After months of anticipation, meeting your baby for the first time will surely be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
In addition to the big adjustment of becoming a parent, you’ll also encounter a new set of physical and emotional symptoms that begin once baby is born. These symptoms will likely be unlike any you’ve experienced before.
The most common symptom you may experience after birth is a discharge called lochia. This bloody discharge looks similar to a menstrual period and can last up to 8 weeks after birth.
People also typically experience strong sensations of uterine cramping as the uterus shrinks back to the size it was before pregnancy.
Other symptoms will vary from person to person, depending on your method of delivery and whether you decide to breastfeed. These symptoms include:
- breast swelling
- uterine pain
Many feel unsure about what to expect and wonder what’s considered “normal” after delivery. Most people make a full recovery after childbirth.
Nevertheless, there are some complications and less common symptoms you should be aware of.
The length of your stay at the hospital will depend on your birth experience. Some birthing centers allow people who experience unmedicated childbirth to leave on the same day that they deliver.
While you’re at the hospital, you’ll have access to pediatricians, maternity care nurses, and lactation consultants. They’ll all have plenty of information and advice for you about the physical and emotional journey ahead.
Try to use this opportunity to ask questions about postpartum body changes and breastfeeding.
Hospitals with labor and delivery units have nurseries where your baby will be supervised and kept clean. Though it’s tempting to keep baby by your side 24/7, use this resource to try to get some rest, if you can.
Many hospitals will require that you have a bowel movement before you’re able to leave the facility. You’ll be offered a stool softener after delivery to ease the pain of the first bowel movement after birth.
If you show any signs of infection, such as fever, you may have to stay at the facility until those symptoms resolve. Your midwife or delivery doctor may perform a brief exam before you leave, just to make sure that you’ve started the healing process.
If you opt for a home birth, your midwife will be the primary overseer of your care after delivery. Your midwife will examine you and baby to make sure everyone is healthy before periodically checking in during the weeks after your delivery.
The first medical test that your baby will have at the hospital is called the APGAR test. It takes place as soon as they’re born.
APGAR tests taken 5 to 10 minutes after birth are the most accurate. However, most physicians also regularly record the 1-minute APGAR score. The APGAR score is based on five factors:
The maximum score is 10, and any score between 7 and 10 is considered normal. A low APGAR score could indicate that baby may have been stressed during the end of the birth process.
While in the hospital, your baby’s hearing and eyesight will also be tested. Your baby will also be tested for their blood type. Some states have laws or recommendations that mandate babies receive certain vaccines or medications before they leave the hospital.
The rest of baby’s experience in the hospital will depend on their birth weight and how they’re doing after birth.
Some babies who aren’t considered full term (born before 37 weeks) or are born with a low birth weight are kept for observation in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to ensure that they can adjust to life after the womb.
Newborn jaundice, which involves a yellowing of the skin, is fairly common. Around 60 percent of newborn babies experience jaundice, according to March of Dimes. Babies with jaundice will need to be treated in an incubator.
Before you leave the hospital, you’ll need to make an appointment with a pediatrician outside the hospital to weigh and examine baby. This 1-week appointment is standard practice.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children be breastfed exclusively through their first 6 months of life.
Starting within 1 hour of birth offers big benefits as well.
Breastfeeding is an intensely physical experience for both of you. During your pregnancy, you may notice your areola darkening and your nipples growing in size. Newborns can’t see well, so this will help them find your breast and eat for the first time.
The first milk that enters your breast is called colostrum. This milk is thin and has a cloudy color. The liquid contains valuable antibodies that will help establish your baby’s immune system.
Within the first 4 days of baby’s life, the rest of your milk will come in, causing your breasts to swell. Sometimes milk ducts get clogged, causing a painful condition called mastitis.
Continuing to feed baby and massaging your breast with a hot compress can unclog the duct and reduce the risk of infection.
Newborns tend to “cluster feed.” This means that at times it may feel that they’re eating almost constantly. Cluster feeding is normal and primarily happens in the first few weeks.
Not everyone is able to breastfeed. Some have breast or nipple abnormalities that prevent adequate lactation or proper latching on. Sometimes certain medical conditions prohibit breastfeeding.
Feeding baby from a bottle will require keeping a close eye on how much they eat and how often. If you’re unable to breastfeed, or if you choose to formula feed your baby for another reason, discuss this decision with your pediatrician.
They can help you learn how much and what kind of formula is best to use for baby.
A breastfeeding parent’s eating plan is similar to any well-balanced plan. It will include:
- fiber-rich carbs
- healthy fats
If you’re breastfeeding, you may find yourself feeling hungry often. This indicates that you need to consume extra calories to make up for the calories lost to making milk for your baby.
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Continue taking your prenatal vitamins while you breastfeed. Drinking plenty of water is also vital.
Also continue to restrict the substances you avoided during pregnancy, in particular:
- high mercury fish, such as tuna and swordfish
While you don’t have to avoid alcohol or caffeine completely, the Mayo Clinic advises being mindful of the amount you consume and the timing of your consumption. This will help keep baby from being exposed to these potentially harmful substances.
You may want to jump right into an eating plan that will restore your “pre-baby body.” But the most important thing you can do for the first few weeks after childbirth is to heal and restore the vitamins and minerals you may have lost during delivery.
During the healing process, make sure your body is ready before resuming certain physical activities. If you had an episiotomy, vaginal tear, or cesarean delivery during birth, the time before you can resume certain activities may vary.
Speak to your midwife or OB-GYN at your follow-up appointment about how to get back into safe activity.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that most people can resume exercise within a few days of giving birth.
Moderate aerobic activity, such as jogging and swimming, can even decrease your chances of developing postpartum depression.
But if you had any complications during delivery, speak to your doctor and get cleared before you resume any exercise routine.
Don’t pressure yourself to exercise before you feel like your body is ready.
Doctors generally advise to wait about 6 weeks after a vaginal birth, and 8 weeks after a cesarean birth, before having sexual intercourse.
Hormone changes during pregnancy and the act of giving birth itself might make sex uncomfortable at first.
Also be aware that immediately following childbirth and before your menstrual cycle resumes, you’re especially likely to get pregnant again.
Make sure you’ve chosen a method of birth control before having sex with a partner capable of getting you pregnant.
One symptom of postpartum life that you may not anticipate is mood changes.
Hormones from giving birth and breastfeeding can combine with the exhaustion and responsibility of parenting to make for a difficult psychological experience.
While the “baby blues” and clinical postpartum depression share many symptoms, they’re not the same thing.
It’s normal to feel tearful, emotionally fragile, and tired during the first few weeks after baby is born. Eventually, you really will begin to feel like yourself again.
If you begin to have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming baby, you may have postpartum depression (PPD). Anxiety that keeps you awake or makes your heart race, or overwhelming feelings of guilt or worthlessness, could also indicate that help is needed.
Give yourself permission to reach out to others. Around
Rarely, postpartum depression can accompany a condition called postpartum psychosis. This is an emergency situation and is characterized by delusions and paranoia.
If you feel at any time like you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis, help is available.
If you live in the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255. They can advise you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
By the time you’re ready for your post-birth exam 6 to 8 weeks after delivery, you may start to feel more like yourself physically.
But if at any time after leaving the hospital your bleeding becomes heavier, you experience a fever over 100.4°F (38°C), or you see a pus-like discharge coming from one of your incisions, call your doctor.
It never hurts to get some peace of mind with any questions or concerns you may have.