15 Things You Might Not Know About Child Birth Recovery

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.

10 Things (2)

10 Things (3)

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.

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!

postpartum / pregnancy/ giving birth / vaginal birth / recovery from child birth / motherhood #postpartum #pregnancy

**Don’t forget to get 10% off your postpartum care kit from the Dollar Maxi Pad Club using code Clarks10 – it has everything you need for those first few weeks after 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 a 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
Your nurse will likely have seen thousands of births – ask for her advice on recovery. Hilary is an amazing labor and delivery nurse of over 10 years, and she actually has created an online prenatal course. Hilary truly got me through the last few months of my last pregnancy, and I know she will help you, too. Get a limited time discount using the code ccpnc at checkout!
Sign up below for a FREE video of Hilary and me talking about what to expect after delivery!

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 awhile

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.

10. Constipation

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 this would happen, 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.

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.

14. Engorgement

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!

Other Breastfeeding Posts You May Enjoy:
Pump Like a Pro
Surviving Breastfeeding
The Ultimate Guide to Increasing Milk Supply

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.

 

Other Posts on Labor and Delivery:

The Dad’s Guide to Labor and Delivery

Tips for Postpartum Recovery from a mom of two - this is a must read for mothers giving birth to their baby in a hospital or at home - epidural or natural. These are truths you may not know about otherwise!

