The books tell you what to expect when you’re expecting, they tell you what size fruit your growing baby is today, they tell you what to buy, what to eat. They tell you about labour & delivery plans and your ‘how to prepare for your preferred birth plan’. They even tell you what to expect once your expected baby arrives, the noises, the colours of poop and all of the glorious ins and outs of a new born.
But what about you? Your body has housed, nourished, protected, grown and delivered a baby. Despite what some social medias may lead you to believe, you’re not made of elastic and the repercussions of pregnancy and labour will take time to recover. Your body needs to physically heal, however this isn’t always talked about. Decades of women being perfectly made up in hospital for their adoring families have covered up the reality of the after birth journey your body has to take. So what really happens inside and out once you get home from the delivery?
BLEEDING DURING POSTPARTUM
After you have delivered your beautiful baby, everything that the baby has been kept safe and protected by now also has to leave your body too.
Vaginal postpartum bleeding, or lochia, as it’s also known, is the discharge of blood and mucus that starts after your delivery. Postpartum bleeding is normal and natural: your body is cleaning out and clearing itself of all the extra blood, mucus and tissue it needed during pregnancy. You will experience vaginal postpartum bleeding whether you gave birth vaginally or had a C-section.
However, despite this being something we often are prepared for, the length of time that your body will bleed for can surprise a lot of postpartum women, especially first time mums.
Postpartum bleeding is typically longer and heavier than a normal menstrual cycle. The heaviest bleeding will start straight after you give birth and can be heavy for up to 7 - 10 days. Try not to worry, this is normal. It will gradually start to get lighter, however you can expect to continue to bleed for up to 4-6 weeks after delivery, and you may continue spotting after that.
This is normal, your body has been keeping a lot of blood, mucus and other pregnancy tissues for 9 months, there’s going to be a fair amount your body needs to rid itself of. However knowing what is normal can help to calm any worries about the length of time you’re bleeding, as well as know if there are any abnormal signs you need to be looking out for. Blood clotting is something to look out for, one or two small ones are ok, however if they are frequent have a chat with your midwife or health care provider to check it out.
Your body has been through a lot, and many women have a new-found respect for their bodies, vaginas and inner workings. The postpartum ‘diaper’ has become a known part of after birth and new-mom life. However some of these disposable diapers are full of chemicals and unnatural fibres that you don’t want to be putting close to the intimate parts of your body. Not to mention how unflattering they are. Alternatively you can look to wearing reusable organic natural fibre period underwear that will absorb the bleeding and let your healing intimate body breathe and bleed while you focus on your new-born. Far more sustainable for the planet, your body and even your wallet.
‘DOWN THERE’ after giving birth
Still a taboo topic and something that we aren’t always sure about. You can’t see your vagina without a mirror on a normal day, so following pregnancy it’s even more of a challenge. Your cervix has most likely dilated up to 10cm (which is about the size of your hand) and pushed through a tiny human, and could have endured some tearing. Needless to say it won’t be looking the way you’re expecting straight away and is going to take time to heal.
If you had to have stitches due to any vaginal tearing you may be feeling even more delicate down there.
Take your time; give yourself plenty of time to stand up when needed. Go to the washroom with plenty of time to relax, do what you need to do, and ensure you take time to feel clean and comfortable afterwards. Going for a pee or a poo after you’ve given birth is going to create anxious feelings. Remember that your body is designed to do this, and your healing will come naturally.
Epsom salt baths are a great way to ensure that you’re staying clean and healing carefully following any tearing. It’s a lot easier to clean yourself in a bath if you have one, especially if you’re feeling weaker and uncomfortable following the birth.
In addition to your vagina needing to heal, your internal bowel movements will have been affected during the birth and can often take a few days to start moving. Don’t be surprised if your body waits up to 3-7 days for a bowel movement following labour. There is a wide span of normal for this following labour and every woman is different.
The early labour diarrhoea combined with not eating anything during labour can all contribute to not much in your gut to make you go. In addition, more water from your body is going towards milk production, meaning there’s less in your bowels to keep your stool soft and able to pass easily.
The anxiety of the first poop being painful can also cause your brain to worry and not be able to go.
Chances are the first poop won’t be as bad as you’re expecting. However there are some tips to try and make it go a little easier.
Don’t force it – it will happen naturally. It’s unlikely, however if you were to pop a stitch, straining and forcing will be how it’s done. Take it easy, if it’s not happening, try again later.
Drink water – keep your fluid levels up to replace the liquids you lost during labour and delivery. Water is great, apple juice or warm water with lemon can add extra help if you’re feeling backed up and uncomfortable.
Fibre fuel – fibre will make your stool softer and easier to pass. Try whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and limit your intake of bowel cloggers like white bread, pasta or rice. Also try snacks like dried fruit and nuts if your appetite is wavering still.
PELVIC FLOOR RECOVERY
Pregnancy and childbirth take a heavy toll on your pelvic floor muscles. However, when we talk about postpartum “core recovery,” we often think only about the abdominal muscles. While your abs recovery is certainly important, we cannot ignore the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles are critical core muscles that have very important functions. Given the stress these muscles undergo during pregnancy and childbirth, proper recovery work is essential to build back a strong and functional core.
There are 14 pelvic floor muscles, that form a sling at the bottom of your core, and they are responsible for many functions.
During pregnancy, the pelvic floor muscles are put under a lot of stress with the added weight of your growing baby and uterus. In addition the common anterior tilt (or low back arch) caused by the growing belly can accentuate pressure on these pelvic floor muscles. Labour and delivery then adds further trauma to these important muscles.
In a vaginal birth the pelvic floor muscles are responsible for helping to guide the baby out during delivery. However, if these muscles are weak or under active, this could result in increased tearing. A C-section also traumatizes the pelvic floor muscles; because of how intricately connected the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles are, as the abdominal muscles are moved or cut, this major surgery also impacts the pelvic floor.
Strengthening your pelvic floor and working on pelvic floor exercises is the best way to aid recovery. You are able to start pelvic floor exercises as early as 24 hours after birth if you are cleared to do so by your midwife or healthcare professional. Kegel exercises are good, however due to the strain and stress your pelvic floor has been under, there are some more specifics that are better for postpartum pelvic floors. You can check these with your doctor before doing any to ensure you’re not pushing your body too far too soon.
Getting involve in postpartum fitness program is also a great way to get your body stronger while working on your pelvic floor. Here are 2 of our favorites: Mountain Mom Strong and Babes'n Bellies Bootcamp
Postpartum is equally as complicated as pregnancy. Not only do you now have a body that needs to heal, you also have a new born baby whom is relying on you for every little detail. You’re not made of elastic, returning to what feels like normal will take time and some women become adjusted to what is a new normal. Take your time and give your body time to heal. You will be surprised at how quickly the healing comes, however if you are unsure about any of the changes happening, always speak to your health care provider, even if it’s just to calm your worries.
PHOTOS CREDIT: Cristina Gareau
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