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After Labor & Delivery

After delivery, your body begins to release hormones that prepare your body for motherhood. Primarily, these hormones cause your uterus to contract back to its normal size and stimulate the production of breast milk for your baby.

Other things that happen to your body after delivery depend on the type of birth you’ve had – vaginal or cesarean. You also may notice breast changes.

  • Rest

    While long periods of rest may seem difficult with a newborn, you should rest any time your baby is resting. Take naps together – have others pitch in, and forget about the laundry, cleaning, or other household chores for the first week or two. This helps speed up your physical recovery and keeps you from feeling overtired.

  • Breast Changes

    A couple of days following delivery, your breasts will begin to harden and your milk will come in. Colostrum, the beginnings of breast milk, will enter your breasts and be secreted when your baby sucks for milk. Colostrum is rich in protein and helps provide early immunity to illnesses for your baby. It also helps clean the newborn’s digestive tract of the mucus that was produced as protection in utero.

    When your milk comes in

    Some women experience discomfort when their breasts become engorged as their milk comes in. Engorgement causes the breasts to become very hard and can be uncomfortable for a couple of days until your body adjusts. If you are breastfeeding the sooner you begin the better! Your baby’s sucking and heat (warm compresses or hot showers) also help stimulate breast milk production.

    If you plan to formula feed

    If you do not plan on breastfeeding, wear a firm bra to help decrease the stimulation of milk production 24 – 72 hours after delivery. As your breasts begin to feel tender, use ice packs to help reduce the tenderness. A hot shower may promote leaking of breast milk, so avoid prolonged exposure. Although pumping your breasts may relieve the discomfort, it is only a temporary solution. Pumping stimulates milk production. Pain medication may be used to relieve tenderness. As the milk reabsorbs, your breasts will become less tender and soft.

  • Cesarean Birth

    A cesarean birth involves surgery and you’ll be monitored closely after birth. You will go to a recovery room for a period of close observation, where your clinicians will monitor your temperature, incision, uterine height and bleeding for indications of your recovery. You will be asked to change positions and breathe deeply often to help speed up your recovery. Many birth centers have their own recovery area within them, and allow you and your baby the opportunity to stay together during this period.

    Other things that may happen to your body after cesarean birth include the following:

    • If you had spinal anesthesia, your legs will be numb. You will not be able to stand until the numbness fades. Be sure to ask for assistance before you get out of bed for the first time.
    • You may have a tube in your bladder (catheter) to drain your urine. This will be taken out within the first 24 hours after delivery.
    • You may also have an intravenous (IV) with fluids that will be discontinued when you are eating and drinking on your own.
    • Once you are steady on your feet, you may shower or sponge bathe. Do not take baths or soak your incision until it is fully healed, usually about 4 weeks.
    • Your breasts that are soft after delivery will gradually begin to get firm as breast milk comes in a few days after delivery. Some women experience discomfort when this happens because breasts can get engorged with the nutrient rich milk. Applying warm water to your breasts and emptying them if you’re breastfeeding will help; if not breastfeeding, applying ice packs is better. Any discomfort should go away within a couple of days.
    • You will have uterine cramping for the first few days as well as when you begin to breastfeed. This is your uterus contracting or shrinking back to its pre-pregnant size. While it usually causes minor discomfort, there is pain medication available for more extreme cases.
    • As your uterus contracts after birth, it will become smaller and will begin to reach the level of your belly button. In 4 – 6 weeks your uterus will return to its pre-pregnant size.
    • For a few weeks after delivery, you will experience vaginal bleeding. At first, this bleeding will be bright red with some clotting. The amount will decrease and the color will change first to brown, then to yellowish white. This bleeding is also referred to as lochia.
    • Your cesarean section incision may have dissolving sutures (no need to remove) or staples that will be removed when your incision looks like it is healing well. If paper “stitches” also were applied over your incision  tape covering the incision will peel back over the next week. If you experience any pain from the incision, your clinician can order medications for relief.
  • After Vaginal Birth

    After a vaginal birth, your clinicians will monitor you closely. Regular checks of your temperature, uterine height, episiotomy (incision between the vagina and rectum made to provide more room for the baby during delivery-- not everyone has one), and bleeding will provide indications of your recovery. You also can expect the following to happen:

    • If you had an epidural for pain control, your legs may feel heavy or tingly. You may be required to stay in bed for a short period after delivery until the final effects of the epidural wear off (usually a couple of hours at the most).
    • If you have an episiotomy you may experience some discomfort from the stitches. You may also have hemorrhoids from pushing. Ice packs help relieve immediate pain and swelling. Warm water provides pain relief later and is a good home treatment. Over the counter pain medication is also available to help with discomfort if necessary.
    • If your perineum (area between your vagina and rectum) is swollen, you may have some difficulty urinating. Be sure to tell your nurse if you think you are not able to empty your bladder fully or if you cannot urinate.
    • Your breasts that are soft after delivery will gradually begin to get firm as breast milk comes in a few days after delivery. Some women experience discomfort when this happens because breasts can get engorged with the nutrient rich milk. Applying warm water to your breasts and emptying them if you’re breastfeeding will help; if not breastfeeding, applying ice packs is better. Any discomfort should go away within a couple of days.
    • You will have uterine cramping for the first few days, as well as when you begin to breastfeed. This is your uterus contracting or shrinking back to its pre-pregnant size. While it usually causes only minor discomfort, there is pain medication available for more extreme cases.
    • As your uterus contracts, it will become smaller and will begin to reach the level of your belly button. In 4 – 6 weeks your uterus will return to its pre-pregnant size.
    • For a few weeks you will experience vaginal bleeding. At first this bleeding will be bright red with some clotting. The amount will decrease and the color will change first to brown, then to yellowish white. This bleeding is also referred to as lochia.

    Your next appointment with your OB/GYN will probably be in about 6-8 weeks. If you have any concerns about your body or any of the above-mentioned items, feel free to contact your health care professionals sooner.

  • When to call the Doctor

    You should call your clinician if any of the following occur before your next visit:

    • Heavy bright red bleeding or large clots (light bleeding is normal for 1-2 weeks after delivery)
    • Continuous mild to moderate bleeding beyond 10 days
    • Fever or chills
    • Painful cramps that don’t decrease after taking pain medication
    • An incision that is red, draining, hot in one area or appears to be opening
    • A painful reddened breast that is hard
    • Pain, swelling or redness in your leg
    • Feeling short of breath or painful breathing
    • Feeling extremely depressed and unconnected to things that used to make you happy.
  • Fluids and Fiber

    You should also drink plenty of fluids and eat healthful foods. If you have an episiotomy, hemorrhoids or an incision from a cesarean section, you may feel uncomfortable bearing down to have a bowel movement.

    Fluids and fiber found in vegetables and fruit help to keep stools soft and reduce pain caused by straining. A good diet will also help provide the proper nutrients in breast milk. Short soaks in a warm bath can help relieve pain from an episiotomy and hemorrhoids, and prevent bacteria from infecting them.

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