What is an average natural birth recovery time, and what can you expect during that time? You may be nervous about the physical discomfort that follows childbirth or feeling uncertain about what to expect in those early weeks. Let’s take a look at what happens to your body in the first six weeks after delivery.
So Many Changes!
Your body underwent so many changes during your pregnancy. They came on over the course of months, though. Natural birth recovery time includes many changes in a relatively short period of time. The truth is that some parts of it are uncomfortable. However, knowledge is always a powerful ally. Knowing what to expect will help you get through recovery. It’s our goal to help you feel in control, so you don’t end up feeling like a passenger in a body that doesn’t feel like the one you know.
Natural Birth Recovery Time – Symptoms
With a normal vaginal delivery and a healthy mom and baby, you will likely be discharged from the hospital within a day or two after delivery(1). However, you will not jog out of the hospital in your pre-pregnancy body. It will take some time before you feel like your old self. Natural birth recovery time varies by person, but here are some of the symptoms you’re likely to experience.
After your baby is born, the blood and tissue that lined your uterus are shed; this discharge is called lochia. It will probably be heavy and bright red for a few days, and as time goes on, the flow and color will both get lighter. By a week or two after delivery, it will likely have faded to pink or brown and be a much lighter flow. Don’t be surprised for bright red discharge to reappear, though. Also, you may feel a gush of blood while feeding baby; this is because your uterus contracts during breastfeeding. Discharge may last just a couple weeks or may continue for a month or more (1, 2).
You may have heard the terms “afterbirth pains” or “afterpains.” These refer to the fact that your uterus continues to contract and relax as it shrinks back to its normal size. As mentioned above, these contractions may be most noticeable while breastfeeding, and they may be uncomfortable. They tend to more noticeable for second-time (or beyond) moms. The same breathing techniques you used through labor can help with these contractions. Or, consider placing a warm rice sock or heat pack across your abdomen. Thankfully, afterpains usually disappear after the first week.
Painful Urination or Urinary Incontinence
During birth, a lot of pressure is put on the bladder, urethra, and surrounding muscles. This can cause stretching and swelling (1). After delivery, you may feel pain or burning when you urinate or may feel the urge to go but be unable to. You can try a warm sitz bath or try spraying warm water over your genitals with a squeeze bottle when you’re on the toilet. Drinking plenty of fluids may help; it will help all-around with recovery and breastfeeding as well.
Involuntary urine leakage is common in new mothers. In most cases, incontinence will go away as the tone of your pelvic muscles returns. You can do Kegel exercises to increase blood flow and build strength. Consider visiting a pelvic floor physical therapist to help you learn how to strengthen and re-engage the pelvic floor muscles. In the meantime, wearing a sanitary pad can at least help you stay dry.
Your perineum – the area between your vagina and rectum – will likely be sore and swollen for a while (1). If you have stitches from an episiotomy or tear, the pain and swelling may be a bit more intense or take a little longer to heal. You can try applying cold packs or chilled witch hazel pads, or ask your doctor about using a numbing spray or cream to ease the pain. If sitting is uncomfortable, sit on a pillow.
During pregnancy, many women develop hemorrhoids — swollen varicose veins in the rectal area — or varicose veins in the vulva. Some women who didn’t have them during pregnancy develop them after a vaginal birth due to the strain of pushing (1, 3). Hemorrhoids may itch, bleed, sting, or ache, especially during a bowel movement. Most of the time, hemorrhoids and vulvar varicosities disappear in the first month after you deliver your baby. In the meantime, you can use witch hazel on the area, drink plenty of water to avoid constipation, take sitz baths, and do your Kegel exercises.
Many new mothers find that they sweat a lot, especially at night. This is just a result of your body adjusting to rapidly changing hormone levels. You may find that you feel most comfortable sleeping on a towel to combat the sweat until it subsides.
Natural Birth Recovery Time – Your Body
Right after delivery, your breasts produce colostrum, baby’s first milk, which is thick and highly nutritious (3). About two to four days after delivery, your breasts will fill with milk. They may feel tender, hard, leaky, and very full. If you’re breastfeeding, you and baby will settle into a regular nursing pattern and the engorgement discomfort should go away within a few days. If you choose not to breastfeed, the engorgement will subside in seven to ten days.
After you deliver your baby, you should not be surprised to find that you still look pregnant. Your abdominal muscles stretched out little by little over your pregnancy, and they will be loose after delivery. It will take several months for them to regain firmness (3). Good nutrition and exercise can help speed up the process. Be sure to start with gentle exercises that strengthen the core muscles and pelvic floor.
Natural birth recovery time includes about six weeks for your uterus to return to its pre-pregnant size (3). At delivery, your uterus is about the size of a watermelon and after six weeks it will have returned to the size of your fist.
If you developed stretch marks during your pregnancy, one of your biggest questions about natural birth recovery time may be those pesky stretch marks. They will not disappear entirely, but over time, they will fade from red to silvery and be much less noticeable. If you experienced skin darkening, this will also fade with time. Sometimes pushing hard for a long time causes broken blood vessels in your eyes and on your face and neck; these disappear within a week or two of delivery.
Even though you lose ten to fifteen pounds with baby’s birth, the rest of the weight will take some time to come off. You will likely find that your maternity clothes are the most comfortable choice for at least the first few weeks. Over time, you will notice that swelling is going down and you can wear rings and shoes you may have stopped wearing during pregnancy. And before you know it, you’ll be back in your old clothes. Remember that you gained weight over the course of nine months, and you can’t expect to drop it all instantly when baby is born. Some healthcare providers tell women to think of the three months after baby’s birth as the fourth trimester. Your pregnancy journey is not over when you deliver your baby; your body still has hard work to do.
Natural Birth Recovery Time – Fatigue
Your body has been through a marathon and will take some time to recover. On top of that, you’re caring for a newborn around the clock. Your little one doesn’t know the difference between day and night, so you’re probably not getting the sleep you’re used to. You may be feeling completely exhausted. There isn’t any way to change the fact that your body has been through a lot or the fact that new babies aren’t wired to sleep long stretches. Here are some things you can do:
- Take it easy. Do only what needs to be done. Your job is to keep yourself and baby healthy and spend these early days bonding. Don’t feel like you need to be superwoman.
- Ask for help. You may have friends and family who are eager to help you out. Let them.
- Sleep when your baby sleeps. You may be tempted to try to get things done while baby is napping, but rest should be your priority.
- Limit visitors. Don’t feel like you need to entertain, and don’t feel guilty if you need to say no to a visit. There will be plenty of time for everyone to meet the new baby.
- Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. Don’t forget to take care of yourself while you’re busy caring for baby. Eating healthy food keeps your body strong, and remember that foods rich in protein and iron can help fight fatigue. Remember to stay hydrated as well. Your body needs plenty of water, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Kopa Birth’s online childbirth classes allow you to prepare for a natural childbirth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class to learn more about preparing for a natural hospital birth.
(1) The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, 5th edition
(2) Glade, B.C., Schuler, J. (2011). Your Pregnancy Week by Week, 7th edition. First Da Capo Press
(3) Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide. Minnetonka: Meadowbrook Press.