When you become a mother, it’s easy to feel cheated in some respects. Things happen to your body that you weren’t told about – everybody glosses it over as an amazing experience (which it is!), but that’s all that they focus on. Of course, there are some things which people are willing to let on to: the loss of hair after the birth, the painful boobs, bursting into tears over adverts and other things which aren’t meant to trigger such a reaction … it’s a lot to take in without having the gory bits added. There are those who genuinely can’t remember the grizzly details, with the memories only flooding back when they have their next baby, but others tend to keep it schtum. Why? We’re all in this together, and there are some things that are worth knowing ahead of the time.
Splits and Tears
There’s a high chance that you’ll either tear or have an episiotomy (be cut) during the birth. 9 out of 10 first time mums tear, with 60-70% needing stitches to get them back to rights. You’ll be given a numbing injection before you are stitched back up, and possibly offered gas and air to get you through the pain of the initial injection. Stitches have to be given great care and be regularly washed with plain warm water. They usually dissolve within 10 days. The best way to know if they’ve dissolved is to either feel them (it might sting a bit still) or get a hand mirror and take a look for yourself. Your midwife will do a check-up on them on your first home visit, and if you’ve got any problems or concerns then you will need to raise them with her to get sorted. The vagina is designed to stretch and tear and then repair, so it will go back to ‘normal’ eventually, and sooner than you think.
Forget your Lush bath bombs. They’ll need to stay put in the cabinet for a bit. If you want to have a bath, put in a few drops of lavender oil instead of anything that is heavily perfumed and contains unnatural ingredients – it’ll only sting when you get in and increase your chances of infection. As relaxing as a bath may be, be aware that while you are still losing your lochia discharge, you may have things floating around in the tub with you. That’s not to mean that this is a (quite gross) certainty, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. If you have a shower bath, it may be better just to do a quick wash down of yourself first with the shower head and then run yourself something to relax in. If you’ve had varicose veins during pregnancy, the heat of the bath can help with blood flow and reduce the appearance of them, even if only temporarily. There’s no need to add salt to your bath, it won’t hurt if you do, but you’d need so much salt for it to be of any benefit, that’s it not worth the effort. Don’t soak for too long with stitches in the early days, as they can dissolve too soon.
Don’t think that the bleeding stops as soon as you have given birth. It’ll go on for up to six weeks, and is a bit heavier than a normal period – and a bit different too, in that it’ll be thicker, more mucous-y and in most cases, a bit smellier too. However, if the smell is offensive, this is an indication that you may have a postpartum infection, so don’t hold back on raising this to your midwife’s attention. This discharge is called lochia, and you’ll have to have a good number of absorbent sanitary pads available to be able to deal with it. Lochia contains all of the uterine tissues which still need to make their way out of your body (nope, it doesn’t end with the placenta coming out), so don’t be too disconcerted when you see clots. Generally speaking, if a clot is bigger than a 50 pence piece, this is when you need to get in touch with your midwife or a GP just to check that everything is going okay.
Peeing & Pooing
It. Really. Hurts. Let’s just get that out of the way first. If you’ve had stitches, the best thing that you can do with you to alleviate the pain of peeing is to take a bottle or jug of warm water with you to pour onto you while you’re doing the deed. It’ll help take some of the acidity out of the urine which is causing the immense stinging pain that you’ll be feeling. Some women get away with this and don’t have much pain afterwards, whereas for others it’s one of the worst things that they can remember after the pregnancy. It depends on where you tore during the birth, as some women get what we call grazes near the urethra that aren’t serious but sting like buggery when you wee. Drinking a lot of water throughout the day can also help – incredibly so, actually. It’s recommended to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to keep your body fully hydrated. Try to aim for this or more (especially if you’re breastfeeding) to dilute your urine enough so that won’t be as concentrated and give you a hard time whenever you go.
Don’t try to keep it in – it’s easy to get scared of what’s to come, but remember that with each pee that you do, you’re a step closer to it all being a distance memory. Your first poo, however, is a different ball game. The anxiety may grow if you haven’t gone in a few days, but rest assured that it’s nothing to be too worried about, as long as you have been eating fibrous foods and drinking regularly. A lot of new mums have got a lot more on their plate than taking care of themselves, so it may be that you are a bit constipated – and this is where it can hurt. If you have had stitches, rest assured that these will stay in place; there are different muscles being used for you to be able to defecate, and you won’t make the tear any bigger or put a strain on them. If you haven’t been able to go after three days, get in touch with your midwife, who can organise a prescription for a laxative to take to make things easier. There are also over the counter medications you can try, but check with your Midwife or GP first.
It doesn’t matter if you’re breastfeeding or not – your milk will still come in as if you were. Your breasts will get hard and lump around day three or four, indicating that the milk is there and ready to go. For some women it may come earlier depending on if you’re breastfeeding and how often your baby is sucking/how good their latch is. This milk will leak. It’ll leak when: your baby is crying, you think about your baby, you haven’t fed in a while, you’re walking, you’re sitting; basically whenever the hell it wants to. It’s not something that you can control, but a good supply of breast pads should help you out, and it will eventually regulate more as you and your baby work out the supply and demand thing. If you’re breastfeeding, you can get breast shells to collect the unused milk (it’s like gold dust) to be able to use later.
This is all well and good, but there are some problems that can go hand in hand with your boobs. Mastitis is the main one; your breast will become red, sore and swollen, and it’ll hurt to feed. You may also feel flu-ish. You will need to get in touch with your GP as soon as you notice the signs. It can easily be confused with ductal thrush, but they are quite different and require different forms of medication to get sorted. Ductal thrush is not the same as nipple thrush, although it can spread from this – it can also be spread from your baby having thrush as well, and both of you will have to have treatment to avoid it being passed back and forth. Some liken the pain to what they assume broken glass being dragged through your milk ducts feels like. Let’s put it this way – you’ll definitely know if you’ve got it, and it will need to be treated ASAP.
This one of the side effects that is more commonly spread around, and one that a lot of people seem to remember. Due to a change in hormones, you hair is likely to start falling out after you’ve given birth. Your oestrogen levels go down, which were keeping hold of your old hair during your pregnancy. It’s not that you’re losing more hair than normal; they’re simply shedding pretty much all in one go than over the course of nine months. After round 6 months, your hair should go back to normal and you’ll find that you won’t be shedding as much as you have been since you had your baby. You’re more likely to notice this in the shower, so as another precaution, start clearing out your plughole a bit more regularly – you drain will thank you!
At the end of the day, it’s not all that bad. The symptoms come and go and you genuinely will forget quite a lot of them – either it’s your brain completely blocking it out or you realising that, in the whole scheme of things, it wasn’t too much of your life that was taken up by it. You tend to focus more on the needs of another little person in your life rather than your own, but it’s important to remember that everybody goes through one blip or another after giving birth – you’re not alone, and there are a whole host of us out there to testify that.
Disclosure: collaborative post, all opinions are my own. Not to be taken in place of medical advice. Contains affiliate links.