The profoundly severe nurse marched into my dimly lit hospital room and bluntly announced that she’d be removing my catheter now. I was surprised and disappointed. I’d just had a C-section to deliver my first baby, and I had barely been off of the operating table for 12 hours. They really expected me to have to get up to go to the bathroom so soon?
“But whyyyyy” I protested weakly. She mumbled something about needing to get me up and walking after giving birth as soon as possible to prevent blood clots, and quickly went about the task at hand.
And just like that, I was abruptly thrust directly into the realities of postpartum recovery.
No one prepared me for how excruciating postpartum recovery would be. Somehow, I expected that I’d bounce right back to my pre-pregnancy body, that I would walk around feeling lighter than air after having carried around another human in my body for 9 months, that I’d feel normal again.
I didn’t expect that it would hurt to pee, I didn’t expect that I’d be making up for 9 months of missed periods with weeks of postpartum bleeding. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed on my own after my C-section.
If I’d spent a second thinking about it, I guess it would have made sense to me. But I was so focused on just getting to the end of pregnancy, surviving labor and delivery and meeting my new baby that I just didn’t give the recovery a single thought.
Postpartum recovery tips: What to Expect When You’re Done Expecting
You can expect MORE abdominal pain after birth, also known as afterpains
It’s sad but true, the moment you get the baby out isn’t the end of your contractions. If you give birth vaginally, you’ll continue having contractions until you deliver the placenta (you should ask your doctor to show it to you if you aren’t too squeamish. It’s a sight to behold). Afterpains are nothing like those 10cm-dilated-and-this-baby-is-coming-NOW contractions you were having a few minutes prior, but they are fairly uncomfortable, so just know to expect that.
Also, for a day or two following delivery, your uterus will do a lot of contracting in an attempt to return to it’s pre-baby size, so you might notice some lower abdominal pain after giving birth. You’ll probably notice more contractions when you breastfeed. This is because breastfeeding releases hormones that make your uterus contract. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing, even if it does feel uncomfortable.
You’ll have lots of postpartum bleeding
Like I said earlier, you can expect a fair amount of bleeding in the days and weeks following delivery. They’ll give you great, big, giant pads to use in the hospital which are fine. Once you get home though, I recommend just investing in some depends. They give you full-coverage so you don’t have to worry about leaking if you lie down to rest (of which you should be doing lots!) and the amount of blood you’ll be losing in the first few days may be more than what a regular pad can handle.
You shouldn’t have any more postpartum bleeding after 6 weeks or so. If you aren’t breastfeeding, you can expect your normal cycle to resume within a few weeks after that.
You should expect a fair amount of perineal pain
If you had a vaginal birth, you’re going to be seriously tender down yonder, especially if you had any tearing or an episiotomy (ugh, my condolences).
Sitting is, unfortunately, going to be pretty uncomfortable or even impossible for a few days to a few weeks depending on the severity of your injury. This is where your Boppy pillow can come in handy for more than just breastfeeding. I was usually OK to sit on the couch, but if you need to sit down on a seat any firmer than that, just plop your Boppy down before you sit. It’ll be much softer than the chair, and donut feature of the pillow helps to put a lot less pressure on your poor lady parts.
If nothing else, hauling that pillow around serves as a visual reminder to those around you that you are still very much in healing mode and they should treat you as such, lest they forget and start expecting you to do actual things apart from taking care of yourself and the baby.
Going to the bathroom post-baby can get complicated, too. The fact that you have an open wound in that area can make it hurt even just when you pee. Ask for a numbing spray in the hospital and use that liberally each time before you go. It’ll really help make going less painful.
Claraderm can also help to promote healing and is a great ointment for stitches after delivery! You can get it here.
You might worry a lot about postpartum poop
The first time you have to poop postpartum, however, can be downright frightening. You’ll be tempted to hold it in as long as you can, and it’s normal not to use the bathroom for a couple of days after labor. Much of your body’s resources were redirected to your uterus to help get the baby out, and it takes awhile for things to start functioning as normal again. Plus if you had a long labor and didn’t eat the whole time, there may just not be much in there to come out, ha.
Anyway, make sure you take the stool softener or laxative that they give you at the hospital. That can really help to eliminate painful bowel movements after childbirth! I took them no questions asked, and it moved things right along, relatively pain-free! After I got home was when the trouble started because I didn’t keep taking the laxatives after I left the hospital. So grab some from over the counter and use as directed for a few days. You definitely want to avoid pushing when it finally is time to go.
You might get hemorrhoids from all the pushing during delivery
While we’re on that subject we might as well cover some other lovely stuff that can go wrong down there: postpartum hemorrhoids. I know, the idea of having a baby is getting more and more glamorous, right?? Also known as piles, they can be itchy and make it really painful to go number two. If you have piles, or hemorrhoids, after delivery, there are several home remedies you can try.
Here’s how to to get rid of postpartum hemorrhoids:
I recommend getting some witch hazel pads to wipe with to soothe the area after you use the restroom. You can also get a sitz bath, which is basically a bowl that fits onto the toilet seat that you can soak your bottom in to relieve pain and promote healing. Add some epsom salts to the water for added benefits. This helps your vaginal area to heal, too!
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure to eat healthy and get lots of fiber in your diet. Try eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to keep things moving along!
And don’t forget about your laxatives if you need them!
You might be wondering, when do postpartum hemorrhoids go away? Many cases of postpartum hemorrhoids will clear up on their own within a few days if you take proper care to avoid straining in the bathroom. Sometimes they do require medical attention, though, so if they continue to be an issue or if you find your postpartum hemorrhoids getting worse make sure to give your doctor a call.
You might find yourself feeling sad postpartum: the baby blues
Your body has been producing all sorts of different hormones all throughout pregnancy. Now that you’ve delivered your baby, suddenly all of your hormones comes crashing down and start to readjust back to normal. This is all normal, healthy and good, but it can result in a lot of confusing emotions. You might find yourself crying because you ran out of toilet paper in the bathroom, or because your baby just so beautiful, for example. I personally found myself crying plenty of times for absolutely no reason at all! Totally normal, if you’re wondering.
Those crazy emotions should settle down within the first couple of weeks and you’ll go back to feeling a bit more like your normal, emotionally balanced and rational self again. If you DON’T start feeling better and the negative thoughts and feelings continue, that can be a sign of postpartum depression, which is a serious mental condition that may require a professional. So ask for help!
You’ve Got This!
So yeah, postpartum recovery is no walk in the park, but I hope you’ll find some of these tips helpful. Know that this is only a season, and there will come a day when you start to feel like yourself again. In the mean time, make sure to focus on taking care of yourself and your baby. Don’t worry so much about the rest of it. The vacuuming and the dusting and the nosy relatives will all be just fine sitting on the back burner for awhile!
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Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.