Other than childbirth, the postpartum phase was the next biggest thing I worried about throughout my pregnancy. It is so hard to find any information about what the postpartum phase is actually like. It is equally as hard to find out what you need specifically to care for yourself during the postpartum period. I am someone who likes to do my research and let me tell you, no one likes to talk about this topic.
I had no idea what to expect as a first time mom going through the postpartum phase. The unknown was terrifying. So I figured why not share my experience so other first time mom’s out there don’t have to worry so much about it? So hear you have what is quite possibly a little TMI postpartum guide!
My Childbirth Experience
I guess we should start with the type of birth I had since that will certainly impact the type of recovery and postpartum experience. I had a very long labour and delivery and not everything went as planned. Initially I wanted a natural/ unmedicated hotel birth – nope not a typo – but ended up in the hospital with an assisted vaginal birth. I had an episiotomy and 8 stitches, but my baby was born safe and sound after that whole ordeal so I was accepting of the rest.
Check out my 31 hour birth story to read more about what happened.
This post will not be discussing much about the postpartum care of your baby as its main focus will be on mom. I am aware a lot happens with baby, but that is not the focus of this piece.
What happens in the moments after birth
Once the baby is born, the placenta is delivered, you then receive any stitches you might need (sorry in advance cause those bad boys suck) and have some time to bond with your baby. Your health care provider (midwife, nurse, doula, etc.) will administer any intravenous fluids or medication you might need during this time as well. Your epidural and Foley catheter, if you had one, will be removed during this time as well if they were not already.
The healthcare staff will then assess the amount of blood you lost and help you into a new gown or clothing of your choice, mesh panties and extra large pads (more about this to follow). And continue to monitor your bleeding and vital signs over the next several hours.
After this you FINALLY get to eat and drink. Let me tell you, after years of working in the hospital as a nurse and hating the hospital food, I had never tasted something so amazing in my life as what I ate after having my baby. OMG. I was absolutely starving and I hadn’t realized it. If hospital food doesn’t seem like something you want to eat then come prepared – depending on what time you deliver there may be nothing open to order in food or in the hospital where you can make a purchase.
Shortly after this they will help you to walk to the bathroom to try and have your first pee. Don’t be alarmed when your nurse stays in there with you, you will need their help to learn how to properly care for yourself the first time you go to use the peri-bottle. Do yourself a favor, lean forward so the urine goes straight down and not on your lady bits because oh man did that sting my poor va-jj. If you are in a hospital they will be monitoring your urine output to make sure you are voiding an adequate amount. They do this by putting a little collection container in the toilet that you pee in.
If you can they will also want you to try and have a bowel movement. I know i sounds scary but honestly its not a big deal, just take the stool softeners and wait until you are ready to go. You just birthed a baby and likely pooped during labour (sorry but true), so at this point you shouldn’t be constipated but you certainly don’t want to strain!
The Birth Boot Camp is an amazing resource that has prenatal classes, breastfeeding courses, and newborn classes. Check them out here for more information. The best part is they can be done all online!
What happens next?
After some monitoring of you and the baby you will be discharged, usually about 24 – 48 hours later, if everything is going well.
The real fun begins when you get home! I feel like the easiest way to talk about all of the things you will be dealing with postpartum is to break it down into sections of what is actually being dealt with – Discharge, Pain, and Boobs.
Will I bleed? How much?
Yes, you will definitely bleed after having a baby, unfortunately there is no skipping that part. What I didn’t know was HOW MUCH BLOOD there would be. Seriously, prepare yourself. I had always had moderate to heavy periods so I thought it would be like that. Nope I was wrong. There is SO much blood, I felt like I was at a murder scene every time I went to the bathroom in those first few days.
How long will my bleeding last?
Now that I have probably freaked you out about all the blood you will be seeing, you are probably wondering when the heck it will end, am I right? Most women experience bleeding for a few weeks up to 6 weeks.
Don’t worry it isn’t as bad as it sounds. The first 24 hours is the worst and then it slowly tapers off from there. I found that when I would increase my activity my bleeding would increase as well so make sure to take it easy in those first few days. Keep in mind that your uterus has a wound where the placenta was attached so it needs time to heal.
What should my discharge look like?
As you progress through the postpartum stage the bloody discharge you experience will change in both color and amount until it eventually stops. This is because the discharge is a combination of blood, fluid, mucus and tissue.
