Recovery after childbirth is not as commonly discussed as what happens during the three trimesters of pregnancy. Most women who are having their first child probably know that they may have morning sickness when they are pregnant and that they will experience weight gain as the baby grows; chances are lower that they know what the postpartum period is like.
The postpartum period shouldn’t be scary, but there are a few things to be aware of as your body heals. Below are a list of potential challenges that you may face after childbirth.
- Abdominal, anal, or vaginal pain
- Sore muscles
- “Baby blues” (or postpartum depression in more serious cases)
- Mood swings (due to hormonal changes)
- Vaginal bleeding
- Vaginal discharge
- Weight fluctuations
- Urine problems
- Bowel problems
It is important to remember that not every woman will experience every issue listed above. But, it is good to be prepared for any of these challenges. Speak with your doctor about any issues that you may be experiencing after childbirth. Your doctor can help find the right treatment for these issues during the postpartum period.
The postpartum period shouldn’t be scary, but there are a few things to be aware of as your body heals.
One of the most common urine problems experienced during and after pregnancy is urinary incontinence or bladder/urine leakage. Weakened muscles and tissues of the pelvic floor can contribute to urine leakage after childbirth. Women may have stress urinary incontinence (leakage occurs with exercise, coughing, laughing), urgency urinary incontinence (sudden need to urinate with possible urine leakage before you urinate), or a mixture of both types of urinary incontinence. Weight loss, bladder training, and managing fluid intake can help reduce symptoms of urine leakage. Kegel exercises can strengthen the vaginal and anal muscles. For more serious cases of urine leakage, medications, nerve stimulation, vaginal support devices, and surgery are also potential treatment options.
Women who have a cesarean section may still experience urinary incontinence. One study found that 23% of a group of 124 women who delivered by cesarean experienced urinary incontinence at 6 months postpartum.
Potential bowel problems after childbirth can include constipation or bowel leakage.
Constipation can be caused by pain medications or anesthesia used during delivery or reluctance to have a bowel movement if there are vaginal or anal cuts or tears requiring stitches or hemorrhoids. It is important to remember that drinking plenty of fluids and eating foods with fiber may help relieve symptoms of constipation. Stool softeners may also be helpful as they soften the stool and make bowel movements less painful.
Bowel leakage, also known as fecal incontinence, may occur after childbirth if rectal or anal tissue tears or the muscles are weakened. Women who have severe tearing around the anus or have an episiotomy (intentional cutting of the area between the vagina and anus to allow more room for the baby to come out during delivery) may be more likely to experience bowel leakage. Other causes can include hemorrhoids, certain medications, surgery, or gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms of bowel leakage can include an urgent need to have a bowel movement, bowel leakage or spotting in underwear, diarrhea, or constipation. The bowel leakage may be liquid or solid, and gas leakage may co-occur. Regular bowel movements, bowel training, avoiding certain medications, and changing your diet (ex. less spicy food, caffeine, dairy, gluten, etc.) can help resolve symptoms of bowel leakage. Similarly to treating urinary leakage, Kegel exercises can strengthen vaginal, anal, and rectal muscles that may contribute to leakage. Surgery, nerve stimulation, and injections used to narrow the anal opening can also be used to treat more serious cases of bowel leakage.
Women who have a cesarean section may still experience fecal incontinence. One study found that 8% of a group of 124 women who delivered by cesarean experienced fecal incontinence at 6 months postpartum.