
More about treating urinary incontinence
Pelvic floor exercises
Ideally, you’ll have been doing pelvic floor muscle exercises throughout your pregnancy. The more often you do them now the better, and it’s good to make them part of your routine. You should aim to do them several times a day.
Your midwife or a physiotherapist can teach you how to do these exercises.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.
25 January 2023
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