Giving birth is an exciting event in any woman’s life – but it’s good to be prepared! Here are 15 things you might not know about childbirth recovery.
Recovery After Birth
So, labor and delivery with my first was pretty easy. My epidural was great (I didn’t feel a thing). and Jack was born in three pushes. I couldn’t have asked for an easier delivery. I know that’s not the same for everyone, and that’s okay. But it was my story.
However, the recovery wasn’t all kicks and giggles. While I was lucky enough to have had sisters who told me about some things about giving birth, there were still a few things that I found surprising — both about myself and my baby — in the days and weeks after giving birth.
Because of that, I thought I’d share some things I think people don’t necessarily talk a lot about when it comes to giving birth and the weeks afterward. Since originally writing this article, I have given birth twice, so I do feel I have a bit of experience with the recovery process.
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Hopefully, this helps prepare at least one other person a little bit more. I’m by no means an expert on every birth experience anyone could ever have, but I think these are some tips most women should know.
Oh and please note that I have only given birth vaginally, and I know the recovery from a c-section can be different. Make sure you read this post all about c-section recovery a friend of mine wrote for me! It’s excellent.
I am also not a medical professional – this advice is from my own experience and research. Always consult with your medical team regarding any questions or concerns you may have regarding giving birth!
Vaginal Birth Recovery
1. Drink Water. Lots of Water.
When people ask me what was the hardest part of labor and delivery, I reference what happened a few hours after Jack was born. The nurses said that I had to go to the bathroom, and if I didn’t, they would put in a catheter to empty all the urine. Well, setting aside the fact that the nurse stood there watching me, I just couldn’t do it. So they put in a catheter.
And it hurt. It honestly hurt worse than any other part of labor and delivery, including when I didn’t have my epidural. I honestly thought I was going to die, and I asked the nurse if she would just give me another epidural. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.
My sister later told me that after she has babies, she just drinks as much water as she can, just to avoid that situation. I started doing that about five minutes before the nurse made me have the catheter, and about 30 minutes later, I had no issues…but I sure wish I had started chugging the water down as soon as Jack was born.
I did end up drinking a lot of water with my second, and the first pee was a lot less miserable!
2. You Might Feel Like You’re in a War Zone
There will be a lot of blood.
Just expect it!
I remember reading about people who had no idea just how much blood there would be in the days and weeks after giving birth, and thankfully, I was prepared for that. However, if I wasn’t, I think I would have thought I was dying.
Don’t be embarrassed about it, especially at the hospital. The nurses, doctors, and the housekeeping (oh…the poor housekeeping) have seen it all. Accept help, embrace the ice packs, hospital pads, and mesh underwear.
While bleeding slows down considerably in the first week after giving birth, many women continue to bleed for about six weeks after giving birth. You really should only worry if you start passing huge clots, soak a pad in an hour, or your bleeding increases a lot after it’s started to stop.
Rest up as much as you can – sometimes bleeding can increase if you’ve done too much physical activity.
PS, have you heard of these?! I feel like they could be brilliant for postpartum bleeding.
You’ll definitely want to read this postpartum recovery survival kit post to prepare for recovery!
3. You’ll Still Probably Look Pregnant
So, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, but the majority of women still look about six months pregnant after giving birth. This can be surprising to people who brought their pre-pregnancy clothes to the hospital and expected to slip into them right afterward.
I will say, this wasn’t the case for me, but I was also very sick most of my pregnancies, so maybe that was my “reward”. But the majority of women still look pregnant, and that’s okay.
Most of you will probably remember when Princess Kate left the hospital after her first son was born, and she still had a post-baby bump. I think this was awesome, because it showed that most people experience this.
In the weeks after you have a baby, though, your uterus will shrink down and you should feel like your body is less “pregnant” looking. Your tummy may never be the same again – and that’s 100% fine!
Something that I’ve heard raves about is a post-natal girdle recovery belt. It is designed to kind of hold everything in and get it back to the way it was before pregnancy. I bought one, and I was SO excited to use it…until it somehow got mixed in with the laundry at the hospital, never to be seen again.
