What happens after birth?

Labour and birthing your baby is a life changing experience. You will have pushed yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically during labour. You may feel a range of emotions once your baby is born including elation, relief, shock, exhaustion and happiness. You may experience any or all of these feelings and emotions or none of them at all. It can also be quite common to look at your baby and not feel anything. You might feel that the whole experience has been very overwhelming.

Physically you may experience some discomfort if you've had a tear in your perineum, you've had an episiotomy (a cut in your perineum between the vagina and anus to widen the area), or you might feel very sore and tender if you've had a caesarean.

Your baby has just transitioned from a warm, soothing, comfortable environment in your uterus to a new world that has unfamiliar sights, sounds and sensations that your baby might find strange. He or she may take it all in calmly or they may cry.

Your baby will find great comfort in hearing your voice as well as feeling your touch. Putting your baby on your naked chest immediately after he or she is born for some skin to skin contact will help regulate your baby's temperature, help your baby feel safe and assist with bonding and establishing breastfeeding.

Create a similar environment that your baby has been used to in your uterus. Dim the lights or close the blinds and maintain a calm, peaceful and quiet environment. Your baby will probably gaze into your eyes and in time should instinctively move towards and search for your nipple for his or her first feed. After your baby has been fed, you may choose to weigh, measure and then dress your baby.

Your body has spent 9 months growing and nurturing your baby and as soon as your baby is born changes will start to occur in your body. Regardless of the type of birth you have had, you will have a bloody discharge called lochia for a few weeks after birth. For the first 10 days it can be like a heavy period and then will lighten as the weeks pass. The more you rest in those days and weeks after giving birth, the lighter the lochia becomes.

Once you've given birth, your uterus starts to shrink back to its normal size and position. You may have what are called 'after pains' as your uterus starts to contract down. After pains can feel like mild labour contractions and they tend to happen when you are breastfeeding. This is due to the hormone oxytocin being released when your baby feeds.

Even though you will feel exhausted after labour, you may still feel wired and unable to sleep because of the high levels of adrenaline in your system. The adrenaline will start to wear off after about two to three days when your breast milk starts to come in (the initial first milk is called colostrum, creamy, thick, nourishing). As the adrenaline wears off you can feel very sore, tired and emotional. This is known as the 'three day blues' and is a time when you will need a lot of support and rest.

It is important to rest after giving birth. It is recommended that you stay in bed for one to two weeks after birth to help facilitate bonding and breastfeeding, and also giving your body time to heal, rest and recover.

If there has been any trauma to your body from an episiotomy, tear or caesarean section this can feel tender and sore for a few weeks. The more you rest, eat healthy foods, drink plenty of fluids and nurture yourself the quicker you will heal and recover.

Make sure you do your pelvic floor exercises daily to help tone your vagina and reduce swelling. If there has been any trauma to your perineum, having salt baths can help heal any tears and reduce infection. Also consider having your body checked by a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor after birth to help realign the pelvis, check your abdominal area and pelvic floor muscles.

If you've had a caesarean section you may find it uncomfortable to move in those first few days and you may be on painkillers for a few days or weeks. Try to move around as soon as possible to help with your recovery.

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