What No One Told You: After Labor and Delivery
Post-Delivery: Your Body and Baby After Birth
With the arrival of your new baby, you may feel exhausted, hungry and overwhelmed with love. Getting to this point is an achievement—and it’s certainly time to celebrate! However, the journey isn’t over yet. You may have been so focused on pregnancy and delivery that you forgot to learn what to expect about post-delivery.
If that’s the case, don’t worry. There’s plenty you can learn about post-delivery so that you feel confident and prepared. Dr. Alok Kumar, a board-certified OB/-GYN at MOGA in Southaven, MS, breaks down what you can expect after you deliver your baby—from what your baby should look like upon delivery to postpartum checkups, sex after having a baby and much more.
Your Newborn’s Appearance
You may be eager to see if your newborn has your nose or your partner’s mouth. What you may not expect is the color of your baby’s complexion immediately after birth.
“It’s normal for babies to have a blue or purple hue, especially in their extremities,” said Kumar. As your baby starts to breathe, within about 30 seconds after birth, that bluish color subsides.”
Labor and delivery is a stressful event for both of you. If your baby is born vaginally, he or she travels through a 10 centimeter (or four-inch) space in the pelvis and birth canal.
“Parents are sometimes alarmed, but the blue color resolves on its own in about 12–24 hours,” said Kumar.
Head molding is less likely with C-sections, especially if you have a scheduled C-section. If you have a long labor that eventually requires a C-section, your baby’s head may still appear irregular from attempting to move through the birth canal.
The Delivery Room
“The room can be fairly crowded during delivery,” said Kumar. “A number of specialized people help you and the baby. This usually includes a physician, labor nurse, scrub technician and charge nurse. This health care team, plus anesthesia members, also attend a C-section.”
The delivery room quiets down once you have your newborn in your hands.
“Typically, the people in the room at this point are family—often, it’s your mom and one support person, such as your partner, sibling or aunt. The labor nurse stays with you to assist with breastfeeding and bleeding.”
According to Kumar, the first hour post-delivery is important for bonding. Baptist DeSoto is designated a Baby Friendly® hospital, which means it encourages breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact right after birth, as long as no health emergencies arise.
“We take care of the baby as much as possible while he or she rests comfortably on your chest,” said Kumar.
Nurses tend to your baby by gently suctioning fluid from the nose and throat, applying antibiotic ointment to the eyes to prevent infection, and giving a dose of vitamin K to help the blood to clot. They will also footprint your baby and place an identification tag on his or her wrist or ankle.
Colic and Crying
Crying might not seem like a good thing, said Kumar, but it’s an important way for your baby to communicate with you.
“Babies cry when they’re born,” said Kumar. “Physically, this crying is a good thing. It helps with the breathing process and encourages physiological changes in the baby.”
As time goes by, your baby’s cries can be a sign of hunger or discomfort related to temperature or a dirty diaper. Colic, on the other hand, is prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in a healthy infant.
“Colic is when a baby cries more than three hours a day, more than three days a week and for more than three weeks,” said Kumar. “This can make parents feel frustrated and helpless. Your pediatrician or health care provider can recommend treatments and comfort measures for babies with colic.”
Colic remedies may include warm baths, changes to the baby’s formula or medications.
Your body changes considerably as it returns to its pre-pregnancy state. During these physical and emotional changes, you may experience discomfort, stress, mood swings or postpartum depression. That’s why checking in with your doctor is very important.
“Most of your care will come from your obstetrician,” said Kumar. “You will see your OB exclusively for most things. Screening protocols occur at six weeks postpartum and include monitoring blood pressure and checking for postpartum depression.”
If you’re seeing other providers, tell them if you are choosing to breastfeed so that your doctor knows not to prescribe any medications that are incompatible with breastfeeding.
Your Menstrual Cycle
After birth, your periods will return at your body’s own pace.
“A true menstrual cycle doesn’t occur until 6–12 weeks after delivery,” said Kumar. “And that depends on if you’re breastfeeding or not. If you bottle feed, your period may return sooner than if you exclusively breastfeed.”
Before you resume ovulation and menstruation, your body goes through postpartum lochia, or bleeding that lasts four to six weeks post-delivery. Lochia is a combination of red and white blood cells, amniotic fluid, mucus membranes, and tissues sloughed off as part of your body’s healing process. Lochia should get better with time, not worse.
“If your bleeding worsens or increases, we need to know. Call us right away so we can check out what’s going on.”
Sex and Birth Control
While there’s no required waiting period, Kumar and other health care providers recommend waiting at least six weeks before engaging in penetrative sex after birth.
“At the beginning, there are some infection concerns,” said Kumar. “The cervix is still open a little bit. Early intercourse could also lead to problems as you heal from lacerations and repairs.”
Kumar says sex may not be a priority at the beginning of your postpartum phase; it becomes important later.
“Sex is important,” said Kumar. “But it’s not the only way to have intimacy with your partner. Communicate your feelings and concerns. Spend time alone with your partner without the baby—just a few minutes when baby is asleep can really re-establish the bond between partners.”
You can still get pregnant soon after giving birth, so abstaining from sex for six weeks eliminates the chance of getting pregnant again before you’ve fully healed. When you resume intercourse with your partner, let your health care provider know if you experience pain.
“Having intercourse too early can lead to more tears where a laceration or episiotomy was performed,” said Kumar. “Many things can be done to help you heal and get your body ready for sex again. For example, Kegel exercises can help get you back to your normal self.”
As you step into this new role as a parent, it’s important to allow your body the time it needs to heal. The first six weeks post-delivery bring a tremendous amount of change.
“It’s a wonderful time, but it can be difficult,” said Kumar. “You may feel pressure to do it all—take care of the baby, clean the house, wear makeup, return to work—all with a smile. These are unrealistic goals for you to reach on your own. Always accept help when it’s offered. You deserve it.”