Tommy's PregnancyHub

Your body after the birth (the first 6 weeks)

Your body has just been through a challenging experience, and you’ll probably feel sore and bruised. It may take a while to recover, so make sure you take things slowly and talk to your midwife or health visitor if anything worries you.

This page talks about common problems you may experience during the first 6 weeks after giving birth. We also have some information about possible body changes during the first few months after birth

Going home

If you’ve given birth in a hospital or midwife unit and you and your baby are well, you may be able to go home 6 to 24 hours after your baby is born. You may need to stay longer if you had a caesarean section or a complicated labour. 

If you’ve had a homebirth, the midwife will usually stay with you for about an hour to offer you support with feeding your baby and to check that you and your baby are well. When you are both ready, the midwife will go back to the hospital and complete your maternity records there. You will be provided with information about how to contact someone if you have any concerns. 

The midwife should visit you on the first day after you've been discharged and for as long as they think you need their support. Your health visitor will take over after that.

After you give birth, your body will take its time getting used to not being pregnant anymore. Don’t be shy about asking your midwife or health visitor any questions you may have about what’s happening. No matter what the issue, they have lots of experience in helping women after giving birth and are there to help you. 

If you’ve had a caesarean section, you may experience many of the same things as with a vaginal delivery. You’ve also had major surgery and need to look after yourself. Try not to do too much so your body can heal. Find out about recovering at home after a c-section.

If you had a difficult birth

Sometimes the birth may be different than what your hoped for. This can make the experience difficult to process for you or your partner (if you have one). Some parents may feel traumatised by what they’ve been through. There is support available if you are struggling with your feelings about the birth. Find out more about recovering from a difficult birth.

Your mental health after the birth

You’ll probably feel quite emotional for a while after you give birth. You may also experience the ‘baby blues’, which can leave you feeling anxious, low, irritable or wanting to cry for no apparent reason. All these symptoms are normal and usually only last for a few days.  Try to look after yourself as well as your new baby and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed, anxious or depressed for more than 2 weeks. Find out more about your mental health after birth.

Pain

You may have some pain and cramping after giving birth. This is because your womb (uterus) is contracting and going back to its normal size. 

These pains usually last for 2 or 3 days after a straightforward vaginal delivery, but may last a little longer if you had a tear or an assisted birth, for example. You may find it gets a bit worse when you’re breastfeeding. Simple painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help. But do not take co-codamol (paracetamol and codeine) if you are breastfeeding. 

Many women also have general aches and pains as their body changes after birth. 

Pelvic girdle pain

If you had pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy, this may take a few weeks to get better after you’ve had your baby. If it doesn’t, it is important that you continue with treatment and take regular pain relief. If you have been given aids to help you get around, keep using them until the pain settles down.

If the pain isn’t going away, talk to your GP who may refer you to a physiotherapist.  

Bleeding

You’ll bleed from your vagina after giving birth vaginally or by c-section, which will be quite heavy at first. This will carry on for a few weeks and will gradually turn a brownish colour and decrease until it finally stops.

Use maternity pads for the first 6 weeks after birth. Do not use tampons as they can increase your chance of getting an infection. 

Tell your midwife or health visitor if you’re losing blood in large clots or you need to change your maternity pads every hour or more. You may need some treatment.  

Stitches

You may have had stitches after tearing or an episiotomy (where the doctor or midwife makes a cut to make the opening of the vagina a bit wider) during the birth. Find out more about recovering from a perineal tear.

Difficulties going to the toilet

You may find it difficult to wee after giving birth. You won’t be discharged from hospital before you wee, so having a warm bath or shower can help. If you haven’t been able to wee within 6 hours, you may need a catheter.  Weeing may sting slightly or feel a little sore at first. 

If you had an epidural, you may not be able to feel when your bladder is full. This is because the epidural affects the surrounding nerves. Again, you may need a catheter until you are able to control your bladder again when the epidural wears off. 

You are not alone if you are feeling a bit anxious about your first poo after birth. Many women get anxious about this, especially if they had stitches or a tear. You probably won’t have a poo for a few days after birth. If you had stiches, it’s very unlikely that you’ll break them, open the cut or tear again. 

It might feel better if you hold a pad of clean tissue over the stitches when pooing. Try not to strain.

It’s important to try not to get constipated, which can be quite common after giving birth. Try to drink plenty of water and eat food with plenty of fibre, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, and wholemeal or wholegrain breads and cereals. If you still struggle, your midwife or health visitor may give you laxatives.

Tell your midwife or health visitor if you feel pain or stinging in or around your vagina or surrounding area, or if you notice an unpleasant smell as this may be a sign of infection. 

