What happens after the birth of a baby? What physical changes can a woman expect? What needs will her body have as she recovers from birth? These are all good questions that women often ask before or after giving birth. There are many physical changes a woman will experience as her body recovers from giving birth. She has many health needs that she will need to attend to while taking care of a newborn. Her emotions will vary as her hormones adjust to delivery and postpartum. She may experience both highs and lows and may even feel what many refer to as the “baby blues”. Her doctor or midwife will be her first source of information regarding the postpartum period of time (the six weeks following birth).
It is important that the woman rest during the six-week recovery period. She will need the rest for her physical and emotional recovery and well being. While she is resting she can get to know her baby. Her need for rest is the main reason why most families help out at this time with meals, childcare, and housework.
After birth the woman will experience many physical changes to her body including a vaginal discharge called “lochia”. This discharge will be a combination of blood and tissue that was part of the lining of the uterus during her pregnancy. The flow will be bright red and may fluctuate between being heavy and light and then become lighter in both color and flow as it slowly goes away. Other physical changes include possible feet swelling which can be reduced by elevating the feet as much as possible. She may also become constipated if she isn’t drinking enough water. She can also avoid constipation by eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. She may experience abdominal cramping while breastfeeding. If breastfeeding the milk supply should come in between day 3 and day 6 after delivery. Breasts may become tender and feel full even if not breastfeeding. The healthcare team prior to discharge if a hospital birth should give instructions. If a home birth or birthing center birth the midwife should give postpartum instructions regarding activity such as driving, climbing stairs and other physical activity. Usually there are some restrictions until the 2-week postpartum checkup. Typically women can resume normal physical activity after the 6-week checkup.
Most women will lose approximately ten pounds right after birth because of the weight of the baby, placenta and blood and other fluids. It is safer to lose additional weight gradually over the next couple of months. Women who breastfeed may lose weight a little faster due to the energy needed for breastfeeding. Women should not go on a diet while breastfeeding because calories are needed for the breast milk. If you lose too much weight harmful environmental toxins can be released into your breast milk if you lose too much weight too fast. A safe amount of weight to lose is about one pound per week and no more than four pounds per month. After delivery women should make sure they consume at least 1800 calories per day by eating a well-balanced diet. Especially important will be foods rich in calcium, folate, magnesium, Vitamin B6, and zinc. The body can be at risk for nutritional deficiency if the daily caloric rate drops below 1500 calories per day. Nutritional deficiency puts the woman at risk for a lower resistance to disease and a lower energy level.
The “baby blues” also called postpartum depression can occur. Signs include feeling irritable, restless, sad, depressed, and having no energy. Headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations, and fast or shallow breathing may also be signs of postpartum depression. If she suffers from postpartum depression she may also not be able to eat or she may be overeating. She may not be interested in the baby or she may be overly concerned about the baby. She may express feelings of worthlessness or not having any interest in activities. She may have thoughts of harming herself or the baby. Therapy and medication can treat these symptoms and a woman should seek help immediately.