In the first few days and weeks after giving birth you’ll probably feel bruised and sore, whatever birth experience you’ve had. We’re preoccupied with “snapping back into shape” straight after having a baby, and if we buy into this bounce back mentality, the days and weeks after baby can come as a huge shock when celebrities make it look so easy.
The first three months is a time of huge transition and change. It will take this whole time, at least, for your emotions and body to begin to settle into a sense of familiar vaguely confident “normality”. It is totally to be expected that you might feel discombobulated and chaotic. Think of it as starting a new job: you’d imagine that the first few months would be a steep learning curve and to feel way out of your comfort zone. It’s no different for your new job as a mother/mum of two/three.
Some women feel like a superhero, with such a sense of triumph and euphoria that anything seems possible – it can be hard to imagine that you have to take it easy on yourself and rest while you’re riding this high. But equally you may fall into the camp of women who feel like they are depleted and exhausted by the birth and the early days. That was certainly me first time round, and if this is you, please don’t push yourself to hold up a façade of “normal”. Rest. Cuddle your tiny newborn to get the oxytocin flowing and soothe both of your nervous systems, your breathing helps to regulate your baby’s breathing. Snuggle with lots of calming skin to skin in those early days. It takes time to complete your metamorphosis into motherhood, and “normal” takes on a different appearance from now on.
Your uterus contracts back to its original size in the days after giving birth, and these contractions feel quite similar to early labour contractions. They can be stimulated particularly by breastfeeding, and it’s more intense if it’s not your first baby. Establishing breastfeeding is hard, mentally and physically, and is painful initially even if your baby takes to it easily, despite what your health visitor might suggest. You are also very hormonal. So you will be feeling tender and emotional.
Breathing techniques are so valuable for getting you through these intense early days. If it’s your second or subsequent baby, you might be less hit by the enormity of the physical challenge as it’s familiar territory, but you have the added emotional challenge of introducing your new baby into your household of other children and changing the status quo, possibly dealing with demands from your firstborn of “taking the baby back where we got him now” (true story). All of this brings with it lots of joy but also upheaval and mixed emotions. So, revisit deep breathing exercises to soothe your nervous system, every day.
Breathing and pelvic floor awareness exercises are suitable from 24 hours after your birth, whenever you feel ready.
Tearing, and episiotomy care and recovery
It can take up to a month for tears or cuts to heal and for episiotomy stitches to dissolve (small tears with no stitches usually heal faster than this). In that time you’ll probably be in some pain. Having an episiotomy or suffering a tear carries the risk of scarring. Make sure you take painkillers if you need to, and at a time that feels right for you when the area is no longer tender, internal massage is a great way of stimulating the healing process and breaking down the scar tissue, making sure there is minimal effect on your pelvic floor sensation on the long term.
Bathing in warm water and/or using a cushion (a special inflatable cushion can make sitting down more comfortable) can help.
If you’re still uncomfortable after a few weeks, make sure you speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.
Here are some tips for this early healing period:
Keep the cut/tear and surrounding area clean.
After going to the toilet pour a jug of warm water over your perineum to rinse it. It’s ok to add some drops of tea-tree/witch hazel and lavender to this as well.
Going for a wee can be painful: it might help if you pee in the bath (just before getting out), or in a warm shower.
You might be scared to poo because you’re worried about pressure on the stitches. This fear causes a lot of extra discomfort and emotional distress. You can ask your midwife, GP or health visitor about medication to help you poo more easily. But again, deep breathing should be employed first and foremost.
After having a poo, make sure you wipe front to back, away from your vagina, to keep the stitches clean.
Place an ice-pack or ice-cubes, soaked in tea tree/lavender/witch hazel wrapped in a towel or cloth, onto the affected area, to relieve the pain. Or you can now buy ready made sprays which contain soothing and healing ingredients, such as Spritz for Bitz – which can also be used for caesarean wound healing (and for your baby’s nappy rash).
Restart pelvic floor awareness exercises as soon as you can after birth. They enhance blood circulation, and aid the healing process.
For more postnatal tips, see the Fourth Trimester chapter in my Pilates for Pregnancy book, which so far has 13 5-star reviews! Thank you so much if you've enjoyed and reviewed it, I really appreciate the feedback.
Do you have any questions about postnatal recovery? I'm currently writing Postnatal Pilates, which will publish with Bloomsbury next year. Please send me your questions I'd love to try and help xxx