TOP TIP: Things to discuss before the birth
Ask yourself these questions and discuss them with your midwife:
*Do you want a natural or managed third stage (this is when the placenta is delivered)?
*Do you want to hold your baby straight after the birth?
*Do you want to put him to the breast straight away?
Your body after the birth
Immediately after the birth, lots of women tremble. This is your body’s normal reaction to the change in temperature, loss of fluid and the sheer impact of having just given birth.
Your vagina and perineum will probably feel a bit swollen, bruised and sore. Your midwife will check this area. She can decide whether any tears need stitching. If not, any soreness will heal over time.
Tears and stitches
Small tears heal themselves and don‘t need stitching. For bigger tears, your midwife will apply some local anaesthetic then stitch the wound up. This happens whether you’ve given birth in hospital or at home. The stitches don’t need to be removed as they dissolve naturally. If the tear isn’t bleeding, you can ask for it to be left alone and get the midwife to recheck it after an hour or so.
Your tummy will look like an overstretched and deflated balloon and probably remain so for the next few weeks. Postnatal exercises can help a lot to restore muscle tone.
*The bleeding is like a heavy period
*It’s very red, heavy and constant in the first few days
*It gets lighter in volume and colour, from deep red to pale yellow, as time goes on
*Bleeding usually stops by around six weeks
*It should be absorbed by sanitary towels. Don’t use tampons.
Watch out for any large clots you might pass. If they’re bigger than an egg, let your midwife know, or save the sanitary towel for her to look at. Occasionally, a bit of placenta has been left behind, which will hopefully work its way out.
Cleaning yourself up
You’ll probably want a bath or shower after the birth. Don’t be worried by the redness of the water – blood loss always looks more when it’s diluted. You may need your partner or midwife to help you to or from the bathroom if you’re still feeling wobbly, especially after an epidural.
If you tore when giving birth, it’ll sting when you pass urine. Even a graze in your vagina can be painful. Diluting your urine can help, so:
*Keep a jug by the side of the loo and as you wee pour water between your legs
*Do a wee in the bath just before you get out.
*Drink plenty of water to make your urine less acidic
Most women are frightened about opening their bowels after they’ve had a baby, especially if they’ve had stitches. Remember, it’s a different opening and stitches won’t open when your bowels do. There are things you can do to help:
*Eat plenty of natural fibre (whole wheat cereals, fruit and veg) and drink plenty of water to prevent constipation
*Hold a sanitary towel against your stitches the first time you go to the loo to make the area feel more ‘supported’.
Your baby after the birth
*He’ll be smeared in blood and possibly covered in vernix – a white sticky substance that’s helped waterproof his skin and keep him warm in the womb.
*He may be a bit blue, especially if the second stage of labour (pushing) was long.
*He’ll probably look crumpled and grumpy.
*He may not inspire you to love him straight away. Don’t worry though – sometimes it takes time for this emotion to evolve.
Most women’s bodies take time to get back to normal.
*If you’ve had stitches, soothe them in a bath with a few drops of lavender oil in the water
*Nap when your baby sleeps in the day, then getting up to your baby at night won’t seem as bad
*Keep doing your pelvic floor exercises to regain control of your bladder.
*If you had a tear but no stitches, don’t physically exert yourself for a few days to give the area a chance to heal.
*Sex is fine, but only when you feel ready.
*Talk to your midwife if you’re finding it difficult to cope.
It can help during this time to debrief, by talking to your community midwife or writing to the head of midwifery at your maternity unit and asking to go through the notes.
Shopping list for after the birth
For more on labour, birth and your newborn, don’t miss Practical Parenting magazine each month.