Postpartum Care for Mother and Newborn after Delivery

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Henry Ford Women's Health Services

Many changes occur in a woman's body during pregnancy and again after delivery. Knowing what to expect may help ease the transition through the different changes.

Uterus

The uterus will slowly decrease in size and reach its pre-pregnancy size about six weeks after delivery. Women may feel cramping ("after pains") for a few days after delivery as the uterus is contracting back to normal size. Lying on the stomach may help ease the cramps.

Bleeding

After birth, the vaginal discharge is like a menstrual period. Bleeding may be heavy for two to three days. The discharge will decrease in flow and the red color will change to pink and eventually will become colorless.  This discharge may last from two to six weeks after delivery. The discharge should not change from colorless or pink back to red.  If this happens, slow down and don't do so much. If the discharge still remains red or develops a foul odor, call the doctor or nurse midwife. A woman's menstrual period will start again usually 4-6 weeks after delivery.

Breasts

Breasts will develop a feeling of fullness in preparation for breastfeeding. They may appear hard and painful (engorged). It may help to wear a supportive bra 24 hours a day. For women who are breastfeeding, the breast engorgement will decrease as the baby starts to feed. For women who are not breastfeeding, wear a tight bra and do not stimulate the breasts. Try applying ice packs and taking pain medication. Engorgement lasts about 24-48 hours.

Vagina and perineum

The area around the vagina may be swollen after delivery. For women who have been given stitches, these will dissolve in 1-2 weeks. During the first 12-24 hours after delivery, applying ice packs will keep the swelling down.  Applying moist heat after the first 24 hours will help with healing. Rinse with warm water after using the toilet. The best way to dry the perineum is by using a blow dryer (this way the stitches are not touched), and the warm heat helps with healing. Do not use a douche, feminine sprays, or tampons. The cervix is still open from delivery and can easily be infected.

Hair

Some women may notice hair loss for up to three months after delivery. This is normal and will not result in baldness. Hair can be washed as soon after the birth as a woman prefers.

Sweating

Women may have night sweats from hormonal changes for about 4-6 weeks after delivery.

Bathroom habits

During the first six weeks after delivery, women may notice an increased need to urinate. The body is ridding itself of the extra fluids needed during pregnancy.  Many women are worried that the first bowel movement will be uncomfortable but usually there are no problems. Trying to relax and following a soft diet with lots of fluids will help.  The doctor or midwife can prescribe a stool softener. Avoid constipation and straining to prevent hemorrhoids.

Weight loss

After delivery, women may be disappointed to find that only a few pounds have been lost. This is normal. By the end of the first week after delivery, most women will have lost 12-15 pounds. At 6 weeks after delivery, most women will be near the same weight as before pregnancy.

Postpartum blues

The first seven to ten days after birth is a time of heightened emotion.  New moms may experience feelings of emptiness, loneliness, anxiousness, and crying. This is normal. Rest as much as possible and ask for help from friends and family. If these feelings last for more than two weeks or at any time become severe, call the doctor or midwife. Women may experience postpartum depression, and the doctor or midwife will help.

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