The journey of pregnancy and childbirth is an incredible experience, but what happens to a woman's body after giving birth is just as important to understand. You might be familiar with the first three trimesters of pregnancy, but did you know there's a "fourth trimester"? It's the 12 weeks after giving birth when a mother's body undergoes more changes. Postpartum health, or the period after a baby is born, comes with its own set of challenges and surprises. In this article, we'll explore some little-known facts about postpartum health that every new parent needs to know.
The uterus gradually shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. This might cause some discomfort and cramping, especially when breastfeeding. Breastfeeding triggers the release of a hormone that helps the uterus contract and shrink. To alleviate this discomfort, consider over-the-counter painkillers, abdominal support garments, or applying local heat. If severe pain or fever (>100.4), call your obstetric provider.
Bloody Discharge (Lochia)
For up to four weeks after childbirth, mothers will experience a bloody discharge called "lochia." Bleeding like a period or heavier and even passing small clots for the first week after delivery can be normal. During this time, full-sized, fragrance free thick pads are recommended. The bleeding will start to lighten over time and you can switch to thinner pads and perhaps even a panty liner. Use pads only for the first six weeks after delivery. You may notice heavier bleeding after breastfeeding for the first few days after delivery as the uterus contracts in response to oxytocin naturally released with breastfeeding. If bleeding is heavier than you expect, you are saturating a pad in an hour or passing large clots, feeling lightheaded, dizzy or heart racing, you should call your obstetric provider immediately.
Vaginal odor due to blood collecting in the vagina is normal and will resolve as the bleeding stops. If the odor doesn’t stop, changes or is accompanied by vaginal itching or burning, notify your obstetrician.
If a mother delivered vaginally, she might feel sore in the perineum area (between the vagina and anus). Ice packs, warm compresses, and painkillers can provide relief. Sitz bath basin can be useful for filling with warm water to soak the area. Dermoplast is an over-the-counter pain-relieving spray containing a numbing agent. You can spray directly on your perineum for relief. In the case of a C-section delivery, the scar can be painful. Doctors usually prescribe pain medication and recommend limiting certain activities, like lifting, squatting, and stretching, for several weeks. Keeping your bowel movements soft will prevent the need for straining. This will reduce stress on vaginal sutures, vaginal tears and cesarean section scars. Stool softeners you can purchase over the counter, Dulcolax, Miralax and Colace, can be helpful.
You may notice it burns with urination, you have blood in your urine or you are leaking urine. Discuss with your obstetrician for proper workup and treatment.
Postpartum exhaustion is common and can be caused by hormone fluctuations and lack of sleep. Taking care of a newborn is hard work, and babies often wake up every few hours. Mothers should try to rest when their baby sleeps instead of doing household chores. Use the resources you have; whether a spouse, partner, family member, friend or hired help. Ask for the help you need. Set up a schedule so that you have support and allow yourself the rest and recovery you need.
Hemorrhoids and Constipation
Some mothers may develop hemorrhoids or experience constipation after childbirth. Drinking plenty of water and eating a high-fiber diet can help alleviate these issues, along with Mommy’s Bliss Soothe Hem Wipes for soothing, cooling comfort. If hemorrhoids continue to worsen after the first two weeks postpartum, seek medical care.
It's not uncommon for some women to experience acne or temporary hair loss due to hormonal changes after giving birth. Fortunately, these changes usually resolve themselves within a few months.
Postpartum hair loss can be alarming. Pregnancy hormones cause many hairs in the growing phase to suddenly enter the resting phase. A few months later, the hair falls out. Many new moms experience excessive hair shedding after pregnancy. Hair shedding usually peaks about four months after giving birth and usually resolves by six months. If your hair does not regain its normal fullness after one year, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. Anemia caused by low iron may lead to hair loss. Continue to take your prenatal vitamin and iron supplement until your iron stores return to normal.
Waking up drenched in sweat? No it’s not menopause. The night sweats are a result of your rapidly changing hormones after delivery. Night sweats typically resolve within the first week after delivery.