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  • These were really nice to read. It is always interesting what other moms go thru. I am having my 6th baby in a few weeks and I have to say you are spot on. Although I have never had a nurse threaten to Cath me for not peeing. If it was with my first I probably would have let her, but now, I would tell her where she can put that Cath.lol. Totally unnecessary. All they had to do was tell you to drink more. Also I have not had any nurses push on my uterus at all hours for at least the last few babies. I think it depends on what hospital you are at. Again with the first I did what I was told but now I would tell them to leave me alone. My sleep is far more valuable. They can mess with me all they want after 7am. ;)
    • Haha! The more I think about my first birthing experience, the weirder some of the things they did seemed. I did have them pushing on my uterus though this time around. I agree though - sleep is so important!
    • Thanks for your thoughts! There are definitely very important things that happen. I don't believe I offer any medical help though (and I don't think me saying that sleep is important is doing such - I jus agree with the fact that it is), nor do I claim to be an expert - just sharing my experience and what I wish I had known! I did say that the pushing on the uterus was to help to avoid blood clots. If a catheter is necessary, then by all means, put one in! But I don't think it's bad to encourage someone to drink lots of water after. It helped me with my second, and there was no reason for me to have a catheter, and others I know had the same experience, and when I talked to a nurse after giving birth, she said it was a very good idea to drink a lot of water to help. I appreciate your comment, but I do think your tone was a bit harsh, especially telling me to "think". I think most of us realize a hospital isn't a hotel. I certainly do. Grateful for modern medicine and the kind nurses I had in recovery. Have a nice night!
    • I think a lot of times it's unnecessary, but in my case these things saved my life. The nurse that massaged my belly after was the one that caught the huge blood clot, the size of my new dd's head. Luckily she got the doctor back in time and kept me from bleeding to death right there. So I know they do this for good reason. I also had to be cathed, which very much sucked but I know I needed because I felt like I had to pee so bad, but I couldn't. I guess things were so swollen it couldn't come out. My bladder could have literally burst. So I have great respect for those nurses now.
  • Love this article. One thing that you might want to correct though is the recommendation of the donut pillow to sit on postnatally. I'm a physiotherapist and I assess women's vaginas after birth. Yep. :) A donut pillow, although potentially more comfortable, can increase "dependent swelling" at the vagina and anus and lead to haemmorhoids and more acute swelling at the perineum. It kind creates a bowl shape around the vagina and encourages the swelling to work its way down into that bowl. Does that make sense? You can fold two towels and place them about 4cm apart on your chair so that your seat bones are elevated and you have less pressure or the tender perineum. It offloads the sore part without encouraging dependent swelling. I hope that helps. You can learn a bit about swelling management and rehabilitation of the pelvic floor here http://www.nextstepphysio.com/womens-health/pelvic-floor/
    • Having baby number 7. ( intentionally, in marriage to one husband ?) I'm well read, ask tons of questions, etc but never heard about the towel trick! Thanks ever so much . I'll definitely check out your site. ?
      • 7 children! Wow! I've had two and I'm sad I won't be able to have a third. I experience prolapse of my bladder probably from my first birthing experience:( I wish I could have more children. I loved pregnancy and childbirth. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
  • For all those things you said you fortunately did not experience, I did. I had an emergency c section and nothing about my delivery or recovery was smooth. I think it would be great if maybe you had a guest writer do a sort of update/addition to your post for those of us who had totally opposite experiences from you. I enjoyed reading your though! Wish I could have only pushed 3 times, I pushed for 4 hours!
  • What I wish people would have told me is that you probably will have trouble holding your urine and gas. I'm 9 weeks post pardem and although I have the urine under control for the most part I'm still having issues controling gas.
  • Remarkeble how a modern country as the US doesn't offer more help and info on this. I live in the Netherlands and when you have given birth here (hospital or home) you call the babynursecare company (day or night) and they will come to your home immediatly. When you give birth at home they will make sure all the mess is gone. Then they come everyday for a week to your house to make sure you and the baby are ok. They keep the bedroom, bathroom and nursery very clean so you wont get an infection (you have an open wound). They watch the babys growth, and your healing (utures, everything under) and they teach you all you need to know about bresst or bottle feading, your body, your emotions, the babys body, safety, how to wash, cloth, hold etc! You learn so much and its a part of healthcare. Maybe you should bundle your forces and create our birthcare in your country. There is a schooling for it here, maybe you should come ;) Good luck!
    • Oh, I totally agree. I think the United States is seriously lacking in postpartum care for mothers. If we had something like this in place, I would imagine we'd see less postpartum infections or hemorrhaging, depression, and higher rates of breastfeeding success, among many other things. So many mothers I know feel like they just have to be back to normal right when they go home. 24-48 hours in the hospital is certainly not enough time for a mom to recover from childbirth and learn how to care for a newborn. I would certainly love to be a part of bringing this kind of care to the United States. We need to take care of our new moms and babies - not just send them home and hope for the best!
  • This is a really useful list but I will say, and I feel terrible saying it, it's not really helpful as a new mother reading this and you consistently saying 'I didn't experience this' when talking about the difficulties of breast feeding or your post pregnancy body. I know I'm probably over sensitive and hormonal but it comes across as condescending and the list would still be fantastic without it. it just seems a little 'I'm perfect but lesser mortals may experience...'
    • I'm really sorry you think I'm saying I'm better than other people. The only reason I say I didn't experience it is because I didn't have personal experience it, but I wanted to list it because I knew others had. I assure you, I do not think you are a "lesser mortal". I actually had a very difficult time breastfeeding my second. So please don't assume I think I'm better because I didn't experience all these things. I simply put it there because I don't profess to understand everything about certain areas. Have a great night!
      • And the reason I didn't gain much weight with my babies is because I threw up multiple times a day almost every day of my pregnancy. My second was IUGR and essentially stopped growing inutero. I had many people tell me that I wasn't big enough, starving my babies, etc. So I think I would have preferred to have more of a post pregnancy pooch rather than throwing up every day and have a baby that stopped growing (due to a placenta issue.) Sorry to keep commenting, haha, I'm rather emotional tonight and hate when people think that I think I'm better than them :) we all have different experiences, and I promise, I don't think I'm better in any way (I invite you to read my post about IUGR diagnosis or 17 truths about breastfeeding if you want to see more that I certainly haven't had everything easy.) Thanks for expressing your concerns!
  • Thank you so much for this informative article! I have been reading quite a bit about childbirth, but many of the things you described were new to me. I really appreciate you sharing your experience! P.S. you totally don't come off in any way as a previous poster described...everyone has their own experience and some things go easier for some and some things go harder, thankfully we get each get some easier parts in there, otherwise it would be unbearable! Afte the vomitting you had, I certainly hope some other parts were easier than average for you! Anyways, thanks again for sharing!
    • Thank you for your kind comment Elizabeth. I really have tried my best to write a supportive article, but also share my experiences as well. I've felt bad ever since that comment, because I never want anyone to come away thinking I was trying to make them feel bad. So thank you for taking the time to comment, and I'm So glad you appreciated the post :)
  • I just gave birth to twin boys and afterwards I used the depends underwear that are made for women who are incontinent. This was after the first week when the bleeding slowed down a bit. They worked great and much more comfortable then huge pads.
    • Heather - thank you so much for pointing this out! My post composer has a glitch where sometimes when I press enter (as I was trying to make it more readable recently and split up the posts), it will duplicate the paragraph instead. I thought I removed them all, but apparently, I didn't (let's blame it on the fact that my one-year-old has been waking up 5x a night for the past few months :) I will definitely correct that right now.
  • I tried giving birth at my birth center, but baby R was a little stubborn lol! Five hours of pushing later (at the hospital) she was born with the help of a vacuum. I didn't feel like recovery was all that difficult, the hemmorhoids werr probably the worst! I wasn't shaky at all which I credit the Bradley Method exercises to! Bleeding was never that heavy but it did last over a month which caused the midwife enough concern to put me on medication to stop it. I was very moody and emotional for awhile (especially with my in laws lol!). Now baby #2 is due any day. I'm hoping for my dream water birth, again naturally! My advice for first time moms is to take a really good birth class to prepare. We did Bradley, and even though it didn't happen the way we planned (births rarely do) it definitely helped us stay calm and make good decisions!
    • Oh and I'm trying padsicles this time around! I put a combination of aloe vera gel, non alcoholic witch hazel and lavender oil on some maxi pads and froze them. Can't wait to try them out! I also bought some depends.
  • I have to make a suggestion that highly needs to be mentioned in this article about post pardon belly. Many women get it and don't know about. It's called diastasis recti. It's where your belly muscles separate. One main thing you should never do after having a baby is crunches. So many women get this and go years looking 6 months pregnant and personal trainers/physical therapists even obs don't even know about it. Look it up and encourage women to know what it is and how to fix it! Many women heal by the 6th week, but others who had fairly big bellies, like myself still have a very large gap.
  • Finally somebody that had a good experience with their first birth. I had my little girl out in 6 pushes and I never even thought about pain (thank you mr. anesthesiologist ) I let the students run my labor and delivery for the most part. Nursing, anesthesia, doc, can..... all students! What is a good idea to find out if the hospital you are going to is a teaching hospital so you can make up your mind before they ask you when you go into labor
    • Thanks for your comment! It's always nice to hear from someone else who had a similar birthing experience. And I agree about that - I think I'd be a bit shocked to find out all my nurses and doctors were students!