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.

By Alexa Joy Sherman
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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


"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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Changes You Weren't Expecting

  • Your New Skin Marks: Your belly, breasts, and butt can look like a road map during pregnancy. Sadly, these purplish-red streaks won't magically disappear after you have your baby. "But over time, they'll fade and become less noticeable," says Adelaide Nardone, M.D., clinical instructor of obstetrics and gynecology at Brown University. Don't waste money on prescription ointments. They're not safe if you're nursing, and regular moisturizers work just as well anyway.
  • Your New Shape: Even after you tackle the bulk of your, well, baby bulk, don't be surprised if your favorite clothes fail to flatter you the way they used to. Your body may be curvier now in your breasts or hips. Changes in fat deposits play a role, as does decreased muscle tone. Be patient with yourself--you'll get there.
  • Your New Hair: Enjoy the lush strands your high estrogen levels bestow on you now; around 12 weeks after you deliver, estrogen drops and hair begins to grow and shed more quickly (read: clogged shower drain). If the fallout doesn't ease up after three to six months, see your doctor. It could mean you're low on iron. To commiserate about lost hair (or other postbirth woes) with moms who delivered when you did, go to americanbaby.com/momclub.

When Can I...

...shower? You can shower as soon as you want to. Pat yourself dry, especially if you had an episiotomy. C-section moms: Don't scrub your incision; just let water run over it.

...drive? Wait a week after birth, two to three weeks if you've had a C-section, says Robert Atlas, M.D., ob-gyn chair at Mercy Medical Center, in Baltimore. "You use your abs to move your foot from the gas to the brake."

...have sex? This one falls into the "wait until your six-week checkup" category, when a doc can make sure all's clear. It's okay if you want to start later. And "sex" doesn't have to include actual intercourse!

...take the Pill? You're fertile, so be sure to use birth control. The Pill is fine unless you're nursing, in which case ask for a progesterone-only pill, because estrogen can inhibit milk production.

...drink? In theory, after the baby comes out. If you're breastfeeding, having a drink two or three hours before you nurse won't hurt, but no more than that until after you've weaned.

...work out? Whether you delivered vaginally or via C-section, skip the gym for at least six weeks, when your body's done most of its healing. Start slowly with walking and stretches.

New-Mom Red Alert

If you experience any of these issues during the six weeks after you give birth, call your doctor immediately. They can signal a health problem.

  • Chills or fever of 100.5?F or higher
  • Sudden heavy bleeding (soaking more than
    one pad an hour) or lots
    of large clots
  • Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • Severe pain or redness surrounding, or discharge from, a C-section incision or an episiotomy
  • Fainting, nausea, or vomiting
  • Frequent urination or burning during urination
  • Constipation that lasts seven days or longer
  • Swelling, redness (or red streaks), and pain in your breasts, accompanied
    by fever
  • A tender, swollen, or red area on your leg
  • Persistent headaches or vision changes
  • Excessive swelling of the face, fingers, or feet
  • Intense sadness or feeling that you can't care for your baby

Originally published in American Baby magazine in October 2011. Updated in April 2014.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

American Baby


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