In the first days after birth, your body is producing colostrum, a thick, yellowish fluid that is nutrient dense and full of antibodies, to help protect your baby. It’s low in volume but packs a punch. Sometime between day three to seven your milk begins to come in and the breast will become firm, more swollen and painful. If you don’t plan on breastfeeding, you want to wear a tight fitting bra and avoid stimulating the breast. You can apply cold compresses to the breast and take Tylenol for pain relief until your milk dries up.
Breastfeeding mothers may experience soreness and engorgement in their breasts. Gentle massage of the breast, warm showers, feeding baby or pumping the breast every two to three hours can help relieve pain and engorgement. If you experience fever, chills, breast pain, swelling or redness of the skin of the affected breast and flu-like symptoms, you might have mastitis. Mastitis requires oral antibiotics that are safe while breastfeeding and it is recommended that you continue breastfeeding and pumping.
To optimize your breastfeeding experience; stay hydrated with water, wear a comfortable, well fitting nursing bra, protect your nipples from cracking with a lanolin-based nipple cream like the Mommy’s Bliss Lanolin Nipple Balm, and use a lactation consultant. Most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff who can work with you after delivery. Once at home, if you or baby are having difficulty with breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can help you troubleshoot. There are lactation consultants who can work with you virtually or at your home to teach you techniques to make breastfeeding easier. You can find a lactation consultant near you at www.ilca.org.
Intense feelings of sadness or anxiety may prevent you from doing daily tasks and bonding with your baby. Postpartum blues usually resolves on its own in 1 or 2 weeks. If you have a history of depression, you are at increased risk of postpartum depression that can occur up to one year after having a baby. Hormonal changes, feelings of doubt, and fatigue are a perfect storm for mood disorders. If symptoms last longer than two weeks, it may be postpartum depression. Things to be looking for; uncontrollable crying, lack of interest in baby, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, thoughts of death or suicide. Discussing a history of a mood disorder, as well as new onset symptoms with your obstetrician early is key to proper treatment.
Getting Pregnant Again
Believe it or not, a woman can get pregnant again surprisingly soon after giving birth. Within just a month or two, it's possible! However, there's something called "lactational amenorrhea" that can act as a temporary form of birth control if the mother is exclusively breastfeeding. This method can be effective for the first 6 months after delivery. Still, it's crucial to discuss reliable birth control options with a healthcare provider and to start hormonal birth control at least a week before resuming sexual activity.
Impact on Sex Drive
Breastfeeding can have a direct impact on a woman's sex drive. This is because the levels of a hormone called estrogen drop significantly after delivery, while hormones called oxytocin and prolactin increase. When these hormones change, a woman's sex drive may decrease, and this can persist as long as she continues breastfeeding. Low estrogen levels can also cause vaginal dryness due to decreased blood flow and lubrication to the genitals.
Pain during sex after childbirth can occur for various reasons, including hormonal changes, healing tissue from birth-related injuries, and pelvic floor dysfunction. Sometimes, pain is a complex interplay of biological and psychological factors. If a patient has experienced birth trauma or postpartum depression, this can also affect their experience. Vaginal estrogen therapy can be safe and helpful for many women, especially those who are breastfeeding and have low estrogen levels. It's a good idea for healthcare providers to consider prescribing vaginal estrogen therapy and referring patients for pelvic physical therapy. Remember, every person heals differently, both physically and emotionally. If a mother doesn't feel ready for sex after the recommended six weeks, that's perfectly fine. It's essential to listen to your body and have open conversations with a partner about feelings and needs. There are many ways to bond and connect that don't involve sexual activity.
Long-Term Health Matters
Postpartum health doesn't end when the baby arrives. It's crucial for mothers to prioritize their health because certain complications, like hypertension disorders (preeclampsia), cardiomyopathy, thyroid disorders (thyroiditis), diabetes, and depression, can resurface later in life. Regular check-ups and self-care are essential for a healthy future.
In conclusion, postpartum health is a vital topic that often doesn't get enough attention. The period after giving birth can be challenging, but understanding these little-known facts can help new parents navigate this journey with confidence. By seeking proper medical care, communicating openly with partners, and taking care of their physical and emotional well-being, mothers can ensure a healthy and happy postpartum experience. Remember, you're not alone, and there's support available every step of the way.
This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.