How to recover after giving birth

Your body goes through an incredible experience during birth and recovery may take time. Here’s what can happen to your body after birth and how to recover

Birth brings your wonderful new baby into the world but it can also bring some significant physical symptoms. The symptoms can include exhaustion, urinary incontinence, headaches, hair loss, back pain, sore breasts, caesarean-section or episiotomy site pain and vaginal bleeding (Martin et al, 2014).

You’re not alone if you didn’t feel prepared for managing these symptoms. After all, you don’t know when you might develop the symptoms, how long they might last, and how they’ll affect you (Martin et al, 2014). And some symptoms are a cause for concern.

What are the serious physical complications after giving birth?

The more serious physical complications of birth to watch out for and to get emergency medical help for can include:

  • Haemorrhage – you might have sudden and heavy blood loss, with other signs like faintness, dizziness, palpitations or your heart beating really fast. Read more about vaginal bleeding after birth here.
  • Infection – you might have a fever, be shivering, and have pain in your tummy or unpleasant vaginal discharge.
  • Pre-eclampsia or eclampsia – you might get headaches with changes in vision and/or nausea or vomiting in the first 72 hours after you give birth.
  • Blood clot in your leg (DVT) – you might have pain, swelling or redness in the calf muscle of one of your legs.
  • Blood clot in your lung – you might have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or chest pain.

(NICE, 2015)

Common symptoms after giving birth

It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional if you’re worried about complications or any symptoms you’re getting. During your appointments with them after you give birth, healthcare professionals should ask you about your health and offer you information to help you stay healthy. It’s also important to get out and meet other mums and babies and to plan social activities.

Here’s what can help with some of the common health concerns among women who have recently given birth…

Urine retention straight after birth

Having a warm shower or bath can help if you can’t wee (urine retention) after giving birth. If that doesn’t work, it’s best to ask a healthcare professional as a catheter may be helpful (NICE, 2015).

Painful vagina and/or surrounding area (perineum)

Ask a healthcare professional to check your perineum for signs of infection and problems with healing if you have pain in this area. Crushed ice or cold gel pads and paracetamol can help. Here are some more tips for helping your perineum to heal after a tear.

If your perineum doesn't get better, you might be offered medication to help reduce any inflammation (NICE, 2015).

Constipation

Try to think about your diet and make sure you drink plenty of fluids if you’re constipated. You might be offered a gentle laxative if changes in diet don't help you (NICE, 2015).

Urinary and faecal incontinence

It’s not too early to restart your pelvic floor exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor so you don’t wee accidentally. It’s good to get advice from a healthcare professional about incontinence if you’re at all worried or unsure (NICE, 2015).

Fatigue and tearfulness

This can be an emotional rollercoaster of a time and some people are recovering from a traumatic birth. You can read more in our article about the emotions you might experience after giving birth and what you can do if things are difficult.

If you’re tired and teary, you could try to take some gentle exercise, take time to rest, and get plenty of help with caring for your baby if you can. If anaemia is causing problems such as tiredness, you might be offered iron supplements (NICE, 2015).

Rectal pain, bleeding, haemorrhoids

Increasing the amount of fluid and fibre in your diet can help with rectal pain, bleeding and haemorrhoids. Ask a healthcare professional to check your rectal area and refer you for more help if you’re still having problems despite changing your diet (NICE, 2015).

Backache and musculoskeletal problems

If you’ve got back pain or other musculoskeletal pain after giving birth and don’t know what’s causing the problem, do ask a healthcare professional (NICE, 2015).

Cracked or painful nipples

If you have cracked or painful nipples, try to get support with attaching and positioning your baby from your health visitor or a breastfeeding counsellor. You can call 0300 330 0700 for feeding support from NCT (open every day from 8am to midnight) and read more about finding breastfeeding support in your area here. You could also try antifungal creams if you have thrush around your nipples (NICE, 2015).

Full, painful, tender breasts

If your breasts are full, painful and tender, unlimited breastfeeding, breast massage and hand expressing, and paracetamol can all help to relieve the pain, as can a well-fitting bra (NICE, 2015).

Flu-like symptoms, red, painful and tender breasts

If you have mastitis symptoms that last more than a few hours, you might be offered antibiotics to treat it (NICE, 2015).

Recovering after a caesarean birth

It can take about six weeks to recover from a caesarean birth. You’ll be given pain relief medication and blood thinning drugs to use for the first few weeks. You’ll also get advice about caring for your wound (NICE, 2015).

Do speak to your GP straight away if you have a high temperature, the wound becomes red, swollen or painful or if you feel generally unwell as those may be signs of infection (Tommy’s, 2018). Also speak to your GP if you’re still having pain or you don’t feel you’ve recovered after six weeks (NICE, 2015).

For more on getting better after a caesarean birth, see our top tips on recovery and the practicalities of looking after yourself and your baby afterwards.

This page was last reviewed in January 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

To prepare yourself more for what happens during and after labour, we offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Martin A, Horowitz C, Balbierz A, Howell EA. (2014) Views of women and clinicians on postpartum preparation and recovery. Maternal and child health journal. 18(3):707-713. Available at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4304667/ (Accessed 14th January 2019)

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). (2015) Postnatal care up to 8 weeks after birth (NICE Guideline 37). Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg37/ifp/chapter/About-this-information (Accessed 14th January 2018)

Tommy's. (2018) Recovering at home after a c-section. Available at: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/caesarean-section/recovering-home-after-c-section (Accessed 14th January 2019)

 

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