Immediately after childbirth, there’s a lot going on. You have a brand-new baby to care for, breastfeeding to master and an abundance of emotions to navigate. You still have your home and possibly other children that need care. And of course, there’s the physical recovery from giving birth. It seems a little unfair that we are expected to be fully responsible for a tiny person when we are physically drained from pregnancy, labour, and birth! But rest assured your body will recover and you will rise to the challenge of being a mumma.
It’s important to take care of yourself as much as possible in the early days and weeks so you recover without complications. Try not to be super-mum and be gentle and slow with your recovery.
We list here some things you can do for your recovery that are natural and safe. If possible, have these things on hand prior to labour so no one’s scrambling when you’re home with a new baby!
Aftercare and proper recovery is very important to relieve the pain and discomfort after a virginal birth (and an episiotomy). You want to avoid any risk of infection and complications. Try the following:
- Add salt to your bath water to ease pain and help heeling
- Make sure that you cleanse the perineum area at all times, especially after using the toilet – use a squirt bottle filled with lukewarm water to the vaginal and rectal areas, then pat dry with a clean soft towel
- Apply cold packs or ice packs to the perineum area to reduce swelling. See the instructions below for Comfrey Ice Packs.
- Change maternity pads regularly
- Move around as often as possible to increase blood circulation and speed the healing process
- Keep the perineum area dry and wear cotton underwear
- Avoid lifting heavy objects or strenuous activity as the strain may cause bleeding and break the stitches
- Take Arnica tablets to help with the bruising
- Strengthen pelvic muscles by practicing Kegel exercises after you have healed
Comfrey Ice Packs — Cut a large piece of soft cloth (flannel is fine, but bamboo velour is awesome) and fold it up into a smaller rectangle that’s about 3×5. Sew it on all four sides (straight stitch and no big deal if you mess up). Prepare a strong tea with about 2 cups water and 1/2 c. comfrey leaves, steeped for 15 min. Soak each cloth in the tea and put each in an individual plastic bag and stick this in the freezer. (I recommend putting all the small plastic bags into one large one so they’re easy to find.) This is a nice ice pack that will help soreness post-birth. You can also use the soothing herbal mix from above instead of plain comfrey.
After pains are the name given to contractions that occur after giving birth. These contractions signal the process of involution, the process of your uterus shrinking back down to its pre-pregnancy size and shape. They are not a cause of concern but can be uncomfortable.
Your uterus has spent the last nine months of pregnancy growing nearly twenty-five times its original size. The contractions after the birth help it shrink back down in about four to six weeks.
You may notice these contractions most intensely in the first few days after giving birth. You may also notice them more when you breastfeed. This happens because the uterus is still sensitive to the oxytocin released while feeding.
Try these remedies for dealing with after pains:
- Apply warm heat to your stomach (or back).
- Drink chamomile tea. Chamomile is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with no known adverse effects in lactation. This is a great remedy for after birth pain due to uterine involution.
- Aromatherapy – Mix 1 ounce carrier oil (olive oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, or sweet almond oil), 5 drops lavender oil, 10 drops cypress oil, and 15 drops of peppermint oil. Gently massage a small portion over the affected area.
- Add Epsom and/or sea salt with one or more of the following essential oils to warm bath water: lavender, jasmine, chamomile, peppermint, rosemary.
- Some women find relief from after birth pain by lying on their stomach with a pillow placed under it to apply abdominal pressure or by rocking in a rocking chair.
- Many women use a TENS machine to help alleviate the pain from after pains.
This condition is very common, especially during pregnancy and after childbirth. Haemorrhoids result from increased pressure in the veins of the anus. The pressure causes the veins to bulge and expand, making them painful, particularly when you are sitting. To relieve pain and help healing, apply warm and cold compresses alternately on the affected region. This will help in easing the painful and burning sensation caused by this condition. You can also relax by soaking yourself in a warm bath for effective relief from the pain and discomfort. You can also apply aloe vera gel on the affected area in order to soothe the inflamed veins.
After giving birth the perineum area can be very painful and some women have a fear of passing a bowel motion. In the first couple of days after giving birth, try eating kiwifruit and eating high fibre foods such as chia seeds, prunes, pears, apples and leafy greens. Some maternity hospitals have a drink called ‘Kiwi Crush’ or you can purchase this yourself from a supermarket.
Sometimes during pregnancy your baby can put a strain on certain muscles and particularly your lower back. Many women also find learning to breastfeed and carry their baby can result in sore and tight muscles in the neck, shoulders and back. Having someone give you a gentle massage using a good quality, natural massage oil will help soothe sore muscles and reduce pain.
You may become dehydrated if you were in labour a long time and forgot to drink much, or if you were nauseous and didn’t want to drink. Coconut water can replace electrolytes in your body. If you don’t really like it (I wasn’t a huge fan), mix it with some tea or juice, a flavor you prefer. Herbal tea is a great option too, by itself or mixed with coconut water. During breastfeeding you will also need to keep up your fluids and your body will tell you it’s thirsty so have plenty of water and healthy drinks on hand.
Going through labour and giving birth can be like running a marathon - you will burn calories. Many women exclaim they are ‘starving’ after labour. Breastfeeding can also make you very hungry. Your body is producing milk and you need to nourish your body so it can continue to produce good quality milk for your baby. Eat a very nutrient-dense diet, filled with wholefoods (unprocessed foods) such as eggs, quality meats and fish, plenty of fruit, veges and good sources of fats such as olive oil, avocados and beans. Now is not the time for low-calorie and low-fat diets.
After labour you may feel exhausted, both physically and mentally. It is very important to remember the need for rest and sleep which will give your body time to heal and prepare for feeding and caring for your new baby. Try these tips to help you through the first few days:
Restrict visitors – whether you are birthing at hospital or home, ask visitors to wait until you have recovered from the birth and are settled at home before visiting.
‘Do not Disturb’ – If you are in hospital put a note on the door saying, ‘Mum & baby sleeping, please do not disturb’. This will stop the cleaner coming in to empty your rubbish bin or Aunt Mabel popping in to say hi.
LASTY – Ask for help. Your friends and family will want to help so ask for help when you need it. Your partner, friend or family member can take the baby for a walk around the hospital corridor and into the hospital lounge so you can have some uninterrupted rest.
Go easy on yourself and your body. It is not a race. Give your body time to recover naturally and don’t rush your recovery. If you have symptoms which are not being relieved naturally then seek medical advice.
Go easy mumma.