Body After Baby

Ick! Ouch! OMG! Your body can surprise you in all sorts of ways post-childbirth, but you'll feel a whole lot better (and heal faster) with these insta-helpers.
Healing After Baby
Healing After Baby
woman sitting holding baby

Thayer Allison Gowdy

You might be so consumed with the scrumptious new kid on the block that you don't even mind the discomfort that giving birth can bring...mostly. At times, however, being a mom is a pain. Literally. Thankfully, those aches won't last for long. "Most women find that their postpartum complaints resolve within two to three months," says Robert James Gallo, M.D., an ob-gyn at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. That may sound like eons, but life with a newborn flies--and we've got the scoop on how to manage.

Uh-Oh! It's a No-Go

First you were terrified you'd poop on the delivery table; now you can't go at all. After you give birth, it can take two to three days to have a bowel movement. Weakened ab muscles, bowels traumatized from delivery, or use of narcotic painkillers can cause the backup. Many moms fret that they'll rip their stitches, so they hold it in, which makes matters worse.

HANDLE IT AT HOME
To keep things moving along, have at least eight glasses of water a day plus plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try not to worry about those stitches; they might smart a bit, but it's rare for them to tear, and resisting the urge to go can make you even more constipated. Walking around will help too. Just limit any strenuous activities, particularly if you've had a C-section.

DIAL YOUR DOC
If you don't have a BM within seven days of delivery, you may need a stool softener or laxative.

The Longest "Period" Ever

You may have heard about the vaginal discharge known as lochia, but you weren't expecting it to be so, well, bloody. Although it's not pretty, it's only benign leftover blood, mucus, and tissue from your uterus. No matter how you deliver, the flow can be as heavy as, if not heavier than, your period. Tampons can put you at risk for infection or cause pain or irritation, so use heavy-duty pads instead. "For the first few days after delivery, expect to change your pad every couple of hours," says Eileen Ehudin Beard, a nurse-midwife and family nurse-practitioner in Silver Spring, Maryland. The amount of discharge should decrease from there.

HANDLE IT AT HOME
Stock up on cheap underwear. Breastfeeding can minimize the mess too. "Nursing helps the uterus contract, which, in turn, decreases the blood flow," Beard says. If the discharge has turned pink or brown but then suddenly becomes bright red again, or if the flow increases, you're overexerting yourself. Take it easy, Mom!

DIAL YOUR DOC
If you go through more than one pad an hour for more than a few hours, or your discharge is bright red after the first week, or if you're having abdominal pain or swelling after the first few days, contact your M.D. "It's okay to pass small clots during the first week after delivery, but passing multiple big clots could be a sign of hemorrhaging," Beard explains.

Pain Below the Belt

The female body may have been designed for delivery, but you'll still need to deal with some discomfort from all that stretching and pushing, especially if you tear or have an episiotomy--a surgical cut to the area between the anus and the vagina.

HANDLE IT AT HOME
"Ice is your friend," Beard says. Crush a few cubes in a baggie, lie down, and apply it while you're resting to ease inflammation and pain. Or buy a bottle of witch hazel at the drugstore, saturate a wet washcloth with some, freeze it, then sit on it. If you have hemorrhoids, try medicated pads such as Tucks to clean the area, and apply a dollop of Preparation H (for healing) mixed with cortisone cream (for itching). You might need to stay off your feet or bottom (a doughnut pillow should help) for long stretches. Finally, take measures to prevent constipation; straining can make 'rhoids worse.

DIAL YOUR DOC
If the area becomes red, swollen, or increasingly painful, or has an unpleasant odor, you could have an infection.

Trickle-Down Effect

You might find yourself wondering who needs a diaper more, you or your newborn. Happens to the best of us. Really. Studies show that 21 percent of women experience urinary-stress incontinence (leakage when laughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects) after they give birth. It's because of weakened perineal muscles, instrument-assisted deliveries, or episiotomy, and it can persist for several months or longer.

HANDLE IT AT HOME
Kegels are key, and they couldn't be easier to do: "When you urinate, stop and start the stream to gain better control of the muscles that keep the bladder working well," Dr. Gallo explains. You can do these subtle exercises pretty much anytime and anyplace and nobody will be the wiser for it. Aim for Kegeling in sets of ten; work up to ten sets a day. Try to go to the bathroom often so your bladder doesn't get too full. Cross your legs the moment you feel a laugh, cough, or sneeze coming on to prevent leaking.

DIAL YOUR DOC
If the leaking lasts more than six weeks, call the M.D.

Cesarean Soreness

Join the club: 1 in 3 deliveries is a C-section, and 80 percent of women who have the procedure experience discomfort at the incision.

HANDLE IT AT HOME
Post-op moms may need to take it slower than those who deliver vaginally. Once you can, walk around to prevent swelling and blood clots in your legs. Pain meds such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are generally safe; talk to your pediatrician if you're nursing. To prevent irritating the incision, cover it with a "light day" sanitary napkin, ask your doc for anti-itch ointment, and wear soft clothes.

DIAL YOUR DOC
If the incision gapes open, bleeds, becomes inflamed, or oozes discharge, or if you develop a fever, you might need treatment.

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