Eight hours of interrupted sleep is not enough. You must sleep during the day to meet the needs of a new mother. Do not feel guilty taking naps. If you have older children, consider having friends or relatives care for them for a few days, either part or full time. If this is not possible, consider taking short naps when your situation allows it.
If you do not get enough sleep, you will be less able to cope with increased demands and, if you are breast feeding, your milk production will be reduced. This can turn into a vicious cycle. Too little sleep reduces milk production so baby must feed more often, and this often means extra night time feedings, which in turn leads back to less sleep for mother. All new mothers, whether they breast feed or not, need enough sleep.
To adapt to your new role, you need one-on-one time with your baby. This means setting priorities. This is not the time to keep a spotless house, or have gourmet meals unless someone else is willing to do it for you. Your husband and older children may have to fend for themselves for a few days. You may be able to enlist the help of friends and family to accomplish daily chores. Visitors are often glad to help but be aware that some may not recognize your need to be with the baby and get your rest. Arrange to have family and friends visit only by appointment. Otherwise they may drop in without warning just as you are getting to sleep. When visitors ask what they can do to help, suggest doing the dishes or a load of laundry while they visit or ask them to bring a meal.
Often new mothers will be tearful at some point during that first week. This is very normal. The hormone changes after delivery and the emotional nature of childbirth both contribute to these feelings. Most mothers recover from these up and down mood swings on their own. A few women have more severe emotional upset which lasts for weeks to months. If you are concerned about being depressed or angry and the feeling is not going away, see your doctor.
After a vaginal delivery, it is very likely that your bottom end (perineum) will be sore. You must keep this area clean to allow healing and reduce your chances of infection. Even if you don't have stitches, it is recommended that you use a squirt bottle to spray warm water over your perineum every time you use the bathroom. If there is swelling or bruising, you may wish to consider using ice packs wrapped in a clean tea towel a few times a day for several minutes. For comfort and hygiene, some women like to use sitz baths, sitting and soaking in lukewarm water that may or may not contain salt or epsom salts.
The amount of bleeding you have will vary. Your flow is likely to start like a very heavy period and taper off over one to three weeks. Some women find they need to continue to wear a panty liner for several more weeks after that. If your flow changes to become quite heavy or foul-smelling, you should talk to your doctor.
Six to seven per cent of vaginal deliveries are complicated by endometritis, an infection of the uterine lining. How do you know if you are developing an infection? The things to watch for are: a temperature of 38.0 C (100.4 F) or higher two days in a row; increased tenderness of your abdomen by the third day after delivery; a foul smelling discharge; lack of appetite, plus chills and wide temperature swings. If you have these symptoms, you must see your doctor sooner than six weeks after delivery. Usually an antibiotic will get you back on your feet, but ignoring these signs can allow the infection to become much worse.
Regular bowel movements are important. The first bowel movement after delivery can be a scary thought, but it is important to go when your body says to and avoid straining. Even if you don't have a tendency towards constipation, consider adding extra fibre and fluid to your diet to help prevent straining. If hemorrhoids are a problem, you might try hemorrhoid ointments and TUCKS™ pads.
To achieve the greatest benefit from exercise after birth, it is best to start the day after delivery. Your doctor can advise you on exercises designed to help regain tone in your abdomen, pelvic floor and leg muscles.
Many women already know about perineal exercises that are best performed often throughout the day, such as every time the baby's diaper is changed. These exercises consist of tightening the muscles of the thighs and buttocks and pulling the perineum upwards as if trying hard not to pass urine or bowel gas. The position is held for 10 seconds.
It is natural to have abdominal pain after surgery such as a caesareanean birth. Before going home, you should talk to your doctor about pain relief medication. You can expect to be able to reduce the amount you need as time goes on.
You may need to arrange to have the dressing changed on the incision and the sutures or staples removed. The area should be kept clean and requires basic hygiene such as showering and drying on a regular basis.
After a caesarean, too, it is important to perform postpartum exercises to help strengthen your perineum as soon as you are able. Some exercises designed to improve your abdominal tone may be all right as long as there is no straining of the muscles involved. It is best to ask your doctor which exercises you may do. Exercises such as situps are definitely not a good idea until you have been told your incision is well healed and you can resume these activities. Exercising should not be painful.
At some point after delivery you will consider sexual intimacy. Remember that you can become pregnant while breast feeding and before your first period. Therefore, you must use a form of birth control. Talk to your doctor at your first visit after delivery (usually six weeks) about the most appropriate form of contraception for you. In the meantime, you must protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy by using condoms. You may be a little apprehensive about resuming intercourse after delivery. Most women have a bloody discharge called lochia for up to six weeks after delivery which either you or your partner may find distracts from your pleasure. You may also be concerned about pain with intercourse, whether or not a tear or episiotomy occurred during delivery.
Give yourself control by lying on top of your partner. This makes it easier for a woman to relax, knowing that if it doesn't feel right, things won't go any further. Your hormones will have reduced the natural lubrication of your vagina so use a lubricating jelly (not petroleum jelly which can make condoms ineffective).
Congratulations new mother. You deserve all the joys of motherhood. Take care of yourself and your baby and both of you will do fine.