Postpartum period: physical recovery

The postpartum period is the six weeks following the birth of your baby. How you recover physically will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of labor and delivery you had, your general health, and your social circumstances.

As your uterus starts to shrink back to its pre-pregnant state in the first few days after the birth, you will have a very heavy bloody vaginal discharge, called lochia. Lochia is made of blood, mucus, and tissue debris, all of which needs to be expelled from the uterus. The flow usually calms down after the first week.

If you experience the period-like pains during breastfeeding, they are uterine contractions caused by the hormone oxytocin, which encourage the uterus to shrink back down into the pelvis. Since oxytocin is released when the baby suckles at the breast, it is common for women to experience after-pains.

If you have stitches they will become tighter as the skin surrounding them swells and the wound starts to heal. This can make sitting down uncomfortable. Placing ice packs, local anesthetic creams, sitting on a rubber ring help during the first few days.

The bladder undergoes a particularly stressful time during labor and delivery, which can result in difficulties urinating. If this happens, you may need to have a catheter inserted into your bladder.

Many women fear that opening their bowels for the first time after the delivery will be a painful experience. Rest assured that your stitches are unlikely to burst open even if you do find that you are straining.

To help prevent constipation, drink plenty of fluids, ideally water, as soon as possible and eat plenty of high-fiber foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain, cereals.

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