Helping you make healthy choices for you and your family
Having a baby can sometimes be a shock to the system, especially if you had a very long or a very quick labour. The first few days are very precious and if you can get help from a partner or family member this will enable you to spend time getting to know your baby and getting your strength back.
Click on the headings below to find out how best to manage your recovery after the birth of your baby.
The restrictions on drinking that you had during your pregnancy are no longer so crucial, although alcohol can still be passed to your baby in breast milk. The occasional unit of alcohol (one unit = one small glass of wine, half a pint of beer/ cider, a pub measure of spirits) is unlikely to do any harm but as a new parent you will not want to be under the influence of alcohol when looking after your child.
There have been some instances of mothers smothering their baby in bed because alcohol had made them too sleepy to be aware of their baby beside them.
During pregnancy, you will have been advised many times by your doctor, midwife, and many others to give up. Hopefully, you achieved it but if you want to start again then you need to consider the consequences to not only your own health but the health of your newborn child, too. Even smoking away from your baby poses a risk to their health. Your clothes, hair and breath retain carcinogenic chemicals which your baby inhales.
Numerous studies have shown that babies with a parent who smokes have a much higher risk of cot death. The incidence of asthma is much higher too and no caring parent would want to be the cause of such a distressing condition.
If you have visitors who smoke, then they should be encouraged to keep away from your baby and, where possible, avoid smoky environments when out with your child.
If you are breast-feeding you should discuss any medication you need to take for a medical condition with your GP. Generally, the same advice applies as for pregnancy, in that drugs advised against in pregnancy should also be avoided while breast-feeding. Painkillers used for a headache should also be taken with caution such as ibuprofen or aspirin as they can pass into breast milk.
After labour, you will discover that your abdominal muscles are very weak and if you required a Caesarean, they will take even longer to return to normal. Post natal exercises are very important and you should be advised on how to do them by your midwife. Pelvic floor exercises which you should have been taught to do during pregnancy, are even more important now. They will help to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic region and should prevent problems like stress incontinence.
Exercise should also help your bowels to return to normal too. Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, dancing or swimming will help your body to return to it's pre-pregnancy state much quicker.
The amount of weight put on by women in pregnancy varies between 9 - 13.5kg (20 to 30lbs). Not all this weight will disappear after you have delivered your baby and it can take many months for your weight to return to normal. Some women never seem to return to their pre-pregnant weight without dieting but it is better to do it slowly.
Exercise will hasten weight loss but it is important to eat a healthy diet, to produce good quality breast milk for your baby and prevent yourself from becoming deficient in nutrients when demands on your body are still high.
Unfortunately, in today's world, it is impossible to receive the full complement of nutrients required to maintain good health. Every decade, the nutrient value in our fruits and vegetables is depleted because of modern farming methods. See Nutritional State of Our Food for more details.
Therefore, if you have chosen to breast-feed, it is important to continue to supply your body with sufficient nutrients in order to provide your baby with sufficient nutrients. For a list of suppliers of quality nutritional supplements, recommended by doctors around the world for their safety and effectiveness, visit Useful Links.
Also, ensure you have the recommended five, but preferably eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day and include plenty of roughage in your diet to prevent constipation. If you have stitches after delivery you will not want to strain when you need to open your bowels.
If you have chosen to breast-feed, it is especially important to drink sufficient fluids each day as a mother who is dehydrated will produce less milk. You should allow the recommended two litres of water daily for yourself plus another litre for your baby's needs. That amount should not include water used for tea or coffee as they are both dehydrating. This means that the benefit from their volume is soon cancelled out by their diuretic effect.
Sufficient fluids allows your body to also remove toxins, therefore allowing less to pass to your baby in your milk. If you are dehydrated, water is drained away from some cells and sent to the vital organs. This can lead to tiredness, lack of concentration and gastro-intestinal problems.
Tea and coffee should be kept to a minimum as these can affect your baby and fizzy drinks can be very dehydrating. Artificial sweeteners like saccharin or aspartame in the sugar-free fizzy drinks can pass to your baby through your milk, so they should be totally avoided. For more information on aspartame, click here.
A glass of fruit juice can be counted as one of your required daily portions of fruit but you should not drink more than two a day because they can be quite acidic.
