Whether preparing to give birth or have just delivered, you may have questions about what to expect next. Your body has undoubtedly been on a roller coaster for the last 40 weeks, and that ride is not quite over yet.
After delivering your precious little bundle of joy, your body will continue to change. Let us discuss what to expect after a vaginal delivery.
Your body is truly amazing as it grows another human being and brings new life into the world. However, the miracle of birth often results in vaginal tears. These may be minor or extensive. Any vaginal tear is quickly repaired by your doctor right after your baby is born. Depending on the severity of the tears, the healing time may vary, but it often takes a week or two. While you’re healing, there are several things you can do to help elevate some of the discomforts, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic:
- When sitting, choose a soft surface or use a pillow.
- Cool the area with an ice pack or place a chilled witch hazel pad between a sanitary napkin and the area between your vaginal opening and anus (perineum).
- Use a squeeze bottle with warm water to rinse the perineal area (where the wound is) during and after passing urine.
- Sit in a warm bath deep enough to cover your buttocks and hips for 5-10 minutes. Use cooler water if you find it more soothing.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Ask your healthcare provider about a numbing spray or cream if needed.
- Talk to your healthcare provider about using a stool softener or laxative to prevent constipation, as passing hard stool can increase vaginal soreness.
If symptoms are severe, you should talk to your doctor immediately.
You can expect a heavy bloody discharge for the first few days after delivery. After the first few days, the discharge will lighten. You may continue to bleed or have light discharge for weeks after delivery. This discharge occurs as your uterus is contracting down to pre-pregnancy size, squeezing out remaining blood and tissue that is no longer needed.
During this time, you will need an absorbent panty liner. It is recommended that during the first few days post-delivery, you change your pad every few hours to prevent irritation and infection.
Also known as after pains, you may experience a contraction-like feeling during the first few days after delivery as your uterus is contracting down to pre-pregnancy size.
It is common for the pelvic floor muscles to be damaged, stretched, or weakened during pregnancy and delivery. These changes in the pelvic floor muscles may result in incontinence, the inability to control urination. Over time this condition should improve, but it is advised to perform Kegels or similar exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor.
How to do Kegels:
- Empty your bladder before beginning – meaning you should pee before doing Kegels
- Tighten your pelvic floor muscles for three to five seconds
- Release and relax the muscles for three to five seconds
- Repeat ten times, three or more times per day
Finding the Right Muscles
Not sure how to contract your pelvic floor or if you are using the correct muscles? You are not alone. This is very common. To learn how to engage these muscles insert a finger into your vagina. Tighten the muscles as if you are holding in your urine, then let go. You should feel the muscles tighten and move up and down.
For some, Kegels are not enough to reshape the pelvic floor muscles after giving birth. Some women may benefit from physical therapy or may need surgery in the future.
While common during pregnancy, hemorrhoids are often common post-delivery as well. These will typically go away on their own, but if you are experiencing discomfort, you should talk to your doctor about easing the symptoms.
Your breast may become engorged with milk leading to tenderness. Frequent breastfeeding can alleviate the discomfort. However, if you are not breastfeeding, you should avoid expressing the milk, which will encourage more milk production.
To help ease the discomfort, try the following:
- Wearing a tight-fitting support bra
- Placing a warm washcloth on the nipples before nursing or expressing milk and a cold compress on the nipples in between feedings – if you are breastfeeding
This can happen due to hormonal changes during pregnancy and may last for up to five months postpartum.
Stretch marks are very typical for most pregnant women. These marks will fade to a light silver color over time.
Changes in Mood
Even after delivery, your body is still going through many hormonal changes. These hormonal changes can impact your mood significantly. It is common to experience mood swings, in which you may cry for no apparent reason, feel anxious, worry more than you usually do, and have difficulty sleeping.
If your mood swings are severe, and you have feelings of hopelessness, loss of appetite, and lack of joy, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible, as you may be experiencing postpartum depression. If you have thoughts about harming yourself or others, you need to call 911 and get help immediately.
You can expect to lose around 10-13 pounds after delivery. This is the weight from the baby, placenta, and other fluids. Breastfeeding your baby can also help with weight loss. We recommend getting at or near your pre-pregnancy weight before conceiving your next child.
Have More Questions?
Your doctor has likely been with you for your entire pregnancy, and care doesn’t end after delivery. Bring all of your questions with you to your next visit. Most postpartum check-ups are 2-3 weeks after delivery. Your doctor knows you best and can provide the best answers to any concerns you may have.