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Your first 24 hours after having a baby

A mother sits on the edge of a hospital bed holding her newborn child
Knowing what to expect in the hours after having a baby can help you feel more prepared.

For many pregnant women, the birth of a baby – particularly if it’s the first – is something to look forward to with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Before your baby's arrival, you may find yourself reading strangers’ birth stories online, asking friends and families to share their experiences, creating playlists of push-worthy tunes and writing your dream birth plan in detail.

However, while many mums give a lot of thought to the birth of their child and what may or may not happen, they’re far less likely to spend much time learning about what happens directly after their baby is born.

We’ve pulled together some of the most commonly-shared experiences of the 24 hours directly after a baby is born below. Remember that what you feel and experience will be determined by the birth that you and your baby experience. Not all births go to plan and, to ensure the safety of yourself and your baby, not all birth plans can be followed.

An emotional rollercoaster

There are any number of emotions you may feel after giving birth and some of the less-positive ones can take new mothers by surprise, or leave them feeling guilty. You may go into your birth expecting to feel elation, joy (and relief) at the end - and that may be what you end up feeling. But it’s also common to feel overwhelmed, underwhelmed or even distressed if the birth doesn’t go how you expected. These are normal emotions to feel. You may instantly fall head-over-heels in love with the tiny bundle who’s likely been placed on your chest to breastfeed. Or, you may feel strangely guilty that you don’t instantly feel that strong bond you’ve heard other parents speak of. Both sets of emotions are normal and you shouldn’t feel any guilt if you don’t feel flooded with love at first. However, if you don’t start feeling this connection within the first few weeks, speak to your health professional. Depression and anxiety can occur at any time in your life and can often come to the surface with major events like pregnancy or having a baby.

A newborn lies on their mothers' chest

It is important to let someone (your midwife, GP, hospital where you gave birth, trusted friend or relative) know if you (or your partner) are:

  • feeling low a lot of the time, anxious or tense
  • feeling scared or panicky
  • are avoiding tasks related to the care of the baby
  • feeling guilty
  • feeling that things are hopeless
  • not enjoying things you normally enjoy
  • crying all the time
  • irritable
  • having negative flashbacks of the birth
  • finding it hard to sleep, concentrate or make decisions
  • wanting to harm yourself or your baby.

Exhaustion

You’re likely to feel pretty physically drained, whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or caesarean section. Many new mothers report feeling so exhausted they struggle to keep their eyes open after giving birth to their babies.

You may also find yourself exceptionally hungry, thirsty or both.

It is important that you do not feel obliged to see visitors, but instead ensure you meet your own needs. Resting, eating, and drinking fluids can help you regain your energy.

Good postnatal support can make all the difference to your physical and emotional wellbeing; it is important to ‘mother the mother’ so you can care for your baby. Seek the help of others who can support you as you recover from giving birth, as you feel you need it.

If you have persistent fatigue you should speak to your maternity or healthcare provider, as your diet may need adjustment, or you may have bled more heavily than expected following birth. If you feel like you don’t need any sleep, or if you feel that you are exhausted but unable to sleep when you have the opportunity, it is important to mention this to your health care provider.

A mother with her newborn and a friend

Vaginal bleeding

If you’ve given birth vaginally, expect some moderate to heavy bleeding for the first few days after the birth (like a heavy monthly period) –it’ll continually become lighter over the next 10 days. Some vaginal discharge can be expected for four to six weeks. This bleeding is known as lochia. It is important to keep the area clean and carefully dry the perineum – the area between your vulva and your anus – after bathing. Change any sanitary pads regularly and always wash your hands before and after contact.

You should tell your midwife or GP if:

  • you start to lose clots
  • you have to change your pads more than hourly
  • your blood loss becomes bright red and heavy again
  • the blood loss has an offensive smell
  • you are worried for any reason.

Remember to bring maternity pads to hospital with you.

After-birth pains

Unfortunately, the pain doesn’t end once the baby and placenta have been born.  Many women experience after-birth pains, which is your uterus contracting to return to its normal size. Generally, these feel like mild or moderate period cramps. They’re likely to be stronger for second, third (and further) pregnancies. They’re also more intense when you’re breastfeeding – in fact, many women report the pains intensifying as soon as their baby latches on and starts feeding.

A painful perineum

It probably comes as no surprise that the process of birthing a baby can take a toll on your body. If you’ve given birth vaginally, you can expect yourperineum - the area between your vulva and your anus – to be sore for days afterwards. You may find it difficult to sit or lie in certain positions. If you had stitches to your perineum post-birth, your midwife or doctor will likely want to monitor the area and may ask you to check it’s healing with a mirror, too.

You may find your first poo post-baby a scary experience thanks to how tender the area feels. Keeping your poo as soft as possible is important to minimising any pain. Prune or pear juice can help, as can over-the-counter medications.

Sore breasts

Generally, your baby will be placed on your chest directly after birth to breastfeed. If it’s your first time breastfeeding, you may need to try a couple of positions to make sure it’s comfortable. Get advice from your midwife or a lactation consultant about latching – ensuring your baby is latched correctly can make a big difference when it comes to reducing pain or tenderness. Even if you and your baby are both naturals at breastfeeding, you may still experience some tenderness in your nipples when you start breastfeeding. There are various topical creams and gels that can help.

A woman breastfeeds her newborn child

After a caesarean

Most women will experience some discomfort after a caesarean and your health professional should work with you to manage your pain. If your pain gets worse, make sure you let your midwife know. For the first 24 hours, you’ll most likely stay in bed with a catheter and rest, focusing on bonding and breastfeeding with your new baby.

Going home

In most cases you can expect to take your baby home between 6 and 48 hours following a normal vaginal birth, or after 3 days following a caesarean section.

Once you get home, remember that there is support available to you if you’re concerned. If you are in a continuity of midwifery care model, call your midwife or the midwife at the hospital where you gave birth. If you want further medical advice, contact 13 Health (13 43 25 84) or your GP.

Other links

Check our list of things to take in your hospital bag

Breastfeeding: your questions answered

Last updated: 29 May 2019