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Recovering from birth

Recovering from birth

Nothing – but nothing – can prepare you for the mind-blowing impact of having a baby. Your nether regions will be very sore, your breasts will be tender, huge and unfamiliar, and you're likely to be hormonal. The next few weeks will be a strange, dreamlike twilight zone, where night and day merge into one, and you wander around in an exhausted but (hopefully) euphoric haze. You'll never know tiredness like this again, but there will be days when you'll be so bursting with love for your baby, you'll cry.

Immediately after the birth

If you gave birth in hospital, try to make the most of your time there to rest and learn about caring for your baby. The midwives will spend as much time with you as they can, helping you breastfeed and teaching you how to bathe the baby and change his nappy. But if you feel you're not getting enough attention, it is important to say so. A midwife will also visit you regularly at home over the next few days, so make the most of her experience and ask anything you need to ask.

For the 10% of mums whose baby is whisked away at birth and placed in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), this is a worrying time, as they know doctors think their baby needs special medical attention. There's no doubt it can be scary to see your vulnerable little newborn wired up in an incubator, but don't forget your emotions are likely to be all over the place, and he really is in the best possible hands.

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Back home with baby

Many mums spend a day or two in hospital after the birth, which means they get home just as their milk kicks in, the baby blues hit and everyone wants to come and visit. Try these coping tips:

  • Forget about housework and cooking, just sleep when you can.
  • Remind yourself continually that this chaos won't last.
  • Remind yourself that you need to rest to make milk for your baby (write it down and ask your partner to read it to you every morning).
  • Don't get hung up on bathtimes. If your baby loves a bath (and dads are just as good at doing baths as mum) then great. If he really doesn't like being bathed, just 'top and tail' (wash face and bottom) for a few days.
  • Don't worry about daytime versus night-time clothes - your baby won't know the difference. As long as he's clean, he doesn't need to be in a new outfit twice a day.
  • If your baby is fractious, experiment with different holding positions and – if that fails – hand him to someone else. Quite often a calmer pair of arms (and a body that doesn't smell of breast milk) will settle him. If there's no one else around, place him in his cot/Moses basket, check he's safe, then walk away for a few minutes. Sometimes babies get over-stimulated and just want a bit of time on their own to cool off.
  • Don't torture yourself by trying to remember how many times you were up during the night so you can play 'competitive exhaustion' with your partner or other mums. Far better to just float through the night in a half-sleep daze with the lights dimmed and the clock turned to the wall. After a while you'll wake up in the morning unable to remember whether you were up in the night or not.

Your post-birth body

Having been through birth, your body will need time to recover. You'll be bleeding quite heavily (even if you've had a c-section), and your breasts will probably leak. Don't expect to feel sexy! Your bedtime outfit will include: a sleep bra to hold breast pads in place; huge knickers stuffed with an industrial-size sanitary pad: and a big nightie to cover the whole lot up when you're pacing the corridors all night. But rest assured, it will pass. Bleeding stops after about a month (sometimes much sooner), the leaky boobs will settle down once feeding gets into a rhythm, and eventually, your baby will adopt a sleeping routine which means you can spend most of the night in bed, ideally asleep!

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Two weeks later

After two weeks your midwife will discharge you and your partner will most likely go back to work. This can be a tough time, as sleep-deprivation will be building up, and that initial 'I've had a baby!' euphoria could be wearing off. A happy, snoozy baby may develop colic (see our special feature), and crying levels could significantly increase. Try these tips:

Make the most of your health visitor. She's a specialist in baby problems and will have lots of solutions for you to try.

  • Make use of visitors. Ask them to cuddle the baby while you have a bath. You don't have to run around after them, they should be looking after you!
  • Never turn down any offer of help. In fact, write a list of jobs and allocate them to anyone who asks.
  • If you're beginning to feel as if everyone is interested in the baby and not you, say to yourself: 'I grew this baby, I'm amazing, I matter'. And repeat it. Often.