Sometimes we moms can get so focused on getting the baby out that we forget to get ready for what comes afterward. The same moms who tell you every detail of their birth experience often neglect to mention anything about the aftermath of birth. After the baby is born, your body needs time to heal and your emotions will probably fluctuate a lot. These emotional fluctuations are both a result of hormonal changes in your body and a natural response to the upheaval in your life (in the form of a very precious, very needy little newborn). Depending on how difficult your labor was and whether you had an instrumental (forceps or vacuum) or surgical (cesarean) birth, you will experience anything from mild soreness to unmanageable pain following the birth.
What you might expect after the baby arrives:
- You can expect an immense sensation of spaciousness and relief. After all, seven or eight pounds of baby just left your overcrowded abdomen! The first time you stand up, you may feel your organs sliding down into the now roomy pelvic cavity.
- If you have birthed vaginally, you still have to push the placenta out. Don't be scared. Unlike your baby, a placenta has no bones and slides out quite easily with one or two pushes.
- Your care provider will check your perineum (your pelvic floor muscle that stretches towards your bottom to make way for the baby) for any tearing. If you have torn, local anesthetic will be used while you are stitched up (unless you already have an epidural in place. Many moms are so distracted (in a good way) by their new baby that they hardly notice this.
- If you have had a cesarean section, expect to be closely monitored for an hour or two until the initial effects of the surgery (and medications) have worn off. In many hospitals, your baby can be in the recovery room with you if you and the baby are both healthy.
- Expect soreness and/or pain. After a vaginal birth, you may find your entire pelvic floor is sore from stretching as you pushed the baby out. You will probably have localized pain and tenderness if you had significant tearing or an episiotomy. Most women also have hemorrhoids that will gradually shrink over the next few weeks. If you had an epidural, your back may be sore where the epidural needle was placed. After a cesarean birth, you will be sore on your lower abdomen where the incision was made. Sitting, standing, coughing and laughing will probably be extremely painful until your abdominal muscles recover from the trauma of being separated during the surgery. It's okay to take pain medication for all these achy parts. Your doctor, midwife, or nurse can tell you which pain medications are safe to take while breastfeeding.
- If you had a completely unmedicated birth (no narcotics, epidural, or Pitocin), you will probably have an incredible birth high. This high is your reward for getting through every bit of your labor without calling for meds. Despite any residual soreness, you may decide you have never felt better and nothing can possibly bother you. Try not to make important decisions until this high wears off. You may agree to something you don't actually want to do because you just feel so incredibly good.
- Be prepared to sweat and pee--a lot. The body has a lot of extra fluids to get rid of, so expect frequent bathroom breaks for the first couple of days. You may want to lay a towel under your head so you don't drench your pillow with sweat.
- Starting breastfeeding may be really difficult, but it may also be really easy. If you're having a hard time getting started, call on your nurse, lactation consultant or fellow nursing mom for help, but make sure you take some time to try to nurse when it's just you and the baby. Sometimes what you really need is a little quiet, private time free from the pressure of other eyes to relax and let it happen.
- Your emotions may be all over the place. You are filled with love for your baby, happiness that you are finally holding her, disappointment if the birth didn't happen the way you wanted, sadness that your life will never be the same, happiness that your life will be changed forever.