After Giving Birth - Your Body

Once you have given birth there is quite a lot that happens to your body.

Cutting the umbilical cord

After the birth the umbilical cord will be clamped with plastic clips. One clamp will be near to the baby’s navel. The cord is then cut. Your birth partner may be offered the chance to do this. It is a bit like cutting through thick cardboard.

Delivering the placenta

The delivery of the placenta is classed as the third stage of labour. It can take between 15 minutes and an hour. Contractions push the placenta out; although these contractions will be nothing like the contractions you have just experienced giving birth.

You will be offered an injection to speed up the delivery of your placenta. This has the benefit of reducing the risk of heavy bleeding, by making the uterus contract. If you choose to deliver the placenta naturally (without the injection) then the uterus is left to contract by itself. It would be wise to indicate which option you would prefer on your birth plan. If the medical staff think there is a risk of heavy bleeding you may not be given a choice.

Stitches

You will have stitches if you have an episiotomy or a substantial tear. If you tear slightly you will be left to heal naturally. When you are being stitched you will be given a local anaesthetic unless you have had an epidural, in which case you won’t be able to feel anything. Dissolvable stitches are usually used; these come out after about a week. 

How to care for your stitches :

  • Keep the area clean by bathing in plain water.
  • Dry well after bathing to prevent infection.
  • Take paracetamol to ease discomfort.
  •  Sit on a rubber ring.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Use calendula cream or arnica.
  • Do your pelvic floor exercises as this aids healing.
  • Support the stitches with clean toilet tissue when you need to poo. Wipe from front to back to prevent infection.

After pains

After pains are usually noticeable after second and subsequent babies. They occur as the uterus contracts to its pre-pregnancy size, which takes around 4 weeks, although the pains subside after a few days. The pain is often worse during the first 48 hours after birth, especially when your baby is breastfeeding, as this causes oxytocin to be released which encourages uterine contractions.

Lochia

Lochia is vaginal discharge, which is bloody in appearance, lost after birth. It is made up of mucus, uterine lining and blood. The flow of lochia is heavy following birth, and then becomes gradually lighter, lasting up to 6 weeks.

The bright red blood loss should subside after a week leaving a pink discharge. If you do too much you may start to bleed heavily again; if the blood loss returns to or continues to be bright red after a week then seek medical advice.

If you experience any of the following symptoms see your midwife or doctor straightaway:

  • Smelly discharge/blood loss.
  • Heavy blood loss.
  • If the blood has clots in it.
  • If you feel unwell.

Remember to use maternity/sanitary pads and not tampons for the first 6 weeks after birth. Tampons can cause infection in your uterus, as it needs to repair itself following pregnancy and birth.

After a caesarean you will still have a flow of lochia, although it is usually lighter than after a vaginal delivery, as most of the uterine lining is removed during surgery.

Your midwife and health visitor

Once you leave hospital your midwife will make daily visits to see you and your baby. She will continue to visit until 10-14 days after birth, when she will discharge you to the care of the health visitor. Your health visitor will start off by seeing you at home.

She will be able to help you with all aspects of having a newborn baby, ranging from:

  • Your feelings.
  • Feeding.
  • Health and medical issues.
  • Immunisation.
  • Sleeping.
  • Development.
  • Family matters such as relationships or siblings.
  • Benefits.
  • Services that can help you.

Your health visitor will run a regular clinic at your local surgery or health centre, where you can have your baby weighed, measured and address any concerns or questions you may have.