Whether you had a vaginal or C-section birth, your body went through a major surgery and is still healing. You may have vaginal bleeding and discharge (called lochia) for several weeks.
It is also common to get a sore perineum, especially if it tears during childbirth or if your doctor made a cut to widen the area for the birth. You can help relieve the pain by using a squirt bottle with warm water after you pee.
In the weeks after giving birth, you’ll want to focus on healing and resting. Gentle exercise can be started within a few days after delivery, but consult with your doctor or midwife before returning to a group exercise program or gym. Exercise can improve your mood and help you avoid postnatal depression.
If you have a vaginal, C-section or perineal wound, your healthcare provider will check it to make sure the incision is healing well. They will also inspect your uterus and cervix to see that they are back to their normal size.
It’s common to experience some pain or discomfort in the vaginal area after childbirth. If you are having severe pain, your healthcare provider may prescribe a stronger analgesic such as paracetamol or oral narcotics. They can also recommend rectal suppositories for women who have a painful perineum.
You’ll need to eat a healthy, balanced diet after giving birth. Be sure to get enough iron and folic acid. You’ll also need extra food if you are breastfeeding. In some places, there are cultural ‘taboos’ about certain foods that are not permitted, so talk to your healthcare provider about these if you have any concerns.
You can start by eating more vegetables, whole grains and fruit. You should also try to avoid fatty or fried foods, which can increase your cholesterol and fat intake. You should drink lots of water and other fluids to stay hydrated.
If you have experienced a traumatic birth or are struggling with feelings of anxiety and depression after your child’s birth, it is important to seek professional support. These feelings may be a result of the changes in hormone levels following pregnancy or the birth, or they could be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
You can find support from family and friends and you can also speak to a trained counsellor on a telephone helpline. You can also join a mother and baby support group and this can be a safe place to talk about your feelings with others who have been through the same thing as you.
Mental health professionals can offer a range of talking therapies including cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy. These therapies can be offered in groups or individually. Interpersonal therapy involves discussing the personal and relationship issues that might be affecting your depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing negative thinking patterns and can help you feel more positive about life.
A therapist can also teach you techniques like eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). This is a technique where you make rhythmic eye movements while recalling a traumatic event. This can speed up the re-adjustment process and ease symptoms of PTSD. Medications, such as antidepressants, can also be helpful in alleviating the effects of PND. It is important that you take the medication as prescribed so it has the chance to work.
While it’s normal to feel tired and irritable after having a baby, if these feelings persist, it’s important to get help. Contact your GP, midwife or health visitor for advice and to be screened for postnatal depression. If you’re diagnosed, there are treatments available that can help you recover.
Social support is a key component of perinatal mental health. Qualitative research has shown that birthing individuals expect instrumental (help with tasks) and emotional support from friends and family. This need may be heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, with national stay-at-home orders and social distancing recommendations limiting access to normal avenues of support.
A high level of social support has been associated with a lower likelihood of developing PPD. Women with high levels of social support also had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and were more likely to seek treatment for their mood disorders.
When a woman with PND is treated, her symptoms usually improve. She should try to remain in contact with her support people as much as possible, even if the relationship feels difficult or she is having difficulty sleeping or feeding. It is also important to avoid criticising her post-pregnancy body or suggesting she lose weight. It’s a good idea to join a postnatal group for support from other mothers. Your local children’s centre can put you in touch with groups that offer this service.
Mental health is crucial for Postnatal recovery. If untreated, postpartum depression (PPD) can affect the mother’s and newborn’s well-being. It can lead to a range of symptoms including feelings of self-harm, thoughts about harming the baby, and an inability to care for the infant. If you experience these symptoms, please seek treatment immediately.
Several types of psychotherapy can help. Cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, helps people learn to change the way they think and behave, and can also help them cope with distressing feelings. Support groups are another useful tool to connect with others who have been through a similar experience and share experiences and coping strategies. Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat PPD. Some can be safely used while breastfeeding, but it’s important to discuss with a medical professional before taking medication during pregnancy or postpartum.
Some women with PTSD may find relief from a technique called eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR). It involves making rhythmic eye movements while recalling traumatic events, and is thought to stimulate the information-processing systems of the brain.
If the symptoms are severe, it may be necessary to be admitted to hospital or a mental health clinic for assessment and treatment. This may involve staying in a specialised mother and baby mental health unit. Often, this is followed by community care from a psychiatrist or psychologist.