Your body after the birth

Your body has just been through an incredible experience, and you’ll probably feel sore and bruised. It may take a while to recover, so look after yourself and talk to your midwife or health visitor if anything worries you.

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’ve heard it all before 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.

Bleeding

You’ll bleed from your vagina after giving birth, 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 sanitary towels, not tampons for the first 6 weeks after birth because tampons can increase your chance of getting an infection.

Tell your midwife or health visitor if you’re losing blood in large clots. 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. If so, bathing the stiches every day will help prevent infection.

Stitches usually dissolve by the time the cut or tear has healed, but sometimes they have to be taken out. Women worry about pain or stitches breaking when they go to the toilet but it’s very unlikely that you’ll break them or open the wound.

Tell your midwife or health visitor if your stitches are sore or uncomfortable.

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 but you may need a catheter if that doesn’t work. It may sting slightly or feel a little sore at first.

Constipation can also be common. 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 if you notice an unpleasant smell as this may be a sign of infection.

Incontinence

Some women may leak urine or pass a stool (poo) when they don’t mean to after giving birth. Tell your midwife, health visitor or GP if this happens to you. They may give you advice on how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles or refer you for further checks if necessary.

Haemorrhoids (piles)

If you are sore or bleeding from your anus, you may have piles. 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.

Anaemia

Anaemia is a blood condition that develops when you don’t have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen around your body. When you don’t have enough red blood cells, this can leave you feeling extremely tired, faint and breathless.

Some women have anaemia in pregnancy.

Feeling tired is common after giving birth, but if you’re feeling very tired all the time you may have iron-deficiency anaemia.

Talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor if you feel unwell. They can give you advice about diet and exercise to help, or you may need iron supplements.

It’s safe to breastfeed if you have anaemia. You can also take vitamin supplements safely while breastfeeding, as long as you don’t take more than the recommended or prescribed dose. You can check this with your GP, midwife or health visitor.

Anaemia can affect a woman’s milk supply. This can make breastfeeding difficult for some women, but not everyone.

Is it something serious?

Contact 999 if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • Sudden or very heavy blood loss and signs of shock, such as faintness, dizziness or if your heart starts beating very fast. This could be haemorrhage. 

  • Your stomach feels sore and tender. This could be haemorrhage or infection. 

  • A high temperature (above 38°C), shivering, stomach pain or unpleasant vaginal discharge. This could be an infection. 

  • A headache and changes in your vision, nausea or vomiting. This could be pre-eclampsia

  • Pain, swelling or redness in the calf muscle of one leg. This could be a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis)

  • Difficulty breathing, feeling short of breath or having chest pain. This could be a blood clot (pulmonary embolism)

  • 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 don't seem your usual self.

Your first milk

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).

Talk to your midwife if you’re having any problems with your milk or breastfeeding. Find out more about feeding your baby.

How you feel about your body after birth

If you go online, you’ll probably see celebrity mums being praised for ‘getting their body back’ a month after giving birth. There may even be women you know in real life who seem to look the same as they did before they got pregnant.

This 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, but the reality is that for most women their bodies will change after giving birth.

Try not to compare yourself to anyone else because everyone is different. Some women may have gained more weight than others during pregnancy. Others may find it takes longer to recover.

Don’t forget that everyone’s lives are different too. Some women go back to work, some don’t. Some have friends and family nearby who can help, some don’t. Things like this can all impact on how much time you have to spend on your appearance.

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.

Stretch marks

If stretch marks developed on your skin during pregnancy, they won’t go away completely after your baby is born. But they should gradually fade from a pink or purplish colour to white and become much less noticeable.

Fertility after the birth

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 or health visitor or visit a family planning clinic.

If you are thinking about having another baby, find out more about planning a pregnancy.

Sex after having a baby

There are no rules about when you can start having sex again after you’ve given birth. Just be aware that you may be feeling sore and tired so if it hurts, stop.

You may not want to have sex for a while after giving birth and some men may feel anxious about hurting their partner. Don’t forget to talk to each other if there is anything you’re worried about. You can also talk to your health visitor if you have any questions.

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.

Your mental health after the birth

You’ll probably feel quite emotional for a while after you give birth. Try to look after yourself as well as your new baby and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed. 

Find out more about your mental health after birth.

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Sources

NHS Choices. Your body just after the birth. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/you-after-birth/ (Page last reviewed: 08/03/2018. Next review due: 08/03/2021)

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 Breastfeeding and medicines https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/breastfeeding-and-medicines/ (Page last reviewed: 29/01/2016 Next review due: 29/01/2019)

Sue Macdonald and Gail Johnson Mayes’ Midwifery (Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017) p.775

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. 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)

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)

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Last reviewed on May 8th, 2019. Next review date May 8th, 2022.

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