The truth about what happens postpartum from the experts behind The Doctor and Daughter’s Guide to Pregnancy

What really happens to your body after you have a baby? To find out the facts, we spoke to Roger Marwood and Rebecca Maberly, the experts behind The Doctor and Daughter’s Guide to Pregnancy. A Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, Roger has four decades of experience and has personally supervised around 20,000 pregnancies. Rebecca is his eldest daughter and a mother-of-two. The duo founded The Doctor and Daughter’s Guide to Pregnancy to help mothers-to-be to make informed choices during their pregnancy. Here they answer our questions on everything from bonding with your baby to how long it really takes to get back your pre-baby shape.

What happens to your body after childbirth?
It slowly returns to pre-pregnancy state over six to twelve weeks, although sometimes it can take longer. You will experience change in weight, shape, pelvic floor, breasts, abdomen, skin, oedema, and veins – however this is all very variable. Some women spring back into pre-pregnancy shape within a few days, others hold onto the weight for much longer than they would like. It is often said that it takes nine months to make a baby and nine months for your body to recover.

Will you experience pain after childbirth? And how long does it last for?
Your perineum may be painful if you had stitches, but you also may feel very bruised even if you did not have a tear or a cut – this surprised me! I felt like I had been kicked in the crutch by a horse! [Rebecca] Any of the following can also cause discomfort – caesarean section scar, piles (which can appear during/after the birth), after pains as the uterus contracts, sore nipples from breastfeeding, sore breasts as your milk comes in. If any of these pains continue, make sure you see your doctor

What on earth is lochia?
Discharge after childbirth due to breakdown of uterine tissue (the uterus shrinks from its pregnancy size of one kilo to 50g). It is bright red with small clots then gradually becomes paler and the discharge gets lighter in terms of flow and colour until it stops – this can last up to six weeks. The intensity of the bleeding can often take some women by surprise – and likewise – some women are surprised by how light theirs is.

If you have stitches how long will they take to heal?
Like any other scar or cut, around two to six weeks, but the wound will continue to improve over the course of six months. If you experience any pain/redness/extra bleeding then speak to your doctor as these could be signs of an infection. If after six weeks it doesn’t look or feel like it is healing properly then see your GP. Click here for more information.

How does a recovery from a vaginal birth differ from a caesarean birth?
After a caesarean section you may have abdominal pain and this may restrict some movement for the first few weeks. You cannot drive for approximately six weeks but your pelvic floor will be intact. Some women find a cut or tear from a vaginal birth can be just as disabling as a caesarean section. It is very variable.

Can you have a bath or shower straight after childbirth?
Yes, unless your doctor has advised otherwise, you can have a bath as soon as you want. Some women like to shower or bathe immediately after the birth to wash off any blood. You may need a little assistance getting in and out of the shower or bath if you have had a long or difficult labour. Baths can be really soothing in the days or weeks after the birth – especially if you have had a vaginal birth and have any cuts or tears or haemorrhoids. You can try putting a few drops of tea tree oil or lavender oil in the bath to help with healing.

What are the key products you need postpartum?
A LOT of support…which you can find in the form of a relative/friend/maternity nurse, the rest you can buy in chemist or online. We suggest:
• Good quality sanitary towels – designed for padding and absorption – Optimama are the brand used by hospitals.
• J Cloth Pants – the ugliest knickers in the world – but they let everything breathe and allow healing.
• Breast pads – Johnsons or Lansinoh – we love these two brands – the rest can make you feel sweaty.
• Some women swear by Arnica Cream for bruising down below.
• Tea Tree Oil/Lavender Oil for soothing baths.
• It can be really nice to have a luxurious body cream to rub into your tummy or any bits that are feeling a little saggy or sad!

What do most women not expect about the postpartum stage?
The extent and length of bleeding, the lack of sleep, tiredness, sore breasts, difficulty breastfeeding, uncertainty, lack of support, lack of control, your body not springing back as quickly as you hoped, an inability to complete a simple task like make yourself lunch or brush your teeth in the first few days, not bonding with baby.

How long will it take for your hormones to get back to normal levels?
It depends if and how long you breastfeed, as this keeps your levels high – usually from four weeks to six months.

How long will it take for your stomach to shrink back to its normal size?
From three to six months, unless you are the Duchess of Cambridge!!

Is it normal to feel low in the days or weeks after having your baby?
Yes this is very normal. To help distinguish between baby blues and postnatal depression read more here.

What is the best way to bond with your baby?
There is no one best way – do what feels natural for you. Some women feel instant love and bond with their baby but for some women, a difficult birth/problems with breastfeeding/lack of sleep can mean that it may take slightly longer to establish a loving bond – but this is nothing to worry about and is completely normal. I felt unable to bond with my son until I gave up breastfeeding at 16 weeks. I knew I loved him but I did not feel an intense emotion for him until I stopped breastfeeding him (very painful and never-ending feeds and I cried every day!) [Rebecca]

What is your advice for getting through the postpartum stage?
Do what feels comfortable. Some women like to stay in bed for two weeks and not have any visitors, for others it feels natural to get up and out as soon as they can. It can be a very tough time with a brand new baby and a body that feels a bit beaten up – but eating well and trying to get some sleep can do wonders for your body and mind. Your baby will also dictate your style of parenting to a certain extent. If you have a sleeper it can be nice to relax at home and take things easy, but mothers of non-sleeping babies will know that leaving the house and pounding the streets is the only way to stay sane! Look after yourself – you may not look or feel great after giving birth but a trip to the hairdressers, a pedicure and a bit of makeup can do wonders for your self-confidence. Most nail bars and hairdressers are fine with you bringing a baby in a buggy. If you can, take time to go for a meal alone with your partner as soon as you can. If you can’t find someone to watch the baby for you for an hour or so, then just bring it with you and pray that he/she sleeps. It’s great to try and restore some normality to your relationship as soon as you can! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or admit that you are struggling – you will find that other mothers are a great source of support especially when you are feeling low – a baby poo explosion story is always guaranteed to cheer you up! [Rebecca]

How long does the postpartum period last for?
25 years – HA HA! Ten days to six weeks [Roger]

Visit The Doctor and Daughter’s Guide to Pregnancy – Doctor and Daughter also run antenatal classes in South London which you can book here

Image courtesy of Masha Rotar @masha_theone, founder of www.myitalianliving.com