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16 Mar 2022

What not to do after giving birth in 2022 - and what to do instead

Find out what you need to know to help you to navigate the weeks post-birth and ensure the best start in your journey as a new parent

It's incredibly important to look after your physical and mental health, especially after giving birth when it's easy to feel overwhelmed.

In addition to everything being so new, you may also be confused about conflicting advice you've been given or unsolicited anecdotes you've been told. But we're here to help you navigate this special time and feel prepared for the coming months or weeks ahead.

Find out the four things to avoid following birth and the four alternatives we'd recommend instead.

Take a look at our advice for getting your birth plan ready

Don't ignore pain

After giving birth, it's normal to have aches and pains - after all, your body has been through a tremendous amount during labour and childbirth.

Most women will feel a small amount of dull tummy 'afterpains' or discomfort for two or three days following the birth as the womb shrinks. These pains mainly feel dull and are often felt more strongly when breastfeeding.

However, if this worsens and is accompanied by a high temperature over 38°C, bleeding that's getting heavier, is smelling unusual for you or you're producing clots, it could be a sign of infection. Also look out for pain in your perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) or caesarean incision site.

See a health professional if you have pain with swelling, aching and tenderness in one leg - usually in your calf - especially if it's accompanied by warm, red skin, as it could be a deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Call 999 immediately if it's accompanied by sudden difficulty breathing, chest pain or tightness, or coughing blood.

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Don't use tampons

Sanitary pads, a moon cup and tampons

In the first few weeks after the birth you'll have vaginal bleeding called 'lochia', which is your body shedding blood, mucus and tissue from your uterus following delivery.

Although it may look like a period, you shouldn'tuse tampons or menstrual cups until you've had your six-week postnatal check.

The NHS says: 'This is because you'll still have a wound where the placenta joined the wall of your womb, and you may also have tears or cuts in or around your vagina.'

Use maternity pads, sanitary towels or period pants instead.

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Don't ignore your feelings

It's totally normal to have the 'baby blues' in the first week after having a baby.

A drop in oestrogen and progesterone, as well as a fall in endorphins following the birth, can cause symptoms including tearfulness, irritability and anxiety. It should only last a few days, usually improving from day three or four.

However, if these feelings haven't shifted after a couple of weeks, you could be one of the 10-15% of new mums suffering from postnatal depression (PND) and you may need medication or a talking therapy.

You can get help and advice from organisations such as PANDAS (PND Awareness & Support) or speak to your GP or health visitor.

How to access therapy and counselling services: practical advice on where to start

Don't forget birth control

Despite old wives' tales, even if you are breastfeeding and your periods haven't started again, you can get pregnant from three weeks after giving birth. This is why your medical team will discuss contraception with you within a week of your baby being born.

Most contraception methods are suitable immediately after childbirth (as long as you have no medical risks such as high blood pressure).

This includes the contraceptive implant or injection, progestogen-only pill, intrauterine device (IUD), intrauterine system (IUS), condoms (male or female) or the lactational amenorhoea method (LAM) where breastfeeding is used as a form of natural contraception.

If you're bottle feeding, you can use the combined oral contraceptive pill, contraceptive patch or vaginal ring three weeks after giving birth.

But if you're breastfeeding you'll need to wait at least six weeks after the birth to use these methods (although there's no evidence of adverse effects on either breastfeeding performance or the health of your baby).

Postnatal care: what happens after you've given birth?

Do stay well nourished

Hopefully you'll have been eating a good diet during your pregnancy, but the NHS says new mums should try to make eating healthily a priority, namely:

  • Five portions of fruit and vegetables daily and this can include fresh, frozen and fruit juice.
  • Wholemeal starchy foods, such as breakfast cereals, rice, pasta and noodles.
  • Protein, including two portions of fish a week (ideally one portion oily fish like salmon or mackerel, but avoiding tuna, shark or marlin).
  • Low-fat dairy, such as semi-skimmed milk and reduced-fat hard cheese.
  • Fibre to lessen constipation symptoms. Fibre-rich foods include beans, lentils, potatoes in their skins and wholemeal bread.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to support breastfeeding and for general health, but also to help dilute your urine to stop it stinging after a vaginal birth.

You could try investing in a slow cooker to save time and still prepare a healthy meal. Simply prepare the ingredients in the morning and at the end of the day your dinner is ready.

Find out how to buy the best slow cooker

Do some gentle exercise

Postnatal exercise has been shown in studies to reduce depression and improve emotional wellbeing, as well as help you to shift your baby weight.

Although it's important not to overdo it after giving birth, gentle stretches and walks outside are a great way to start, as well as pelvic floor exercises and tummy exercises to help strengthen the two muscles that are pushed apart by your growing baby during pregnancy.

Anything more high-impact such as running, aerobics and resistance or weight training should wait until you've had your six-week postnatal check. Although you can talk to your health visitor or midwife if you exercised regularly before the birth as you may be able to return to it sooner.

A C-section or complicated delivery could mean your recovery time will be even longer - it might be at least 12 weeks before you can do high-impact exercise.

Take care of your lower back and core muscles, and avoid twisting and stretching too much because hormones will make your ligaments and joints more flexible and prone to injury for about six months following the birth.

How to set up a home gym: our expert guide on buying and using home gym equipment

Do think about feeding options

The World Health Organisation encourages breastfeeding because it gives babies the best start in life, reducing the risk of conditions such as ear infections and childhood diabetes.

However, while 81% of UK women start to breastfeed, just 55% are doing so at six weeks - and 80% of them stopped sooner because of feeding difficulties and lack of adequate support.

One new dad told Which? that following the birth of his daughter in early 2022, he wished he and his partner had been advised to be open-minded about feeding options. The fact is, countless variables can scupper your plans and considering a feeding 'plan B' and making your peace with that can help to reduce anxiety all round.

For example, you may discover you have trouble breastfeeding because of inverted nipples - something you couldn't have known before the birth - so you'll need additional advice from experts or someone who's already been through this on how to tackle feeding.

Or maybe you want your baby to have breast milk, but discover you don't want to breastfeed. In which case you can exclusively pump and bottle feed.

Flexibility and good support are key to help you navigate the early days of feeding your little one.

Baby bottles and teats: choosing the right one for your baby

Do be prepared for sleep deprivation

Newborn babies may sleep up to 18 hours a day, but they don't yet know the difference between day and night and tend to sleep in small chunks of time - radically different from the sleep pattern you're likely to have got used to in your life before they arrived.

Most parents adapt to a certain degree of tiredness as it comes with the territory, but there are things you can do to help reduce the impact of sleep deprivation:

  • Be flexible with sleeping arrangements - Babies are noisy sleepers so it may work better if one of you sleeps in their room rather than the baby being in your room. Then at least one of you gets a decent kip (babies should sleep with an adult in the room until they are six months old).
  • Share the nights - Even if you are breastfeeding, you can still share some of the responsibilities, for example your partner doing the morning nappy change to allow you to sleep on or giving them a bottle of expressed milk for one of the feeds.
  • Kip while you can - You may have been told to sleep when your baby sleeps. Although the temptation may be to catch up on other things such as chores, getting rest is much more of a priority and will help you function better when they are awake.
  • Get some support - Having a nap while a friend or family member keeps an eye on your little one can be a lifesaver, especially if you're parenting on your own.