Labor and Delivery Recovery After Vaginal Birth

Planning a vaginal birth? Two-thirds of babies in the U.S. are born this way.

Whether you're in labor for 2 hours or 2 days, you'll probably need to stay in the hospital for about 48 hours, depending on what you and your doctor decide. After you go home, your body will need a few weeks to recover fully.

Here's what you can expect post-delivery.

Vaginal Soreness

During labor, your perineum -- the area between your vagina and rectum -- may stretch and tear, which can hurt. The postpartum pain may be worse if you get an episiotomy, when your doctor makes a small cut that widens your vagina to help your baby come out.

To relieve soreness at home:

  • Place an ice pack or cold pack on the area, to ease pain and swelling.
  • Sit on a pillow instead of a hard surface.

Use a squirt bottle with warm water to keep the area clean while you pee. When you have to poop, press a clean pad or washcloth against the sore area, and wipe from front to back. That will ease pain and help you avoid infection.

Vaginal Discharge

It's common to have vaginal bleeding and discharge for several weeks after delivery. This is your body's way of getting rid of the extra tissue and blood inside of your uterus that nourished your baby during your pregnancy.

The first few days, you'll see bright red blood that will gradually lessen, turning pinkish to brownish, then to yellow or creamy before disappearing.

Afterpains

Contractions for a few days after delivery are normal. They can feel like the cramps you have during your period. They happen because your uterus is shrinking -- it goes from about 2.5 pounds right after delivery to just a couple of ounces 6 weeks later.

You may notice these pains more when you're nursing your baby, since breastfeeding releases chemicals in your body that cause your uterus to tighten. You can put a heating pad on your belly, or ask your doctor if it's OK to take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

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Constipation

You may have trouble pooping after you give birth. This is often a side effect of the pain meds you got during delivery. If you had an episiotomy, you may also be afraid that pooping will damage your stitches.

To ease constipation, drink plenty of water and eat foods that have a lot of fiber. Ask your doctor if you should try a stool softener.

If you get hemorrhoids (swollen veins in your bottom) after delivery, try applying witch hazel to ease pain and itching.

Diarrhea

Or you might have the opposite problem. The muscles and tissue in your rectum can be stretched or torn during childbirth, so you could leak gas and poop. Hemorrhoids that come out of your anal opening can also make it easier for poop to escape. It usually gets better within a few months after delivery.

Depending on what's causing it, your doctor may prescribe medication to control diarrhea or gas. Watch what you eat: Dairy, gluten, or fatty foods and artificial sweeteners can cause diarrhea for some people. Kegel exercises, where you tighten your pelvic muscles as if you're stopping your pee mid-stream, can help, too.

Trouble Peeing

Vaginal delivery stretches out your bladder and can cause nerve and muscle damage for a short time. That can make it hard to go to the bathroom even when you feel the urge.

Try pouring water over your genitals while you're sitting on the toilet to lessen the sting from pee.

You may also notice that you leak a little every time you cough or laugh. This should get better on its own. You can speed recovery with Kegel exercises. Try tightening your muscles for 5 seconds, 5 times in a row. Work up to 10 times in a row, until you're doing at least 3 sets of 10 reps daily.

Breast Swelling and Soreness

In the first 3-4 days after delivery, your breasts make colostrum, a nutrient-rich substance that helps boost your baby's immune system. After that, your breasts will swell as they fill up with milk.

Nursing or pumping will ease the swelling and tenderness. Place cold washcloths on your breasts between feedings, too.

If you're not breastfeeding, wear a firm, supportive bra. Avoid rubbing your breasts, which will just cause them to make more milk.

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Hair and Skin Changes

Don't panic if your hair is thinning the first 3-4 months after you give birth. This comes from shifting hormone levels. When you were pregnant, high levels of hormones made your hair grow faster and fall out less.

You may also see red or purple stretch marks on your belly and breasts. They won't go away completely, but they will eventually fade.

Feeling Blue

After you bring Baby home, you may go through a roller coaster of emotions -- including worry, anxiety, and fatigue -- in the early days of motherhood. That's called the "baby blues," and it's caused by hormone changes.

If you feel this way for more than a couple of weeks, however, call your doctor. You may have postpartum depression, a more serious condition that needs treatment, such as talk therapy.

When to See Your Doctor

You'll usually visit your doctor about 6 weeks after delivery. She'll check your vagina, cervix, and uterus as well as your weight and blood pressure. Once you've gotten the all-clear from her, it's usually fine to start having sex again (ask your doctor about birth control first) and to get back to an exercise routine.

Before your checkup, call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Bleeding from your vagina that soaks more than one pad per hour
  • A severe headache that doesn't go away
  • Leg pain, along with redness or swelling
  • Breast pain, swelling, warmth, and redness

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on September 21, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Center for Health Statistics: "Births -- Method of Delivery."

Cleveland Clinic: "What to Expect After Delivery."

Mayo Clinic: "Labor and Delivery, Postpartum Care."

American Academy of Family Physicians: "Recovering from Delivery (Postpartum Recovery)."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Frequently Asked Questions, Gynecological Problems: Accidental Bowel Leakage."

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Childbirth and Delivery."

Nemours Foundation: "Breastfeeding FAQs: Getting Started."

National Institute of Mental Health: "Postpartum Depression Facts."

New York State Department of Health: "Understanding Maternal Depression, A Fact Sheet for Care Providers."

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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