Your little bundle of joy is back home with you and you’re learning the ropes of your new role as a parent. While your baby is no doubt your priority now, don’t underestimate the big physical and emotional adjustments that you yourself are going through, so make sure your own wellbeing a focus as well.
The length of time it can take to adapt is different for each family and each family member. Factors such as your baby’s personality, your own personality, your parenting experience, and the amount of help and support you have will all play a part in your readjustment period. During this time, try to get plenty of rest (however impossible that may seem), and don’t be afraid to seek help.
Physical changes after giving birth
Having spent the previous through months expanding enough to fit your baby, your uterus will take around 5-6 weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size. You will also experience postnatal bleeding, known as lochia, which is the lining of the uterine wall being discarded, which will happen regardless of whether you had a vaginal or caesarean birth. The duration of postnatal bleeding varies from person to person, but usually lasts from 2-6 weeks after birth.
Your breasts may feel full, hard, and painful for a few days after birth. This is because they are undergoing a process known as engorgement, as your milk supply kicks in. You can ease this discomfort by frequent breastfeeding.
Self-care after birth
Rest and exercise
Your body has just been through a huge, incredible experience, so rest is essential for recovery. As hard as this is with a newborn, try to take short naps whenever possible. You should aim to get as much total sleep in a day as you did before you became pregnant, even if it has to be broken up into shorter periods.
If you had an uncomplicated birth, you can begin post-pregnancy exercises to help with recovery – check with your healthcare practitioner beforehand to get the all clear and don’t overexert yourself. If you needed surgical procedures performed on you during or after delivery, including episiotomy and caesarian section, you’ll need a longer period of rest before beginning any exercise routine.
Getting practical help
When family and friends ask if there’s anything they can do to help, your answer is “yes”. Don’t be afraid to ask them to cook a meal, do the laundry, grocery shopping, or vacuuming, and they can make their own tea or coffee when they pop round. You might also think about whether hired help is an option at some stage.
It is a good idea to have a check-up with your healthcare practitioner 3-8 weeks after delivery. The purpose of this examination is to see if your recovery is “on track” and identify any problems. However, if you have noticed anything unusual, for instance, abnormal lochia, you should contact your healthcare practitioner immediately, rather than waiting for your check-up.
Emotional adjustment to parenthood
The early weeks after your delivery are not always easy. You will experience emotional ups and downs caused by hormonal changes, fatigue, inexperience, and maybe a lack of support. At the same time, you are trying to cope with the demands of your new baby. For some, these emotional fluctuations are short-lived. But for others, they can be overwhelming.
If you experience anxiety, depression (“baby blues”), or feeling that you are unable to cope, talk to your partner, family, friends or health provider. Find out if there is a support group for new mothers in your area. You may also benefit from professional help from psychologists and counsellors who have expertise in postnatal emotional issues. There is no shame in seeking help and it can only benefit you and your baby.
Although it can be difficult, try to get enough sleep, eat well and exercise, and enjoy your baby as much as you can. This period in your life will not last forever.