Pregnancy, labour and birth – your body has been through a lot when you’re a new mum. The good news is that after your baby is born, your body will start to recover and heal.

New mums: your body in the first week after birth

This is a time for you to rest and recover as much as you can while you care for and get to know your new baby.

You will have some vaginal bleeding. This starts straight after birth and lasts for 4-6 weeks. The bleeding usually eases off over the first weeks and changes from bright red to red-brown. You’ll need to use pads and change them regularly. You might prefer to use maternity pads at first – these are larger and longer than regular pads. The bleeding might increase for a short time when you’re breastfeeding or walking.

If there’s a bad smell associated with vaginal bleeding, check with your midwife or doctor, because this can be a sign of infection.  

You’ll probably have some pain or discomfort from:

  • a vaginal birth, because the muscles and nerves around your perineum have been stretched and bruised
  • a caesarean birth, because of the surgical cut in the lower part of your tummy
  • afterpains, which are caused by your uterus contracting to get smaller and control bleeding
  • tender breasts and nipples as your milk comes in, and as you and your baby learn to breastfeed.

Talk to your midwife, GP or obstetrician about pain relief medication if pain is making it hard for you to rest, sleep or care for yourself or your baby. You can also ask any other questions you have about yourself or your baby.

Easing pain after vaginal birth
After a vaginal birth, there are several things you can try to help with pain, swelling and bruising of your perineum (the area between the pubic bone and the tail bone):

  • Put ice packs or cold gel packs on the area for 10-20 minutes.
  • Lie on your side and do some pelvic floor exercises.
  • Take some panadol or other mild pain relief.
  • Keep the area clean by showering or bathing daily.

If it hurts to urinate, tell your doctor or midwife. This might be caused by grazes on your perineum. The doctor or midwife might suggest pouring a cup of warm water over your genitals when you urinate. A urinary alkaliniser (for example, Ural) can also help.

If you have stitches to repair a tear or an episiotomy, these will dissolve gradually 1-2 weeks after the birth.

Easing pain after caesarean birth
After a caesarean birth, you can support your wound with pillows under your knees when lying on your back, or under your tummy when lying on your side. When you sit up from a lying position, roll onto your side and use your arms to raise your upper body from the mattress.

Your midwife or doctor will tell you to limit exercise and activity after a caesarean birth. This will include lifting, carrying and driving for the first few weeks. 

Loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear with a high waist will probably be more comfortable on your wound than bikini pants. The size of a caesarean scar is different for each woman, but your wound will appear smaller in the first few weeks after birth as the bruising and swelling settles down.

Easing afterpains
Afterpains are uncomfortable, but warm packs on your tummy or your back can help. You might get afterpains while you’re breastfeeding because the hormones released when you breastfeed also make the uterus contract. This helps your uterus to get smaller and get back to how it was before you were pregnant.

Afterpains are more common in women who have given birth before, but you can have them after your first birth too.

Easing breast and nipple pain
Sore nipples and tender breasts are common in the first week as you and your baby learn to breastfeed. This will usually settle down, especially with good breast care.

Here are some other things you can do to help with breast and nipple tenderness:

  • Make sure that baby has good attachment to your breast. Ask for help from your midwife, child and family health nurse or lactation consultant if you’re not sure, or you’re very sore.
  • Put some cool packs on your breasts – even a frozen damp cloth can help between feeds. A warm cloth during feeds will encourage milk flow.
  • Try gently massaging full breasts.
  • A few drops of your milk expressed at the end of each feed and spread over your nipples can soothe and encourage sore nipples to heal.
  • You could try putting a small amount of cream that contains lanolin and is specially made for breastfeeding on your nipples.
An Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) counsellor can also help – phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268.

Your body in the first few months

Your health and your baby’s will be reviewed at a six-week check-up with your midwife, child and family health nurse, obstetrician or GP. But here are some things for new mums to keep an eye on at home in the first few months. 

Urinary and bowel incontinence
In the early months after birth, you might find that you accidentally urinate or have accidental bowel motions, especially when you laugh, cough or sneeze.

This will usually fix itself as your swelling goes down, sensation comes back and muscles get stronger. Pelvic floor exercises to strengthen your muscles can help.

If you’re still having problems with incontinence when your baby is six weeks old or older, start by talking to your GP, who will be able to help or send you to a women’s health physiotherapist or continence specialist. There are many treatments that can help.

Weight loss normally happens gradually after birth. Healthy eating, gentle exercise – for example, walking – and breastfeeding can all help with losing weight.

If you were overweight before you got pregnant and you would like to lose weight, talk with your health professional. If you’re losing too much weight and are underweight, it’s also a good idea to talk with your health professional.

You might lose some hair from your head in the months after giving birth. This won’t last and should settle down when your baby is about six months old.

It happens because of changing hormone levels in your body. Hair loss isn’t caused by breastfeeding, so weaning your baby won’t help.

Stretch marks
You might have stretch marks on your tummy, hips and breasts during pregnancy. After the birth, the marks usually change, fading from a red to a silvery colour and getting smaller. Some women try to reduce stretch marks with laser therapy and retinol creams.

Your relationship
Becoming parents is a big change for you and your partner. Some couples find a deeper connection, but others need time to adjust to being parents.

Your feelings about sex and intimacy can depend on many things – your birth experience, pain, tiredness, the demands of caring for your baby and how you feel about your body after pregnancy and birth.

It can really help to share experiences and ideas. You could try connecting with other new mums in our mums forum or ask your child and family health nurse about groups for new mums.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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