By Dana Sullivan
No one knows better than you that pregnancy is an amazing journey. But
after you give birth, your body goes through another round of dramatic
emotional and physical changes. You probably feel alternately sheer joy
and utter exhaustion, and you may be experiencing physical pain that
you didn't expect. Here, some of the most common postpartum complaints,
and advice from the American College of Gynecologists on the best ways
to treat them:
- Afterbirth contractions After you give birth, your uterus
must continue contracting in order to get back to its original size.
These contractions aren't as painful as labor contractions, but they
can be intense and uncomfortable. They may intensify during
breastfeeding, since suckling stimulates the release of the hormone
oxytocin, which contracts the uterus. The good news is that the
contractions will decrease over the next few weeks. Try to keep your
bladder empty, and when the pain is severe, lie on your stomach with a
pillow under your abdomen. If you've had a C-section and can't lie on
your tummy, practice the same relaxation techniques you used during
labor, such as deep breathing and visualization.
- Breast engorgement When your milk comes in, two to five
days after delivery, your breasts may become painfully full and hard.
If you're not breastfeeding, the engorgement should subside within a
few days. If you are breastfeeding, it may take a week or more for your
baby and your breasts to work out a demand-and-supply relationship.
Until then, here are a few things you can do: Apply bags of crushed ice
to your breasts several times a day; stand under a warm shower, which
should trigger "letdown" and release some milk; express a little breast
milk with a breast pump or by hand; massage your breasts, stroking
gently but firmly toward the nipple.
- Difficulty urinating The bladder and urethra are right
next to the birth canal, and can become stretched and bruised during
delivery. (If you had an epidural or a C-section, the effects of the
anesthesia may also make it difficult to urinate for the first
postpartum day or so.) To get your bladder working again, drink water
immediately after delivery; run water in the bathroom sink (hearing
running water may increase the urge to empty your bladder); stand or
walk-- gravity may help; and soak your bottom in a tub of warm water.
- Episiotomy Good hygiene is essential while the wound
heals. Take warm sitz baths to keep your bottom clean and to soothe
soreness. Use a warm-water rinse on your bottom while you urinate to
reduce the stinging caused by the acidic urine running over the wound.
You might also place ice packs on your bottom and try using a
witch-hazel-soaked pad between your perineum and sanitary pad. If the
pain is unmanageable, ask your physician to prescribe pain medication.
- Hemorrhoids The best way to prevent hemorrhoids is to
avoid constipation. But if it's too late for that, take a hot sitz bath
two or three times a day for 20 minutes each time; applying cold
witch-hazel compresses several times a day may also bring comfort. Try
sleeping on your side, which takes pressure off the rectal veins; avoid
standing or sitting for hours at a time; and don't strain during bowel
movements (elevating your feet on a footstool may make it easier to
avoid straining). If none of these home remedies relieves the
discomfort, ask your physician to recommend a stool softener and a
medicated topical cream.
- Gas pains Your bowels are "traumatized" by childbirth,
just as your bladder is. The muscles may be sluggish, which can cause
constipation and a gassy, bloated feeling. If you've had a cesarean,
the pain may be very intense. Drink and eat small amounts, slowly and
often; avoid foods such as beans, onions, cabbage, broccoli, and fried
and sugary foods, which are known to cause gas. And ask your physician
to suggest a gas-relieving medication.
- Cesarean-section incision pain You'll be given pain
medication to take for at least the first few days following your
C-section. It may make you feel woozy, but it will help you sleep,
something the pain would likely prevent. If your stitches aren't the
type that dissolve, you'll need to have them removed by your
health-care provider, probably within four or five days after delivery.
She'll tell you how the incision should look and feel while it heals,
but if you notice any of the following symptoms, call her immediately:
fever over 100.4 degrees; nausea and vomiting; painful urination;
bleeding that is heavier than your normal period; pain, swelling, or
signs of infection.