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New mum - aches and pains

Aches and pains are to be expected for a new mum in the early weeks, here's what to expect and how to cope


Posted: 31 July 2007
by Maria Muennich

The hardest part is over and your gorgeous baby is settling in back at home with you, but you've probably already realised that you haven't left aches and pains behind with the end of pregnancy. Your body changed an enormous amount during pregnancy and labour, and it's perfectly normal to be left with a few aches and pains as you recover from birth and your body works on getting back to normal - or something vaguely approaching normal at least. Compounding the problem are the very real physical demands of being a new mum: the impact of all that picking up, carrying, comforting and feeding isn't to be underestimated, particularly not if you're also losing sleep. Few new mums escape aches and pains in the weeks after birth, so next time you see an immaculate celebrity beaming serenely up from the page as she cradles her darling newborn, remember that she's probably dealing with at least one or two of the following.

Sore breasts
You're quite likely to experience at least some discomfort with your breasts in the first few weeks after birth, though for many mums it will be short-lived. Within the first few days of birth your breasts will fill up with breast milk - whether you are breastfeeding or not - and they can overfill, or engorge, which can be rather uncomfortable. If you do breastfeed your baby then you may experience engorgement at other times when your baby feeds less or when your feeding routine is unsettled. If engorgement becomes severe then it can lead to mastitis, a painful breast infection.

Another common cause of painful breasts for breastfeeding mums is sore or cracked nipples. There's more information here on how to deal with discomfort caused by breastfeeding.

The vaginal area
If you've had a vaginal birth you will probably have some bruising and soreness down below, which will be more painful if you had an episiotomy or some tears during the birth. A wound will usually take a little longer than just general bruising and soreness to heal but it gradually fade over a couple of weeks. If a wound doesn't appear to be healing, or seems to be getting worse then speak to your doctor, you may need the help of some medication to promote healing. If you have pain and swelling in the area, or an itchy discharge, you may have an infection, so be sure to mention it to your doctor as soon as possible.

Stress incontinence
Some mums have problems with incontinence after giving birth vaginally because of how the muscles have been stretched during pregnancy and birth. Stress incontinence is when you pass a little urine when you cough, sneeze, laugh or perhaps even jump or stride. Kegel exercises for your pelvic floor muscles should help, but they're not always easy to get right: There are several electronic gadgets (mini TENS units) designed to strengthen the muscles for you. If you are worried about your stress incontinence then do go and speak to your GP about it.

Bowel problems
It's not at all unusual to suffer with discomfort around the anus following birth, because the area has been put under a lot of pressure and strain during pregnancy and birth. You may have haemorrhoids, constipation and even small tears, all of which can lead to discomfort and bleeding when using the toilet. The key to limiting the impact and promoting healing for all of these is to keep your stools (pooh) soft with a high-fibre diet and plenty of fluids. If your problems are severe then visit your doctor who may may prescribe a stool softener.

Afterpains
Your uterus contracts down to its usual size in the weeks following birth, and you may feel some discomfort from these contractions, or afterpains, particularly after breastfeeding your baby as the hormones released during breastfeeding prompt contractions. These pains are usually similar to period pains and aren't much bother, but for they can sometimes be quite painful. If afterpains cause you discomfort try to think of them as helping to shrink your tummy back to something like its old size.

Backache
Backache is very common towards the end of pregnancy when you're carrying a weighty bump around, and for most mums birth will bring some welcome relief. However, once baby is there you'll probably be picking her up and carrying her around plenty. Meanwhile the muscles that help support your back in lifting and carrying, the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, have lost a great deal of tone during pregnancy and birth. There are many ways you can try to relieve backache, including massage, warm baths, aromatherapy and TENS, but the best thing to do is to try to address the cause. Of course, caring for a baby will put pressure on your back, but you can take steps to minimise the impact it has, such as taking care with how you pick up your baby, being careful to feed your baby in a well-supported position, using a baby carrier to support you when you carry her for all but the briefest periods. Toning up your abdominal and pelvic floor muscles will strengthen your body's natural support for your back. You can find out more here about alleviating backache.

Neck and shoulder pain
Strain on your back along with the general stresses of life as a new mum can lead to tenseness, stiffness and pain in the neck and shoulder area. The same tips as for dealing with backache apply, plus making a particular effort to relax and de-stress.

Surgical aches and pains
If you had a birth by caesarian section then you'll need a few weeks to recover from the operation. You will probably have some pain, for a few days, and soreness for a while at the site of your scar. There's plenty of information here about recovering from a Caesarian.


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