Many women experience surprising symptoms as their bodies heal after labor and delivery. Some of these symptoms, such as fatigue or lingering soreness, are to be expected, but others can cause concern if women aren’t aware they can occur.
Take a look at five changes you may experience during the first six weeks after your baby’s arrival:
- Cramping—Many women have pains similar to menstrual cramps during the first few days after birth. Known as “after pains,” these mild uterine contractions are the body’s way of regulating after-birth bleeding.
- Vaginal discharge—You’ll experience bleeding, which may be even heavier than a normal period, for a few days after delivery, according to the Nemours Foundation. The bleeding gets lighter over time, eventually giving way to a white or yellow discharge that may last for several weeks.
- Breast engorgement—When your milk first comes in—usually three to six days after birth—your breasts may feel swollen, tender or sore. The discomfort usually goes away as soon as you start breastfeeding regularly.
- Soreness—The area between the vagina and rectum, known as the perineum, stretches during birth and may feel sore afterward.
- Weight loss—Most women lose roughly 10 pounds immediately after birth, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. This weight includes the amniotic fluid and placenta. However, giving birth may not greatly reduce the size of your baby bump. It may take about six weeks for your uterus to shrink back to pre-pregnancy size.
Whether you’ve had a C-section or vaginal birth, try not to get discouraged if your recovery takes longer than you expected. Remember, these changes are normal and will ease as your body heals.
When Symptoms Signal Trouble
The following warning signs, which can point to an infection or other complication, warrant a doctor’s visit, according to the March of Dimes:
- Heavy bleeding—defined as bleeding through more than one pad per hour—or bleeding that gets heavier instead of lighter over time
- Signs of a surgical infection, such as skin that is warm to the touch, red or swollen, near the site of your C-section incision or episiotomy
- Vaginal discharge that has an odor
Many women also feel anxious or have mood swings in the days following birth. In most cases, these emotional changes are a normal result of fatigue and fluctuating hormones, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Sometimes, however, women experience severe mood-related symptoms that persist for weeks after birth.
If you feel sad or hopeless, have no energy or little interest in your baby or activities you once enjoyed, or feel overwhelmed by motherhood, talk with your physician. These are signs of a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, such as postpartum depression, and may require treatment.