Problems in the week after the birth

This page talks about some common problems after birth and how they can be managed.

Tears and stitches

It’s common to have pain, tenderness or swelling around the vagina after the birth. The pain can be a lot worse if you have stitches because of tearing during the birth. Using an ice pack (eg, ice cubes wrapped in a wet wash cloth) for a few days after the birth can help.

If you do have stitches, bathe the area often in clean, warm water to help it heal. Have a bath or shower with plain warm water. After bathing, dry yourself carefully. In the first few days remember to sit down gently; lying on your side can also be comfortable.

Let your midwife (or the midwife working on behalf of your specialist doctor) know if your stitches are sore.

After a caesarean section – pain relief

After a caesarean section (when your tummy is cut open to get your baby out) you’ll feel sore. The epidural tube may be left in for a couple of days to help with the pain.

You will usually be fitted with a catheter (a small tube that fits into your bladder so that you won’t need to get up to wee) for up to 24 hours.

Once you go home, you will be offered medicine to help with the pain for a week or two.

Tummy pains and cramps

After baby is born your uterus (womb) starts contracting back to its pre-pregnancy size. You may feel quite painful twinges or cramps in your tummy, or period-type pains – especially if this isn’t your first baby. Breastfeeding also makes the womb contract, so you may get tummy pain while you are feeding.

Try to wee a lot and make sure you wee before feeding baby, as a full bladder makes the pain worse.

Swollen legs

Your legs and feet are likely to swell after the birth. Some women also have swollen hands.

The swelling will gradually go away over about a week as your body gets rid of the fluid you stored during pregnancy. Going to the toilet (weeing) helps to get rid of the fluid.

If the swelling doesn’t go away after a week, or you have headaches or pain in your legs, talk to your midwife.

Get help straight away from your midwife or a doctor if the swelling is only in one leg or ankle and your calf is quite tender or sore – this could be a sign of a blood clot.

Weak bladder

You may wet your pants a little bit if you sneeze, cough or move suddenly. This is quite common. The pelvic floor muscles that support your bladder, uterus (womb) and bowel may become weaker during pregnancy and childbirth. See our page on exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

Rhesus negative blood group – anti-D injection

If you are one of the nearly 1 in 5 women with rhesus negative blood (a blood group that will be looked for as part of your first antenatal blood test), straight after the birth your midwife will take blood from the baby’s umbilical cord (connecting the baby to the whenua/afterbirth [placenta]) to check on your baby’s blood group (baby doesn’t feel the test).

During birth some of your baby’s blood can mix with yours. If you are rhesus negative and your baby is rhesus positive, this mixing of blood can cause problems in any future pregnancies. Your midwife (or specialist doctor) will offer you an anti-D injection soon after baby’s birth to prevent problems.

Talk with your midwife (or specialist doctor) to find out more.

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