Your body after birth

After you’ve had your baby, there are still changes and symptoms that your body has to cope with. Here’s what you can expect during the weeks after you’ve given birth.

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What happens to your breasts

When your breast milk comes in, around the third or fourth day, your breasts become fuller, firm and can feel very ‘engorged’. The slightest knock can make you wince. But don’t worry, it’ll all settle down within a couple of weeks.

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“The best solution is to put your baby to your breast to relieve the pressure,” says Sue Jacob, midwife teacher at the Royal College of Midwives. If you’re not able to breastfeed, take paracetamol to help any pain, and the swelling will subside in a few days when your milk supply dries up.

If you develop a tender area in a breast and feel ‘fluey’, you may have mastitis. Try to keep breastfeeding, but contact your midwife or GP as you may need treatment.

“I didn’t want to breastfeed so I wasn’t prepared for my milk coming in. I’d assumed it wouldn’t happen. My midwife told me to wear a supportive bra and to take painkillers. It was uncomfortable, but I was back to normal in a week.”

Tracey, 19, mum to Jasmine, 3 months

What happens with bleeding

Stock up on maternity pads before you give birth. Expect to bleed for up to six weeks after the birth. For the first few days it’ll be similar to a heavy period – this is called lochia and is normal. After around 10 days, blood loss should be much lighter, turning from red to pinky brown and then a yellowy colour.

If the blood loss suddenly gets very heavy, has large clots (egg-size or larger), has a strong, bad smell, or you have flu-like symptoms, you may have an infection. So you’ll need to let your midwife or GP know.

“Stock up on maternity pads before you give birth. Normal pads aren’t designed for women who’ve just given birth – you’ll need more than that.”

Megan, 36, mum to Anna, 10 months

“It probably sounds silly but I had a caesarean and assumed I wouldn’t have any bleeding. My midwife explained my womb still had to do the same work and needed a good clear out.”

Grace, 26, mum to Ola, 2 weeks

What happens with going to the toilet

Don’t worry if you don’t open your bowels for a few days after the birth, as this is normal. Try to avoid constipation, though; otherwise it’ll be more uncomfortable when you do go. Eat lots of fibre, veg and fruit, especially prunes and figs, and drink lots of water.

Haemorrhoids (piles) are quite common, but are easily treated with a cream. Sometimes they’ll disappear on their own, but see your GP if you’re worried.

If you’ve had a tear, it may sting when you wee. Keep a jug of water by the loo and pour it between your legs when you go. If the pain continues, there’s blood in your urine or you feel unwell, contact your midwife or GP, as you may have an infection.

Urinary incontinence is also common after birth, so be sure to do your pelvic floor exercises. Mention it to your GP if it’s still an issue at six weeks.

“I was terrified of opening my bowels after giving birth, and was convinced my stitches would burst with the effort. My midwife told me to press a sanitary towel against the stitches to ‘support’ them when I went to the loo. She said the stitches would be fine anyway but it would make me feel better, which it really did!”

Annie, 34, mum to Jemma, 6 weeks

What happens with your uterus

After birth your womb has to shrink to its pre-pregnancy size, and this can feel quite uncomfortable – like period pains. It should get better day by day, but if you feel that the pains are getting worse, contact your midwife. Any pain in your calves or chest should be reported at once.

“I never expected to feel so bruised after my caesarean. I needed to take painkillers for a couple of weeks.”

Gaynor, 24, mum to Kieran, 10 months

“After-pains were awful – I felt I was in labour again! But a hot-water bottle worked wonders.”

Paula, 36, mum to Ruby, 4, Arthur, 2, and Millie, 6 months

What happens if you’ve had stitches

Good hygiene will reduce the risk of infection, so take a daily bath or shower, initially avoiding bubble bath and scented soaps. Stitches can feel itchy or tight as they heal, and you may even see a bit of stitch floating in the bath – it’s quite normal, so don’t be alarmed.

Your perineum – the area between the anus and vagina – may be sore or bruised, but should feel a bit better each day. If it’s getting worse, let your midwife know, as it can be a sign of infection.

“I thought I was supposed to have had sex by my six-week check, but I couldn’t bear the idea as I’d had a forceps birth with lots of stitches. My GP made me feel better, saying plenty of women take longer than six weeks to resume a sex life, and the ‘right’ time is simply when you feel ready.”

Vicki, 40, mum to Sophie, 3 months

What happens to your legs

Many mums develop swollen feet and legs after giving birth, even if they didn’t during pregnancy. It’s due to circulation readjusting. For most, it clears in a few days, but some have it for weeks. Whatever kind of birth you had, it’s important to exercise your feet soon after. Try a pedalling action, then stretching and relaxing your feet.

Although swelling is normal, pain isn’t, so tell your midwife or GP of any pain or inflammation. It might indicate DVT – deep vein thrombosis – which requires immediate attention.

“Two days after giving birth, my feet were so swollen they looked as though they belonged to someone else! My mum told me to put a pillow under them in bed and to keep them raised when watching TV. Gradually they went back to normal. I’d never heard of swelling happening after the birth.”

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Priti, 25, mum to Tarik, 4 weeks

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