Post pregnancy: What to expect after the birth of your baby
Until the birth of your baby your focus would have been on your pregnancy and labour. The time following your baby's birth, called the postnatal stage, is just as important. The postnatal stage lasts for about 6 to 8 weeks after the birth of your baby.
During this time, you will go through many physical and emotional changes while learning to look after your baby. It is important to rest enough, eat well, and enjoy your journey of motherhood.
Coping with a new baby can be stressful. Rest is an important part of your recovery to help you rebuild your strength and cope with the demands of your baby. Here are some hints to help you avoid getting too tired:
- try to sleep or rest when your baby sleeps
- limit visitors while in hospital as these first days are tiring
- keep your baby near you at night to make night feeds easier - see the fact sheets below on how to do this safely
- ask for help with jobs at home to ease the burden for you
- involve your partner in your baby's care
It is common to feel emotional, anxious, or even teary for no obvious reason during the first few days after your baby's birth. These feelings are known as ‘the baby blues’ and will usually settle. If these symptoms persist or are distressing, speak with your midwife, GP or community nurse about them.
During pregnancy and labour your body will have undergone many changes. Often women want to regain their pre-pregnancy body straight away, however this takes time and patience. Breastfeeding, gentle exercise and a healthy diet will help with gradual weight loss. Please see our Healthy Lifestyle page for more information on this.
It takes about 6 weeks for your uterus to return to pre-pregnancy size and during this time it is normal experience period-like bleeding. Most women have red, moderately heavy bleeding for 2-4 days, which lessens to a lighter coloured discharge (called lochia) which may continue for up to 6 weeks. If you notice that the loss has a bad smell and/or becomes heavy or bright red again, please inform your GP or midwife, or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.
During these early days you will usually feel abdominal cramping known as afterbirth pains. These pains may be most noticeable when you are breastfeeding; they are part of your body’s recovery after birth. Your first period may return after 6 weeks but if you are exclusively breastfeeding, it may take longer before you have a period.
Constipation can occur post-delivery particularly if you have a bruised perineum or stitches. Drinking plenty of water, eating fresh fruit, vegetables and other high fibre foods will help counteract this problem. Light exercise also helps prevent constipation.
Just after your baby’s birth there will be minimal changes to your breasts. The first yellow milk your breasts make is called colostrum. When your ‘mature milk’ comes in, around day 3 or 4, your breasts will start to feel heavy and full. When your milk has come in it is important to wear a well-supported, fitted bra and you may also wish to use breast pads to absorb any unexpected leaking.
It is helpful to read about breastfeeding before delivery. Attending breastfeeding classes and getting yourself well prepared beforehand should also help you to breastfeed successfully. Please also read the information on our Breastfeeding page.
During the first days after a vaginal birth you will experience some perineal pain and swelling. The symptoms may be worse if you have needed stitches. Regular pain relief tablets and ice packs are recommended to help with your recovery.
Once the area has started to heal it is recommended that you commence regular pelvic floor exercises. These will strengthen the muscles and decrease the risk of stress incontinence, which is losing small amounts of urine when coughing, laughing or exercising.
Speak to the staff about these exercises and try to attend the physio class on the Postnatal Ward which provides information about pelvic floor exercises. The class runs Monday to Friday at 9:30am.
During the postnatal time you may experience back ache as your body is recovering from pregnancy and labour. It is important to take care when bending and lifting after delivery. Avoid lifting heavy objects and always bend from your knees not your back. Being conscious of your posture while sitting and breastfeeding will also limit back pain.
While in hospital try to attend the physio class held on the ward which runs Monday to Friday at 9:30am.
A new baby will change the dynamics of the relationship between you and your partner. This is a time of great happiness, but it can also be emotionally stressful becoming parents. Regular and honest communication between you and your partner is very important. Consider having time together without the baby so that you can enjoy each other’s company.
The time frame when a couple wish to become sexually intimate again after birth varies greatly. Before having intercourse again, it is generally recommended to wait for any vaginal bleeding to settle down (usually about 4 weeks) and for any stitches to dissolve (usually about 4- 6 weeks). It is important that you feel secure and comfortable about having sex again. The changes your body has undergone and the hormones of breastfeeding may affect your sex drive. Be kind to yourself - some couples will need to spend time being intimate in other ways (kissing and cuddling etc) before recommencing sex.
Before having sex, you will also need to think about contraception. Remember that it is possible to fall pregnant as soon as 4 weeks after your baby’s birth, even before having had your first period.
You may be able to restart your previous birth control methods, or you may need to use something else. Talk to the staff before you leave hospital, or to your GP, to find out what options may be suitable for you.
Blood clots, also known as Deep Vein Thromboses (DVT), are a leading cause of preventable death in Australia.
During pregnancy and the postnatal time you are at higher risk of blood clots. Most blood clots occur in the deep veins of the legs. Occasionally these clots break free and move to other parts of the body, in particular the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE) and it can have very serious consequences.
Early detection and treatment of clots can help reduce the risk of harm.