Merck Manual

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After Delivery: The Body’s Return to Normal

After Delivery: The Body’s Return to Normal

Area Affected

What Happens

Discharge from the vagina

New mothers have a bloody discharge, occasionally with blood clots, for 3 or 4 days. The discharge becomes pale brown for up to 2 weeks or more, then yellowish white. The discharge may continue for up to about 6 weeks after delivery.

A scab forms over the site where the placenta was attached in the uterus. About a week or two after delivery, this scab comes off, causing vaginal bleeding of up to about a cup.

Breasts

During the early stages of milk production (lactation), the breasts become engorged with milk, sometimes making them feel tight and sore.

Heart rate

The heart rate, which increased during pregnancy, starts to decrease within the first 24 hours and returns to normal soon thereafter.

Temperature

Body temperature may increase slightly during the first 24 hours, usually returning to normal during the first few days.

Uterus

After delivery, the uterus contracts, beginning to return to its prepregnancy size and position. These contractions can be uncomfortable. The uterus may take several weeks to return to its prepregnancy size.

Genital area

The area around the vaginal opening is usually sore. Tears during delivery or an episiotomy (an incision that widens the opening of the vagina to make delivery easier) and repair of these tissues may also make the area sore. The area may sting when women urinate.

Urination

Urine production often increases greatly, but temporarily, after delivery. It usually returns to normal by about 2 weeks after delivery.

Bowel movements

The first bowel movement after delivery may be difficult, partly because the abdominal and pelvic muscles have been stretched and stressed. Also, the mother may be concerned about stitches or may have pain due to tearing or hemorrhoids.

Hemorrhoids

The pushing required for delivery can lead to or worsen hemorrhoids.

Abdomen

Muscle tone is low after delivery but gradually increases.

Skin

Stretch marks do not go away, but they may fade, turning from red to silver, but sometimes not for years. Other darkened areas of the skin may also fade.

Weight

Most new mothers lose only about 13 pounds after delivery. At first, they look as if they are still pregnant. They may lose more during the first week as extra fluids are eliminated.

Mood

Many new mothers feel blue or mildly depressed. The sad mood or baby blues usually passes after about 2 weeks.