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What To Expect When You’re Recovering Post-Birth

What To Expect When You're Recovering Post-Birth

“I’ve been so focused on what to expect during the pregnancy that now I’m panicking about what’s normal after the birth and what to do” – here at Private Pregnancy, this is something we hear often from mums-to-be.

Take a deep breath and read on to learn a little more about those first few days after labour.

If You’ve Had A Hospital Birth

The length of your stay in hospital tends to depend on your birth and whether there have been any complications. If you’ve had a straightforward birth, you are unlikely to be in hospital long. If there are any problems, you may be transferred to a postnatal ward with other mums and newborns.

Whether you’re at home or still in hospital, support will still be at hand. The role of midwives is to make sure you and baby are doing well, and to provide advice to help you get on your feet. So ask if you’re unsure.

Keeping Your Baby Close

Keep your baby as close as you can, as often as you can. For healthy, full term newborns, try to have skin to skin contact as soon as possible after birth – placing baby on top of your naked chest. This should continue as much as possible in the days, weeks, and months that follow. Research has shown that skin to skin offers clear health benefits to mum and baby, enabling a smoother transition from womb to world1.

For example one review of randomised control trials looked at the effects of early skin to skin contact on infant health and breastfeeding2. This report, cited by Unicef3, found that skin-to-skin helped in establishing and maintaining breastfeeding, and indicated a positive effect on infant cardiorespiratory systems.

Let Your Partner Join In

Since physical closeness between mum and baby is so crucial both for breastfeeding and bonding, it’s not uncommon for partners to feel a little left out in those early days. Actually, encouraging your partner to spend time bonding with your little one can be really beneficial for all three of you. Holding and cuddling your newborn can help to foster confidence in your partner; not to mention strengthen that crucial bond between the two of them. It might also give you a moment to take a much-coveted shower!

How Will I Feel After Birth?

Labour is one of the most physically draining things a human being can undertake – so remember you’re a hero. You are likely to feel pretty exhausted afterwards, so do get as much rest as you can. In those early days, even simply getting up and walking around may seem like a trial. If you have stitches or haemorrhoids, ask your midwife for a bit of advice.

Your Bond

Most women expect, and get, an enormous rush of feeling and instant bond with their babies, but this isn’t the case for every new mum and doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. Sometimes you just need a bit of time to bond. Remember, you’re completely exhausted and this is all new! But you can still look after your little one and give them all the care and warmth they need while your bond catches up with you.

Your Emotions

For many new mums, any post-birth problems are far outweighed by the euphoria of a new baby. Bear in mind though, that a woman’s after-labour body undergoes dramatic hormonal changes and for many women, this combined with exhaustion can make for a bit of ‘baby blues’. Feeling down, depressed or irritable – particularly if you’re incredibly tired and feel you can’t quite look after your baby with the gusto you would wish for – is common, particularly if you’ve had an especially difficult birth or other triggers. Many new mums also experience a bit of trepidation at the reality of new parenthood. You should seek the support you need from your partner, friends and family. And don’t be afraid to have a good old blub if you need to.

The ‘baby blues’ generally crops up about 3-5 days after birth. It is not an illness, doesn’t require treatment and shouldn’t last beyond a few days. With that in mind, for some women who continue to feel low, there comes a point at which it can be time to ask if it isn’t simply ‘baby blues’ but potentially postnatal depression, which is more serious. If you are ever in doubt, speak to your health visitor or GP about how you’re feeling. There is also a dedicated perinatal depression charity PANDAS, which runs a helpline and support groups throughout the UK.

If You Have Had A Caesarean

As you are probably aware, recovering from a caesarean is a longer process than natural birth recovery.

You will have some discomfort, but painkillers will be available. You might also be given daily injections to guard against thrombosis (blood clots). Most women are fitted with a catheter for around 24 hours after a caesarean, which is a little tube leading up to your bladder.

You will be advised to get out of bed and have a walk around as soon as you can. Your midwife or a physiotherapist will also offer guidance on post-baby exercises to aid recovery.

Dependent on how much assistance you have waiting for you at home, you should be able to leave hospital within around two to four days. You can drive when you are able to move pain-free, and when you are able to conduct an emergency stop – this can take as long as six weeks.

Your Body After Birth

Giving birth is no mean feat, and your body is amazing. Here are some of the changes you can expect in the days following labour…

Your Breasts

At first, your breasts will create a nutrient-rich yellowy liquid for your newborn, called colostrum. Three or four days after birth you might feel soreness and tenderness in your breasts – this is your milk coming in and you might find a supportive nursing bra helpful. If you are concerned you’re feeling a lot of discomfort, discuss this with your midwife.

Read our 4 Tips for Easier Breastfeeding.

Your Abdomen

You should expect your tummy to remain rather ‘baggy’ in the days and weeks after labour. Healthy eating habits, as well as exercise, should help you get back to your usual shape bit by bit.

Breastfeeding also helps your tummy shrink down since it causes the womb to contract (so bear in mind that you might experience some uncomfortable ‘feeding cramps’, similar to period pains).

