Feeling generally unwell?
If you feel generally unwell, it’s important to get yourself checked out by your Midwife or GP, as these symptoms can be signs of infection:
Lower abdominal pain
Pain, redness or heat in the breast and other signs of mastitis
Redness, discharge or swelling around incisions or stitches
Difficulty urinating or pain when urinating
A high or low temperature
Feeling generally unwell
Your body after birth
Labour and birth are very demanding and your body can look and feel very different straight after birth. This can be quite shocking and upsetting for some women, but it’s worth remembering that many of these changes are temporary and will get better in time.
A caesarean is major surgery and recovery can take several weeks, although you will usually start to feel more comfortable after a few days. You should try to stay mobile, but don’t overdo it – your stomach muscles and your wound need time to heal. You should avoid strenuous activity, heavy lifting, driving and sex for around six weeks, but your midwife can give you personalised advice.
You should keep your surgical stockings on for a week to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If you have been given a course of injections to take home, it’s important that you complete the course.
Stitches usually dissolve by the time the cut or tear has healed, but non-dissolvable stiches and staples will need to be removed. If you have dissolvable stitches that are not dissolving, tell your midwife. You should wash and carefully dry your wound every day to prevent infection, and seek advice if your wound is red, swollen, painful, oozing or smelly.
Some women experience swelling in their feet and legs after birth, especially if they’ve had a caesarean. This can be uncomfortable, but it’s usually not a problem. Ice packs, foot baths and elevating your feet for a little while can be helpful, and swelling should improve after 1-2 weeks.
However, women are at increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) for around six weeks after birth. If you experience any of these symptoms you should seek immediate medical advice:
- Swelling in one leg / foot
- Redness / heat in your calf
- Pain or tenderness in your calf or behind your knee
- Shortness of breath or chest pain
If you have been given compression stockings, you should wear them for as long as you have been advised (usually around a week). Some women will be sent home with a course of injections to prevent blood clots if they are at increased risk – if so, make sure you finish the course. To prevent DVT you should keep mobile, drink lots of water and do ankle exercises (e.g. rotating your feet).
Lots of women find that they leak a bit of pee when coughing, sneezing or laughing after they’ve had a baby.
This sort of problem is usually caused by a weakness in your pelvic floor muscles, which is common after pregnancy and birth. Pelvic floor exercises can help to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and prevent accidents.
Tell your general practitioner (GP) at your postnatal check if things aren’t getting better. They may refer you to a physiotherapist.
A common problem is separation of the two long muscles that run down the stomach – this is called diastasis recti. In most women this is quite mild and resolves itself as you recover from your birth, but women who have a larger gap between those muscles may need some help from a physiotherapist. Find out more about diastasis recti and speak to your GP if you have any concerns
You shouldn’t start having sex again until you both feel ready, physically and mentally. For some couples this can take some time, as your birth experience, any injuries or trauma, your hormone levels, emotional wellbeing and sleep-deprivation all impact on your ability or desire to have sex. There is no “normal” timeframe to resume a sexual relationship after birth, it depends on the couple and what you’ve experienced.
If you do want to have sex, it’s best to wait at least a few weeks to allow yourself to heal, whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or a caesarean. The risk of infection is higher in the weeks following the birth, as your cervix may not be fully closed, and your uterus will still be healing where the placenta has detached. Ask your midwife for advice on this based on your own circumstances. You may need to use extra lubrication to make things more comfortable, especially if you are breastfeeding or pumping as this affects your hormone levels.
If you do have sex, it’s extremely important to use contraception – you can become pregnant again within a few weeks of giving birth, you will be fertile before your first period arrives. Some people think that breastfeeding prevents ovulation but this is not always the case.
It’s a good idea to think about what sort of contraception you’d like to use – talk to your GP about your options, as not all contraceptives can be used while breastfeeding. Until you’ve arranged contraception, make sure you use condoms to prevent an unplanned pregnancy.
Getting regular exercise is such an important part of physical and emotional wellbeing, but it’s important not to do too much too soon.
Most women wait until they’ve seen their GP for their postnatal check at 6 weeks before starting to exercise again properly. If you’ve had a caesarean, you should wait 8 weeks and only start if you feel that you have recovered well. High-impact exercise like running and jumping should be avoided for longer, ideally around 3 months, to allow yourself to heal properly.
When you do start to exercise, it’s important to pay attention to your body – you should stop if it’s painful, when you are tired or if you feel unwell.
Infections can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening condition. You should call 999 if you feel unwell and have any of the following symptoms:
• Mottled or discoloured skin
• Extreme shivering
• Rapid heartbeat and / or breathing
• Slurred speech and / or confusion
• Severe muscle pain
• Not passing any urine
Find out more from Sepsis Trust