If you're anything like me, by the time you're about to give birth you've read so much on babies and pregnancy that you feel like you should have some sort of honorary degree in obstetrics. But have you read up on the nitty gritty of postpartum recovery? Honestly, educating myself on what to expect from my own body after birth did not get the attention it deserved. So I encourage you to learn from my mistakes and differentiate between the normal things about childbirth recovery you don't need to worry about, and the things that warrant a call to your health care provider (or a visit to the ER).
It really comes down to the peace of mind you deserve. You've been carrying this baby around for 37 - 42 years or so. (What? Just weeks? That doesn't sound right to me. It definitely felt like at least five years.) Your body has been working overtime and the birth in and of itself is a damn ordeal. Getting to know what to expect when you're no longer expecting is a good head's up and, ultimately, can save you a lot of unnecessary panic or concern.
Plus, knowledge is power, y'all! And sometimes bodies are just so fun and weird that it's interesting to know this stuff even when it doesn't affect you (because, indeed, not all of this will).
"But Jamie," you say. "I don't have time to read any more books or know where to begin to learn about recovery after birth." Well don't worry, my newfound friend. I got you covered:
Your Postpartum Bleeding
It's totally normal to experience postpartum bleeding and discharge — enough to need pads for up to six weeks after giving birth.
This postpartum discharge is actually called lochia and progresses in stages. "Lochia rubra" lasts between three and five days. It is typically bright red and consists of blood, fetal membranes, and all the schmutz that was covering your baby in utero (vernix caseosa, lanugo, etc). If this stage lasts longer than five days or so, see your care provider. "Lochia serosa" is a bit gunkier, sort of a brownish pink, and lasts until a little before two weeks after delivery. Persistence of lochia serosa can indicate hemorrhaging. Lochia alba is generally a yellow-ish white and carries you through from about two weeks to four to six weeks after delivery.
Point is, there's going to be a lot of stuff coming after you after that baby pops out, so be prepared and don't panic. If you begin bleeding heavily again after it had tapered off, if your discharge has a strong, foul odor, or if you find you have clots larger than a quarter, see your care provider.
It is not atypical to have all the feelings. Random bouts of inexplicable crying, anxiety, mood swings, and the sense of being overwhelmed are common; people often refer to this very normal hormonal phenomenon as "Baby Blues."
So here's the real question: how do you tell the difference between "baby blues" and postpartum depression. While the baby blues can really suck, you'll find two major differences between that and something far more serious. For starters, the baby blues tends not to last too long (about a month) and baby blues isn't fun, but it's not debilitating.
If you find yourself uncontrollably despondent or anxious and/or you do not begin to feel more like yourself after a month, talk to your care provider.
Your Numb, Tingly C-Section Scar
It may be a tiny incision (at least compared to the baby that came out of it somehow) but it's still pretty intense. That scar signifies being cut through several layer of muscle and fat and nerves. It's very normal for the incision site to feel tingly, numb, or itchy afterwards. In general, this feeling fades over time, but I'll be honest: it's been almost six years since my C-section and there's still some weird sensations going on in that general area (even though I mostly can't even see the scar anymore: go figure). It's nothing life-changing or bad. It's just different.
See your doctor if your incision gets red, swollen, oozy, or stinky, if your wound re-opens, if the pain increases or becomes localized to a particular spot, or if you develop a fever of over 100 degrees.
The Fact That Your Vagina Feels Swollen Shut
After I had a C-section, I went on to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). One of the reasons I wanted to deliver vaginally was because I was assured by just about everyone that the recovery was easier. And, in some ways, they were right. I was more mobile and it didn't take nearly as long. But I think in my mind I idealized this concept a bit too much, too, so when I realized that it still hurts I felt mildly betrayed. My vagina (which, TMI, experienced second degree tears) felt like it had been repeatedly punched and swollen to the point that I thought, "Am I ever going to be able to use this thing again?"
But swelling and soreness/pain is normal, and it definitely does get better with time and (this is important) rest. Sitting back and relaxing is essential, which just so happens to be something I learned the hard way. If things are getting worse instead of better, see your doctor.
Boobs The Size Of Your Baby's Head
If you are breastfeeding, your various milk-making systems are going to need some time to get the hang of things. This could very well mean that, as your body regulates, your breasts will swell to many times their usual size in the span of just a few hours (or less). In addition to becoming massive, they can also engorge to the point of being rock hard and even a bit uneven/lumpy.
It's really, really weird, you guys, but eventually your boobs will be able to lactate on the DL (mostly), without getting all showy about it.
If your breasts become hot to the touch or you experience flu-like symptoms, call your care provider.
The Fact That You Still Look Pregnant
This was me two days after giving birth. See how I still look quite pregnant? This is very, very normal. Just because the baby is out doesn't mean that your body is just going to automatically go back to the way it was pre-pregnancy. Your uterus has to shrink back down, you have a ton of fluids still in you, and, I hate to break it to you, not all the weight you gained was baby. Don't let the "How I Got My Body Back" magazine covers fool you — continuing to look pregnant after you are no longer pregnant is to be expected.
Burning Pee After Vaginal Delivery
Did I frantically Google this after being painfully surprised a few days after giving birth? Maybe. (Yes.) But between tears and swelling, it's totally normal for your urine to burn all your delicate bits when you pee. My suggestion? Lean forward and/or spray your peri bottle as you pee. Game changer, you guys.
More specifically, full on contractions! Remember when I said your uterus has to shrink back down to its regular size? That's what that shrinking feels like... and it f*cking hurts! These cramps/contractions are often more intense while breastfeeding and are usually stronger and more noticeable if you've already given birth before. Don't worry: even if your uterus doesn't shrink down for a few weeks, you'll usually only feel the cramping for a few days.
During my first pregnancy, I really didn't experience swollen feet, legs, or ankles... until after I gave birth. At that point, all of the fluids the hospital had pumped me full of during labor and delivery seemed to settle in my lower extremities and I panicked. But even without getting fluids intravenously, postpartum edema is common (a result of an increase in progesterone) and will clear up in a few days. If swelling persists for longer than a week, get in touch with your care provider. If the swelling only occurs in one extremity and is accompanied by pain, call your doctor right away, as this could be a sign of deep vein thrombosis.
Postpartum constipation can be a side effect of anesthesia or pain killers... or simply a deep psychological fear of pushing anything out of your lower bits yet again because, good God, hasn't that area been through enough?!
Try not to strain, but at the same time don't hold back too much, as you'll only make your inevitable "release" all that much worse.
And remember: stool softeners are your friend.
Postpartum hair loss is basically the evil twin of Luscious Pregnancy Locks. Remember when you were pregnant your hair was super rich and luxurious and thick? Thank your hormones, because they were causing you to shed less and grow more in the hair department. The hair loss afterwards? Blame another set of hormones, because you're now going back to shedding (probably more than usual) and you're no longer growing more hair than you usually do.
Fortunately, in most cases, your hair will go back to basically normal within a year or less. Until then, I suggest investing in a good sturdy broom and lint rollers.