Incontinence 

Some women may leak urine (known as urinary incontinence) after having a baby. This is more likely if you had a vaginal birth, but some women who had a c-section may also experience this too. 

You're more likely to have incontinence if you also had problems with controlling your bladder in pregnancy, if you had a long labour or an assisted birth. 

It may help to:

  • do your pelvic floor exercises
  • cut down on caffeine
  • avoid spicy and acidic foods
  • drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day but no more (many people with urinary incontinence avoid drinking fluids but this worsens it by reducing your bladder capacity)
  • quit smoking
  • avoid lifting heavy things. 
  • It may also help to try and lose some weight slowly. This is easier said than done after having a baby and there is no rush. Remember that your body needs time to recover.

Some women may also have problems controlling their bowels (known as anal or bowel incontinence). This is more likely to happen after a third- or fourth-degree tear. Most women who have a third- or fourth-degree tear heal completely and have no lasting complications.
Don't be embarrassed to talk to your midwife, health visitor or GP about any incontinence problems. They can help you get the right care, such as bladder and bowel training, physiotherapy or surgery if needed. 

There are also lots of pelvic floor and bladder control apps that you can download to help remind you to do your pelvic floor exercises.

Sweating

Some women have night sweats or hot flushes after having a baby. This may be due to hormonal changes as your body gets used to not being pregnant anymore. It may also be your body’s way of getting rid of some of the extra fluid you were carrying during pregnancy.
According to a 2013 study, postpartum night sweats are at their worst 2 weeks after birth. They should gradually decline after this. 

Postpartum sweating is natural, but increased sweating can also be a sign of other medical problems such as anxiety  or overactive thyroid gland . If you are sweating and have a high temperature, this may be a sign of infection.

Speak to your midwife, GP or health visitor if you have any concerns about postpartum sweating.

Haemorrhoids (piles)

If you are sore or itching around your anus or bleeding when you poo, you may have piles. These are lumps inside and around your bottom (anus). Try to increase your fibre intake by eating fresh fruit and vegetables, and wholemeal or wholegrain breads and cereals. Also try to drink plenty of water – we recommend around 6 to 8 glasses a day. This will help avoid constipation and make it easier to go to the toilet.  Haemorrhoid cream may also help, which you can buy at supermarkets and pharmacists. Pelvic floor exercises may also help prevent haemorrhoids in the long term.

A pharmacist can suggest creams to ease the pain, itching and swelling.

Deep vein thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition where a blood clot forms in a deep vein in the body, usually in the leg.

DVT is not common in pregnancy. But pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy, and up to 6 weeks after the birth, are more likely to develop DVT than non-pregnant women of the same age. 

Call your midwife, GP or maternity unit if you have:

  • pain, swelling and tenderness in one leg, usually at the back of your lower leg (calf) – the pain may be worse when you bend your foot up towards your knee
  • a heavy ache or warm skin in the affected area
  • red skin, particularly at the back of your leg below the knee

These can be signs of deep vein thrombosis. It usually happens in only one leg, but not always.

Call 999 immediately if you:

  • have sudden difficulty breathing
  • have pain or tightness in your chest or upper back
  • are coughing blood.

These can be signs of a blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism).

Your first breastmilk

In the first few days after your baby is born, your breasts will produce yellow fluid called colostrum. This is concentrated food, so your baby will not need a lot at each feed, but they may want to feed quite often (maybe every hour).

Your milk ‘comes in’ after about 3 days and you’ll notice that your breasts get much fuller. The amount of milk you make will increase or decrease depending on your baby’s needs. It can take a few days for your milk supply to match these needs.  

As you start breastfeeding, your breasts may sometimes become overly full (engorged). This can make them feel hard and painful. It can help to:

  • feed your baby often
  • wear a well-fitting breastfeeding bra 
  • put warm flannels on your breasts or take a warm bath or shower
  • take some paracetamol or ibuprofen (these are safe to take while your breastfeeding). 

Find out more about feeding your baby.

If you are not going to breastfeed, try not to express or ‘get rid’ of the milk in any way. This will increase your milk supply and make it worse. If left alone your milk supply will settle within a few days.

Is it something serious?

Contact your GP or call 111 if you have any symptoms that may indicate the following problems. 

Call 999 if you or your baby need emergency medical help.

 

Haemorrhage

Sudden or very heavy blood loss and signs of shock, such as faintness, dizziness, or if your heart starts beating very fast  

Haemorrhage or infection

Your stomach feels sore and tender 

Infection 

A high temperature (above 38°C), shivering, stomach pain or unpleasant vaginal discharge   

Pre-eclampsia

A headache and changes in your vision, nausea or vomiting 

Blood clot (deep vein thrombosis)

Pain, swelling or redness in the calf muscle of one leg    

Blood clot (deep vein thrombosis)

Difficulty breathing, feeling short of breath or having chest pain    

Sepsis

A high temperature (above 38°C) or a low body temperature (less than 35°C), chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat, problems or changes to your breathing, feeling or acting differently from normal – you do not seem your usual self.