If you have problems drinking water, then diluting fruit juice is one way of making it more palatable. However, like most things, if you drink it often enough it becomes an acquired taste.
Filtered water is better than water straight from the tap but remember to change the filters regularly to prevent bacteria, nitrate, and metal build up. Mineral water is also good, preferably “still” water from glass bottles rather than plastic. Plastic bottles may contain chemicals which can pass into your baby through your breast milk. If you can only buy plastic bottles, make sure you drink it as soon as possible, as the closer it is to the expiry date, the higher level of chemical contamination in the water. NEVER keep water in a plastic bottle in a hot place, like a car during summer as the plastic chemicals will easily leach into the water.
If you live in an area with artificially fluoridated water, you should avoid drinking tap water altogether. The only guaranteed method of eliminating this toxic chemical is to install a reverse osmosis unit. Details about this can be found here.
You may be shocked to discover that many of the products you use daily for personal hygiene contain a toxic cocktail of chemicals which cannot only harm your long-term health but can also be passed to your baby in your breast milk.
Common chemicals that should be avoided are: Sodium Lauryl Sulphate found in toothpastes and some mouthwashes; Sodium Laureth Sulphate found in shampoos, shower gels and bubble baths; Propylene Glycol found in skin care products; DEA, MEA, TEA found in cosmetics, shampoos and shower gels; Fluoride found in toothpastes; Triclosan found in toothpaste, deodorants and anti-bacterial products; and Talc. See Controversial Ingredients for more details.
Never use bubble bath containing Sodium Laureth Sulphate if you have had stitches as this will retard healing and may cause a urinary tract infection.
You should also avoid using products containing these ingredients on your baby, too as some may have the ability to cause eczema, and even cancer in the long term. Your baby's immune system is not fully developed in the first few years, so unnecessary exposure to toxins should be avoided at all costs.
Safer alternatives are much easier to find now that information about controversial ingredients has become better known.
For a list of reputable suppliers, see Useful Links.
Your baby will be exposed to a great many pollutants in his/her life, which are unavoidable. So, making safe choices for both of you will significantly reduce their risk of childhood cancer - presently rising by three per cent every year.
Some women decide not to breast-feed because the very thought of it seems distasteful to them. However, breast-feeding is the most natural way of nourishing your baby and it has tremendous benefits for your own recovery. It has also been shown to protect you from breast cancer in the future. Although it is natural, breast-feeding may not always be instinctive and it may take a few days to settle into it.
Whatever you decide, it is always worth a try, especially as the milk you produce in the first few days (colostrum) is rich in protein and antibodies, and will give your baby the best possible start to life.
At first, your baby may want to feed frequently, which can be quite exhausting for you but the more your baby feeds, the sooner your main milk will flow which is slightly thinner than colostrum.
These frequent feeds may make your nipples quite sore and your midwife will advise you on the best positions for your baby to latch on. They need to get as much of the nipple and surrounding areola in their mouth as is comfortable. Once they start sucking on the breast you will find your breast tingles and the milk will flow easily. You may find that your other breast starts to leak at the same time so make sure you wear a breast pad. You can also buy shells which sit over your other nipple and collect any milk that leaks. This can be frozen in ice-cube trays and used either in a bottle or to mix with baby rice when you start weaning in a few months' time.
If your nipples become red and sore, feeding may become quite difficult for you. Changing the position of your baby each time she/he feeds may help. A nipple shield is also available which you apply over your breast and your baby is able to suck through it without making direct contact with your skin. You can also buy creams/ointments which may help relieve soreness. This soreness usually only lasts a few days and it's worth persevering because feeding will become much easier and totally pain-free, in time. If your breasts become red, hot and swollen you should see your GP as you may have mastitis - an infection of your breast.
During this time you should always wear a supportive bra made especially for women who breast-feed. This will help to prevent sagging later on and will take some of the strain off your shoulders, especially if your breasts are large.
Your midwife and health visitor should be able to advise you on breast-feeding. There are also other agencies who can help such as La Leche League and the National Childbirth Trust who have specially-trained counsellors to help you. See Useful Links.
