what to expect after vaginal birth

What to Expect: First 72 Hours After Vaginal Birth

After much anticipation and waiting, your baby’s birthday is finally here! Giving birth comes with many significant physiological events, and a whirlwind of emotions as well. In the first few days after giving birth, your body will undergo major changes as your baby also learns to adjust to life outside the womb. In this blog post, we’ll discuss what to expect after vaginal birth, so you can best prepare for the remarkable transformations to come.

Immediate Postpartum: Birth of the Placenta

Did you know that you are technically still pregnant just after your baby is born? Your pregnancy is considered complete when you give birth not just to your baby, but to your placenta as well.

The placenta has been your baby’s lifeline for the past 9 months, serving as the connection point between your body and theirs. While it is still attached to your uterine lining, your baby will still receive vital blood, oxygen, and nutrients even after their body is born.

Delayed cord clamping, or the practice of waiting until the cord has stopped pulsing before clamping and severing, has known benefits such as “increase[d] hemoglobin levels at birth and improve[d] iron stores in the first several months of life, which may have a favorable effect on developmental outcomes”.¬†

Contractions don’t stop when your baby is born, either. They will continue – thankfully with less intensity – to help release your placenta and slowly shrink your uterus back down to its pre-pregnancy size. The placenta is typically born on its own within 30-60 minutes after your baby is born. Some providers practice active management, where medications and physical maneuvers are used to encourage a faster delivery of the placenta.

Bonding with your Baby: The Golden Hour

You’ve been talking to and bonding with your baby throughout your pregnancy. Now you finally get to hold them! Immediate skin-to-skin contact has many proven benefits for both parents and newborns, such as increased oxytocin levels and regulation of the newborn’s temperature, breathing, and heart rate.

Your newborn has just gone from the dark, warm, quiet environment of the womb to the bright shock of the outside world. Minimizing loud noises and bright lights during this time can help them regulate and take in their surroundings. This sensitive time in a baby’s first moments after birth is referred to as “the golden hour.” Protecting this time by allowing continuous skin-to-skin contact and minimizing disruptions can have a lasting positive impact on parent-child bonding.

Immediate Care for Birthing Parent and Baby

Within the first few hours after birth, your baby will be weighed, measured, and given a thorough head-to-toe assessment. Both parents and baby will receive hospital wrist bands and babies will also receive an ankle band with a security device that will stay in place throughout their hospital stay.

Birthing parents can also expect a head-to-toe assessment, with particular emphasis on your vital signs and postpartum bleeding. Healthcare providers will regularly check your fundus to ensure your uterus is doing a good job clamping down after birth to prevent postpartum hemorrhage.

If you received an epidural during labor, it will typically wear off within 2 hours after birth. Your support team will assist you closely the first few times you exit the bed after delivery. They will also accompany you to the bathroom and make sure you’re able to urinate without pain.

You may feel very swollen and sore after a vaginal delivery. If you had any tearing, your care provider may deem it necessary to use sutures to ensure proper healing. If you do need stitches after birth, you will receive a local anesthetic if you don’t already have an epidural in place.

Nurses will regularly check your vital signs after giving birth, slowly decreasing in frequency as your body shows signs that it is recovering well.

Day One Postpartum: Many Firsts

No matter whether this is your first baby or your fifth, the first day with your newborn is a day of many firsts for both parents and babies. Knowing what to expect after vaginal birth on the first day is helpful so you can be prepared for what’s to come.

Within the first hour or so after birth, you’ll offer your baby their first feeding, whether by breast or bottle. If breastfeeding, your mature milk won’t be in just yet. Your body will produce colostrum, a nutrient-dense superfood that provides a high level of calories and antibodies. Your newborn will need eat every 1-3 hours in the first days after birth, as their tiny stomach gradually increases in volume.

Other firsts during the first day after birth may include:

  • your baby’s first diaper changes – their first pee and bowel movement (known as meconium) can be expected anytime within the first 12-24 hours after birth
  • your first postpartum shower – which is known to feel absolutely amazing! Be sure to bring your own favorite products for an especially satisfying experience. Hospital soap is not known to be the most luxurious.
  • lochia – your postpartum bleeding – will begin after your placenta is born. For the first several days it will like a heavy period, then it will continue to taper down for the first 4-8 weeks after birth.

Your partner will also get to experience their first time holding their baby. Skin-to-skin contact has many benefits for the non-birthing parent, too.

Day Two Postpartum: Settling In

On your baby’s second day of life, everything will still feel very new. Emotions are still very raw, but the initial shock of having finally met your baby may start to settle down. You may be very tired, or you may be surprised at how energized you feel – thanks to adrenaline!

If all went smoothly with your birth and immediate recovery, what to expect after vaginal birth on day two is that it’s a common time to be discharged from the hospital. The idea of going home may feel like a relief, or you may feel totally unprepared to take your baby home. All of those feelings are completely normal!

Before you do get the okay to head home, your healthcare team will want to ensure a few key details:

  • that your baby is feeding well, whether by breast or bottle
  • that your baby is having adequate wet and dirty diapers
  • that you and your baby’s vital signs are stable

Your baby will also undergo routine procedures, such as:

  • blood screening to detect metabolic abnormalities (known as the PKU test)
  • a newborn hearing screening
  • a thorough newborn assessment to check their reflexes and any abnormalities
  • initial injections, such as a Vitamin K shot and Hep B vaccine

Some babies may also need to undergo other testing such as blood glucose checks or a car seat test to ensure they are ready for life outside the hospital.

Day Three Postpartum: New Normals

Day three postpartum is a huge milestone for many families. Knowing what to expect after vaginal birth on day three is helpful to ease your transition home. This might be your first full day home with your newborn. Emotions are all over the place, and it’s common to experience temporary mood swings known as the baby blues during this time.

On day three postpartum, your bleeding will still typically be heavy at this point, but it may also have started to slowly taper down. If your bleeding gets heavier, this is a sign that it’s time to slow down. Always contact your healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your postpartum bleeding.

If you’re breastfeeding, your milk may have already started to come in, or you may still notice the thick, yellowish colostrum: both are normal! Most breastfeeding parents notice a transition to mature milk around days 2-5 after birth. This can come with a full feeling in the breasts known as engorgement. Your baby may also behave differently at the breast, with more frequent, audible gulping as they learn to take in a larger volume of milk.

As your mature milk comes in, your baby will need more frequent diaper changes. The chart below from La Leche League Canada is a helpful tool to know what to expect regarding your baby’s diapers:

Transitioning Home with your Baby

Having a baby comes with a whole world of unknowns. While you won’t know exactly how your labor, birth, and recovery will go, learning about these general expectations is a helpful starting point.

When you finally get to bring your baby home, a whole new chapter of life begins. Building your support system is a crucial step to ensure a smooth transition for the whole family. A Newborn Care Specialist or Postpartum Doula is a wonderful asset for new families, offering comprehensive support to ensure a soft landing home with your baby. You may want to line up daytime postpartum care, overnight newborn care, or around the clock care (whether temporary or longer term) to ease your family’s transition home.

Your body needs time to heal from the birthing process, so prioritize self-care and accept help from loved ones. Adequate rest, hydration, nutritious meals, and gentle movement can support your recovery and overall well-being as you adjust to your new role as a parent.

What to expect after vaginal birth is a world of profound change, growth, and bonding for both parents and babies. By knowing what to expect and embracing this transformative period with patience and self-care, you can lay a strong foundation for a healthy postpartum recovery and nurturing start to parenthood.

Embrace each moment, trust in your instincts, and remember that this journey is unique to you and your baby. Welcome to the extraordinary adventure of parenthood!