Postnatal care for new moms: C-section and Natural birth
Hey mom, while family and friends "oooh" and "aaah" over the new baby, make sure you take time to take care of yourself with these postnatal care tips.
Congratulations, Mom! You’ve just spent the last nine months growing, carrying and delivering the tiny bundle of joy that you find squirming in your arms, and now you’re ready start the wonderful journey of motherhood. We’re sure you did everything you could to ensure that the little one would have everything they need to start their new life right.
Now that they’re here, all your time and energy for the next few weeks is going to be focused on them, right? Well, Mom, don’t forget about you. Taking good care of yourself postpartum is as important as caring for your baby. Childbirth is beautiful, but it’s but also a traumatic experience for a woman’s body. We’re going to give you a run-down on what to expect and what you’ll need to give yourself some TLC after all your hard work.
Whether you opt for a natural delivery or a caesarean, your body will have some wound healing to do. If you deliver vaginally, you will likely have damage to your vaginal area—though some lucky mothers don’t. Doctors will either make an incision to your perineum to prevent it from tearing, and this cut is called an episiotomy, or you may have natural tears as a result of labor.
Dr. Maricar Casimiro-Sy, the former Chief Resident of Makati Medical Center’s Department of Obstetrics, says, “It is important to keep the wound clean with water after using the toilet and to keep the area dry.”
- When having a bowel movement, you may support the perineum site by pressing on the stitches with a clean pad of toilet paper and avoid bearing down too hard.
- Always wipe from front to back to keep from transferring germs to the wound. Aside from keeping the wound sanitary, you will want to avoid putting pressure on the site.
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time by lying on your side or taking slow walks.
The episiotomy should take between two to three weeks to heal completely, and any stitches will either fall off or be reabsorbed by your body. However, if you tear badly during labor, healing may take up to a month or more.
If you choose to have a C-section—or if circumstances push you into one, we know it happens—then you will need to deal with the incision site. Dr. Lora Tansengco, an obstetrician-gynecologist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, says that recovery after a C-section can be more difficult because of this deep slice through many layers of tissue into your abdomen and uterus.
- Just like any wound, you should keep the incision area clean. If your doctor leaves tape on the site when you are discharged from the hospital, try not to remove it until it falls off on its own.
- Clean the wound by letting warm, soapy water drip over it in the shower, and don’t rub the wound to keep from irritating it.
- While most doctors prescribe an antibiotic to keep the site from getting infected, if you find that the area around the incision is unusually warm and red, is leaking discharge or is more painful than normal, call your doctor right away.
- It should take between four to six weeks for your incision to heal, and in that time you’ll need to take special care to keep the wound from splitting. Hold your abdomen when making any sudden movements like laughing or coughing, and avoid resting your baby on your wound when breast-feeding.
- You can try using the “football hold” when feeding your baby—which is where you hold your baby at your side with your elbows bent and your baby’s head resting in your open hand while their back rests along your forearm—or you can lie on your side in bed while you breast-feed.
Aside from wound care, mothers should take extra care to get their bodies moving after the first 24 hours after C-section surgery. We know, you’re probably in a lot of pain and sleeping all day with your baby in your arms sounds so sweet, but Dra. Tansengco tells us, “Complications from prolonged immobilization and bed rest can arise if the mother refuses to ambulate early.”
Blood clots may form and lead to a pulmonary embolism, or moisture may build up in your lungs leading to postoperative pneumonia. Moving around is also good for you because it gets your blood flowing, which can then deliver nutrients to parts of your body that need it most.
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1. Be careful of blood clots
Whether you have a vaginal delivery or a C-section, expect to there to be a lot of blood. Dr. Tansengco says, “Childbirth is always very bloody. Blood loss in cesarean deliveries averages one liter while in vaginal deliveries it is half a liter.” You will also have a heavy flow of blood for the first few days after you give birth.
Then, a vaginal discharge called lochia can last for a few weeks after delivery. While it is just like having a heavy period for a longer amount of time, it’s good to monitor your flow to catch any problems. Watch for blood clots or a strange smell in your discharge and report these to your doctor.
Also, mommies should drink a lot of water during this time to replace the fluids lost during delivery and through this heavy flow. You will likely experience contractions or “afterpains” for a few days after delivery.
It’s your body’s way of compressing the blood vessels in your uterus to bring them back to normal and ease the bleeding, but if the contractions become unbearable don’t hesitate to take painkillers. Being able to rest in comfort is important for recovery.
2. Trouble with urination
All the excitement going on down there during delivery can bruise or damage your bladder and urethra. This can result in either difficulty with peeing, or the inability to control it.
