If you are pregnant with your first baby, you might be wondering what to expect after you have your baby and what changes may occur in your body during the first 24 hours after you give birth.
This page explains what to expect after a vaginal birth in hospital.
What happens in the birth room immediately after I give birth?
The birth of a baby is a different experience for everyone. Although there are some things that may be similar for most new mothers.
At the time of birth, your baby will likely be lifted up onto your chest for skin-to-skin contact. You will then need to deliver the placenta. Whilst you are cuddling your baby, your midwife or doctor will look at your perineum and vagina to see if you have any tears that need repairing with stitches.
Your midwife will check your baby and your pulse and blood pressure, and will check for vaginal blood loss and the firmness of your fundus (the top of the uterus). They will also do a thorough check of your baby from head to toe. If your baby is healthy at birth, this doesn’t need to happen straight away.
If you choose to breastfeed your midwife can help you feed your baby.
Find out more about your baby's first 24 hours.
How long will I be in the birth room after giving birth to my baby?
After a normal vaginal birth, you will probably stay in the birth room with your baby for about 2 hours. You may have a meal and a shower before transferring to the postnatal ward or going home. If you are going home 4 to 6 hours after birth, you might be able to stay in the birth room until discharge.
What should I expect physically in the first 24 hours after birth?
How you might feel after the birth varies. You might feel elated, exhausted, emotionally drained or all of them at once. This is normal, you have just been through a big and life changing event.
You will have bleeding from the vagina — this bleeding is known as 'lochia'. For the first 24 hours, lochia is similar to a heavy period and you might also pass some lochia clots. If clots are bigger, such as the size of a 50 cent piece, tell your midwife. You may continue losing blood from your vagina for around 4 to 6 weeks.
Some women have after-birth pains as the uterus starts to contract to its pre-pregnancy size. After-birth pains can feel like labour pains or mild to moderate period pain. If you’re having your second or third baby, they’ll probably be stronger than the after-birth pains from your first baby. A warm pack on your back or belly may help. You can also ask your doctor or midwife for pain relief.
Your perineum may be swollen in the first 24 hours after giving birth. You can manage this with the RICE program.
- Rest — lie down to help reduce pain and swelling
- Ice — apply an ice pack for 20 minutes every 2 to 4 hours to reduce the swelling
- Compression — wear firm-fitting underwear and 2 to 3 maternity pads for extra support
- Exercise — start pelvic floor exercises as soon as you comfortably can, but certainly within the first few days
If your perineum is painful, ask your midwife for pain relief. If you have stitches in your perineum, they will dissolve in 1 to 2 weeks. Wash the area normally in the shower and gently pat dry. Eat plenty of fibre and drink a lot of water so your stools are soft. Avoid straining on the toilet and ask for laxatives if you become constipated. Your midwife or doctor will look at your perineum regularly after birth and prior to you going home, to observe for blood loss, bruising and to make sure there are no signs of worsening bruising or trauma to the area.
Your breasts will produce colostrum to feed your baby. Normally a small amount is produced. Remember that your baby’s tummy is just the size of a marble.
If you have a straightforward vaginal birth in a public hospital or birthing centre, you’ll probably go home within 24 hours. A midwife might visit you at home. If you have your baby in a private hospital, you might be able to stay longer, if you want to. Ask your hospital what to expect for your length of stay.
If I have a home birth, what care will my midwife provide after the birth?
If you give birth at home, your midwife will stay with you for some time then return later to check on you and your baby. Talk to your midwife before the birth about what happens after.
What if things didn’t go to plan?
Sometimes birth isn’t straight forward, and it can be difficult to plan for this. You may find attending labour and birth classes during your pregnancy can help give you a better understanding of what to expect.
If you have had a difficult birth or complications after birth, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider in the immediate recovery period whilst you are still in hospital. Although, for some new parents these feeling may not arise immediately. If you are concerned or having ongoing physical or psychological issues in the weeks or months following birth, seeking help early is recommended.
Who can I talk to for advice and support
There are a number of organisations that you can talk to for advice and support:
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: September 2022