Your body, feelings and having stitches
The first few days with your baby can be a very emotional time for you and your partner. There is a lot to learn and do. There is the excitement of getting to know your baby, but you will also be tired and your body will be recovering from labour and the birth.
Keep your baby close to you as much as you can. Your partner should also spend time holding and being close to your baby. They may feel a little left out, especially if they have to leave you and the baby in hospital and return to an empty home. They may need support and encouragement to get involved. The more you can both hold and cuddle your baby, the more confident you will all feel.
You can find out more about:
Your breasts, tummy and bladder
Stitches, piles and bleeding
Tests for you
Being in hospital
Recovering from a caesarean section
How you feel after the birth
You may feel tired for the first few days, so make sure you get plenty of rest. Even just walking and moving about can seem like hard work. You can find some tips on coping with stitches, piles and bleeding.
For a lot of mothers, the excitement and pleasure of the new baby far outweigh any problems. But you can begin to feel low or rather depressed, especially if you are very tired or feel you cannot look after your baby in the way you would like.
Giving birth is an emotional and tiring experience, and your hormones change dramatically in the first few days. Some women get the 'baby blues' and feel weepy around three to five days after giving birth (make sure you and your partner know the signs of postnatal depression). Feeling weepy can be worse if your labour was difficult, you are very tired, or you have other worries.
Some women worry because they don't love their baby immediately. It is not always love at first sight. You may just need to give yourself time – you can still care for your baby and provide all the warmth and security he or she needs.
Being in hospital
If you have your baby in hospital, you may be able to return home with your baby straight from the labour ward, or you may be moved to a transfer lounge or a postnatal ward, where you will be with other mothers and babies.
In any case, if your delivery is uncomplicated, your stay in hospital is likely to be short. It helps if you've discussed your postnatal care with your midwife during pregnancy so you know what to expect. Any preferences can then be recorded on your birth plan so that staff on the postnatal ward will be aware of your wishes.
You are likely to need quite a lot of help and advice with your first baby. Whether you are in hospital or at home, the midwives are there to guide and support you as well as to check that you are recovering from the birth. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
A midwife will be available in your community to help you look after yourself and your baby. You can get help and support at a Children's Centre – find a Children's Centre near you.
Your shape in the first few days
Your body will have seen some significant changes over the past few days.
Your breasts will be larger at first and while you're breastfeeding regularly. If you don't intend to breastfeed from the start, you needn't do anything. But on the third or fourth day, your breasts may be tender because the milk is still being produced. Wearing a firm, supportive bra may help. Your breasts will get smaller again in a week or so. Speak to your midwife if you're very uncomfortable.
Read more about breastfeeding in the first few days.
Your abdomen will probably be quite baggy after delivery. Despite delivering your baby and the placenta, you'll still be quite a lot bigger than you were before pregnancy.
This is partly because your muscles have stretched. If you eat a balanced diet and get some exercise, your shape should soon return to normal.
Breastfeeding helps because it makes the womb (uterus) contract. Because of this, you may sometimes feel quite a painful twinge in your stomach or period-type pain while you are feeding.
Find out about healthy eating and fitness after birth.
It's quite common after having a baby to leak urine accidentally if you laugh, cough or move suddenly. Pelvic floor exercises can help prevent this. You can find out more about incontinence and where to get help on the the Bladder and Bowel Foundation's website.
If the problem lasts for more than three months, see your doctor, who may refer you to a physiotherapist.
Stitches, piles and bleeding after birth
If you've had stitches after tearing or an episiotomy (cut), bathe the area often in clean, warm water to help it heal. Have a bath or shower with plain warm water. After bathing, dry yourself carefully.
In the first few days, remember to sit down gently and lie on your side rather than on your back.
If the stitches are sore and uncomfortable, tell your midwife as they may be able to recommend treatment. Painkillers will also help. If you're breastfeeding, check with your midwife, GP or pharmacist before you buy over-the-counter products, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol. Usually stitches dissolve by the time the cut or the tear has healed, but sometimes they have to be taken out.
Going to the toilet
At first, the thought of passing urine can be a bit frightening because of the soreness and because you can't feel what you're doing. Drinking lots of water dilutes your urine, but if you really find it difficult to pass urine, tell your midwife.
You probably won't need to open your bowels for a few days after the birth, but it's important not to let yourself become constipated. Eat fresh fruit, vegetables, salad, bran and wholemeal bread, and drink plenty of water.
Whatever it may feel like, it's very unlikely that you'll break the stitches or open up the cut or tear again, but it might feel better if you hold a pad of clean tissue over the stitches during a bowel movement. Do not strain to have a bowel movement.
Piles (haemorrhoids) are very common after delivery, but they usually disappear within a few days. Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, salad, wholemeal bread and whole grain cereals, and drink plenty of water. This should make bowel movements easier and less painful. Don't push or strain, because this will make the piles worse. Let the midwife know if you feel very uncomfortable and they will be able to give you an ointment to soothe the piles.
Bleeding after the birth
After the birth, you will bleed from your vagina. This will be quite heavy at first, which is why you'll need super-absorbent sanitary towels. Do not use tampons until after your postnatal check because they can cause infection.
While breastfeeding you may notice that the bleeding is redder and heavier. You may also feel cramps like period pains, known as 'after pains'. These are both because feeding causes the womb (uterus) to contract.
Gradually the bleeding will become a brownish colour and may continue for some weeks, getting less and less until it stops. If you find you are losing blood in large clots, you should save your sanitary towels to show the midwife as you may need some treatment.
Find out about sex and contraception after the birth.
Postnatal exercises will help to tone up the muscles of your pelvic floor and tummy, and help you regain your waist. They will also get you moving and feeling generally fitter. You may be able to attend a postnatal exercise class at your hospital. Ask your midwife or physiotherapist.
Recovering from a caesarean
It takes longer to recover from a caesarean section than it does from a natural birth.
After a caesarean section, you'll feel uncomfortable and will be offered painkillers. You will usually be fitted with a catheter (a small tube that fits into your bladder) for up to 24 hours. You may be prescribed daily injections to prevent blood clots (thrombosis).
Depending on the help you have at home, you should be ready to leave hospital within two to four days.
You'll be encouraged to become mobile by getting out of bed and walking around as soon as possible, and your midwife or hospital physiotherapist will give you advice about postnatal exercises that will help you in your recovery.
You can drive as soon as you can move without pain as long as you can perform an emergency stop. This may be after six weeks or sooner.
Read more about recovering from a caesarean.
Tests and immunisations for you
After you've had your baby, you'll be offered some checks and immunisations.
If you were not immune to rubella (german measles) when tested early in your pregnancy, you will usually be offered the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine by your maternity team before you leave the maternity unit, or shortly afterwards by your GP. If you are not offered the vaccine, talk to your midwife or GP as this is a good opportunity to get it done. You should not try to get pregnant again for at least one month after the injection.
Rhesus negative mothers
If your blood group is rhesus negative and the baby's father is rhesus positive, blood samples will be taken after the birth to see whether your baby is rhesus positive. You may need an injection to protect your next baby from anaemia. If so, the injection should be given within 72 hours of your baby being born. Check with one of the doctors or midwives about what should happen in your particular case.
Find out about other sources of support after the birth, and getting in touch with other new parents.