Pregnancy and delivery changes a woman forever – beyond physical changes, it also changes one mentally and emotionally. At a time when the new arrival takes priority over everything else, many women find themselves sacrificing their own practical and self-care needs in favour of the baby’s nutrition and safety. It is important to remember that postpartum care for yourself is critical so that you can be your best self as you bond with and care for your infant.
Understanding the postpartum period
The postpartum period encompasses the first 6 weeks after giving birth. This period, often dubbed as the fourth trimester, is a time when your body begins to heal and adjust to not being pregnant. It is described as a period of significant transition characterised by changes in self-identity, the redefinition of relationships, opportunities for personal growth and alterations to sexual behaviour as women adjust to the ‘new normal’. In short, there is definitely a lot going on!
There are many factors that come into play in your postpartum recovery journey. These include whether you’ve just had your first child or your third, vaginal or C-section delivery, if you had gestational diabetes or if your baby was born preterm. Nevertheless, there are some general changes in your body and mind that you can expect.
Changes to your body
Expect some soreness in your vagina if you had a vaginal delivery. This would be accompanied by some bleeding over the first week. Bleeding is likely to gradually change to light-coloured discharge that may continue for about 6 weeks. You would also feel contraction-like sensations as your uterus is contracting back to its pre-pregnancy size.
If you had delivered via C-section, you will experience pain at the site of incision. Movement is likely to be difficult. For example, you may have trouble getting in and out of bed. However, you are advised to move around to avoid blood clots from developing.
It is common to feel sad during the first few days after delivery. You may also feel irritable, moody, anxious, may have difficulty concentrating or even experience sleep problems. As your hormone levels are changing during this period, with oestrogen and progesterone levels dropping off and prolactin and oxytocin levels rising and falling as your baby nurses, it is normal to experience a case of baby blues. These feelings typically peak on the third or fourth day and subside within 2 weeks. Do seek help if you find yourself experiencing severe mood swings, loss of appetite and overwhelming fatigue as these may be symptoms of postpartum depression.
How can you care for yourself?
Your body has done a lot of work throughout your pregnancy and continues to as you care for your newborn. It’s important that you also care for yourself and get the support that you need to cope during the intense postpartum period.
- Ask for and accept help from your partner, family and friends.
- There are many remedies you can try to ease discomfort and pain, including pain medications. Talk to your doctor to know what is safe to take, especially if you are breastfeeding.
- It’s okay to feel uncomfortable about your postpartum body but remember to be gentle on yourself and set realistic weight loss expectations.
- Plan small trips to get out of the house from time to time for a change in environment
- It’s normal to feel like you have no idea what you are doing in the early days. As you spend more time with your baby, you’ll be able to figure out what your baby needs and wants.
The postpartum period is overwhelming. You may experience a range of conflicting and contrasting emotions, including intense feelings of joy and love as well as guilt and lack of control. Be gentle on yourself. Accept that your life has changed and while the transitioning phase may be hard, it will get better.
- Healthline. Your Guide to Postpartum Recovery.
Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/postpartum-recovery-timeline Accessed 10 November 2021.
- Finlayson K, et al. PLoSOne 2020;15(4):e0231415.
- MSD Manual Consumer Version. Overview of the Postdelivery (Postpartum) Period.
Available at: https://www.msdmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/postdelivery-period/overview-of-the-postdelivery-postpartum-period Accessed 10 November 2021.