The first weeks after giving birth – The midwife’s advice
For the first many weeks after giving birth, your life will be a mix of emotions and changes. You may experience overwhelming feelings of powerlessness, doubt, but most importantly – happiness. You have created and given birth to a baby who is 100% dependable on you for survival. It is wonderful and for some it can also feel anxiety-provoking.
When you have a baby, the first weeks – or perhaps even years – are tough. Your life now primarily consists of a crying baby, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and diapers. It is a wonderful, but hard time. In this blog post, I will prepare you for what you can expect during the first few weeks of motherhood - and share things that are good to know after giving birth.
What happens to your body after giving birth
After giving birth, you will either spend the first few days at the hospital or at home. When you can take your new-born baby home depends on the procedure at the hospital, and whether it has been a complicated or uncomplicated birth. Either way, your body has just been through hard work and a great achievement, and your body will be marked by this for a while. Here are some of the things to expect in the first few days after giving birth.
During the pregnancy your body changes and it will take some time for these changes to disappear and in some cases they never do. In the first weeks after giving birth, you will still look pregnant. Your uterus needs time to fully contract, the organs must fall back into place, and the abdominal muscles have been separated. It will take a few weeks before your stomach looks reasonably normal, and over time, the stretch marks will diminish in colour and size. In general, carrying and giving birth to a baby might leave marks and impact how your body looks afterwards.
The first few days after giving birth, you will experience some bleeding, which will subside and become less and less during the next few weeks. It is also quite normal for a few large lumps of blood to appear, as collections of blood may have clotted inside the uterus. They will primarily appear when you stand up and/or when you are in the shower. I understand that this might seem a bit scary, but know that this is completely normal, as long as it decreases after a few days - just keep an eye on the development. Contact your doctor if the bleeding does not decrease after a few days, or if you keep experiencing blood clots, as this may be a sign of remnants of the placenta or amniotic membrane inside the uterus that needs to be removed.
Ruptures and risk of infection
After giving birth, your body needs time to heal. If you had stitches, these will either dissolve on their own within a few weeks or will need to be removed by the doctor. You will be informed about this after you have given birth.
Make sure to buy plenty of large sanitary pads that fit your pregnancy underwear. I recommend putting some sanitary pads in the freezer before the birth - ice cold pads, wrapped in a piece of cloth or a sock, can have a soothing effect on the rupture in the days after birth. You should also avoid using tampons and menstrual cups due to the risk of infection. The same goes for unprotected sex and a trip to the swimming pool.
Signs of infection can be that the rupture becomes big and swollen or begins to smell. In that case, you should contact your doctor.
Giving birth is hard work, and you will be sore all over your body afterwards. Many compares childbirth to running a marathon, and you must expect that your body and mind are sore and exhausted in the following days. That is why, I can recommend you prepare for your baby before he/she comes to the world.
It is also common to have after-birth pains/belly cramps. After-birth pains are often worse if you have given birth before, and it is similar to the pain you feel during labour. It is, as with real contractions, the uterus that contracts. It is recommended to take both Paracetamol and Ibuprofen after the birth as pain relief.
Skin to skin contact with your baby
Skin to skin contact has positive effects for both you and your baby. When you and your baby lie together skin to skin, it will release oxytocin (the pleasure hormone). This has a pain-relieving effect, that causes your uterus to contract, and helps to stimulate milk production. In addition, skin to skin contact helps to stable blood sugar and temperature of the baby and increase the connection between parent and child.
Since the baby sleeps a lot during the first few weeks, skin to skin is a really good way to keep your baby close while he/she sleeps, with the opportunity to get to know each other and for you to learn how to read your baby's signals. In this way, your baby gets to know your scent and has free access to the breast, which is super important in the first days until the milk comes in.
Toilet visits after giving birth
During the first few days, it will most likely sting when you go to the toilet, no matter if you have ruptured or just had small tears/skin abrasions after giving birth. You can relieve some of the pain by using a rinsing bottle or a shower with lukewarm water and rinse while you pee.
