Most women who have experienced neonatal loss agree that the emotional effects of losing a baby are far worse than the physical effects of birth. However, there are things you need to do to look after yourself physically to make sure you recover.
You have just had a baby and your body will be reacting to that, however cruel it can feel without having your baby with you.
Changes to your breasts
Your milk will come in a few days after you give birth because of the drop in hormones. If your baby died within the first week of life and you are unable to feed them, this feels very cruel. It can be very distressing for mothers.
During this time your breasts will fill with milk, which can make them feel very large, tight, painful and tender.
Can I stop my breasts from making milk?
To reduce the symptoms of “engorgement” and the amount of milk your breasts produce, you can try the following:
- apply ice packs (or a bag of frozen peas) covered in a light cloth or cabbage leaves to your breasts for relief
- take painkillers, like ibuprofen or paracetamol
- express small amounts of breast milk by hand - enough to relieve some pressure but not enough to encourage more milk
- take warm showers, which can allow the breasts to leak naturally.
Using milk suppressing medication
There are medications called dopamine agonists which you can take to suppress your milk production. Talk to your doctor to see if this is an option for you and discuss the side-effects.
Donating breast milk
If you were expressing for your baby in NICU and you want to help other babies, there is the option to donate your milk to the UK National Milk Bank.
It may comfort you to know that you are helping other mums and premature or sick babies. To find out more call 020 838 33559 or visit www.ukamb.org.
Abdominal pain and cramps
After giving birth it’s normal to feel pains in your tummy similar to contractions, cramp or strong period pains. This happens because your womb is getting back to its normal size. You can take painkillers to help with this.
Bleeding after birth, also known as lochia
Whether you had a vaginal or c-section birth, you will bleed heavily through your vagina for around 2 weeks. This is called lochia and it is your body getting rid of the lining of your womb and blood from where your placenta was attached.
Every mum is different, but it should get lighter after 2 weeks and stop at around six weeks after the birth. To start with it may have some lumps or clots in it and it will change from red, to pink, to brown in colour.
We advise using maternity pads for the first few days and then switching to absorbent sanitary pads, if they feel more comfortable. You can pop these in the fridge for an hour or so to help with any swelling and soreness.
We do not advise using tampons, or placing anything inside the vagina, until after your 6 week postnatal check because of the risk of infection.
If you feel you’re losing too much blood or if you’re passing large clots, let your midwife know.
Healing and stitches
You may have had stitches after the birth of your baby if you tore or had an episiotomy. Even though looking after yourself might be the last thing on your mind, there are some things you need to do to help you heal and prevent infection.
Make sure you bathe in clean, warm water and gently dry the area afterwards.
Be careful sitting down for the first few days. And try to lie on your side rather than on your back when you’re healing.
Speak to your midwife or GP if you have any concerns.
Going to the toilet
Going to the toilet after birth can be daunting. You might be afraid of the pain or worry about the stitches breaking.
Although you might want to put off having a poo in case it hurts, try not to get constipated. Grief makes most people lose their appetite, or comfort eat, but do try to eat fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and bread to avoid constipation.
It’s unlikely that going for a poo will affect your stitches but it might make you feel more confident if you hold a pad of clean tissue over the stitches.
Drink lots of fluids to keep your urine diluted. And you might find it useful to have a jug of water in the bathroom when you go for a wee. This will help keep the area clean and cool.
Lots of women experience piles after birth and most will settle down after a few days. Try to eat foods that are high in fibre and drink plenty of water to avoid constipation and straining on the toilet.
If you’re struggling with them, talk to your midwife or GP about treatment.
Your pelvic floor
Your pelvic floor muscles help you keep control when you go for a wee and support your bladder and bowel. After giving birth your pelvic floor will be weakened and you might feel like you have less control.If you attempt pelvic floor exercises (where you squeeze and hold the muscles like you are holding in a wee), you might find you have no sensation at all. This should come back but you'll need to give it time and try not to worry.
If your bladder control doesn't improve after 3 months, speak to your doctor about a referral to a physiotherapist.
Recovering from a c-section
If your baby was born by c-section, you’ll need to stay in hospital for 2-4 days, and you may need help at home afterwards.
You’ll feel uncomfortable and be offered painkillers. You may be prescribed daily injections to prevent blood clots (thrombosis).
Staff will encourage you to get mobile by getting out of bed and walking as soon as possible. They can offer advice on postnatal exercises to help you recover.
You might not be able to drive for up to six weeks.
You’ll need to look after your wound by gently cleaning it and drying it everyday. Please get in touch with your GP if you have any concerns about this, or see signs of infection.
Your next period
Normally, your first period after giving birth will be at arodun 4-6 weeks. However, because of the timing, it can be hard to know whether it is the post-birth lochia (see above), or your period.
Some women find their first period isn’t like their normal period. Everyone is different. You might find your first period particularly difficult to cope with. This is totally understandable.