So what exactly is “postpartum?” In medical terms, postpartum refers to the period just after delivery. Postpartum refers to the mother; this period for the baby is termed “postnatal.” Some moms jokingly refer to this time as the fourth trimester. And, here you were thinking there would only be three trimesters!
What Happens After You Give Birth?
Your postpartum recovery won't be just a few days. Sorry, momma! Fully recovering from pregnancy and childbirth can take months. You’ll start to feel more like yourself after 6-8 weeks, but if it takes a little longer, that’s totally normal, too.
After your baby is born, your body will get rid of the blood and tissue that was inside your uterus. This is called vaginal discharge or lochia. For the first few days, it's heavy, bright red and may contain blood clots. Over time, the flow gets less and lighter in color. Use pads or disposable underwear during this time.
Postpartum Pain - What to Expect
As your uterus shrinks back into its normal size and shape, you will feel pain in your abdomen. These pains are called “afterpains.” Most of these pains will be dull (the bright side), but some will be sharp. They’ll vary between feeling like mild labor cramps to regular period cramps.
It’s typical to feel more of these pains when breastfeeding or using your breast pump. That’s because breastfeeding stimulates a chemical in your body that causes the uterus to contract or tighten up. For many women, applying heat to the area helps control the pain.
So What’s up with Postpartum Swelling?
Postpartum swelling occurs primarily in the legs, feet, ankles and face. Some new moms puff up in the hands and arms, too. If you’re really swollen, your skin may also look stretched or shiny. Compounding that residual water weight from pregnancy, are the extra fluids you received via IV during labor and delivery (especially true if you had a C-section). No wonder you’re a little puffy all over!
Though many women use maternity compression stockings during pregnancy, they can definitely help with postnatal swelling as well. And, like a compression stocking for your body, postpartum recovery garments help ease discomfort and actually promote healing as well!
Finally, although it may sound counterintuitive, drink lots of water. Move around as much as you are able, and when you’re lying down, keep your feet elevated. This too, shall pass.
Did We Mention the Postpartum Hemorrhoids?
A hemorrhoid is a painful swelling of a vein in the rectum. After having a baby - especially after a vaginal delivery - many women develop hemorrhoids. Sorry!!!
To ease discomfort while the hemorrhoids heal:
- Apply an over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream or suppository containing hydrocortisone. Request these while in the hospital after delivery if you are able.
- Use pads containing witch hazel or a numbing agent. Your hospital may be able to supply you with these as well.
- Soak the infected area in plain warm water sitz bath for 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a day.
Obviously, giving birth to a baby puts the body and mind through a LOT of emotional and physical stress. While this is a rewarding time, it’s also very common for moms to feel anything from what many call the “baby blues” to full-on postpartum depression.
The “baby blues” typically last for up to two weeks after giving birth and tend to go away on their own. Discuss these feelings with your partner and ask for help if you need it.
Some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. This isn’t a flaw or weakness! Often, it’s just a complication from giving birth, and one of the most common ones, at that. Untreated, postpartum depression may last for many months or longer. Be sure to address your feelings with a trusted loved one and your physician. You don’t need to suffer alone.
Postpartum Recovery Essentials & Supplies for Fourth Trimester Care
The number one rule of being a mom - be prepared for anything! This includes items you’ll need to take care of yourself. Some of the supplies we recommend to keep on hand for your postpartum care include:
- Over-the-counter pain medications and stool softener, as approved by your physician
- Menstrual pads and disposable underwear
- Postpartum Recovery Garment
- Sitz bath and Epsom salts
- Medicated cooling pads
- Breast Pump and collection bottles
- Breast pads and nipple cream
- Nursing bra and comfy, loose-fitting pajamas