Body & Fitness

Your post-birth recovery plan

Follow these tips and you’ll be back to your best after labour in no time

You’ve done the tough bit and given birth. And if new mums got medals for having babies, you’d have earned gold, silver and bronze. But while you bond with your new arrival, your body is working overtime to recover from all that hard work.

Experts say the length of post-natal recovery depends on the type of delivery and whether there were any complications during the birth. Six weeks is the standard usually applied, as this is when stitches have healed, the uterus has returned to its original size and vaginal blood loss has settled down.

However, there are many variables and often lower back pain can carry on well past this time, as can haemorrhoids and sore nipples. The sleep deprivation can also delay recovery, so it’s not unusual to take longer than six weeks to feel “recovered”. Whether it’s post-birth tiredness or feeling blue, these tips will help you deal with the most common post-pregnancy complaints.

‘I keep bursting into tears’

The baby blues are very common, affecting as many as 80% of new mums. The majority of women will experience a tearful episode during the first week and it may continue for a few days. This is thought to be caused by the response to the drop in pregnancy hormones after the birth. But if you’re not feeling better after a week or two, mention it to your doctor or Plunket nurse and seek out advice.

‘I’m sore after the epidural’

Following a normal delivery and depending on when the last top-up was given, an epidural anaesthesia could take two hours to wear off. You’ll know it’s happening as you’ll start to feel tingling sensations in your legs and throbbing pain in your stomach. But you will remain in the labour ward until you have emptied your bladder and all the sensation has returned to your legs.

If you require pain relief again, you may be given Panadol, Panadeine Forte or Voltaren. After a Caesarean, the epidural will be topped up with strong pain-relieving medication for between 24 and 48 hours. You’ll then be given regular oral analgesics for a few days, reducing to “as required” once you’re back home.

‘I’ve got piles’

Piles, otherwise known as haemorrhoids, can appear during pregnancy or after labour. These protruding veins around the anus develop as a result of pressure. They can be sore and itchy, and may bleed.

A healthy diet can help prevent constipation, which may aggravate piles. Eat high-fibre foods including fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and oats, and drink two litres of fluid each day to keep stools soft. Topical creams will also help to relieve the pain and itchiness and, if you follow a healthy diet and don’t strain yourself, they should disappear in a couple of weeks. But if they start bulging out or are very painful, see your doctor.

‘I feel exhausted’

For the first 24 hours after the birth, you’ll probably be carried along by adrenaline and excitement but, once you get home, tiredness will finally hit. Don’t try doing everything on your own, and allow yourself to be pampered by all your friends and relatives. This is the time to ignore the housework and say yes to all offers of help! Eating low-GI foods that release energy slowly, such as oats and brown bread, will also help to combat exhaustion. And if you feel the need for a quick boost, have a banana.

‘My stitches are swollen’

If you’ve had an episiotomy – a surgical cut made to your perineum during delivery to make room for your baby to come out – or have torn during labour, you’ll be given stitches. The stitches will usually heal over after about two weeks, however, they can take a couple of months to completely dissolve. The area can be bruised, swollen and painful for several weeks, especially if there are haemorrhoids present too (see “I’ve got piles”). You can use ice for pain relief (try ice fingers made from the fingers of rubber gloves and placed into the middle of a sanitary pad) for the first 24 hours, then it’s important to wash the area regularly with warm water and change pads as frequently as possible. To prevent the acidic burn of urine, you may find it more comfortable to pass urine while showering or pouring warm water over the stitches. But if there is an increase in pain or any odour from the wound area, see your doctor in case there’s an infection.

‘I’m scared I’ll damage my scar’

After a Caesarean, your doctor will use either dissolvable stiches or special staples to seal the surgical opening. The wound will be covered by a dressing which will be removed after the first shower, usually on day two. A light dressing will then cover the suture line to prevent any ooze escaping and will be replaced each day until you go home. If not dissolvable, the sutures are removed around day six. Allow six weeks before driving, lifting heavy items or returning to regular exercise, and wait three months before undertaking strenuous exercise.

‘I still look pregnant’

Ignore celebs who seem to bounce right back after birth – you will still look pregnant for a while! It will take six weeks for the uterus to return to its usual size. The hormone oxytocin will help this along, especially during breastfeeds when it’s released into the bloodstream. This will result in cramping – like a period pain – which will also expel vaginal blood loss, which is often why you bleed more during feeds. This will help your body return to normal. Your stomach muscles will have stretched and separated by up to four centimentres during pregnancy, so getting a flat tummy will take even more time. It’s important to keep doing pelvic floor exercises and gentle tummy exercise (but not sit-ups just yet) as a strong tummy will protect your lower back from any further damage.

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