3. Shakes, Chills, and Night Sweats are Normal
All of these happened to me in the first few days after Jack was born. I was really shaky right after he was born, but my nurses told me that was pretty normal. You may wake up in the middle of the night sweating bullets or even with the chills.
As long as you don’t spike a fever, it’s nothing to worry about. However, having a fever postpartum definitely is something to be somewhat concerned about, and it should be reported to your doctor or nurse (though if you are in the hospital, they will likely monitor that during your time there).
I ended up getting a fever about five days after giving birth to my second, and it ended up being mastitis – which is no fun to deal with while recovering from labor (read more about mastitis here)
4. Milk Coming In = Emotional Rollercoaster
Right after I had Jack, I felt like I was on cloud nine.
My sister texted me and asked how I was doing, and I told her I was so happy. She said she was so glad but then warned me that when my milk came in, I might be really emotional. At that point, I didn’t think anything could get me down…but she was right!
My milk came in a few days after Jack was born, and I totally felt like I was having an emotional breakdown (my mom and Forrest can attest to that). I had no idea what was wrong with me – and then, I realized my milk had come in.
Of course, this wasn’t the end of the hormonal mood swings during the first few weeks after pregnancy, but it was probably the most emotional experience I had! Be prepared to be emotional though – that, unfortunately, isn’t just a pregnancy issue.
5. Ask Your Nurse Questions
This is some advice from my friend, Hilary, over at Pulling Curls said when I asked her what she thinks people should know. Hilary is a labor and delivery nurse. If I lived in Arizona, she is definitely an L&D nurse I would request.
You have NO idea how many questions you’d have and to ASK them.I want my patients to feel competent when they leave me. I deluge them with info, and I want questions. It’s HORRIBLE when you go home, if I can help with that at all I want to.I think people think they’re bothering us, but we are all teachers, I don’t know a single labor nurse who isn’t (ok, maybe 2 or 3) we WANT you to know what you’re doing. it’s a big part of our job
6. If You Got An Epidural, You’ll Have Trouble Walking for Awhile
So, I loved my epidural. It made the birthing process much more enjoyable for me, and I’m grateful that the option exists.
However, you really can’t walk during labor, and afterward, it will take a few hours for you to be able to walk normally again. When I first got out of bed, the nurse insisted she help me, and I wasn’t totally sure why. However, as soon as I stood up I understood why she wanted to be close by. I practically stumbled out of bed, and she made sure I didn’t totally fall on the ground. My legs were pretty shaky for a few hours as the epidural wore off.
Be sure to read my post on preparing for a natural delivery, even if you don’t want one.
7. You’ll have Contractions
This was one of the weirdest things for me — feeling like I was still having contractions. It’s basically just the uterus contracting back to normal size, but it sure does feel like there’s still a baby inside of you. For the first few weeks after giving birth, this would happen to me, especially while I was nursing.While I never felt like they were as painful as when I was in labor, they were strange and definitely felt like early contractions.
These postpartum contractions are called afterpains — they’re particularly noticeable when you breastfeed, which triggers the production of oxytocin, the hormone that causes the contractions. Mine lasted for several weeks after Jack was born.
8. You’ll be uncomfortable/in pain for a while
Most everyone will be in a moderate amount of pain or discomfort after giving birth, but for those unlucky ones who either tore, got an episiotomy, or had a C-section, recovery may be a little harder. I wasn’t in a ton of pain for very long, but I was very sore.
At first, I used a little bit more heavy duty pain medication, but after a few days, I was able to get by with Tylenol. It’s important to take time to rest and recover – if you don’t, you will likely have pain/soreness (as well as bleeding) for longer.
9. You may be woken up at all hours in the hospital
While I was in the hospital, I was woken up many times – I had to get my temperature or other vitals taken, and, of course, I had to feed Jack
My least favorite awakening – the nurses coming into push my stomach around. I’m not exactly sure what the exact term for this is, but they told me it was to make sure my uterus contracted back to normal and to avoid blood clots.
Plus, being in the hospital just comes with the territory of having lots of machines and sounds going off at different times. Those didn’t bother me too much, though.
Being constipated after giving birth is completely normal – though it’s important to try and deal with it. Some women are just afraid to go to the bathroom because they are afraid of tearing stitches. For others, it’s just uncomfortable. However, it’s important to make sure you drink lots of water and if necessary, use a stool softener.
