After childbirth - facts, tips, advice for you if you've had a baby

What should I do about discharge and stitches? How do I pee if it hurts? What happens in the follow-up? Why am I crying, even though I'm happy? Well, a lot happens after a pregnancy and childbirth. Here are some answers to a few questions.

For the first few days after childbirth, you have more endorphins - the body's own morphine - in your body. Not only that, but you'll also have a residual effect of the oxytocin hormone, which is produced during childbirth. It gives you the stamina, despite everything, to familiarise yourself with and bond with your newborn little baby.

Your hormones are all over the place
The levels of these hormones will soon subside and others will start being produced. A bit of a slump is very common after the first few days. Despite the euphoria of becoming a mother, everything can suddenly feel tough and frustrating. This is partly because your hormones are all over the place, and your body is readjusting after pregnancy and childbirth, and starting to produce milk so you can breastfeed.

The baby blues will pass
You might have heard of the so called ”baby blues”. Don't be surprised if you suddenly start crying about everything and nothing. The situation can be overwhelming. This is the time that your body starts producing milk and your breasts are tender. It's new and not everyone knows how to handle the situation. But don't worry, it's mostly about your body adjusting your hormone levels and it gets better after a few days.

Having a baby is an emotional and physical adjustment
Having a baby is a major readjustment. And if it's your first child, everything will be new and unfamiliar. Feeling unsure is completely understandable, but it will gradually pass. Talk to family and friends, and ask for help if necessary. Perhaps you (both) need some help? The body is equipped to be able to sleep for short periods at a time after childbirth, but getting a good night's sleep is important.

Accept the fact that a lot of time will be spent feeding your baby, changing nappies and sleeping. It might feel frustrating, hardly having the time to take a shower or get dressed, let alone getting out for a walk. Have patience with the situation, lower any expectations you may have and take it one day at a time. In time, you'll get both your thoughts and routines in order. And everything will be easier.

Postpartum bleeding and discharge heals
The placenta was attached to the wall of the uterus. Once the child is born and the placenta detaches and is delivered, a sore arises. It gets smaller as the uterus contracts again, and it's important for ensuring that there isn't too much bleeding. It usually subsides within a week and turns to discharge, an exudate that is more brown or yellow. It usually takes between four to six weeks for the discharge to disappear completely. During this time you should avoid swimming or using tampons. If you and your partner wish to have sex, use a condom.

Afterpains and advice
Contractions after giving birth are called afterpains. They are usually stronger after a subsequent birth than a first-time birth. They are more likely to happen during breastfeeding, since lactation causes the uterine muscles to contract. It can sometimes hurt, but it's nothing harmful or unnatural, it's just your uterus contracting to eventually return to a normal size. Further reading on contractions and afterpains.

Advice for toilet visits after childbirth
Going to the toilet can hurt in the beginning, particularly if you were torn in or around your cervix. It is important you maintain a good level of hygiene, so you don't get an infection. Rinse off your vaginal area every time you've been to the toilet and change sanitary pads or panty liners regularly, while you have discharge. Some people are scared and worried about going to the toilet for the first time after childbirth, but a lot of people have had the same problem and come up with clever solutions and there is help. Here are some ideas on what you can do to make your toilet visits easier after you've given birth.

Breastfeeding, menstruation and contraceptives
Ovulation is unusual before your period for the first six months, even if it does happen. Talk to your midwife for more detailed information.
If you aren't breastfeeding full time, according to the LAM method, your ovulation and period may return much earlier. It can happen really early for some women. Some women don't get their period until they stop breastfeeding completely. Talk to your midwife or your doctor if you want help finding a suitable contraception.

Lubricant and dry vaginal mucosa
Your vagina may become dry and fragile while you are breastfeeding. It's hormonal and will return to normal once you stop breastfeeding. If intercourse is uncomfortable and if lubricant doesn't help, ask your midwife or doctor what you can do. Pharmacies sell oestrogen creams over the counter that are useful while breastfeeding.

Follow-ups and discussions
After childbirth, you are offered a follow-up with your midwife at the post-natal clinic. A suitable time is usually 8-12 weeks after you gave birth. Your midwife will sometimes carry out a gynaecological examination, for example, to see that your cervix has healed well. You'll also talk about the delivery and what your new life as a parent is like. If yours was a complicated delivery or a Caesarean, you'll usually see a doctor.

Further reading:
Sex and lust during pregnancy
Sex after pregnancy – the female body

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