5 things no one warns you about after giving birth

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How many times have you been warned about all the sleepless nights you have to 'look forward to' when you become a parent? Here are a few things people don't warn you about: the good, the bad, the painful - and the joyous.

1. The placenta needs to come out

After giving birth, your baby's placenta needs to come out. While that makes sense, a lot of women forget about the placenta when the time comes. This isn't really surprising; after all, you're way more interested in meeting your new bundle than thinking about anything else at that stage.

Sometimes placentas come out really easily, sliding out like a much-smaller baby. But at other times, the placenta can be 'stuck'. If this happens, you may need some further assistance to get it out.

Occasionally, placentas really don't want to leave. In that case, obstetrician Dr Michael van der Griend says that if you have an epidural, the epidural "can be topped up and the placenta removed in the delivery suite". If you didn't have an epidural, he says, "You may need to go to theatre to have the placenta removed under a general anaesthetic or a spinal".  

2. After-birth pains

Your uterus has done some impressive growing over the last nine months. While Dr van der Griend says it started off the size of a pear before pregnancy, it ends up the size of a large watermelon by the time your baby is ready to evacuate the building. So after giving birth, your uterus has some work to do to get back to its normal size.

First off, it has to rid itself of its lining – all the stuff that made baby's home so 'comfy' while she was inside. It does this just like a non-pregnant uterus rids itself of its shedding each month – by contracting and expelling blood.

After your first baby you may feel these light contractions like period pain.

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The bad news is that after each baby these pains tend to get worse. Dr van der Griend says this may occur because the uterus is made up of smooth muscle, "and smooth muscle tends to retract more effectively after it has already been stretched to full-term in a [previous] pregnancy."

I can vouch for this myself: after giving birth to my third baby I had totally forgotten about after-birth pains until, you know, they struck. I spent my entire first night after giving birth still attached to my TENS machine and using it to help me through those after-birth pains.

3. You're going to sweat

After giving birth you're likely to sweat. Dr van der Griend says this most likely relates to the change from high oestrogen levels of pregnancy to the low oestrogen levels of breastfeeding - so if you wake all sweaty during the night, don't panic.

But don't expect it to go away quickly, either. "This can actually go on for quite a long time until your oestrogen level normalise a number of months after delivery," explains Dr van der Griend.

If you have any other new symptoms in addition to the sweats – such as fever, breast pain or any other concerns – see your doctor.

4. What the bleeding down there will actually be like

You know you're going to bleed after giving birth. As explained, that lining of your uterus has to be shed. But what's it actually like?

At first, the bleeding is likely to be like a heavy period. The bleeding starts off bright red blood and there are often clots. Then the bleeding starts to 'taper off', turning a lighter brown or pink colour, before turning yellowy/white. That said, Dr van der Griend says the bleeding "fluctuates".

The length of time you will bleed is also variable. It can go for a couple of weeks, but can last up to six weeks. Dr van der Griend says if the bleeding is still "moderate" at the six-week mark you should see your doctor about it.

If you start experiencing bright red (fresh) bleeding after the bleeding had settled and become lighter, check in with your doctor.

5. The good stuff

It's not all bad news. Yes, you get to have a baby. And yes, that really is wonderful (but chances are you knew that already!).

Here are some other positives you can look forward to after giving birth:

  • You can finally pee like a normal person again. Because your bladder will no longer be squashed by all that extra weight in your uterus, it has room to 'fill up' more effectively, so you can finally pee normal amounts again
  • You (hopefully) won't need to pee every few minutes anymore (see point above)
  • You will be able to sleep on your front – and back – again
  • You won't have to give birth again anytime soon
  • Once your baby is born, you will get to spend some serious time with teeny-tiny baby toes. (While everyone tells you about how much you'll love your baby, I don't think people rave enough about how adorable baby toes are!)

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