A lot happens in the first few days after the birth of your child, including many physical and emotional changes. This page explains what to expect after a vaginal or caesarean birth.
What will be happening in my body?
In the week or so after birth, you’ll bleed from your vagina. The blood is called 'lochia'. It is bright red and heavy, and might have clots. This is normal, but if you pass a clot bigger than a 50 cent piece or notice a bad smell, tell your midwife. You can expect to see lochia for 4 to 6 weeks. Eventually it will become lighter, reddish-brown or pink.
Some women have pains for a few days after birth. After-birth pains can feel like labour pains or mild to moderate period pain. This pain comes from your uterus contracting towards its pre-pregnancy size. They are more common in women who have had other babies than in women who have just had their first baby.
You might notice after-birth pains when you’re breastfeeding. As your baby suckles, your body produces hormones that shrink your uterus. A warm pack on your back or belly may help. You can also ask your doctor or midwife for pain relief.
Drink plenty of fluid and eat plenty of fibre so your bowel motions are soft. Your bowels should open within 3 days after birth. If you have swelling, stitches or varicose veins in your vulva, your first bowel movement may be uncomfortable. Avoid straining.
If you’ve had stitches after tearing or an episiotomy, bathe the area often in clean warm water to help it heal. Have a bath or shower with plain warm water and after bathing, dry yourself carefully. It’s a good idea to look at your perineum to check that it is healing and that there are no signs of infection (red, hot, swollen), you may find it helpful to use a small mirror. If there is ongoing pain, signs of infection or if you are concerned, contact your healthcare provider where you gave birth.
In the first few days, remember to sit down gently and lie on your side rather than on your back whenever possible. Pelvic floor exercises can also help healing. It is recommended that you start pelvic floor exercises in the early days after birth, once you are comfortable to do so.
If you have had a caesarean section its important to follow the advice of your healthcare provider. Making sure you keep your wound clean and dry and wearing loose clothing is recommended. If you have ongoing pain at your scar site, signs of infection or if you are concerned, contact your healthcare provider where you gave birth.
Whether you had a planned or an emergency caesarean (C-section) birth, it will usually take longer to recover than it would after a vaginal birth. Its very important to be kind to yourself and reach out for support.
Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have severe headaches, blurred vision, leg swelling, heavy vaginal bleeding, severe wound pain or other signs of being unwell such as fever.
When do I start breastfeeding?
You will usually first breastfeed your baby within an hour of giving birth. At first, you’ll produce small amounts of colostrum to feed your baby. Your baby’s tummy is the size of a marble, so the quantity is not so important. By day 3 to 5, you’ll produce breast milk.
It is common for young babies to have 8 to 12 feeds every 24 hours. Some babies may need more feeds and some may need fewer. Feed your baby whenever they want to feed, and for as long as they want to feed. This is important to make sure your baby gets what they need and for you to establish a good milk supply.
When is the best time to sleep?
Early on, you won’t get a lot of sleep at night. So try to sleep any time your baby is asleep, day or night. Babies tend to sleep for less than 4 hours at a time, so get some sleep when you can.
Should I expect any emotional changes?
You might find that you go up and down a lot, from being elated to feeling very down. That’s normal.
Many women feel teary, irritable or more emotionally sensitive than usual a few days after giving birth. These feelings are known as the baby blues, and they’re normal, too. It’s a physically and emotionally challenging time. Most women feel better a few days after birth with support and understanding from those around them. If you don’t feel better after 2 weeks, it could be a sign of postnatal depression, please seek help.
Should I have any visitors?
You might find a lot of people want to come to see you, and especially to see your baby. That’s great, but it can be tiring for you both. It’s up to you how many visitors you have, and when. If you’re feeling exhausted, you can always avoid visitors for a while so that you can rest.
What if I am Rhesus negative?
At birth, your baby's cord blood will be tested to see whether the baby’s blood group is Rh positive. If it is, you will be offered an anti-D injection within 72 hours of your baby’s birth.
Will I be offered any vaccinations before going home?
You might also be offered a mumps, measles, rubella vaccination (MMR) before you go home if you were found not to be immune during your pregnancy. You should also have the whooping cough vaccine before you leave hospital if you were not vaccinated during your pregnancy.
When will I go home?
A midwife might visit you at home after you are discharged. If not, you can ask for a private midwife who is eligible to provide Medicare-funded care and who can visit you at home.
An eligible midwife can order tests relating to pregnancy and the time immediately after birth. You can check if your midwife is registered and eligible by searching the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency's Registers of Practitioners.
Private hospital stays are often longer than stays in public hospitals. Ask your hospital how long you might expect to stay. There are also other differences between public and private care during your pregnancy.
When can I get pregnant again?
You might ovulate before your period returns, so it is possible to become pregnant without having a period between pregnancies. While breastfeeding can reduce fertility, it should not be relied on for contraception. At your 6-week check up, your doctor or midwife can discuss options for contraception. If you want to have sexual intercourse before then, speak to your doctor or midwife about options if you want to prevent another pregnancy.
What if things didn’t go to plan?
Whether you have a vaginal birth or caesarean section, 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