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Symptoms from A to Z Postpartum

Pregnancy is nine or ten months of your body changing and doing the enormous work of growing a new human.

It’s normal that it takes a while for your body, hormones and emotions to get back to a new normal. It’s important to keep in contact with your midwife or doctor and to do postpartum checks (and we know it’s not easy when you have a new baby). These are some of the normal physical symptoms you can expect after having a baby.
Although many things are normal after having a baby, it’s important that you call your midwife or doctor if you feel any pain in your chest, have trouble breathing, are bleeding heavily or have a bad headache.
-Aching muscles are normal after labour and childbirth, no matter how long you laboured - all that hard work for your muscles takes its toll. You also might have been in a certain position for a longer period of time, might have had a lot of weight on your arms and back, our you might just be tired after being awake for a long time and all that can cause your muscles to ache. This will get better over a few days. If you can, a deep massage can help, and so can some rest and a relaxing bath.
-Afterpains happen as your uterus shrinks back to its normal size in record time - it took nine or ten months to grow the size of a watermelon but it will take only a few weeks to get back to the size of a pear. They can vary from woman to woman, and pregnancy to pregnancy; for some they are like labour waves that come and go, for some they are just pain in the abdomen while for others they are
like menstrual cramps. They are stronger when you’re breastfeeding because baby’s sucking triggers the release of oxytocin, causing the uterus to contract even more (and faster, meaning less time with
afterpains). Many women say that afterpains were relatively easy with their first baby, but were stronger with their second and later babies. Afterpains are intense from about twelve hours after birth and last for about two days or so and then stop. You will feel them whether you had a vaginal birth or a caesarean – but with a caesarean you also have the post-operation pain to deal with.
To make afterpains more bearable after a vaginal birth, you can use a hot water bottle or hot rice pack on the affected area for relief, gently massage your lower belly, use light movements or deep breathing during cramps to cope with them. Also, make sure to urinate frequently. If you are in a lot of pain or have had a caesarean, ask your midwife or doctor for pain medication that’s compatible with breastfeeding.
-Backache, is normal after birth because of the changes happening in your balance and weight. It’s also common if you’ve had an epidural or a caesarean where pain medication was injected into your back (especially in the area where the needle was inserted). Handling a newborn can mean that it can last weeks or months. One way to help is to put a warm pack on your lower back or to support your lower back with a small pillow when sitting or breastfeeding.
-Vaginal bleeding for two to six weeks after birth is called lochia. Your uterus is healing but also shedding the lining of blood that provided nourishment for your baby during pregnancy. In the first few days after birth it should be like a moderate or heavy period with clots that can be quite large (up to the size of a small lemon). Over the next days and weeks the bleeding becomes lighter and stops.
-Constipation happens for a few reasons; in some cases it’s because your rectum is just tired after labour and birth (baby’s head pressed on your bowels as she went through your birth canal), hormones that cause labour can also cause constipation and so can iron supplements. If you had any sort of anaesthesia in labour or birth, this can also make constipation worse. The best way to deal with constipation is to make sure that you are eating foods that make your stool as soft as possible
after birth - green, leafy vegetables and foods rich in fibre - and that you’re drinking lots of water. Liquid chlorophyll supplements can also make your stool soft and provide extra nutrients after birth.
Give yourself time to pass stool, don’t push or force (that might make haemorrhoids worse).
-Changes in your breasts happen after birth as they get ready to produce more milk.
-Faintness or feeling lightheaded after birth happens as your body gets used to its new (smaller) size and the decreased fluid in your system. It should get better within a few days and if it doesn’t call your midwife or doctor.
-Flabby belly makes you look five to six months pregnant after giving birth. It took nine to ten months to make all that extra room for your baby and it takes time to get back to your pre-pregnancy body. Be gentle with yourself, expect that it will take time for your uterus and muscles to return to normal. Until then eat well, exercise when you can and generally do your best - you will get to where you w want to be with time.
-Gas bubbles are common in the first three days after birth, especially in women who had a caesarean as gas bubbles get trapped in your abdomen. Gentle stretching, walking, changing positions often, avoiding carbonated drinks and staying hydrated are some ways of dealing with this.
-Your hair changes after pregnancy too - all the hairs that didn’t fall during pregnancy because of high oestrogen levels suddenly make a quick exit and you may find that about three months postpartum
you are pulling out fistfuls of hair every day. There’s nothing you can do about it and no magic hair product or supplement can prevent it, and between four and six months postpartum you will find that it will slow. This is a good time to give your mood a boost with a visit to the hairdresser for a new, shorter hairstyle. Some hair products can help you with hair volume and make it look like you aren’t losing so much hair. Above all, be gentle with your hair, don’t stress it out with harsh
blow-drying, straightening or products. Making an effort to improve your diet and eat more nutritious foods can also help slow hair loss.
-Healing tears and episiotomy may cause tenderness or stinging pain when urinating for the first few days after birth. You also might have trouble sitting for long periods of time. The pain will go away after a few days or weeks, but in the meantime, you can rinse during and after urinating with plain water using a peri-bottle or water bottle with a sports cap attached (squirt warm water around your vulva as you pee).
