Taking Care of Yourself
Your new baby is the centre of your world, but they’ll need you to stay strong and healthy, physically and emotionally, in order to look after them. That means sometimes asking for help. Find out what changes you can expect to experience and where you can go to get support.
Give yourself a break
Congratulations! You’ve achieved an amazing thing. You’ve carried and delivered a brand-new human being, and now it’s time to care for and feed them (although what you might want to do most is sleep). It’s a joyful experience, but there’s no doubt that it’s also hard work. You’re used to being independent, but it’s important at this time to accept all the help you can get. You want to do your best for your new baby and that includes giving yourself the time and space to recuperate. Remember that you deserve to enjoy this unique time too.
In the first few days after giving birth, it’s quite common to experience feelings of sadness, known as ‘baby blues’. This could be a natural reaction to a momentous life event but is also thought to be linked to a drop-in hormone after birth, in particular, the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin. ‘Baby blues’ do not require medical intervention but understanding from family and friends will help. If these feelings don’t lift after a few days, talk to your midwife.
Postnatal depression (PND) is thought to affect around 1 in 10 mums and it can take several months for symptoms to appear. It can be triggered by a traumatic birth, sleep deprivation or the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities of motherhood. Symptoms vary widely but include feeling very low, anxiety, panic attacks, irrational thoughts or feeling numb and empty. Talking therapy is usually the first form of treatment offered, but if you are given medication, you should still be able to breastfeed safely. If you have symptoms, seek support as soon as possible. Speak to your midwife. You are not alone and there’s plenty of help available.
Even if your labour was straightforward, giving birth is an intense physical experience and it will take your body time to recover. Aches, pains and bruising are to be expected. Although soreness should subside fairly quickly, don’t expect to feel fully fit for several weeks, even months. The quickest way to recuperate is to rest and sleep as much as you can.
You may experience: Bruising
You may notice bruising at the site of your epidural injection (if you had one), and also where you had any cannulas or drips inserted.
You might suffer from cramps in your uterus as your muscles spasm and return to their pre-pregnancy position.
It can take a few days for the colostrum to make way for breast milk. You might also feel tenderness in your breasts from one day to the next as your body sets up its milk supply.
All women experience some bleeding after labour, regardless of the delivery method; sanitary towels will absorb blood and discharge. Bleeding can last two to six weeks and should gradually lighten, but if the flow gets heavier, tell your health visitor, midwife or General Pediatrician GP.
If you have been given an anesthetic during or after labour, it is common for your skin to feel itchy for a few days. Itchiness is a side effect of some types of pain relief (such as morphine) used in an epidural.
Haemorrhoids or soreness in your perineal area can make sitting uncomfortable. If so talk to your midwife or health advisor; they might recommend ointment or ice packs to reduce swelling.
If you gave birth via caesarean section, you are likely to feel pain and discomfort where the incision was made. You are advised not to drive or lift anything heavier than your baby for six weeks.
For the first seven days after birth, whether you are in hospital or discharged home, you might be prescribed an anticoagulant injection to reduce the risk of blood clots. If you are at home, you will be given ready-measured doses which you administer into your stomach. You’ll be provided instructions and a bin for any used sharp objects. The needle is only small, and the injection pen will click when applied, to tell you the dose has been given successfully.
Getting back on your feet
Depending on your birth, it can take time before you feel strong enough to walk around after labour. When you’re ready, here are some simple tips to help you to get moving:
- Rest, and drink little and often. Gently stretch your legs and sit up in bed if you can.
- When you want to get out of bed, let your partner or midwife help.
- Go to the toilet to make sure your bladder and bowels are working.
- Activate your pelvic floor muscles from an upright position, sat at the end of your bed. If your birth resulted in stitches, you may need to wait before engaging your pelvic floor muscles.
- Stretch out your arms and roll your shoulders to relieve aching arm muscles from long feeds.
Build up gradually
After a few days, increase the frequency and intensity of pelvic floor exercises. Take walks around the room or go outside for some fresh air if you feel able. You don’t have to go far. Make sure you’re getting enough protein (such as lean meat, fish, dairy or nuts) to aid recovery. Try to drink two litres of water every day and remember to empty your bladder every two to three hours. You might not feel as aware of your need to wee as usual.
Easing back to fitness
The very earliest you can expect to do high-impact exercises (like running or aerobics) is after your postnatal check at six to eight weeks. But just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should, or that you will feel up to it. Listen to your body and don’t push yourself.
Home health checks
Your midwife and/or health visitor will come to visit you regularly in the first few weeks. Your baby will be weighed, and any remaining tests will be carried out (like the ‘heel prick’ test). Your healthcare professional will also assess your baby’s overall health and wellbeing and check on your recovery too. Although they’re interested in the safety of your home environment, don’t feel you need to tidy up. They know your priority is looking after your baby. Remember, they’re there to help, so answer all their questions honestly and take the opportunity to talk about any concerns you have.
Your postnatal check
At 6-8 weeks after the birth you’ll have a postnatal check with your doctor, who will want to check your baby’s development and your recovery. But your doctor will also be keen to hear about your emotional wellbeing, which is just as important. If there’s anything you’re concerned about, either physically or mentally, talk to your doctor, health visitor or midwife.
Your family and friends are understandably keen to meet your new arrival, but your priority is bonding with your baby and recuperating. It’s fine to say no for now. If well-meaning grandparents want to come and stay, be realistic about whether this will be a help or a source of stress. Could they check in to a local hotel instead?
Ask for help
When you are up for visitors, don’t feel the need to make them tea. Ask them to do it. Most people are only too happy to do something useful. Other ways they can help include:
- Washing up
- Cooking a meal
- Grocery shopping
- Holding the baby while you shower or nap
The importance of doing nothing
It’s a cliché, but the time with your newborn will fly by. Try and live in the moment and enjoy this special time together as a family. Don’t do more than you need to and rest when you can – which may mean going to bed when your baby does.
Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet will help you to recover and will also ensure your breast milk is full of essential nutrients for your baby.
Let the housework wait. Don’t feel guilty about spending your day pinned to the sofa in the early weeks; equally, a sling will give your baby the closeness they need and give you the novel sensation of having both hands free to make a sandwich. Better still, if your partner is nearby, let the baby sleep on them while you take time to recharge – whether it’s by having a bath, getting some fresh air or taking a nap.
Before the birth, batch-freeze simple, healthy meals like stew or pasta sauce, so they can be easily prepared once your baby’s born.
Instead of traditional presents, ask friends and family for help with chores or to make a home-cooked meal as a gift.
Always speak to your midwife or health visitor about any concerns, or if you are feeling overwhelmed or sad.
Don’t pressure yourself to overdo exercise.
Go out for an impromptu lunch or dinner with your partner and (hopefully) sleeping baby. Surprisingly, this is easier in the first few months than when your baby is more aware or in a routine, and it’s a real treat. Pick a time when the restaurant is quiet, for fast, friendly service.