new mom and baby

What To Expect After Giving Birth

Congratulations! Your baby has arrived. You are probably relieved and exhausted. That’s normal. There are other things you may be noticing about your body that also are normal.

The way you look and feel is going to be changing over the postpartum period. Some changes will happen fast, and others will take longer than you would like them to.

Giving birth is difficult. It usually takes at least six weeks to start to bounce back. It can take up to one year to feel like your previous self. The postpartum period is a time to give yourself and your body plenty of patience.

What to expect after birth can be different for each birthing parent, but these seven things are common.

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1) You Will Still Have a Baby Belly After You Give Birth

New parents often still look pregnant immediately after delivering their new baby. It is common to lose about six to 13 pounds immediately after labor. The body needs time to lose the remaining weight and regain its prebaby shape. It took nine months to gain the weight. It will likely take months to lose it as well.

Expect to wear maternity clothes home from the hospital. It is quite normal to still look pregnant for a week or two after giving birth. Do not compare yourself to celebrities or people on social media who look camera-ready immediately following labor. Photos can be deceiving.

You may experience swelling in your hands and feet and night sweats. All of these are indications that you are retaining water. Stay hydrated and your fluid levels will return to normal in time.

2) You Will Still Have Contractions After You Give Birth

Postpartum contractions in your lower belly are your body’s normal way of returning the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size and shape. After you deliver your baby, your uterus weighs about 2.5 pounds. By one week postpartum, it’s already half that size. By six weeks after delivery, the uterus weighs about 2 ounces.

Contractions after birth also help to narrow blood vessels in your uterus to prevent you from losing too much blood after delivery.

The contractions are usually most intense on days two and three after delivery. Breastfeeding can make postpartum cramping more intense. Breastfeeding triggers the hormone oxytocin, which causes contractions, even in the postpartum period.

3) You Will Be Sore After Giving Birth

Soreness after vaginal delivery

If you had a vaginal birth, you may have had an episiotomy to help the baby come out. An episiotomy, or intentional tear, takes about a month to heal completely. Vaginal lacerations (tears) are very common after vaginal deliveries. It is estimated that 80% of patients will have a laceration after their first delivery. These lacerations and episiotomies are repaired with dissolvable stitches. Most doctors recommend waiting at least six weeks before using a tampon, having sex, or doing any heavy lifting after episiotomy.

These tips can help if you’ve had a laceration or episiotomy:

  • Avoid standing for long periods. Use a pillow if sitting is uncomfortable.
  • Avoid wiping with toilet paper. Use a squirt bottle to clean the area and gently pat dry with a towel or baby wipe.
  • Use a pain-relieving spray with benzocaine or lidocaine.
  • Use a sitz bath several times a day to help soothe your incision area.
  • Use a stool softener like Colace or MiraLAX® if it’s painful to have a bowel movement.

Soreness after C-section

Recovering from a C-section usually takes longer than recovering from a vaginal delivery. A C-section is a major abdominal surgery.

A C-section incision is the most painful for the first three or four days after your surgery. By the time you go home, you should start to feel better. Your incision site will still be tender for about three weeks.

You might be anxious to resume your normal daily activities, but it’s important to listen to your body and not overdo physical activity. The full recovery process varies. On average, it takes six to eight weeks to heal physically. Avoid bending, stretching, or lifting — and don’t carry anything heavier than your baby for the first four to six weeks. It is important not to drive while you are taking narcotic pain medication, but most people feel comfortable driving by two to four weeks after delivery.

During the first six weeks after your C-section, you should also avoid:

  • Exercising.
  • Having sexual intercourse.
  • Using public pools or hot tubs.
  • Using tampons.

4) Your Breasts Will Be Engorged After Giving Birth

Your breasts may become very sore, or engorged, as milk starts to come in during the first few days after labor. Warm compresses and showers can help with breast pain. Make sure to wear breast pads to soak up milk leakage. If you’re having difficulty with engorgement, it may be beneficial to see a lactation consultant.

Nipple pain and cracking also are common. They happen as the nipples adjust to the rigors of breastfeeding. Use nipple cream or ointment to soothe the cracking and let your breasts air dry after showers.

5) You Will Bleed After Giving Birth

You will experience discharge after delivery known as lochia. Lochia is the shedding of blood and tissue that lined the uterus during pregnancy. After delivery, the body expels it. It can be rather heavy, similar to a heavy menstrual period. Have plenty of large menstrual pads on hand. It will last a few weeks and get lighter over time.

6) You Will Be Exhausted After Giving Birth

The sheer effort of giving birth is exhausting. Blood loss during delivery and in the first 24 hours after giving birth is also fatiguing. Make sure to drink plenty of water and eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Listen to your body and rest as much as you need to.

7) Your Hormones Will Fluctuate After Giving Birth

Your body will go through many hormone dips and spikes after you deliver. These changes will impact your mood. It’s natural to have ups and downs. However, it is very common to experience postpartum depression, or feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. It is estimated that 1 in 7 people will experience postpartum depression.

Watch for the following symptoms of postpartum depression:

  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much.
  • Irritability.
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy.
  • No interest in the baby.
  • Overeating or undereating.
  • Restlessness.
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or the baby.
  • Trouble focusing.

If you think you may have postpartum depression, consult your doctor. Many people benefit from support groups, therapy, or medication. You do not have to struggle alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your new baby.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.