My Expert Midwife is an award-winning brand providing natural skincare products to help tackle the side effects of pregnancy, birth and being a new mum. Karen McEwen, one of My Expert Midwife’s in-house registered midwives, has shared her expert knowledge on looking after your body and mind after giving birth.
Being pregnant and birthing a baby can be exhausting. However, after the birth and as a new mum you need to prioritise your recovery. Whether you have had a vaginal birth or a caesarean section, you will most likely be coping with some considerable soreness during this time, as well as perhaps tender nipples and the remains of some pelvic pain from the pregnancy. All whilst feeding and caring for your newborn’s needs around the clock too.
All these physical symptoms may also contribute towards a lower mood, with women often describing heightened emotions, anxieties and tensions during the postnatal period. So, when we understand the pressures on a new mum, we can see how this time needs to be one of rest and recouperation to help recovery.
Planning for recovery in the postnatal period is therefore a wise strategy to help you to optimise this time and to engage help from those around you. To help you recover from pregnancy, labour and birth, you need others to take care of house chores, food preparation and anything else that requires time away from baby and from resting. You need loved ones to be a ‘sounding board’ so you can debrief and share your experiences and emotions. You may also need reassurance – that you are doing great, that it will get easier and that you are loved no matter what.
Once you feel secure, you can turn your focus to your own physical and emotional recovery during this period for however long it takes, which can vary from one person to another.
Caring for your physical health
Depending on what type of labour or birth you had means your needs can vary greatly. Straightforward births are usually easier to recover from, but more complicated births can take longer. Here are some tips to provide you with a little more comfort in the early days:
Pain relief – Remember to take regular pain relief that you’ve been prescribed or bought over the counter. This will help to relieve any soreness and help you manage your pain effectively.
Comfortable positions – Find a position that is comfortable for you, especially if breastfeeding for long periods. A side lying position is often good and will relieve any pressure on your bottom if you have stitches.
Stitches – Keep the area where you’ve had stitches clean by bathing or showering at least twice a day to minimise the risk of infection.
Hygiene – Change sanitary pads regularly - at least every four hours - as this reduces the likelihood of getting an infection. Wash your hands before and after going to the toilet.
Check for anything unusual – If you feel as though you’re becoming more sore as each day goes by, notice an unusual smell, oozing or becoming more swollen, make sure you see your midwife or GP.
Pelvic floor – Think about starting to practice your pelvic floor exercises as soon as you feel able to. This will help you feel more in control of your bladder both now and in later life.
Eating – Eat healthily and drink plenty of fluids to help your body heal from any wounds such as episiotomy, tears and caesarean section surgery.
If you have had a caesarean section, you need to remember this is a major surgical procedure, which is likely to take longer to heal afterwards than a vaginal birth. You may find your movement is much more restricted, so you need to take more care when walking around and when getting in and out of bed etc. If possible, you may need more help for a longer period of time from your family and friends. Check your wound daily to make sure it is healing well. There should not be any redness that is spreading or any smells or oozing coming from the wound site. If you are worried, contact your midwife or GP for advice.
Caring for your mental health
It is very common for women to feel tearful for a few days after the birth, so don’t be alarmed if you suddenly burst into tears for no apparent reason. This is not unusual and is known as the ‘baby blues’. It is caused by the powerful cocktail of hormones your body produces during pregnancy, which are now changing to a different mix of hormones needed for postnatal recovery and breastfeeding.
However, it’s wise to recognise there is a difference between this and postnatal depression (PND). PND affects up to 1 in 10 women to varying degrees and can last for several months or longer. Taking a few steps in the early days can help you to optimise your emotional recovery but also recognise when you may need extra support:
Help – We can be quite reserved when it comes to asking for help, but those close to you love to help out new parents when asked. Explain during your pregnancy to friends and family that you will need time to heal and recover.
Bonding – Protect the early days after the birth when bonding as a family by not having too many visitors early on.
Time for self – Try to make space in the day – at least 30 minutes – for you to prioritise your own recovery needs.
Baths – Take a warm soak in the bath. Sounds simple, but this can help to soothe aching, stretched muscles, or ease a healing caesarean section wound. You can add a scoop of My Expert Midwife Soak For Bits containing tea tree, bergamot, calendula and arnica which have been shown to provide relief from soreness and reduce swelling.
Watch out for signs – Be aware that if you have previously had PND, depression, anxiety, mental health problems or other social problems affecting your life you need to watch out for signs that you may need help regarding your mental health needs. If you do feel low in mood for longer than a few days, talk to your midwife or GP who will be able to help you and signpost you to other organisations, so you are able to get the right help and support.
So, remember after the birth it’s not just all about the baby, it is essential you take care of your own physical and mental health needs, so you are in the best shape to continue your journey into family life.