15 Things to Expect After Childbirth
Updated: Apr 29
After I had my first baby there was so much that I wish someone would have told me. My childbirth class prepared me for all of the stages of labor... but that was the end. I was not prepared for what came next. And no one warned me. Maybe because they forgot? Blacked it all out? Didn't want me to know because they didn't know how I was going to take it and I was going to have to go through it anyways? Well, if you want to know, here ya go. Keep in mind, in my experience, I had a vaginal delivery at a hospital. Both of my births were without an epidural, so I was up and walking within 30 minutes of giving birth. Both of my babies were full term. This will not represent your experience if you have a C-section, if you have an epidural, or if you have a home birth or birth at a birthing center. If your plan is for an un-medicated delivery at a hospital, this is for you.
The following is meant to be for general informational purposes and is not to be taken as medical advice. If you have medical concerns please consult your doctor or care provider
birthing baby... and then birthing the placenta
You will birth your baby. Baby will be checked by doctors/nurses, will be weighed and given an Apgar score. If there are any complications they will be handled immediately. Next, your doctor or midwife will return attention to you to deliver your placenta. I was so wrapped up in meeting my baby that I forgot about my placenta. So when the doctor and nurse started directing their attention to me again I wasn't ready. They may give you a fundal massage to help (push on your abdomen). They may pull the placenta from the umbilical chord to help deliver it as well. It will be delivered, mine was placed on a tray to be removed. I asked to see mine... I thought it was so cool. My body created another human and another organ, and I wanted to see it. If you are having your placenta encapsulated it will be taken away for processing.
The hospital I delivered both of my girls at, and other moms I have talked to that had hospital births, report that their nurse gave them a fundal massage. Depending on your nurse and the size of your uterus after birth, this can be a somewhat painful procedure. After you give birth the nurse will periodically come check on your bleeding, and will push on your abdomen to help the uterus with contracting down towards pre-pregnancy size, help remove blood clots, and check your bleeding again after the massage. Your abdomen is probably going to be sore from all the contractions and birthing that just took place, so this was one of my least favorite things. But I was told that the fundal massage is done to assist the uterus in contracting down and releasing the extra blood and fluid from birth. You can read more about it here.
bleeding and cramps after birth
You will bleed for a few days and up to a few weeks after birth. You will also experience cramping in your abdomen. Your uterus is contracting back down, your muscles have been stretched and pushed to their limits, and your body is getting rid of excess blood and clots from birth. Read more here for warning signs that you may be bleeding too much after birth. Your nurse and doctor will give you instructions for when to call your doctor and signs to look for after birth.
cramps with breastfeeding
You can have increased cramps in your lower belly while nursing your baby. Your body releases hormones to aid the milk in "letting down", namely Oxytocin. This hormone is also responsible for helping the uterus contract back down to normal size. So, breastfeeding stimulates the systems needed to help your body heal postpartum. You can read more about this here.
many hospitals have gone to "rooming in" with baby
Many hospitals now, and especially "baby-friendly" hospitals, practice "rooming in" as a standard of care. This means that after birth your baby will be with you 24/7. There are benefits to this, including bonding, lots of practice breastfeeding, learning your babies cues and learning how to soothe them. But it can also be challenging... with the exhaustion of labor, and if you have had any surgical procedures, caring for your baby exclusively just after birth can be a lot. This is where your partner being there can really help. You can read more about this here.
the nurse will be checking in on you and baby... a lot
At the hospital I delivered at I stayed in the labor room for about 30 minutes (until I peed on my own) and then was transferred to an inpatient room on the maternity floor. More nurses and doctors came during the day to give baby vaccines, check her hearing, etc. But all day and night I was checked on about every 2 hours. I was reading that some women are checked on every 1 hour, every 2 hours, or every 4 hours. This will vary depending on where you are delivering and if you have had a c-section or vaginal delivery. I was surprised by this, because it was very hard to rest at night with being checked on so frequently. But I found the nurse was making sure that I was nursing the baby and that I was not sleeping with her in the bed, which was not allowed in my hospital. Newborns have to be nursed every 2 hours the entire time you are at the hospital (my experience).
baby isn't the only one wearing a diaper
Welcome to motherhood. Not only is baby wearing a diaper... you are too! They give you these fancy underwear, they're like granny panties and boyshorts had a baby, but not as cute. And then they give you huge pads to wear for the bleeding. Also, the nurse will get you ice to hold on your vagina (you just sit on it), which feels AMAZING, especially if you have had tearing. At my hospital they actually packed the ice into a baby diaper and then, you guessed it, you shove it down into your diaper. Super cute. But it feels so good, it really doesn't matter.
your boobs will be out all the time
If you are planning on breastfeeding, your boobs will literally be out all the time. You and baby will be trying to figure out the latch. Lactation consultants will come on and sometimes even give you "hands-on" help with that. As I mentioned previously, newborns eat about every 2 hours. So sometimes it feels like you put your boobs away just to get them back out again.
