Recovering after a vaginal birth

Man, woman and newborn in hospital

If you’re heavily pregnant and realising there’s no way out now, you might be feeling a touch apprehensive about pushing that enormous lump out of an orifice you haven’t been physically able to clap eyes on for the last few weeks. Here’s the lowdown on what to expect after a vaginal birth and – don’t worry – it’s a realistic but horror-story-free zone.

How long do you bleed for after giving birth?
How to cope with pains after delivery
How to cope with afterpains
How to look after stitches
Does your vagina change after giving birth?
Is it hard to go to the loo after giving birth?
When can you have sex again after birth?

How long does it take for your body to get back to normal after having a baby?

How long is a piece of string? (Or more accurately, how long was your labour and how long was your baby?) While recovery time for a vaginal birth will be less than for a c-section, it will differ from one woman to another. The key thing is not to push yourself, and remember that your body has been through a pretty Herculean task, so you won’t wake up the following morning back to normal.

That said, while you’re likely to feel pretty wobbly for the first week or two, most women say that they feel 90% normal by around six weeks, and every day you get past birth, you’ll feel a bit more blooming new mum and a bit less like you’ve been run over by a blooming bus.

How long do you bleed for after giving birth?

The blood you lose after birth is known as ‘lochia’ and it can go on for as much as a few weeks. It can be quite heavy at first and you’ll need some fairly heavy duty sanitary pads for the first few days (you shouldn’t use tampons during this time due to the risk of infection.).

Don’t be alarmed if it looks a bit gory at first; this is normal. But if you’re losing very big clots it’s worth mentioning it to your midwife. And if you experience a really sudden gush of blood, particularly if you also feel faint and your heart is going like the clappers, get yourself back to hospital as this can be a sign of a post-partum haemorrhage.

Otherwise, the bleeding should, day by day, slow down and the colour turn from bright red to a more reddy-brown colour and eventually just fizzle out.

Coping with pain after a vaginal delivery

Honestly? felt like I had been kicked between the legs by a horse. Also couldn't control my wee, but now, nine weeks later, things are much better. Let’s be honest, your undercarriage takes a bit of a pummelling during the beautiful process that is birth, so don’t expect to be jumping on your bicycle for a few weeks. In fact, don’t expect to be doing much more than gingerly venturing around your house with a slight John Wayne gait about you for the first few days.

If you had a tear or bruising from the birth, the whole vaginal area can feel pretty tender. You can take pain-killers such as paracetamol to help with the pain but if you’re breastfeeding you can’t take ibuprofen or aspirin.

If sitting down is really uncomfortable you can try the age-old method of sitting on a rubber ring. (We never said it was a glamorous solution). And while you’re abandoning all your previous standards, you could also try an ice pack wrapped in a clean flannel applied directly to the area. It’s amazing how much relief a bit of cold can bring. A bag of peas does the same job but with a bit more ‘flexibility’, or you can pop a sanitary towel in the freezer, with witchhazel gel squeezed onto it and pop that in your pants once frozen for a few moments of ‘aaaaaah’. And to think once upon a time you’d have paid out hundreds for a spa day for this same effect.

Dealing with afterpains

Woman with hot water bottle

Most women expect a bit of pain in the nether regions after a vaginal birth, but it can come as a surprise to get some quite sharp pains in the abdomen, not completely unreminscent of contractions. Fear not, there’s definitely not another baby in there.

These pains are known as afterpains and are caused by your womb contracting back to its previous unstretched shape in order to seal off the blood vessels on the uterine wall.

They’re often strongest when breastfeeding as this causes the womb to contract more strongly, but the good news is they don’t tend to last more than two or three days.

Again, you can take paracetamol or try a hot water bottle on your tummy. Don’t feel you have to soldier on through. Some women feel nothing more than a bit of mild discomfort but for others after pains can really floor you. You’d think that after labour you’d feel like anything else was a walk in the park, but somehow, going through labour and THEN having painful contractions just really feels like it takes the biscuit.

Looking after your stitches after birth

If you had a tear or episiotomy (a small cut to the perineum) during your birth, you might have had a few stitches. Cuts and tears take about a month to heal generally, but can feel a bit uncomfortable in the first few days.

It’s really important to keep the whole area really clean, so make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before and after going to the loo and change your pads regularly.

Is your vagina different after birth?

The first few weeks were the worst but in time things got better and i started to feel less baggy. I had sex again eight weeks after giving birth which wasn't great but wasn't painful either just a sting. In a word, yes. Sorry. It won’t stay that way for ever but in the immediate future, post-birth vaginas are definitely a little ‘stretched’ at the very least and can look more open, softer and a bit bruised. Grab a hand mirror if you want to have a look, though frankly we are firmly in the ‘rather not know’ camp.

Immediately after a vaginal birth, you do have the distinct feeling of wind whistling right through it as you walk; not a painful sensation by any means but definitely unusual. You often have the disconcerting notion that it’s all a bit ‘loose and flappy’ and that at any moment half your organs are going to tumble south onto the carpet. They won’t. Don’t worry.

One thing you can do to help things return to (near) normal is to keep up the pelvic floor exercises (which obviously you were doing thrice daily since the moment the pee dried on the stick, AHEM). If you let things slide a little, don’t worry. Every little helps, so get going with them now. They’ll help you stop leaking urine every time you cough, too. Didn’t we tell you life would be back to Glamour Level 10 before long?