The first few times you go to the toilet and do number two, you might also be afraid that the rupture will burst open. It might feel like everything is falling out, but it does not, so try not to worry about that. You can use toilet paper or a pad to "hold against" the perineum, as this can give you the feeling that everything will stay in place. In addition, it is important to eat high fibre foods and drink a lot of water to keep your stomach going and not get constipated.
Experienced mothers make breastfeeding look very easy, but just as with every other skill, you need to practice and learn. Getting started with breastfeeding can be challenging, and both you and your baby need to practice and learn together.
Getting started on breastfeeding
Soon after giving birth, it is time to start breastfeeding your baby. To get off on a good start, keep an eye on your baby’s sucking technique. If breastfeeding is painful, or your nipples are crooked or have sores, the sucking technique may not be right. Your midwife or health nurse can give you advice on proper sucking techniques.
For the first few days, your baby lives on colostrum, which is a thick yellow milk, that comes in very small amounts. After 3-4 days the “real” milk comes in, and it is important that your baby has free access to your breast and breastfeeds often. In addition, you need to change from breast to breast frequently - but only until the real milk comes in. Babies are born with glycogen reserves and an extra layer of fat (in some countries referred to as a “lunch box”), which helps them get through the first few days until the milk comes in. As babies consume these inner reserves, it is completely normal for them to lose weight during the first week after birth. The baby will gain weight again once the breastfeeding is well established.
Once the milk comes in, it is important that your baby stays and empties one breast before shifting side. Often, the breast is mostly emptied where the baby’s chin is. Therefore, it is a good idea to change your breastfeeding position so that the breast is emptied from all sides.
How often do you breastfeed?
In the beginning, your baby must breastfeed at least 8 times a day, preferably more.
When the milk has come, you must breastfeed at least 6 times a day, every 4 hours - but preferably more often. Recent studies show that a new-born’s stomach benefits from frequent breastfeeding, and it is not unusual to breastfeed every hour during the day and night. Breast milk is easily digestible, which means your baby needs small and frequent meals. As the colostrum changes into the transition milk, and the milk production enlarges, the baby's stomach will expand slowly.
If you allow your baby free access to breastfeeding, your milk production will be regulated according to your baby's needs. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you produce, and the less you breastfeed the less milk you produce. That's how simple it is. If you experience producing too much or too little milk, it is a good idea to contact a midwife or health nurse for advice.
Finally, breastfeeding contains many other good things than just food. Frequent breastfeeding is not only about stomach capacity, but also your baby's need for security, closeness, and rest.
Breastfeeding at night
As a baby's stomach is small and cannot contain large amounts of milk, it is normal for babies to frequently wake up at night and demand food. Although it will deprive you from a good night’s sleep, night-time breastfeeding is highly recommendable, as it has several benefits for you and your baby. First of all, your milk production will increase during the night and night-time breastfeeding helps boost your milk supply. It can also help calm your baby, as breastfeeding contains sleep-promoting and calming hormones.
When you breastfeed at night, it can be a good idea to lie down and have low lighting so that your baby quickly learns that it is night and time for sleep.
How do I know that my baby is hungry?
It is a good idea to start breastfeeding when your baby starts showing early signs of being hungry, as it will otherwise likely evolve intro crying, which makes breastfeeding hard. There are different signs that your baby needs to be breastfed:
- Your baby smacks and licks the lips
- Your baby opens and closes his/her mouth
- Your baby sucks on lips, tongue, and hands
- Your baby seeks the breast of the person carrying it
- Your baby tries to get in the right position for breastfeeding
- Your baby becomes restless and bounces
- Your baby whines and breaths quickly
- Your baby moves his/her head feverishly from side to side
- Your baby cries
If breastfeeding is not working
Sometimes breastfeeding does not work out, or there is no desire to breastfeed at all. There can be different reasons for this, and for some women it feels like a defeat. As a new and vulnerable mother, it is perfectly okay to feel disappointed that breastfeeding did not work out, if this was something you were looking forward to. Just remember that everyone is built differently, and that breastfeeding does not make you a better mother.
