Healing After Vaginal Birth
How long does it take my body to heal after having a baby vaginally?
After nine months of pregnancy during which you experienced body changes – including weight gain, hormonal changes, breast enlargement and others – you finally deliver your baby vaginally and, despite being overjoyed with the presence of your beautiful newborn, you will discover your body has undergone even more changes. It takes a while to recover and feel like yourself before pregnancy. If there were any complications during your pregnancy or delivery the recovery time is even longer.
The following discussion about recovering from a vaginal delivery is an approximate guideline for mothers who have had uncomplicated normal spontaneous vaginal deliveries. When you deliver vaginally it usually takes about 7 to 10 days to recover your energy and feel you able to feel like you can do activities of daily living.
Physical Changes to my body after giving birth
However your body has changed both outwardly and inwardly. Initially you will lose weight right after the delivery, which includes the baby weight, placenta, blood and amniotic fluid, which adds up to 10 to 12 pound loss. During the days following your delivery you will also lose the extra water you retained during pregnancy because you will urinate a lot. You will lose up to 5 or 6 pounds of water weight depending upon how much water you retained. Following that weight loss you will often lose weight if you are breast-feeding, which helps with weight loss from pregnancy.
For many mothers, losing the weight gained during pregnancy can be a struggle. If so, you should consult your physician for help, who may refer you to a nutritionist and advise an exercise program.
Another change during pregnancy was your uterus, which stretches during pregnancy to around 15 times its pre-pregnancy size. Immediately following delivery your uterus will contract causing the placenta to deliver. Once the placenta delivers your uterus will contract even more to stop bleeding and will begin to retract and become smaller – also known as envolution of the uterus. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
Your cervix also stretches during pregnancy so when you deliver it’s soft and has little elasticity, which is called tone. It takes about 1 week for the cervix to return to its normal size but 4 to 6 weeks to heal completely from labor and delivery.
During labor and delivery your vagina is stretched and injured so it is swollen and has lost its elasticity. It takes 4 to 6 weeks for the swelling to go down and the elasticity to return to your vagina. Doing Kegel exercises can help your vagina recover that elasticity. This will help when you start having sex again. However your vagina will probably be larger even after you recover from your delivery than it was pre-pregnancy.
Your perineum is also stretched during labor and delivery and can be injured during the delivery. It will be swollen and tender for at least 2 weeks and will take at least 6 weeks to completely heal.
Hormonal changes after labor and delivery
In addition to these changes, your body will undergo hormonal changes secondary to labor and delivery. Levels of Estrogen, Progesterone and other hormones decrease significantly. These changes – combined with the excitement and stress of caring for a newborn and the sleep deprivation that accompanies – can precipitate mood changes.
Many new mothers can feel emotional and depressed following delivery anywhere from several days to several weeks. If you are depressed longer than this you could be experiencing postpartum depression, in which case you should seek help and support from your physician who can refer you to a professional specializing in postpartum depression.
Other changes after delivering my baby
Other changes, such as skin changes, often caused by hormonal fluxes during your pregnancy, will often clear up post-delivery or you may have not had any skin changes during pregnancy and may have some post-pregnancy, such as acne.
You also will have stretch marks, which become lighter but do not disappear completely. There are many creams you can get for these marks.
Finally, you may have experienced hair loss during your pregnancy. Following delivery it will take up to a year before your normal hair growth returns.
All in all, pregnancy, having a baby and caring for your baby takes its toll on your body. It takes time to return to your pre-pregnancy body. It’s important to take time for yourself after your delivery. It’s very easy to focus on your newborn that is most precious and wonderful and not take care of your own needs. However, you need to be good to yourself with exercise, massage, manicures, pedicures, nutrition, etc. The better and healthier you feel, the better you will be as a parent and partner.
Gina Lamb-Amato, MD, is a general pediatrician and developmental pediatrician. She has a masters in child therapy, performing office and home consultation for newborns and parents, office and home developmental assessments, school consultations and parent child playgroups where play and art along with baby massage and other techniques are used to help parents bond and support their child’s development. Formerly, Gina was the Director of Pediatric Special Medical Needs before she went into private practice where she cared for medically fragile infants and children. She is also a Early Intervention Pediatrician for Early Intervention which assesses and treats infants from age zero to 3 years. She has extensive experience in Early Head Start programs which work with infants from prenatal to 3 years of age.