Published April 18, 2012
Giving birth is like running a marathon: You exert a ton of physical and mental energy to get to the finish line, and afterwards, your body needs to recover from the major physical changes it has just been through. You’ll eventually feel better, but in the meantime, here’s how to cope:
1. The culprit: Pain
Why it happens: You thought the pain was over once you delivered, but pain can actually persist for days or even weeks for several reasons. For starters, as your uterus starts to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size and location in your pelvis, you’ll most likely have contractions that range from mild to severe. If you had an episiotomy or if you have tears, your vulva may be tender, swollen, and painful and often times raw nerve endings can make urinating difficult, according to Dr. Tristi Muir, associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Director of Urogynecology at the Pelvic Health and Continence Center at the University of Texas Medical Branch. And if you had a cesarean section, you’ll have pain in your abdomen and at the incision site.
What you can do: Tylenol or Ibuprofen can help and if you had a C-section, your doctor may also prescribe a pain reliever. Use ice packs for 20 minutes, three times a day, or sit in a lukewarm sitz bath, which can help reduce swelling. A peri bottle filled with warm water can also ease discomfort when you urinate. When you’ll start feeling better depends on the type of delivery, the severity of the tear, and your pain tolerance but expect to be completely healed within four to six weeks.
2. The culprit: Bleeding
Why it happens: During pregnancy, the lining of the uterus becomes filled with blood vessels that provide nutrition and help your baby grow. So after delivery, as the uterus contracts back to its original size, moves back into the pelvis and shuts down the blood vessels, bleeding occurs. You may also experience blood clots, especially if you’re lying down for a while and then stand up.
What to do: Ibuprofen can decrease the bleeding and breastfeeding helps to contract the uterus and decrease the risk of significant bleeding. If you’re soaking a pad every hour, or are concerned about large blood clots, see your doctor.
3. The culprit: Swollen legs and feet
Why it happens: If you had a C-section or an IV, fluid can collect in your legs and feet.
What you can do: The fluid should get re-absorbed within four days and in the meantime, elevate your feet on pillows, making sure they’re above your heart. If one leg is bigger than the other, or if you have tenderness or redness in one leg, you might have a blood clot so see your doctor immediately.
4. The culprit: Hemorrhoids and constipation
Why it happens: Hemorrhoids occur when the veins in the anus dilate—both during pregnancy and labor and delivery when you’re pushing and straining. “Those two processes together make them much more common,” said Muir. Your hormones cause constipation, and if you had a C-section, the incision and movement of the bowel, as well as the pain medications given afterward, can contribute. “The bowel can be slower to wake up after an abdominal surgery,” she said.
What to do: Increase your intake of fiber by eating lots of fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water. A stool softener can make it easier to have a bowel movement and witch hazel pads or a hydrocortisone suppository or cream, available over the counter or by prescription can help the hemorrhoids. If you had a C-section, your doctor may prescribe the laxative MiraLAX.
5. The culprit: Engorgement and sore nipples
Why it happens: “Engorgement is just the natural process of filling the breasts and converting them to be able to produce milk,” said Muir. You might also experience nipple soreness as your breasts become accustomed to feedings, or if your latch isn’t right.
What to do: Be sure to wear a supportive nursing bra and use a nipple cream with lanolin. If soreness persists, be sure to consult with a lactation consultant. If one breast is very tender and red, if you have a fever, significant fatigue or you’re just not feeling well, you may have mastitis, so be sure to see your doctor immediately.
6. The culprit: Sweating
Why it happens: “The hormones kind of have to switch gears,” according to Muir, who said that sweating or hot flashes that occur often times at night, are caused by the hormonal changes that happen as your body makes the transition from pregnancy to lactation.
What to do: Wear cotton layers that absorb the sweat. Breathing exercises, resting while you can, and light exercise can help too.
7. The culprit: A “loose” feeling and leaking
Why it happens: As the baby makes his way through the birth canal, the nerves to the urethra may compress, making it difficult to contract and hold urine in the bladder when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or exercise. Even if you had a C-section, nerve damage can occur during surgery.
What to do: Muir said it takes time to heal but pelvic floor muscles exercises—aka Kegels— can help get the muscles back in shape. Minimally invasive surgery is also an option if urinary incontinence persists so it’s important to speak with your doctor if you’re concerned.
Julie Revelant is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, health, and women's issues and a mom. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com