Your baby’s well-being – good to know as a first-time mother
New mothers are often concerned about their baby’s well-being and whether the baby is thriving.
- Does my baby get enough to eat?
- Does my baby gain weight?
- Is it normal for the baby to sleep so much?
Below you can learn what to expect and look for during the first few weeks.
Sleep and eye contact
In the beginning, it is perfectly normal for your baby to spend most of the time sleeping. But he or she must also have periods of being awake and alert. Your baby is not yet able to maintain eye contact at all and the eyes will flutter around. Eye contact will increase over the next few weeks and eye contact and presence are very important for your baby's development.
Signs that your baby is thriving
- Your baby is interested in and wakes up for breastfeeding at least 6-8 times a day.
- Your baby is calm most of the time and is not slack, restless or constantly crying.
- Your baby has at least 6 wet diapers per day and has stools that fit the age.
- Your baby has a normal skin colour (not grey, pale, or very yellow).
The umbilical cord care
After the umbilical cord has been cut, a small lump remains in the belly button. This lump will dry in and fall off over the next few weeks. Keep it clean and dry and be careful that the diaper is not placed tightly over the belly button - it must either be placed loosely over or folded under. Blood may appear when the umbilical lump begins to fall off, and this can be gently wiped with a cotton swab and clean water. It might also smell.
If the umbilical lump has not yet fallen off when you bathe your baby, it is important that you do not use the same water to wash your baby’s face as used for the body. The face must be cleaned with fresh water to avoid the risk of causing an eye inflammation.
Heat rash and hormonal spots (baby acne)
Your baby's skin, both face and body, may be filled with either hormonal spots or heat rash. Hormonal spots are completely normal and caused by hormones from the mother. Heat rash can occur if the baby has been wrapped a little too well and becomes too warm. Try feeling in the neck of your baby - if it is warm and dry, your baby is comfortable. If it is hot and sweaty, your baby is too hot, and if it feels cold, your baby is too cold. New-borns have difficulty regulating their own temperature and are easily affected by the environment. That is why it is important to be aware of whether your baby is too hot or too cold, both when you lie skin to skin or when you go for a walk outside with a stroller.
If the skin turns yellow
Most babies turn slightly yellow 2-3 days after birth. This is a sign of physiological jaundice, which occurs in about 60% of all new-borns and disappears on its own within a few weeks. If your baby is not pronouncedly yellow in the eyes and on the body it is not lethargic. If you are concerned, contact your doctor to have it checked up on. Frequent breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of jaundice in new-borns.
Visits from family and friends
As soon as your baby is born, it is normal that everyone wants to visit with gifts and congratulations, and you are probably also eager to show your beautiful baby to family and friends. However, it may be a good idea to limit the visits in the first few weeks, as rest and sleep is essential for the breastfeeding to get up and running and for you to adjust to your new life as a parent. Before you have people over, it is a good idea to consider how you feel about breastfeeding in front of family or friends, what you expect from your guests, and what they might expect from you?
Having a new-born baby is hard enough without having to take care of guests. Let them take care of you instead and ask them to bring bread or cake and make their own coffee. Do not mind that you did not vacuum before they came or did the laundry. Invite only the most important to visit you in your baby bubble and enjoy the peace and quiet together as a family. Asking for help is a good thing, just ask Single Mother by Choice Ellen, who describes how it takes a village to raise a child.
If you enjoyed our blog piece on the first weeks after giving birth, we can recommend other blog pieces from our midwife Julie. Maybe this blog piece on diet and pregnancy or our blog piece on what you need to know before giving birth.
My name is Julie, and I am a trained midwife working at Cryos Customer Care. I have been a midwife for 6 years and have experience from many different maternity wards, including a stay in Uganda. I provide Cryos’ blog with expert knowledge about fertility, pregnancy and birth. I hope to bring you a step closer to make your dream of having a baby come true.Julie