Read more about your body in the days after labour here.

Your Vagina, Bladder, And Pelvic Floor

Little by little, your vagina will recover much of its previous tone. And even though your pelvic floor has been stretched, it will go back to near its normal position over time. However for a while after you have a baby, it is fairly common to find yourself leaking a little urine when you sneeze, laugh, or make a sudden movement. Pelvic floor exercises are very helpful for this problem – for a good guide, have a look at National Childbirth Trust. If the issue lasts longer than around three months, speak to your GP, who might want you to see a physiotherapist.

Post-Birth Stitches

Many women require stitches after tearing during birth or an episiotomy (cut). You will need to bathe the area around the stitches regularly with warm water to aid the healing process, drying yourself with plenty of care. In the initial days following the birth, lie down on your side (not your back) and sit down gently and slowly.

Speak to your midwife if the stitches are painful and uncomfortable; you may be prescribed treatment. Painkillers could be helpful, although if you are breastfeeding be sure to check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist first when buying over-the-counter medications (like paracetamol or ibuprofen).

In most cases, by the time the tear or cut has healed, your stitches will have dissolved, but not always and you may need to have them removed.

Using The Toilet After Birth

Initially, passing urine after labour can be quite strange and even a little scary because you’re already sore. But drinking plenty of water will dilute your urine, which should make it easier. If you’re really finding it a struggle though, do let your midwife know.
Some women are wary of moving their bowels for fear of disturbing the stitches but despite what it may feel like, you’re highly unlikely to open the tear or cut again. There’s a good chance you won’t need to move your bowels for a few days following labour, but it is key to avoid constipation and straining. Make sure you take in plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit as well as wholegrains, and be sure to drink lots of water.

Haemorrhoids After Birth

Many women experience haemorrhoids (piles) after birth, but they normally last for just a few days. Drink plenty of water, and eat lots of fresh vegetables, fruit and wholegrains. This will make it easier to move your bowels and should ease the pain somewhat. Avoid straining as this makes haemorrhoids worse. If you’re feeling very uncomfortable, tell your midwife – they can offer you an ointment.

Post-Birth Bleeding (Lochia)

After you give birth, you will have blood-filled vaginal discharge known as lochia, even if you’ve had a caesarean section. For around the first ten days this bleeding will be rather heavy, and you will require super-absorbent pads. Be sure to change them often, and wash your hands before and after. Using tampons before your six-week postnatal check is not recommended because they could lead to infection.

You might notice that after breastfeeding the bleeding is heavier and redder. You might also experience cramps similar to period pains. These are referred to as “after pains”, and they occur because breastfeeding causes the womb to contract.

The bleeding may continue on and off for up to six weeks, and over time, it will gradually turn a brownish colour, lessening and then stopping. If you experience significant clotting, save your sanitary pads to show your midwife because you might require some treatment.

Guarding Against Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) After Labour

In a case of DVT, a blood clot builds in the deep veins of the legs. It is very serious and can be life-threatening if the clot moves from the legs up to the lungs.

Pregnant women and mothers within six weeks post-labour are at higher risk of DVT. As you may also know, flights longer than five hours can heighten this risk further. So if you are planning a trip by plane, you must speak to your health visitor or doctor beforehand. They can advise you on circulation-stimulating exercises to do whilst flying.

If after an air trip you experience a painful, swollen leg or have trouble breathing, see your doctor urgently or go to your nearest accident and emergency department.

Postnatal Exercise

Unless you were an avid exerciser before you gave birth, you are generally advised to hold off until your six week postnatal check-up before getting into fitness. If you have had a caesarean it’s even longer – usually between eight and ten weeks.

That said, when you’re ready, post-baby exercise offers so many benefits. Aside from the obvious physical pluses, it releases feel-good endorphins and gives you some much-needed time to yourself. Read a bit more about postnatal exercise here.

Checks And Vaccinations After Birth

After labour, you will be able to have a number of checks and vaccinations.


If you were found not to be protected against rubella (German measles) when screened in early pregnancy, you will probably be offered the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) whilst still in hospital, or otherwise by your doctor soon afterwards. If you are not offered it, have a chat with your GP or midwife. You can breastfeed safely after the immunisation but you should not attempt to get pregnant again for at least a month afterwards.

If Your Blood Type Is Rhesus Negative

If you are rhesus negative, medics will draw a blood sample from your umbilical cord following labour to find out if your newborn is rhesus positive. If so, you will be able to have an injection to protect your next child from rhesus disease; an illness that can create jaundice and anaemia. You should have the jab within 72 hours of the birth.

If this is your first baby you will no doubt need lots of support and advice – that’s to be expected! Those early days with your little one can be really emotional for you and your partner. There’s so much to learn and get used to in your new roles as parents. Finally getting to hold your precious one in your arms is breath-taking, but remember that you will be very tired and your body has been through a lot – so don’t expect cartwheels! The thing to remember is when unsure, ask your midwife, doctor or health visitor – if in doubt, check it out.

All the best for you and baby from the Private Pregnancy UK team.



Related Article: Post Childbirth Guide


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