If you are pregnant or recently given birth, then you will hopefully find this article very useful. If you don't want to hear way too much information or are of a very sensitive disposition, then you may want to stop reading now. When I was pregnant I was given information on how to recover physically and although it was mostly useful, it was the information that I found out afterwards (either from the internet or from asking the midwife.) I want to pass this information on to you hear, as I wish I had been given it earlier. I also want to talk about mental recovery, as this isn't something that is really discussed, but is equally important. This is not a complete guide, but just based on my own experience. Always check your concerns with your doctor, midwife or health visitor and certainly check the below advice with them before trying out yourself. If you feel particularly sad or remotely suspect that you have post-natal depression then tell someone immediately and contact your midwife, health visitor or doctor. They are there to help.
Your physical recovery will depend on a lot of things, from how the birth goes, the type of birth you have, whether you had stitches and how many and how you respond to the birth physically. You may bounce back and be pottering around as usual within a couple of days, or you may need a little longer to recover. However you are feeling, the most important advice I can give to begin with is listen to your body! If you need time to rest, then do it - don't feel guilty about it (especially not now of all times.) Get whatever help you can, whether that's a friend popping round to sort the ironing out or family members bringing round a meal when they come to visit the baby. Get what rest you can now, while you can get it - as it will be more difficult later! In terms of more specific physical problems, I have given some tips below that I found very useful:
Herbal Bath - If you have had stitches, you will need to clean them everyday. The best way that I found to do this (on the advice of my midwife) was to fill the bath with warm water just enough to be able to sit, so that the whole affected area is covered. I was also advised to put in the following:
(*) Essential oils are the proper stuff, not the cheap ones.
I found this to be very soothing - you can even do this a couple of times a day. Remember to contact your midwife if you have any concerns over your healing and recovery.
First wee - This isn't something that affected me, but I have been told that it is useful to take a jug with you to where you are giving birth, fill it with warm water and pore it over yourself as you pee. This is supposed to help with any stinging.
First poo - A bit of a touchy subject, but one that needs discussing. A lot of soon to be mums worry about this, but there is a lot you can do to help yourself. Again, this isn't something that I had problems with, but I have heard that stool softeners can help. I also made sure that I had plenty of high fibre snacks to hand just in case, like dried apricots and raisins, wholegrain bread and orange juice with bits in it. It is also a good idea to make sure that you drink plenty of fluid during your recovery. When comes to the first poo itself, it's probably going to be a bit uncomfortable, especially if you have had stitches. My pelvic floor also didn't feel great after the birth and I was worried that my insides were going to fall out when I went to the loo (an unfounded worry of course.) A great bit of advice I read online was to buy a load of those massive night towels - when you go to the loo fold one in half and press it against your perineum, this really helps with the uncomfortableness of it all. Remember not to strain and contact your midewife or doctor if you have any concerns.
Pelvic Floor - You should resume your pelvic floor exercises as soon as you can after the birth. Don't worry if you can't feel anything, it will still help if you do it. I didn't do it for about a week and it took a little while for my pelvic floor to recover, as it felt a bit weird for a while. So make sure you do this - your midwife will probably remind you of this as well.
This is not something that I found was discussed during my pregnancy. Of course post-natal depression was talked about and rightly so. You should contact your doctor, midwife or health visitor immediately if you suspect that you night have or might be developing this. There is a lot of support out there for post-natal depression, as it is a very common condition and nothing to be ashamed of. This post if based on my personal experiences, and as I did not suffer from post-natal depression I don't feel that I can comment on it in a way that would be helpful, so instead I am going to offer tips on other elements of mentally recovering from childbirth.
Traumatic Birth - Not all births are the same and how we react to our childbirth will not be the same as the next person. We may have what most would consider a traumatic birth and yet not be emotionally affected by it. Or our child's birth may go what is considered to be smoothly, and yet we are very upset by the whole experience. However we react is ok. Everyone is an individual, as are their babies, pregnancies and births. If you are feeling upset by the birth or any aspect of it, then please speak to someone. This could be your partner, midwife, doctor, health visitor, a family member, anyone that you feel comfortable with. And it doesn't have to be immediately after the birth, or even a week. If you are still holding on to pain from a previous birth then it is important to speak to someone about how you feel so that you can begin to heal. I personally think that there should be a service following the birth in which the mother (and her partner) can speak to someone about the birth and how they feel about it, as it would benefit a lot of people. I think this service might be available optionally if you ask about it, but a lot of people don't know about it (I am not 100% sure if it is available myself). So ensure that you request this in your birth plan and initiate the conversation with you midwife, doctor or health visitor. I would like to see this as an option offered to everyone. It is never too late.
Baby Blues - This is a very common problem that can kick a couple of days after the birth and last for a couple of weeks. It is linked to pregnancy hormones leaving your system after the baby's birth. Unlike post-natal depression, this bout of blues will go away on it's own, but please ensure that you talk about how you feel during this period if you need to. Try to get as much help and support as you can for the first couple of weeks after your baby'd birth and get as much rest as you can to help your recovery. Maybe watch some dvds, especially comedies. Sometimes all you can do is laugh at your predicament. If the blue do not go away after a couple of weeks, or you suspect post-natal depression then please speak to someone without delay.
Isolation - This was something that I had particular problems with after Bobby was born and the effect wasn't immediate. I was fine for the first couple of months, then suddenly at about the three month mark I felt like I was going mad. Even going to mum and baby activities didn't help - I just couldn't carry on the way I was any longer. I felt like I needed a reason to go out in the morning beyond my child. This led me to going back to university to complete my degree when my baby was 4 and a half months old. I am now a full time mum again and no longer feel this sense of isolation, but I wish that I had spoken to someone about it at the time. I have spoken to others since who have felt this way, so again like all of the emotional issues it is best to speak to someone about how you feel and seek support if you are feeling alone. For me it may have been the result of post-natal depression that has now passed.
Taking the time to heal after child birth is the most important decision that you will ever make and seeking support is especially important when it is needed. The one day, you realise that you are recovered and that, although life will never be the same again, it is starting to fall into it's own rhythm. You look at your child and realise that it was all completely worth while.