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Your postnatal body

Postnatal Body
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It's time to understand your postnatal body...

Just as you had to adjust to all the physical and mental changes in pregnancy it’s exactly the same after the birth – except you've got to do it a lot more quickly and cope with the demands of a newborn at the same time!

How you look

Despite having lost the combined weight of the baby, the placenta and amniotic fluid you will probably be heavier than you were before you became pregnant.

Your uterus takes a while to shrink down so you may still look pregnant, while slack muscles and stretched skin can make your tummy feel a bit like jelly.

You will probably lose some weight quite quickly in the first days after the birth as the excess water you carried in late pregnancy is expelled from your body and your uterus gets smaller, but then you are likely to find that any weight loss slows down.

Lochia

This is the period-like discharge you get after the birth. It can last for weeks and goes through a range of colours from red to pinky-brown, to cream before stopping.

If your loss is getting heavier each day rather than lighter, you are passing clots, have a smelly discharge, or tummy pains, contact your doctor immediately.

Stiches and bruising

If you've had stitches after tearing or an episiotomy you will probably find sitting uncomfortable and it may sting when you go to the loo.

Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine and pouring cool water between your legs when you pass urine will help to reduce any stinging. Painkillers will make you more comfortable but make sure you check that they are all right to take if you are breastfeeding.

You may want to consider using a special cushion or trying a cooling gel pack.

The area needs to be kept clean so have a warm bath every day and then make sure that you dry yourself thoroughly with a soft towel. Stitches usually dissolve within a few weeks and you may notice little stitch knots on your maternity pads but if the pain becomes worse or you feel unwell contact your doctor.

Afterpains

You may feel cramp-like pains, a bit like mild contractions, as your uterus gradually returns to its normal size. These pains often become stronger when you’re breastfeeding as this helps to stimulate the uterus to contract. These pains are likely to be more uncomfortable for second-time mums.

Breasts

Immediately after the birth, your breasts will start to produce colostrum – a thick, yellowish liquid, rich in nutrients and antibodies, which is perfect for your baby’s first food.

Your proper milk supply will start to come in, around day three or four– you won’t miss it, as you’ll notice your boobs getting swollen and tender.

Anti-D injection

If you’re rhesus negative and your baby is rhesus positive you will be given an anti-D immunoglobulin injection within 72 hours of birth.

Avoid infection

Group A Strep bacteria can cause serious genital track infection in postnatal women. To avoid the risk of this type of infection you need to pay particular attention to personal hygiene and make sure that you always wash your hands before and after going to the toilet and after changing maternity pads.

If you develop a sore throat or fever, low abdominal pain or feel generally unwell seek urgent advice from your doctor.

Baby blues

You’re likely to feel a real mix of emotions in the days after the birth – joy at seeing your baby, relief you’re no longer pregnant and fear about how you’ll cope with motherhood.

To add to the fun, your hormone levels, which were at an all-time high in pregnancy, suddenly crash. Nicknamed the 'baby blues', this feeling usually arrives at the same time as your breast milk and can make you feel miserable, anxious and tearful.

Most people usually find that they feel better within a short period of time, but if your low mood persists or worsens, make sure you talk to your doctor who will be able to assess whether you have postnatal depression by questioning you about how you are feeling.

Diet and exercise

You’ll need to continue to eat healthily. This is especially important if you are breastfeeding. Try to eat a varied, well-balanced diet as this will also help to avoid constipation.

You should be doing your pelvic floor exercises everyday and can start to take gentle exercise, such as walking, soon after the birth, but wait until you’ve had your six week check before doing a more serious workout. If your BMI is more than 30 you may be referred to a dietician.

Your postnatal check

Six to eight weeks after the birth, you will be checked by your doctor or a nurse to make sure you’re feeling all right both emotionally and physically and that your body is returning to normal after the birth.

Your doctor may ask you if you have a discharge, check to see if any stitches or tears are healing well, take your blood pressure and will review your condition if you have had pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes.

Your tummy may also be felt to make sure your uterus has returned to its normal size. If you’re due a smear test, one will be arranged for you. Two doses of MMR will be offered if your immunity to rubella is low. This won't prevent you from breastfeeding. The postnatal check is a good opportunity to talk about any problems you had during your pregnancy, labour and afterwards.

Ready for sex?

In general terms, it’s usually safe to start having sex when you feel ready. However, a combination of breastfeeding, sleepless nights and feeling sore can make sex an extremely unattractive prospect for a while, so don’t worry if you feel that way – you’re perfectly normal.

Your sex drive should return in a few months, so in the meantime tell your partner how you are feeling so you don’t feel under pressure. When you do feel ready to have sex – take it easy at first, and as hormone changes and breastfeeding can lead to vaginal dryness you may find you need the help of a lubricant gel.

Unless you want to become pregnant again you will need to think about which method of contraception you are going to use. If you are breastfeeding you may want to consider lactational amenorrhoea (LAM) a natural form of contraception. 

Your doctor or Family Planning Clinic will be able to give you advice.

The postnatal check is a good opportunity to talk about any problems you had during your pregnancy, labour and afterwards.

If you had a caesarean section

Be prepared for your recovery time to be slower, after all, you’ve had major surgery. You are likely to stay in hospital for one or two days.

The first few days after a C-section can be tough and you will be given medication to help relieve the pain. You may be asked to wear compression stockings orbe offered injections to prevent blood clots for 5-7 days after the birth. You will have a urinary catheter in place until you are able to get out of bed.

You will be encouraged to get out of bed within 24 hours and once you’re up and about you’ll find that you feel much more human again. Make sure you take it easy when you get home and do things gradually, and try to get your mum or your partner to help you.

Seek medical advice before you start driving again and also check with your insurance company to make sure you are covered.

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