What to Expect the First 24 Hours After you Give Birth

All the prepping in the world cannot completely prepare you for the post-birth experience.

At least, that’s my 2 cents. Many friends gave me the honest truth about what happens to your body after you give birth, but I couldn’t fully realize what they meant until I went through it.

Which will probably be your experience, too.

But while my friends couldn’t  completely prepare me, what they told me was still invaluable.

Whenever something new happened to me, I recalled our conversations, “Ohhh. So THAT’S what they meant.” I got a lot of comfort from having even a little intel on these changes.

If no one had ever told me about the post-birth experience, I probably would have been traumatized.

Crazy things can happen to your body after you give birth!  

Those first 24 to 48 hours are going to feel like a whirlwind. Having some idea of what to expect will help you have some peace of mind.

This article is brought to you by Metro Health and is a collaboration between GRKIDS and Metro Health.

Driven by our passion to put you first, Metro Health – University of Michigan Health is changing the face of health care in West Michigan. Whether you’re seeing your family doctor for a physical or working with a specialist to treat a chronic condition, our integrated health care system is designed to give you easy access to high-quality, personalized care.

What Does Your Baby Do After Those First Breaths?

We asked Metro Health – University of Michigan Health OBGYN Susan Hicks, DO, to describe what typically happens with your baby immediately after birth.

“The first hour after a baby is born is precious,” she says. “The baby is calm and looking up at mom. Those are special moments.”

Dr. Hicks says if the baby is healthy and has a good cry, she usually keeps the cord attached for about a minute so the baby receives extra blood from the placenta.

“Then we clamp the cord and allow a loved one to cut it.” Dr. Hicks goes on to say, “From there, the baby goes right on mom’s belly. We place warm blankets on top of the baby and make sure mom and baby have skin to skin contact.”

She says that skin to skin contact is crucial for bonding and the baby is soothed and calms down almost immediately.

That was my favorite part of the birth process. (It’s probably everyone’s.) I was finally meeting my son or daughter, looking at their face, and feeling their sweet, warm little bodies resting on mine. I had done it – my baby was here!

“I’ve had moms and dads sing to their babies, and we encourage them to touch their baby. We typically like the baby to stay with mom for at least an hour and, during that time, we help her begin breastfeeding,” adds Dr. Hicks.

A Word on C-Sections

The following information about your body’s experience mostly covers vaginal births.

Women who undergo cesarean sections will have a slightly different experience, though many of the same rules will apply – you’ll still undergo body repair, and will experience possible dehydration and a slower pace. The big thing to keep in mind with a c-section is recovery time.

“It’s one more day in the hospital compared to a vaginal delivery,” says Dr. Hicks. “Plus two more weeks at home (6 weeks for vaginal delivery, 8 weeks for c-section).”

What Your Body Does After Birth

If you are squeamish about bodily fluids and functions, you may want to take a seat for this next section…

1 – You Deliver the Placenta

So something that I don’t recall hearing about when talking with friends about birth was delivering the placenta. Within about 30 minutes or so after delivering your baby, you also have to deliver the placenta.

“It usually comes out spontaneously,” Dr. Hicks explains. “But if it doesn’t, we warn moms that the process of getting it to disengage can be uncomfortable. It requires us to massage the uterus to help it contract and shrink.”

I’ve been there. It’s not super uncomfortable, but frankly, it’s an annoying side effect. Here you are just wanting to hang out with your baby, and the docs need you to do more physical work! Thankfully, it doesn’t take long and of course, is an important thing to do.

2 – Medical Staff Does Damage Assessment

Every body gives birth differently. Some of us deliver vaginally while others have cesarean section. We all know that a c-section requires stitches and takes a long time to heal. But did you know that a vaginal delivery can also cause injury to the body?

“We look for areas of lacerations or abrasions. A majority of women need to have some kind of repair. We use a degree scale of 1-4 with 4 being the highest degree of damage. Most women have second degree lacerations,” explains Dr. Hicks.

Dissolvable stitches are used to repair tears, and they go away in four to six weeks.

3 – Beware the Shower – You may be Dizzy and/or Dehydrated

After all that pushing, sweating and hard work, you may want to jump in the shower—but beware.

“You’ve just changed your physiology,” Dr. Hicks points out.

“You’ve given birth and lost about three to four times the amount of blood you lose during a normal period. You are probably dehydrated, exhausted and may feel lightheaded.”

Dr. Hicks recommends taking it slowly when getting in the shower, and make sure someone is there to assist you.

Other Surprises in the Weeks After Birth

1 – Sorry – You’ll Still Have a Baby Bump

Don’t expect your baby belly to disappear right away, or even in the first few days. It will take about two weeks for your uterus to contract back down to its normal size. The good news for women who can breastfeed – breastfeeding helps the process.

2 – It’ll Feel Like an Endless Menstrual Cycle (And Other Exciting Things)

Also, while your uterus is contracting, your body will continue to get rid of leftover blood, mucus and tissue for the next four to eight weeks. No, it’s not pleasant, but it’s completely normal. Prep yourself for having a period for the next couple of months. 

Then there’s, ahem, the issue of going to the bathroom.

“A lot of women get very worried about having their first bowel movement post-birth because they think they’ll tear their stitches. I assure them going to the bathroom will not tear the stitches out,” Dr. Hicks asserts.

So, eat your fiber, ladies!

When this happens, you may wonder if your body will ever be the same down there. It will. But it will take time.

For months after birth, whenever I used the bathroom I had this subconscious awareness of my stitches. Even though my body was healed, the incident was still on my mind.

It’s normal to feel a little squeamish about your vaginal healing process. If you’re like me, you’ll eventually get over it. Just don’t be hard on yourself.

3 – Breastfeeding can be Quite Painful at First

Finally, if you’re breastfeeding, expect your breasts to feel sore during and after feeding. That skin has a lot of toughening up to do, especially if your baby is suckling for 30-45 minutes at a time.

On a personal note, beware the breast pump. I tried that soon after birth (to test it out) and it was on the highest setting and WOWZA! I about jumped out of the hospital bed in pain. Start that thing on the lowest level, and know that your breasts need time to acclimate to this new job of feeding your baby.

Also, remember your breast milk won’t come in for about three days, but as a BONUS, your colostrum is available immediately, AND it has 10 times the calories of milk. Which is great for your brand new and beloved baby.

Finally, Ask Questions and Ask for Help

The professionals at Metro Health – University of Michigan Health Childbirth Center are passionate about providing a better childbirth experience for moms and their families. 

Metro Health’s physicians, nurses and specialists provide expert care and personalized attention in a relaxing setting. You can find lactation support, post-partum resources and more. For more information visit their Childbirth Resources page.

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