Congratulations, your beautiful new baby is here! We spoke to Dr Virginia Beckett, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist to find out what you could be feeling, and why.
Obviously everyone’s birth experience is different, but right now, your hormones and emotions are probably all over the place, and your body will be physically recovering from the birth, as well as from the changes you went through during pregnancy. Read on to find out what’s happening
Soreness after a vaginal birth
It’s usual to feel soreness around the vagina and perineum after a vaginal birth. But it does depend on your labour and birth experience. “If you didn’t tear or need stitches, you could feel absolutely fine,” says Dr Beckett, who is also a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. “Whereas if you had stitches and some bruising, or needed a ventouse or forceps delivery, you would feel more uncomfortable.” To avoid infection, keep your vaginal area clean using a shower attachment, and dry gently.
If you have stitches, when you get home from hospital make time twice a day to sit in a bath of warm water. It will feel soothing, and encourage healing too. “Don’t put anything into the water as it can introduce bacteria,” adds Dr Beckett.
Soreness after a Caesarean
Although a Caesarean is a common and generally safe procedure, it is still serious abdominal surgery and you are likely to feel discomfort at first. Keep an eye on the wound for signs of infection, like redness, swelling or discharge. A minor wound infection happens in around one in three women who have a C-section. Find out more about recovering from a Caesarean.
After having a baby, you’ll have some vaginal bleeding, rather like a heavy period. This is called ‘lochia’ and it’s made up of blood and tissue from the uterus. It will happen whether you had a vaginal or Caesarean delivery. In the first 24 hours, it will be particularly heavy so make sure you bring plenty of maternity pads to use after the birth.
As your uterus contracts, you may feel a sort of cramping sensation, particularly when breastfeeding – these are called ‘after-pains’. “Most women are aware of a mild ache in their back,” says Dr Beckett. “But for some, these pains can feel like severe period pain or early labour contractions.” Ask your midwife or healthcare professional for advice on managing the pain.
First breast milk
Colostrum is a form of highly nutritious milk that your breasts produce, and a newborn baby’s first food. Your body’s production of colostrum actually started towards the end of your pregnancy – but you might not have noticed. “You’ll see it after the birth though, as your baby’s cry and skin-to-skin contact are very powerful triggers for breastfeeding to start,” says Dr Beckett.
Swollen legs and feet
After birth, around 90% of women notice swelling in their legs and feet. The swelling (odoema) usually starts in late pregnancy because your body is holding onto more fluid, and the growing size of your womb slows down the drainage of this fluid through your pelvis. But during labour, you’re not moving around as much and you may notice more swelling. Once you become mobile, your kidneys will do the job of getting rid of this extra fluid. “But in the meantime, the swelling is not harmful,” says Dr Beckett. “Get on your feet and move around – this is the best way to get the swelling down.”
Your emotions are all over the place
Everyone feels differently in the first 24 hours – and it tends to depend on your labour and birth experience. For example, some women can feel pretty high. “They feel elated – they have survived the birth, they’ve got through it and have achieved something quite incredible and remarkable,” says Dr Beckett. Whatever your birth experience, you’ve been through something massive – you’ll probably go through a whole range of emotions as you process it.
Don’t expect to bond with your baby immediately
You might feel a rush of love for your baby straight away. But then again you might not. Both reactions are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. It’s no wonder, really – your emotions are up and down, and you might be in a lot of pain or in shock from your birth experience.
“You shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t immediately bond with your baby,” says Dr Beckett. “And not having a massive connection from the start doesn’t impact on your relationship.”
To encourage a bond, she advises spending as much time with your baby as possible. “Skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding help make the hormone oxytocin, and this increases those feelings of bonding and love.”
Finally, she suggests that you’re kind to yourself and give your body time to recover from the birth. You’ll soon be feeling yourself again.
Like this feature? Visit the NHS website for more on what is happening to your body straight after the birth. Check out Tesco Baby Club for what happens to your body during the next few weeks after the birth.