How should I be caring for my lady bits?
Always follow the care guidelines recommended by your healthcare provider, but this is what I was directed to do.
Keep things clean
You won’t be able to wipe in those first few days and trust me when I say you won’t want to anyways. You should be provided with a peri-wash bottle from your hospital. I used this to rinse off after every time I used the bathroom – for both #1 & # 2. Then I allowed the area to drip dry. After the first 3 days were over I would gently pat the area with toilet paper after my little rinse action.
Pro tip: The standard/ hospital provided Peri-wash bottles do not spray well unless held completely upside down. After several days of struggling with the crappy hospital one, I ordered this one. Seriously, it made my life so much easier. I just had a baby, the last thing I wanted to do was acrobatic positions to try and properly rinse off my vag. Not to mention I wanted to keep things clean because I did not want an infection down there, she had been through more than enough trauma.
- Days 1 to 10 postpartum
The first few days your flow will be the heaviest and the most frustrating to deal with. At the hospital they provide you with GIANT pads that go front to back in some mesh panties. They sent me home with some of those bad boys and quite frankly I hated them.
At home I was more mobile and the pads kept sliding around or getting bunched up. My first night home I leaked onto the bed because of it moving. Now on top of dealing with my newborn baby I was also changing and washing sheets in the middle of the night. Not to mention the adhesive on it would pull at my stitches. This just wasn’t working for me at all!
So what is the solution? Adult diapers. Yep they are amazing. They are thin, absorbent, and comfortable (in comparison). Plus your not fiddling around with pads. Just slide them on and your good to go. I had no leaking and no frustrations. I was in these bad boys for the first week. Plus if you have any urine leaking issues (sorry mama, another thing you might have to deal with if you have a vaginal birth) your covered there as well.
- Days 10 + postpartum
Every ones flow will be different, so it is hard to say exactly what day you will graduate out of your giant pads or adult diapers. But when your flow starts to slow, you know you are ready. I switched when mine was like a heavy period flow. Then I just treated it like my period. First I used overnight pads, then regular pads, then panty liners. I used panty liners for what felt like a million years because just when I thought my discharge would end, it would start up again – be prepared for that.
DO NOT INSERT TAMPONS OR MENSTRUAL CUPS. These items are not safe until you are cleared by your healthcare provider to use them. I know diapers and pads suck, but you put yourself at risk for infection or causing damage using these items too soon.
You want to make sure the clothing you wear is not too tight and is breathable. With all the discharge and tenderness down there you don’t want anything rubbing or holding in moisture.
Check out my post on What to Pack in your Hospital Bag for more ideas on what type of clothing you should be wearing postpartum.
There is no way to sugar coat it, your going to have some pain. Having a vaginal birth requires some recovery time, but there are some things you can do to manage the pain and make it more comfortable. You should start feeling more “normal” around the one week mark.
DON’T END UP WITH A VAGINAL TEAR! Find out how to prevent it here!
Use Recommended Pain Relievers
Your healthcare provider may or may not prescribe you some medications or recommend that you take some over the counter pain medication such as Tylenol or Advil.
They may also recommend a numbing spray to soothe the area. This was the one that I purchased and it worked wonders. I used it after every time I used the washroom in those first few days. Something about the numbing with the cooling effect provided such relief!
Pro Tip: Don’t be a hero, those first few days are painful and the last thing you want is to not be able to enjoy your time with your little one because you are in agony. I would suggest using something to manage the pain for at least the first 48 hours and then slowly taper it off based on how you are feeling. You need to take care of yourself so that you can properly take care of your little one.
In the first 24-48 hours postpartum it is safe to apply ice packs to the area to reduce the swelling. It feels totally amazing!
Pro tip: If you don’t have one you can actually make one by using a newborn diaper. This way when the ice melts the liquid is absorbed into the diaper = no mess! Simply peel away the cover over top of the inner stuffing at the back of the diaper (where the tabs are) – you just want to make a little opening. Then fill with ice and fold over the little opening onto itself and seal it shut using the tabs. This is actually an old school nursing trick for when you run out of real ice packs!
Yet another thing women have to endure. These mean little buggers can be quite the nuisance. Dealing with them early on can not only give you relief but prevent you from needing any surgical intervention if the worsen. Every time I went to the washroom I would use tucks pads on my hemorrhoids. It helped with swelling, provided pain relief with a nice cooling effect and helped them to shrink.