If you experience pain when urinating, try pouring warm water across your vulva while on the toilet. If you experience incontinence or random leakage, you will simply have to wait while your tissues recover and wear sanitary napkins in the meantime. Incontinence should resolve itself in about three months, but Dr. Casimiro-Sy tells us that doing Kegel exercises will help tighten your pelvic muscle and address this problem.
If you’re one of the lucky moms who didn’t develop hemorrhoids during pregnancy, just wait because these can also appear after delivery. All the bearing down during labor can cause veins in the anus and lower rectum to swell and stretch, making it very painful to do a number two.
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Though many of these complications can feel private and embarrassing, and you will probably be performing these after-care rituals on yourself, it’s still very important for new dads to be involved in their wives’ postnatal recovery. “Giving birth can be stressful physically, mentally and emotionally. Therefore, support from the father is important,” says Dr. Casimiro-Sy.
Mothers can be very fragile due to the physical battering, and fluctuating hormones can do a number on even the strongest mom’s emotional state.
It’s important for fathers to provide support by helping with the physical tasks of caring for moms and their new babies—lifting the baby while mom’s stitches heal, watching the baby while mom takes recovery time for herself, changing diapers, etc.—but emotional support is equally important.
Fathers should also keep an eye out for any signs of postpartum depression. While baby blues are normal, if a mother experiences a depression that only worsens with time or seems to last longer than a couple of weeks, it’s important to contact your doctor who can then provide professional help.
It’s tough to imagine life ever going back to normal with the round-the-clock care that newborns demand, but Dr. Tansengco says that the mother’s body usually goes back to its non-pregnant state six weeks postpartum. This means that if you led an active life before going into labor, you can probably start getting back to your normal exercise routine after six weeks.
But it doesn’t mean you should be a couch potato before those six weeks are up. Dr. Casimiro-Sy says that mothers can start light exercises as soon as they feel up to it and can increase the intensity over time to a level they are comfortable with as long as they don’t push too hard before six weeks of recovery.
Mothers who underwent C-sections will have to deal with a slightly longer recovery period of eight weeks. But light exercise and walking is even more important after caesareans to prevent abdominal adhesions—this is when internal scar tissue builds up, causing your organs to stick to tissue they wouldn’t normally be connected to.
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All this recovering sounds like a lot of work to do on top of caring for a newborn, and it is. So here is a list of after-care essentials you can buy ahead to have ready for when you get home.
If you find yourself in need, you’ll be so happy these are already at hand without making a trip to the store.
1. Sanitary pads
We’ve already mentioned all the bleeding, vaginal discharge and incontinence you may have to deal with, so having an ample supply of super absorbent sanitary pads at home will ease your mind.
2. Squeeze bottle
If your home toilet isn’t equipped with a bidet, having one of these around will be key to cleansing after a vaginal delivery. It might seem funny to have something you associate with mustard or ketchup in your bathroom, but a squeeze bottle will help direct water in a steady stream to hard-to-reach areas without irritating them. Wash this bottle daily when you start using it to keep it sanitary.
3. A small basin or Sitz bath
This can help ease the pain of your episiotomy, or hemorrhoids if you develop them. When soreness becomes an issue, mothers can set a basin filled with a few inches of warm water over the toilet and sit in it for a few minutes.
4. Witch hazel pads
If you can’t get your hands on pre-packaged witch hazel pads, fill a small, resealable container with cotton pads and pour in enough witch hazel to soak all of them. These are very useful for soothing and cooling itchy stitches, vaginal soreness or hemorrhoids. Press them against the site or leave a pad rolled up on your sanitary napkin to keep it in place for a longer period of time.
5. Gentle, unscented liquid soap
You might think you can use any old soap at home, but fragrances, antibacterial compounds or other unnecessary ingredients in most soaps may irritate your incision or episiotomy. Choose a pure castile or glycerine soap or ask your obstetrician for recommendations.
6. Ice packs and cold compresses
Sitting on an ice pack can help ease soreness around your perineum. Cold compresses can help the same soreness but can also be used to soothe nipples sore from breastfeeding. To cut down on work later, gather as many washcloths as you can, soak them in water, put them each in individual Ziploc bags then throw them in the freezer. This way you’ll have a compress ready and waiting each time you need it.
7. Nutritious food
Stock your house with healthy and nutritious food as the delivery date draws closer. New parents won’t have too much time to think about preparing meals so you should plan how to stock your pantry before the baby comes. It’s important to eat well after delivery because the right nutrients speed up wound healing and give you the energy you’ll need to care for your child on very little sleep.
Fiber in your diet will also help you avoid constipation, which can hurt your episiotomy or C-section incision if you have trouble going to the bathroom. Also, don’t forget that you’re eating for two, and you’ll want to pass on lots of vitamins and minerals to your baby through your breast milk. All in all, make sure you eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables to help your body do the work it needs to.
About the author: Kat Velayo
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