Postpartum is referred to the six-week period right after giving birth. It is the time when a woman’s body goes through several hormonal, physical and psychological changes. It is a special time during which a new mother needs extra support, care and love from the family to deal with the added responsibilities of motherhood as well as these changes.
In this article, we talk about what a newbie mom needs to know about postpartum health and how she can get back on her feet as soon as possible.
Once the baby is born, your body starts the process of healing and getting back to its pre-pregnancy stage. Immediately after giving birth, your body will start discharging blood, also known as Lochia, which is a type of menstrual period that lasts up to four to six weeks. It contains blood, pieces of the uterine lining and mucus. Initially, you will see a heavy out-flow of blood, but this will reduce eventually. Using regular sanitary pads are advised as opposed to tampons as it can cause infections in the uterus.
Lactation means the period when a mother’s body is producing milk to feed her newborn baby. After giving birth, a mother’s breasts are filled with colostrum or thick milk. The milk actually starts to come after a couple of days and your body will be able to adjust production according to how often the baby is breastfed.
First-time mothers sometimes face lactating issues such as, baby not latching on, nipples becoming sore or getting cracked, engorgement and swelling of the breasts, and breasts not feeling full. These are very normal concerns and can easily be dealt with by visiting a lactation expert.
Dr Rinku Sengupta, Sr Consultant (Gynaecology department) at Sitaram Bhartiya Hospital, feels that lactating moms, especially first-time moms, need a whole lot of support from their families as well. A new mother (who is lactating and going through postpartum phase) experiences many changes at physical, psychological and emotional levels. That coupled with sleep deprivation and lack of rest for the mother can have a negative effect on her physical and mental health.
She further added, “In most cases since the focus shifts from the mother to the baby once its born, women’s health is not given enough attention. Whereas a family should come together and support the new mom, by giving her the rest she needs and by making sure her diet is taken care of as well.”
During your pregnancy, your breasts would sometimes discharge a yellowish-milky fluid. This is the known as the colostrum or the first milk which is thicker than usual and full of nutrients for your newborn. It is considered to be a superfood for the newborn because of its high nutrient content. For the the first couple of days, your body keeps producing milk, which will lead to breast engorgement, wherein, your breast will enlarge, will be firm and painful. However, this lasts only for a couple of days. Once your baby starts to feed regularly on your breast milk, your body will automatically produce milk according to how often you feed your child which will provide you relief.
If you have delivered a baby normally through your vagina, you will experience vaginal discharge (Lochia) for the first four to six weeks, which will go from red to pink as the days go by. You will experience soreness and swelling around the vagina, especially around the perineum area, which is cut to make way for the baby while giving birth by the doctor. This stitch can be sore at first and may itch later; however, it dissolves within seven to 10 days. You may also experience bouts of constipation because of the amped up iron supplements. In fact sometimes, women are also scared of going to the bathroom fearing the pain. Have a light but high-fibre diet and be sure to remain hydrated, especially because you are breastfeeding.
With an increase in cesarean deliveries, it has become another ‘normal’ way of giving birth as many women have started to opt for a C-section. However, the journey to recovery after a cesarean is longer and a bit harder. Unlike popular belief, a cesarean is considered a major surgery and just like any other surgery, your body requires time to heal.
Typically, a woman who delivers after a ceserean delivery stays in the hospital between two to four days. As compared to a woman who delivered vaginally, a woman who delivered via cesarean will have tough days ahead of her. It is advised by doctors that the more active you get the sooner the body heals. A recovery in this case is both physically and psychologically demanding.
The doctor will ask you to go for a walk, after a period of 24 hours, and this will one of the hardest things you do, but it is the first major step in your road to recovery. Once back home, take ample rest and get help for your baby. Take your pain medication regularly to cope with the pain around your abdomen. Get a surgical belt as it helps provide extra support to your back and abdomen muscles. A physiotherapist usually visits the new mom advising about simple exercises that can be done at home to recover better and faster.
You will be asked by your gynae to visit her for a regular post-delivery check up on the 10th day of giving birth, when a doctor will check the healing process. The doctor will also make sure that there are no early symptoms of any kind of complication. If everything is all right at that time, you will be asked to return at the end of the six week period, so they can make sure everything is okay and you are well on your way to complete physical recovery.
Dr Rinku Sengupta suggested that if mothers see any of the listed signs below, they must immediately head to the hospital to meet their gynaecologist.
1. Severe pain in breast
2. Unexplained high fever
3. Pain on one leg
4. Acute breathlessness
5. Foul smelling vaginal discharge (sign of infection in the uterus)
6. If there is bleeding from the wound stitch
If you are breastfeeding your baby, you will feel hungry and will need to replenish yourself with nutrients round the clock. Make sure to take your supplements and eat food rich in protein and calcium. Drinking water is a great way to avoid constipation. Eating foods high in fibrous content is also advised.
Rest Is Crucial
Yes, the baby will not let you do it, but your body has gone through a year-long transformation of making a baby and then birthing it. It needs rest to recuperate and come back to its pre-pregnancy stage. In order to do that, sleep when you can.
Ask For Help
Do not shy away from asking help for child-care. Grandparents and in-laws can be perfect here to step in and take care of the baby while you take a well-deserved nap or a massage to heal those aches muscles and provide relief.
Beating Baby Blues
Since a mother is going through many changes at hormonal, physical and psychological levels, it is extremely normal for her to feel moody, overwhelmed with emotion and even irritable at times. This is known as baby blues and can be very confusing time for the mother who is overwhelmed with child-care, breastfeeding and postpartum bleeding. This is crucial time for the rest of the family to support the new mother in any way possible. If as a mother you feel the similar way, do talk to a trusted family member or a friend or seek professional help. What you are feeling is completely normal at this stage.
Sex After Giving Birth
According to Dr Sengupta, a woman’s body is physically healed and ready after six-week to have sex. However, how ready she is mentally is a different thing altogether. Sex after giving birth can be a daunting idea for mothers, especially due to the fear of the unknown. One does not know if sex will hurt (and it will in the beginning) or will be as good as before. Plus, there are other libido-killing factors such as being tired all the time from taking care of a newborn, being sleep deprived and not looking your best. With all these crazy hormonal and physical changes, sex is the last thing on the mother's mind. So getting back to a regular, good sex life will take time but will happen eventually. Discussing with your partner about where you stand about sex is good place to start from.
Postpartum health is crucial to face even bigger challenges lined up for you as a mother. It may seem hard at first but like we say: This too shall pass.
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