To use them I would hold the pad right on the hemorrhoid for about 30 seconds. I believe the instructions say to rub but I didn’t do that because I didn’t want to irritate my stitches. Then I would line up three of those circular miracle workers onto my very sexy diaper or pad and let them sit in there against my body for about 20 minutes or so and then discard them.
Pro tip: these help numb your lady bits too. Trust me they feel awesome.
If you do not see improvement to your hemorrhoids after a week or two, consult your physician as they may prescribe an ointment you can apply that is safe for your recovering body.
Relax and limit physical activity
You just had a baby, take it easy and relax. Your body just went through a beautiful but long journey and needs time to heal and adjust.
On my third day postpartum I felt normal, aside from my diaper I was sporting, so I made my husband come out for a walk and put my daughter in our carrier that I strapped to me. We walked outside for 1 hour. Oh My God. I was dying after. I felt so sore and no matter what I did I could not get comfortable and my bleeding increased. Honestly it was awful. Don’t overdo it. I wasted the next 2 days being uncomfortable – it totally wasn’t worth it!
Whether or not you are going to breastfeed your breasts are going to be going through some massive changes (pun intended).
Planning to breastfeed? Check out my post on how to become a breastfeeding expert while you are pregnant here.
Increase in size
When your milk comes in, your breasts may enlarge by one to two cup sizes. Crazy I know! For me they were rock solid, it was insane and no one had warned me about this. Maybe it is common sense but it was certainly something I overlooked.
Because your body is just learning to produce milk, it isn’t quite sure how much milk your baby needs just yet. This may result in your body overproducing milk and making your breasts feel engorged or tender.
Pro Tip: wear a stretchy type bra so the compression doesn’t cause your breasts discomfort as they enlarge. Also, if you are breastfeeding, your breasts will change size throughout the day as they empty and fill up with milk, a stretchy bra can provide support while allowing for these changes to happen.
So obviously your body is producing milk to feed your baby and will release it when baby is eating, but did you know you can leak milk or have a let down at other times too? That’s right, and sometimes it isn’t at the most ideal times. Like shopping and you see an item that makes you think about your baby and BAM leaky boobs. Yup that happened to me in walmart and I was walking around with huge wet spots on my shirt. It sucked.
Pro tip: wear breast pads. I prefer the reusable ones at home – they are softer and create less waste. When I am out i like disposable ones so I can easily change them if needed, plus there is an adhesive on them that holds them in place in my bra.
I knew the milk had to be released, but as a first time mom, no one prepared me for what that would feel like. It is such a strange sensation, I don’t understand how no one even thinks to mention this. For me initially it would feel like when you get a static shock touching an elevator button spreading from the top of my breast all the way to my nipple. Now that my breast milk is well established it feels more like minor pins and needles. This sensation only lasts a few seconds, but I was a little freaked out when it first happened.
Clogged Milk Duct
There is no nice way to put this, they completely suck. Even if you aren’t breastfeeding, if your milk comes in, you might experience this when you are “drying up”. Signs of a clogged duct are:
- Redness and tenderness to a specific area of the breast
- Increase in warmth to a specific area of the breast
- Swelling to a specific area of the breast
- Tender lump or hard spot to a specific area of the breast
- Milk bleb (small white pimple looking spot) on the nipple
- Slower milk flow on one side
- Fever *this may indicate sign of infection – call your doctor*
You can likely resolve the clog at home without seeking medical attention if you catch it early. However, a clogged milk duct can develop into mastitis or other infection that may need medical treatment so please seek medical attention if you have concerns. At home you can try:
- Applying a heat pad or hot water in the shower to affected breast
- Massaging the breast from top of the clog moving to ward the nipple
- Using different breastfeeding positions that allow the babies nose to point towards the clog
- Go bra-less or wear a stretchy bra without underwire
- Feed baby more frequently or pump on the side with the clog *be careful as neglecting the other side too much could result in decrease supply or a clog in that side*
- Make sure to empty the breast fully with each feed
I know this all sounds terrible and like you are going to be miserable, but trust me, you really don’t care that much once you have that little bundle of joy in your arms.
Getting ready to deliver? Check out my post on How to Write a Birth Plan for important things you NEED to consider before going into labour!
Have you previously had a baby? I would love to hear what your postpartum experience was like in the comments!