Some women seem to have the idea that within six weeks after childbirth, they should be fully recovered and feeling back to normal. That is totally unrealistic and you should be expecting your recovery to take six to eight months. After all, you are trying to incorporate a brand new human being into your life and, in those first few months they will be constantly changing in their demands and their development while you are still trying to recover physically.
Vaginal discharge (lochia) - your main inconvenience at the beginning will be shedding the afterbirth from your uterus. This can go on for up to six weeks and gradually lightens in colour then tapers off. During this time you'll need to use sanitary towels and you'll find special maternity pads in the supermarket. It is important to change them regularly or you'll become sore. If you have had an episiotomy (cut) or a tear, this will slow down the rate of healing and may lead to an infection. Never wear tampons during this time as there is a higher risk of infection while the cervical opening is still wider than usual.
Soreness passing urine - if urination is painful, take a bottle of water into the toilet with you and squeeze the water over your urethra as you empty your bladder to dilute the acidic urine.
Haemorrhoids - some women develop haemorrhoids (small swellings around the anus) during pregnancy. These are harmless but may become quite painful. One method to ease and shrink haemorrhoids is to soak 10cm x 10cm gauze pads in witch hazel, an astringent. Layer them in greaseproof paper and freeze them, then place directly on haemorrhoids for 10-20 minutes, two to three times a day.
Uterine cramps - you may experience cramp-like pain in your uterus for a few days after childbirth as your uterus contracts down to its original size. This is usually more noticeable with second and subsequent babies and breast-feeding can stimulate the uterus to contract. This is why women who breast-feed find their uterus shrinks back into shape much more quickly. Pain relief of paracetamol should be fine but it's better to avoid it altogether as the pains are usually only temporary.
It's not uncommon to feel weepy and depressed around the third or fourth day after giving birth. This is called "the baby blues". It usually only lasts a few days and you may just feel a bit low. This may be due to a combination of reasons such as the fluctuation in your hormones, your milk starting to flow and the realisation that you have a little human being to look after for the foreseeable future. These feelings should only last for a few days and having someone to talk to about how you're feeling may help.
If you find that you continue to be depressed for more than two weeks then you should tell your doctor. If you have never suffered with depression in the past, this may simply be due to a hormonal imbalance. After delivery, your levels of progesterone which were produced by the placenta suddenly dip and you rely again on your adrenal glands to produce progesterone. If your adrenal glands are exhausted, they may not be able to produce sufficient progesterone which is a natural anti-depressant.
Research in Wales found that among 120 women, those with the highest pre-natal and lowest post natal progesterone levels also scored highest on measures of post-natal depression scores. Generally, this can be quite difficult to treat and often anti-depressants become the first line of defence. Natural progesterone cream, or a cream which provides the body with the building blocks to produce progesterone may help. See Useful Links for websites with more information about hormone health.
The thought of having sexual intercourse after giving birth may fill some women with dread especially if they are feeling sore. However, you will be asked what form of contraception you wish to use by your midwife or GP quite soon after the birth.
Although breast-feeding reduces your fertility and your periods may not return for up to a year, you may start to ovulate earlier, so you should always take precautions. To discover all the options available, your midwife, GP or family planning clinic will be able to advise you.
You can also find valuable information about natural family planning here.
Becoming a family, when your newborn comes home, is an exciting and precious part of your life. Nothing will ever be the same again and you may find the responsibility of being a parent overwhelming. The choices you make for your child before they are old enough to choose for themselves can affect them for better or for worse.
Therefore, it is essential that you get informed about issues that may affect the health of yourself and your baby. Don't be fooled by the media and all the clever advertising campaigns. Don't even rely on your government to protect you from companies who put their profit before your health. Thankfully, there are a number of organisations which we rate very highly for the quality of their information on health issues. None of them have vested interests in products, or have any hidden agendas. You will find a list of these organisations in Useful Links.
Whether you have just given birth to your first child or your sixth (!), or whether your child was planned or unplanned, you now have the most important job in the world - to care and nurture your child to adulthood. We wish you well in your journey together. And even when parenting seems hard, remember these words from the world’s number one best-selling book, The Bible:
"Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a real blessing" Psalm 127, verse 3 (Good News Version)
Paracetamol is still considered to be safe but should be kept to a minimum and other ways of dealing with a headache should be chosen first. Laying down and rubbing lavender oil on your temples may be sufficient.