11. Your Hair Will Probably Fall Out
I always have had really thick hair, but while I was pregnant with Jack, it was out of control thick. I got my hair cut two days before Jack was born, and the hair stylist wouldn’t stop commenting on how thick and beautiful my hair was.
Well, a month or so after Jack was born, it all started falling out! One of my sisters had told me that postpartum hair loss, and boy, was she right! It came out in clumps when I brushed my hair, whenever I washed my hair, and it was everywhere. I thought by the end of it, I wouldn’t have any hair left. Fortunately, I did, and it’s still as thick now as it was before I ever had Jack, but it was crazy.
Just buy a good drain hair catcher for your drain! I’ve heard this one is pretty awesome. If you are really struggling with your hair postpartum, I highly recommend getting a microscopic hair analysis done. It can examine your hair on a microscopic basis to give you recommendations to make your hair better than ever. Here is a little bit about my experience with mine.
12. Your shoe size might be different
Many women’s feet swell during pregnancy – that’s pretty common. However, some women go up a 1/2-1 shoe size when all is said and done. This didn’t happen to me, but I’ve heard enough about it happening to other women to know it’s true! You can just wear some comfortable slippers around the house for awhile 🙂
13. You may not want to see anyone
This is how I felt, at least after I got home. I was super emotional, and all I wanted to do was hold my Jack.
Of course, it was nice to have people show that they cared that I had Jack, and I was grateful when people made the effort.
However, sometimes it got really overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to let people know you aren’t up for visitors, or if they come over, to only have them stay for a little while. Your newborn and you are both recovering from a pretty significant. It’s okay to take some time to yourself to recover.
Though if you find yourself feeling especially sad/depressed and not wanting anyone to be around you for very long periods of time, be aware of postpartum depression. It’s a real, serious issue that many women experience, and it should be taken seriously.
Whether or not you breastfeed, you’ll experience some engorgement after you give birth – sometimes for months! The best way to relieve this is either to nurse your baby, or, if you aren’t nursing, to hand express until you are comforted. It can be painful, but mostly, it’s uncomfortable.
I do recommend avoiding the pump for 4-6 weeks, as pumping when you are engorged just tells your body to keep making that much milk.
If you start to get an infection though, it’s important to call your doctor. I got mastitis a couple times, and believe me, it was incredibly painful. Lasinoh 3-in-1 Therapearls can be super soothing!
15. Breastfeeding Might be Hard
Breastfeeding for me was, thankfully, an easy process – but believe me, everyone is different, and I know many women struggle**. I was pretty lucky, and Jack was a great eater right away.
Beyond some inevitable engorgement, I really didn’t have any issues. However, if you have problems, don’t feel like you aren’t normal or that you are a failure. Many women have struggle with breastfeeding, and they are often beyond their control – here are 17 Truths About Breastfeeding that they won’t be teaching you in your breastfeeding class.
(update – I ended up having lots of issues with my second child, so I have come to have a lot more empathy for moms who struggle).
I strongly recommend taking a lactation course before your baby arrives, or shortly after. I recently discovered Simply Breastfeeding, which is an amazing online course. There is a paid version, but if you aren’t sure if you want to commit, you can try out the awesome free mini breastfeeding course.
Something that I found to be very helpful was, when I was in the hospital, I had a nurse come every time I nursed Jack to make sure I was doing it right. This was so helpful to me. Hospitals also will typically have lactation consultants on staff, and after you go home, you can contact places like WIC or the La Leche League for more support. Be sure to join my breastfeeding support group for advice, tips, and support!
Bonus: Take Care of Yourself
In those first few weeks after giving birth, you probably won’t be thinking about yourself much. I know my world revolved around feeding my baby, making sure he slept enough, and just doting on him.
However, you still need to take it easy.
It’s amazing how much better you can feel after a shower.
Make sure you eat – I recently signed up for this meal plan (only a couple bucks a month), and it tells me what to eat and what to buy at the store. I just order my groceries online from Walmart Grocery (free to pick up, $3 to have them delivered – get $10 off your order with this link), and it’s amazing how much simpler my life has become.
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