As well as feeling a bit wider, your vagina can also feel drier after birth, particularly if you’re breastfeeding, because oestrogen levels are higher. Get yourself to the lubricants aisle in your local supermarket if it’s an issue. Things should return to normal once you finish breastfeeding but chat to your GP if not.

How long does it take for your cervix to close after birth?

It takes around six weeks for both your cervix and womb to return to something like their normal size post birth. Having given birth, your cervix won’t ever close quite as tightly as it did before but this is good news if you’re planning any more children as it means dilation is all a bit quicker next time.

Going to the loo post-birth

Pre-birth, your biggest fear is how you’re going to push that baby out, but post-birth, it’s the idea of pushing anything else out that will likely fill you with dread. Once your bits are all battered and bruised, it’s easy to understand why the thought of a trip to the loo seems less preferable than the idea of root canal work.

Eat loads of stool-softening foods. Berries are good but dried apricots are the best! It's not too traumatic, by the way. We’re going to be blunt here, because sometimes that’s the best way:

If you’re worried about doing a wee and your tear or episiotomy stinging like billy-o, drink plenty of water to try and dilute your urine as much as possible. If it still stings, have a plastic jug to hand, fill it with water, and pour it over your nethers as you wee. Alternatively, do a wee while in the bath. Not a habit for life but desperate times call for desperate measures, and no one will know.

If you’re concerned about The First Poo, take some deep breaths, plenty of roughage, and just take it slow. It might feel like you’re going to burst your stitches but it’s very unlikely you actually will. It might help you feel 'safer’ to hold a wad of folded tissues over your perineum and apply light pressure as you poo. If you’re also suffering with piles (very common after a vaginal birth) the whole idea can feel doubly terrifying. Speak to your midwife and she’ll be able to recommend treatments to help them disappear back up there a bit quicker.

The main thing to remember is no one ever had dreadful injuries from their first post-partum poo. And also, like birth, it’s rarely as bad as the anticipation of it. Strength and honour.

Is it normal to wee more after birth?

Woman drinking water

Yes! This is a strange and little-discussed curiosity of the days after birth, and actually applies as much if you’ve had a c-section as a vaginal delivery. It’s partly to do with the fact that you store fluids (mostly in your legs and ankles as you'll have noticed) while pregnant and after birth it has to go somewhere.

But also, you might be drinking more water than usual if you’re breastfeeding, which leaves you with a thirst like a sailor. Unfortunately, just when you could do with keeping your bladder on a short lead, things tend to be a little more ‘free-flow’ than usual…

Leaking urine following a vaginal birth

It’s very common to leak a bit of wee after a vaginal birth, especially when coughing, sneezing or laughing. And whatever you do, give the trampolining sessions a miss.

Keeping up the pelvic floor exercises regularly will really help but in the short term, a pack of Tena Ladies might be your friend. If things aren’t improving a bit by your six-week check, mention it to your GP as there are lots of things they can suggest to help.

Urinary incontinence is horrible but really common and it almost always passes. One fine day, you’ll sneeze while squatting and NOTHING will come out, and you’ll be so pleased you’ll feel like telling the Amazon delivery driver when he turns up. Do try not to.

When can you have sex again after a vaginal birth?

If you’ve recently given birth you’re probably laughing heartily at this (while trying not to let any wee out).

The answer is, there are no rules about when you can get back in the, erm, saddle. Whether you’ll want to or not is another matter entirely. Waiting until about six weeks post-birth is a good plan, just to give everything a chance to feel a little less battered in there. But some women say they wouldn’t even consider it for months, while others are raring to go at three weeks.

Whenever you decide you’re ready, just take it slowly, tell your partner if it’s at all painful, stop immediately and talk to your GP if you have any ongoing concerns. And if you find it takes a little longer than you hoped, don’t despair. Join the rest of us on the Telly and Cocoa bench on a Saturday night for a while, instead. You’re not alone.

Recovering emotionally after a vaginal birth

Everyone feels a bit weak and weepy after birth. Aside from the tsunami of hormones going on, you’re probably very short on sleep and your body has been through the equivalent of running a marathon – using muscles you didn’t even know you owned previously.

Feeling pretty low a few days post birth is very normal – known as the baby blues – but if this continues, or gets worse, do talk to someone about it. Postnatal depression is really common and there’s lots that can be done to help.

While many women feel a huge sense of achievement having had a vaginal birth, and a newfound sense of pride in what their body can do, if things didn’t go completely to plan, it can leave you feeling a bit shell-shocked. Whether your birth ended with your legs in stirrups and forceps being waved about, or that being stitched up made you feel anxious, or that you just felt a bit like your body was briefly public property for a moment, it’s worth acknowledging, if only to yourself, that things were difficult, and no one should judge you for it. You’ll hear a lot of how grateful you should be for a healthy baby but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve plenty of understanding and sympathy, too.

If you’re feeling really upset about something to do with birth, talk to your midwife team. They will be happy to go through the notes from your birth with you, which often helps you work out why things happened the way they did, and might help you feel a bit better about everything.

However you gave birth though, we think you’re a heroine for it. Give yourself a mental medal and bask in the glory of having given birth and being some sort of superwoman. Not all superwomen wear capes, after all. Some sit in old trackie bottoms on rubber rings, accidentally weeing a bit every time they laugh.