When can I get pregnant again after having a baby?

You can get pregnant 3 weeks after you’ve given birth, even if you’re breastfeeding and your periods haven’t started again. 

Unless you want to get pregnant again, it’s important to use contraception every time you have sex. You’ll have a chance to talk about this before you leave hospital. You can also talk to your GP, health visitor or family planning clinic. 

If you’re thinking about having another baby, find out more about planning a pregnancy

Driving after having a baby

There is no rule or legal requirement about when you can start driving again after giving birth vaginally. But it is best to wait until any medication is out of your system, you’re not in pain and you feel comfortable and confident before you get behind the wheel. It’s worth checking with your insurance provider in case they have a clause about giving birth recently. 
You shouldn’t drive home from the hospital after giving birth. 

If you had a caesarean section, you must meet the DVLA guidance for driving after surgery. Find out more about driving after a caesarean section.

How you feel about your body after the birth

It may not bother some women, but others may have negative feelings about their post-baby bodies. You may feel pressure to look like you’ve never had a baby, especially if you have seen images of mums ‘snapping back’ on social media. But the reality is that for most women their bodies will change after giving birth. 

“I found one of the hardest things was that my clothes all looked weird/different/didn’t fit! It was like having a completely different body that I didn’t know how to dress to feel confident/comfortable.”
Kate

Doing some gentle exercises may help you feel better and increase your confidence. If you had a straightforward birth, you can start gentle exercise as soon as you feel up to it. This could include walking, gentle stretches, pelvic floor exercises or swimming.

It's usually a good idea to wait until after your six-week postnatal check before you start any high-impact exercise, such as aerobics or running. 

Whatever you do, try to focus on how you feel right now, rather than how you look. Your health and looking after your newborn baby is far more important. .

More postpartum body changes

There are other things you may notice about your body after the birth. Find out more body changes after the birth (within first 3 months and beyond).
 

 

 

 

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Pelvic Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy (POGP) Pelvic girdle pain and other common conditions in pregnancy. https://pogp.csp.org.uk/system/files/publication_files/POGP-PGP%28Pat%29%28UL%29.pdf

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NICE (2006). Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth. National Institute for health and care excellence. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37

NHS Choices. Side effects of an epidural. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/epidural/side-effects/ (Page last reviewed: 11/03/2020. Next review due: 11/03/2023)
 
NHS Choices. Urinary incontinence Causes. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/causes/ (Page last reviewed: 07/11/2019. Next review due: 07/11/2022)

Gartland D, Donath S, et al (2012) The onset, recurrence and associated obstetric risk factors for urinary incontinence in the first 18 months after a first birth: an Australian nulliparous cohort study. BJOG. 2012 Oct;119(11):1361-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03437.x. Epub 2012 Jul 25. PMID: 22827735.

NHS Choices. 10 ways to stop leeks. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/urinary-incontinence/10-ways-to-stop-leaks/ (Page last reviewed: 07/11/2019. Next review due: 07/11/2022)

Thurston, Rebecca C et al. (2013) “Prospective evaluation of nighttime hot flashes during pregnancy and postpartum.” Fertility and sterility vol. 100,6 (2013): 1667-72. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.020

NHS Choices. Night sweats. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/night-sweats/ (Page last reviewed: 12/12/2017. Next review due: 12/12/2020)

NHS Choices. Symptoms Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/overactive-thyroid-hyperthyroidism/symptoms/ (Page last reviewed: 24/09/2019. Next review due: 24/09/2022)

NHS Choices. Deep vein thrombosis in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/complications/deep-vein-thrombosis/ (Page last reviewed: 27 March 2018. Next review due: 27 March 2021)

NHS Choices. Breastfeeding: the first few days. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-first-days/ (Page last reviewed: 02/10/2016. Next review due: 02/10/2019)

NHS Choices. Breast pain and breastfeeding. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breast-pain-and-breastfeeding/ (Page last reviewed: 06/12/2018. Next review due: 06/12/2021)

NHS Choices. Sex and contraception after birth https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sex-contraception-after-birth/ (Page last reviewed: 13/12/2018. Next review due: 13/12/2021)

NHS Choices. Keeping fit and healthy with a baby. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/keeping-fit-and-healthy/ (Page last reviewed: 18/08/2016. Next review due: 18/08/2019)

Review dates

Last reviewed: 11 March 2021
Next review: 11 March 2024