Cold compresses can be helpful (water bottle or wetting and freezing a cloth or menstrual pad) and so can warm baths. A donut-shaped inflatable cushion (or swimming ring) can help you with sitting in the first days postpartum. Experiment and see if it is more comfortable when it is fully or partially inflated.
-Haemorrhoids happen because the strain of pushing and because your baby’s head pushed on your bowels as her head passed through the birth canal. They should pass within a few days. You can use some of the techniques described under healing tears or episiotomy to help ease them.
-Itchiness can happen as your skin tightens after birth (just like it did during pregnancy as it stretched) - a good way to handle this is to drink lots of water and use a good moisturiser. You can also feel itchy around your vulva and perineum, especially if you tore or had sutures. Gentle
washing with water can ease this
-Low immunity is one of the not-so-great consequences of having a newborn. Lack of sleep, the stress of caring for a newborn and adapting to your new role, eating ready-to-eat foods (because you
Don’t have time for anything else) can mean that you catch every little cold and virus that comes close to you. Remember that vegetables (especially leafy greens) and fruits are key to keeping your body and immunity strong. Asking for help and support from others to help care for your baby or prepare nutritious meals is one of the ways you can handle this, especially if you ask them to bring healthy meals and low-sugar seasonal fruit). Some may also help by minding baby while you sleep an hour or two. Also try to get outside with baby and get some sun - vitamin D is good for both of you and can boost your immunity.
-Muscle pain is normal after birth, no matter how long your labour and birth lasted, all that effort was made by your muscles. It’s possible that you spent a lot of time in a certain position, resting on your arms or back, or that you’re just tired after being awake for a long time. The pain will go away after a few days and can be helped by massage, warm baths or just resting.
-Pain after caesarean is normal, just as after any major surgery.
You’ll need lots of rest and time to recover. To sit or stand up after lying down, turn on your side and use your elbow and hand to get up; support your incision when you have to cough, sneeze or laugh,
avoid stairs and heavy lifting and keep your incision dry to minimize problems. Don’t lift anything heavier than your baby for the first few days and weeks. After the first three to six weeks you will be feeling much better.
-Perineal pain after pushing out a baby seems logical, right? Some women also experience it due to the weight of their uterus on their perineum during pregnancy. Generally, you can follow the same tips as with healing tears and episiotomy.
-Restless legs feels like a strong urge to move your legs, pain in your calves, aching or tingling in your legs and can be normal during and after pregnancy. This often happens at night, when you are sitting or resting. Nutrition can improve symptoms, especially supplements of magnesium or iron. Exercise, stretching and massage can also help.
-Separation of abdominal muscles after pregnancy (or diastasis recti) happens to many women as their abdominal muscles move apart to accommodate a growing baby. You can tell that you have it if you lie on your back with your knees bent and do an abdominal crunch – look at your belly and if you notice that it bulges upward in the middle into a cone or triangle, you’ve got it. An experienced physiotherapist can help you deal with diastasis recti.
-Stretch marks are an inevitable part of pregnancy and postpartum as your skin stretches and then shrinks after birth. Your large belly may have been hiding some of them from you, and after birth you notice them for the first time. These red lines will fade over time and become lightly silver. They’re your body’s memory of a time in your life, the tiger marks of motherhood.
-Shaking, shivering and feeling cold are normal in the first days after birth. This has to do with your body adapting to blood and fluid loss and regulating its temperature in the way that was normal before pregnancy. A warm blanket and snuggle with your baby are great ways to ease this during postpartum.
-Sweating after birth is normal as your body removes all the extra fluid it had been holding in the last weeks and months of pregnancy. It is also removing fluid that you may have gotten intravenously during labour. You will find that you are peeing more often and sweating more than usual, especially at night (you might need to change your pillowcase or pyjamas, as they get soaked). This usually lasts for a few days after birth and then stops.
-Difficulty urinating after birth can be caused by labour and birth’s effects on your urinary tract, because you didn’t drink much in labour but it can also be because you are scared of the stinging feeling during urination that can happen in the few days after birth. Drinking a lot of clear liquids and applying hot and cold packs can make it easier - you can also try peeing in the shower to help relax your pelvic muscles and ease any discomfort.
-Leaking urine or incontinence is normal after pregnancy, no matter if you had a vaginal birth or caesarean. As your vaginal and pelvic muscles go back to their normal position and tone, this will get better and should be enormously better by six-weeks postpartum.
-Vaginal dryness might surprise you the first time you try to have sex postpartum, especially if you are breastfeeding. This is because of hormonal changes after pregnancy, and will continue so long as you’re exclusively (or intensively) breastfeeding. As your baby starts solids, you’ll notice that you will have less dryness. Until then, try out some natural, gentle lubricants when you’re having penetrative sex.
-Less tone in your vaginal muscles is part and parcel with pregnancy and birth - no matter how you give birth. Your vaginal muscles are designed to stretch and contract and, in a few weeks or months they will return to their normal tone. If you are concerned, think about visiting a pelvic physiotherapist for help and advice on how to tone the muscles.