*a note here, my hospital offered a breastfeeding class, and this was really helpful for me. I came to the game already understanding a little bit about latch, how to help baby latch, and how to remove the latch. If your center offers one, I highly recommend it! Also, if your center/hospital has a lactation consultant phone number make sure you tuck that away. You may need it. La Leche League can also be a great source of information.
you won't be able to drive right away
I didn't know this was a thing, but when they told me it made sense. I think I had to wait 2 weeks, some women have to wait up to 6 weeks, especially if you have had a c-section. Consult your doctor on exactly how long you should wait before driving.
you are discouraged from walking up and down stairs
With my births I think it was about a week I was supposed to avoid going up and down the stairs. I hadn't planned for that at all with my first. What I ended up doing is I went upstairs at the end of the day to shower and sleep in my bed. Then in the morning, when I came down I brought everything I needed so I could stay downstairs the rest of the day. If I needed anything I just asked my husband to go up and get it for me. If you have a c-section I believe you are supposed to avoid stairs for a few weeks. Again, consult your doctor on the exact amount of time.
about 3 days out your boobs will get ENGORGED
Oh girl, I was not ready for this. I remember it so clearly. I was watching a show with my husband, it was about 10pm. All of a sudden my boobs felt hot, and hard, and I looked at them, and they were like over-inflated balloons... like they were about to pop. I was like "Oh God, this is how I die". I called my hospital's 24 hour lactation helpline, and thank God the lactation consultant came to the phone right away and encouraged me that everything was normal. My milk came in and my breasts were engorged. I stuffed a bag of frozen peas onto each bra cup, and laid back on the sofa in all my glory.
ice packs/frozen peas, don't panic, it's normal
your hair may fall out
With both of my kids my hair fell out. I remember after my first, I had washed my hair in the shower. I got out and was combing my hair... and when I pulled the comb away it was full of my hair. Like a huge wad of hair. I was like oh god... WTF. I talked to other mom friends and they said they lost their hair too. To which I wanted to scream "WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME!" It has to do with the estrogen levels your experience during pregnancy, and their plummet after birth. You can read more about it here.
you could have night sweats
I experienced this with both of my births. I had night sweats for weeks. Apparently it is due to your body trying to get rid of excess fluid, and also a response to hormone changes in your body after birth. You can read more about it here.
you may experience mood changes
This is an excerpt from an educational pamphlet made available from Postpartum Support International (PSI): "While many women experience some mild mood change or "the blues" during or after the birth of a child, 1 in 7 women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety. 1 in 10 Dads become depressed during the first year." That is a significant number of mothers. A majority of women experience mood swings, or "the blues" because of lack of sleep, new responsibilities, healing from childbirth (mentally, physically, and emotionally), and the intense hormone changes that occur. Mood changes may show up during pregnancy. They may be prevalent in the few days after birth, or they may not arise until weeks or months after the baby is born.
you will not sleep on a normal schedule... for a while
My first experience with this was at the hospital, when I was told I would need to try feeding baby every 2 hours. And was told upon checking out of the hospital that baby would continue to feed every 2-3 hours for several days. After this I followed baby's lead on feedings. My girls were both full term and health weights at birth, so I had a little more leeway here. They also gained their weight back quickly, so I didn't need to continue feeding every 2-3 hours, unless they were requesting it. Parenting a newborn is exhausting. If you have a partner available it can be helpful to take turns letting each other nap in those first few days. Through those long nights and days just remember that this is a temporary stage. Soon they will sleep through the night. If you are concerned about your baby's sleep habits, consult your pediatrician.
In your experience is there anything else you wish someone would have told you about what would happen after birth? If you are pregnant for the first time, or for another time and are getting a refresher, I hope this is helpful.