After childbirth, it’s common to experience vaginal bleeding and discharge (known as lochia). It will be heavier at first and then start to taper off.
It is important to pay attention to your body and to contact a doctor if something feels wrong. This could be a sign of life-threatening problems such as postpartum hemorrhage.
1. Feelings of sadness
Feeling sad or tearful for a few days after your baby is born can be normal and is known as the “baby blues”. This is caused by hormone changes and usually passes in a couple of weeks. If you have this feeling for more than a few weeks, it is important to talk to your midwife or health visitor so that they can check you aren’t suffering from Postnatal recovery depression.
If you’re worried you may be experiencing PND, try keeping a diary of how you feel and sharing it with your doctor. It will help them understand the severity of your symptoms and help guide them during treatment.
You may also find it helpful to seek support from family, friends or a local mother’s group. Getting enough sleep/rest, eating well, regular exercise and maintaining social connections can all aid your recovery from PND. In severe cases, anti-depressant medication may be prescribed by your GP or perinatal psychiatrist. You should also avoid putting pressure on yourself to return to work too soon, as this can be difficult for some women who are experiencing PND.
2. Changes in your bowel movements
In the days after birth, it’s quite normal for your bowel movements to be less frequent than usual. This is because your body has to get rid of the extra tissue and blood that nourished your baby during pregnancy. It may take a few weeks to return to your regular pattern.
It’s also common to experience painful bowel movements at first, especially if you had an episiotomy or a caesarean. You can help by eating plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrain bread, drinking lots of water and using a sitz bath – a squirt bottle that sprays the area after you pee to keep it clean and reduce pain.
You might start to develop piles (haemorrhoids) after birth, but these should go away on their own with time. You can help by wearing a supportive sanitary bra, not over-exerting and using an ointment that helps to ease the itching. It’s best not to use tampons until after your 6-week postnatal check as they can increase the risk of infection. Instead, use maternity pads or sanitary towels.
3. Swelling in your legs and feet
Swelling in your legs and feet is common after giving birth. The swelling, also known as edema, happens when fluid collects in the tissue. Most often, this affects your lower legs and feet. But it can happen anywhere on the body. Swelling is more likely if you sit or stand for long periods of time and after long airplane flights or car rides.
Some mild lower leg and foot swelling that comes and goes is not a big deal, but you should tell your health care provider if it’s painful or persistent. This is because it may be a sign of an underlying health condition such as a kidney problem or a blood circulation problem.
If you do have swelling, try to reduce the amount of salt in your diet and get up and move around during the day to improve the blood flow in your legs. You can also prop up your legs on pillows while you’re sitting or lying down. Avoid tight clothing, especially on your thighs, and wear compression stockings. You can also ice your legs frequently, and be sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep the swelling down.
4. Vaginal discharge
If you have a vaginal delivery, it’s normal for your body to produce fluid that leaks out of your uterus, cervix and vagina. This fluid cleans and lubricates your vagina, and it helps protect you from infection and fight off bacteria. But a change in your discharge could be a sign of a problem.
After your baby is born, your uterus sheds the thick lining that it maintained during pregnancy. This causes vaginal bleeding and discharge, called lochia. It’s usually bright red at first, then fades to pink, light brown or light yellow, and eventually stops after six weeks. You may also pass blood clots during this time, but these are usually no bigger than a quarter. If you’re bleeding heavily (soaking a pad in less than an hour) or passing clots larger than a quarter, contact your health care provider right away.
You should use sanitary pads rather than tampons during this period to reduce your risk of an infection. And be sure to sit on a stool or pillow for comfort while you’re urinating, especially when you’re using the perineum.
5. Changes in your menstrual cycle
It’s normal for your periods to start again around six weeks after your delivery, but you may not get your first period right away. When your menstrual cycle does return, it’s usually lighter than usual. It’s also common to experience pain and spotting, especially if you had a C-section.
The bleeding is called lochia and it’s heaviest for the first few days, then gradually gets lighter and less frequent as time passes. This is a normal part of the postpartum recovery process, but it’s important to talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
You may also notice that you’re still a little heavier than before, but don’t try to lose weight too fast. Doing so can cause stress and exacerbate any problems you’re experiencing with your body. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself and your baby, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. It’s also a good idea to schedule a follow-up appointment with your healthcare provider, and bring your baby along. They can make sure that your vagina or perineum is healing properly and your uterus is back to its normal size.