After having my daughter, I felt as if I'd lost a boxing match. My ribs ached, my abdomen throbbed, and my back was sore from the epidural needle. All pretty standard, experts say. "With all the pushing and contortions of labor, it's natural to feel washed out, tired, and achy," says Julian Robinson, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, in New York City. However, the discomfort should last only a few days and can be treated with a prescription or over-the-counter painkiller.
Now that it has pushed the baby out, your uterus has to finish its job -- namely, contracting back to its original size. Many women feel the process as abdominal aches and flutters (somewhat akin to menstrual cramps) that grow more pronounced during breast-feeding. If the sensations get too painful, talk to your doctor, who may recommend over-the-counter painkillers. In any event, hang in there -- this cramping shouldn't last longer than a week.
In my first hours of motherhood, I wondered how I'd know when my milk came in. Three days later, I found out -- I woke to huge, intensely sore breasts. "One of the best ways to deal with engorgement is to have your baby latch on well and make sure the breast is completely drained," says Freda Rosenfeld, a certified lactation consultant and childbirth instructor in New York City. If your child has trouble latching on, use a pump to stimulate flow. Applying ice packs or bags of frozen peas can ease the pain.
Most first-time moms expect some blood at delivery. But many are shocked by how much appears afterward. "No one prepared me for how much I bled," says Ellen Davies, of Zionsville, Indiana. The flow can continue up to four weeks after birth, though it should taper off after two or three days. Use pads for a week or so, and panty liners afterward (but no tampons, which could introduce infection). You'll likely see an increase in flow while nursing, says Shari Brasner, M.D., author of Advice from a Pregnant Obstetrician (Hyperion), because breast-feeding causes uterine contractions. But after the first few days, report any big gushes to your doctor.
Right after the birth of her son, Jennifer McCulloch was swamped by night sweats. "I would wake up soaking wet," the Brooklyn mom recalls. Night sweats in the first days after labor are part of your body's natural hormonal-adjustment process. You're still retaining lots of fluid from pregnancy, and sweating is one way your body expels it. The sweats should dry up in a few days, but in the meantime, take one of those crib pads you bought for the baby and place it on your side of the bed to keep the mattress dry.
If you delivered by cesarean, the good news is that you most likely escaped some of the unpleasant side effects -- like episiotomy stitches and hemorrhoids -- of vaginal delivery. Now the bad: A C-section is major surgery and comes with its own issues. In the days immediately after delivery, fatigue and nausea are common. During your four- to six-week convalescence, expect feelings of numbness, tingling, and itching at the site of your incision. Fever, along with redness and oozing from your scar, can indicate an infection.
In the days after delivery, many women have difficulty with bowel movements. Sometimes it's psychological, caused by anxiety over episiotomy stitches. Or it may be that your body is reorganizing itself as your organs settle down. In either case, try to relax. Your stitches will stay put, and things should be back to normal within a week. If you're still uncomfortable, your doctor can recommend a stool softener. Eating plenty of fiber, drinking water, and getting exercise -- even if it's just strolling the hallways of your home -- can also help.
Even if you didn't have an episiotomy, giving birth takes a toll down below: Swelling and stinging are a given. However, recovery is fairly rapid. Sutures are gone within ten days, and swelling should subside over the same period. In the meantime, apply an ice pack several times a day. And if you find sitting painful, your breast-feeding pillow makes a great postpartum seat.
As many as 10 percent of women experience hair loss after pregnancy, the result of a drop in hormone levels. But relax -- you aren't as bald as you feel. In fact, hair often thickens during pregnancy; in the months after giving birth, women are simply shedding that extra hair, explains obstetrician Shari Brasner, M.D. Things should return to normal after three months or so, but if your brush continues to resemble a small furry animal, consult your doctor. She may want to give you a thyroid test.
Copyright © 2002 Jennifer Cody Epstein. Reprinted with permission from the April 2002 issue of Parents magazine.
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