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Your physical and emotional wellbeing

7-minute read

Bringing your baby home can be a wonderful time, but it can also be chaotic and exhausting. Life with a new baby is demanding and unpredictable.

This makes it hard to find time for your own needs — even things as basic as having a shower or making a sandwich. You’ll be tired, and sometimes overwhelmed. 

It may feel as if you have no control over your life. This is normal. It doesn’t last. By 6 to 8 weeks, you’ll start to get more organised. By 3 to 4 months, things will be more settled.

Good ways to survive these early weeks include: 

  • Try and nap during the day when the baby sleeps.
  • Do as little as possible. Keep housework to a minimum (you and the baby are more important).
  • If you have a partner, ask them to bath and change the baby — it gives you a break and helps the baby get to know both parents.
  • Ask for help from family and friends if available, and accept any offers of help. Most people are keen to help.
  • Remember your relaxation techniques. Use the techniques if you feel edgy or when you want to rest.
  • Save energy by sitting down to do things. Sit on the floor or lounge to change a nappy; sit down to fold laundry; lie down to breastfeed.
  • Keep food simple, as you won’t have time or energy for much cooking. The simplest meals are often the healthiest, such as salads with some lean grilled meat or fish, canned fish or cold chicken with wholegrain bread. Snack on fresh fruit and yoghurt.
  • If friends drop in, ask them to give you a hand if there are things to do like shopping or putting out the washing, as most people like to feel useful.
  • Try to have ‘time out’ every day, even if it’s only 20 minutes to have a bath, read a magazine, go for a walk, watch TV or phone a friend.
  • Remember that if you don’t care for yourself, you’ll be in no shape to care for anyone else.

Your body

Vaginal bleeding (lochia) will continue until about 4 to 6 weeks after the birth. After the first few days it should be pinky brown, rather than red. See your doctor if the bleeding becomes brighter, heavier, you pass clots or the bleeding is smelly.

Constipation may be a problem but there are simple solutions. Some of the fastest foods — big salads with raw mixed vegetables, fresh fruit, dried fruit, wholegrain bread, baked beans on toast — are big on fibre. Drinking plenty of fluids (less tea and coffee) and walking help too.

If you have vaginal or perineal stitches, you’ll still be sore. Keep up the cold packs and use anti-inflammatory painkillers such as Ibuprofen (Nurofen) if necessary. See your doctor if the area becomes more painful or inflamed.

Six-week check

See your doctor (or obstetrician, if you had one) for a check-up 6 weeks after the birth — or you can wait until 2 months when the baby’s immunisation is due. This check is important to make sure everything’s back to normal. You may have an internal examination and a cervical screening test if it is due.

Your sex life

It’s okay to have sex when the bleeding has stopped — usually by 4 or 6 weeks. Some women do want to have sex at this time but there’s a good chance that all you want to do in bed is sleep. 

The good news is that in a few months your shape and your sex life should start to improve. Things that will help you through this time are:

  • Talk to each other about how you feel.
  • Have some ‘couple time’.
  • Don’t expect too much the first time you have sex.
  • If it’s uncomfortable, wait for another week or so.
  • Remember that there are other ways to feel close and enjoy each other.
  • If you don’t want your breasts to leak or spurt milk when you have sex (though some couples are fine with this), feed your baby or express some milk first.

Contraception

Don’t wait until your 6-week postnatal check to think about contraception — it’s possible to get pregnant before that even if you are breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, you won’t be able to take the combined pill because it affects your milk supply. But there are some options that won’t affect your milk. See your doctor or Family Planning Australia (FPA) health clinic to talk about what would suit you best.

Emotional health

Looking after your emotional health is just as important as looking after your physical health. You’ll be better able to cope with the stress of being a new parent, and the positive effects will flow on to your baby too.

Having a baby can be one of the biggest life-changing experiences you’ll ever have. Women often describe feeling joy, achievement, relief and strength after giving birth. However, for others, the experiences of giving birth and caring for the baby are very different from what they were expecting. New mothers don’t always feel close to their baby right away. It’s quite normal to take a while to feel comfortable and confident in your new role.

Caring for a baby during the first year of life is a constant and demanding job that can involve sleepless nights, spells of the baby crying and times of not knowing what to do. It can be upsetting if your baby is unsettled or you’re having feeding problems. It can also be hard to cope if you don’t have emotional and financial support from your partner or other family members and friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell whether your feelings are ‘normal’ in the circumstances. It’s important for you and your partner to look after yourselves and each other.

Many women experience symptoms of depression and/or anxiety in the later parts of pregnancy or in the time after birth (called the postnatal period). Your doctor, midwife or nurse may conduct an assessment to see if you may need additional support. It’s very important to look after yourself and recognise if you are finding it difficult to manage from day to day. If you have been feeling sad, down, worried or anxious for a while, and/or this is starting to affect your life, it’s time to seek help.

Some time out can work wonders if you’re stressed. If a friend, partner or relative can stay with your baby for a little while, taking a break might help you calm down. Even a walk around the block can dissolve some stress.

Sleep in the early days

You might get a shock at just how much lack of sleep can affect your life. In general, adults need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to feel properly rested, although this varies from 5 to 10 hours, depending on the individual. It is inevitable that you won’t get enough sleep in the first few months, before your baby settles into a regular routine.

Sleep tips for parents

There are some things you can do to make up for the lack of sleep:

  • Make up for missed sleep during the week by sleeping more on the weekend. Catch up on rest whenever you get a chance.
  • Even if you find it difficult to fall asleep during the day, lying down and resting can recharge your batteries.
  • It might be worth cutting out caffeine and other stimulants if you can. Although they make you feel better in the short term, in the long term they make resting and sleeping more difficult. They also affect the quality of your sleep.
  • If you can, share the work with your partner (so you both feel as rested as possible), a family member or a friend. Taking turns or shifts for night-time duties can really make a difference. This might be harder for mothers who are breastfeeding. In this case, the key is to try to rest when your baby is resting.
  • Some time out can work wonders if you’re stressed. If a friend, partner or relative can stay with your baby for a little while, taking a break might help you calm down. Even a walk around the block can dissolve some stress.

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Last reviewed: July 2021


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The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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