Puerperium: let’s find out what happens during the period following childbirth

What is the puerperium

The definition of puerperium refers to the period that passes in the forty days from the moment of childbirth: it is a very complex moment for every woman to face and experience, both physically and psychologically.

Immediately after the birth of a child, some important mutations begin in a woman’s body, especially at the hormonal level, and it is also necessary to consider that the rhythm and habits of life, in the presence of a newborn, change radically.

Breastfeeding is often added to this natural evolution, which necessarily involves further changes in a woman’s lifestyle, especially when it comes to the first child.

This set of events and novelties often leads to some difficulties in dealing with the puerperium, at least during the first few days, however by learning to know one’s body and the variations that occur at the time of childbirth, it is possible to overcome this moment calmly and in serenity.

When does the puerperium start and how long does it last?

Physiologically, the puerperium begins immediately after childbirth and ends with the resumption of the regular menstrual cycle. Indicatively, it is a period of about forty days, after which the body has restored all the functions and physiological characteristics present before pregnancy, overcoming the physical and hormonal changes due to gestation, development of the fetus and childbirth.

The very meaning of the word “puerperium”, of Latin origin, refers to childbirth, consequently a woman who has just given birth to a newborn is said to be “puerpera”.

Once the baby is born and the placenta has been expelled, the first few hours represent a transition period between the physical situation of pregnancy and that of the puerperium.

Usually, in a woman with no health problems who has given birth in a completely natural way, it takes just a couple of weeks for the uterus to return to its normal size, the organs located in the abdominal cavity to return to their place and hormone levels to decrease to then adjust.

The most obvious physical signs of this period are postpartum blood loss, which sometimes lasts for over a month, and a feeling of sadness due to the hormonal collapse.

Sometimes, the greatest discomfort is really linked to the mood and sensations of a psychological nature, due both to the sudden and significant hormonal variations, and to the complicated personal and family situation to face, during which a woman has to recover from the fatigue of childbirth, or from the eventual course of a cesarean delivery, taking care of the baby, managing personal commitments and maternity and, sometimes, starting breastfeeding.

How the breastfeeding phase develops

Breastfeeding consists of several moments: in the first days, the mother’s breast produces a sort of serum rich in nutritional elements but practically fat-free, while the milky whip begins towards the fourth / fifth day, first with a milk lighter, and subsequently with authentic mother’s milk, rich in both nutrients and hormones, fats and antibodies.

The production of breast milk is stimulated by the very act of feeding the newborn and by the gesture of sucking: for this reason it is important to establish a regular feeding rhythm for the baby, which will allow breastfeeding to be pleasant for both.

It should be noted that all infants should be breastfed for at least six months to promote growth and development.

Especially for women who have just given birth to their first baby, breastfeeding represents a rather unusual and sometimes difficult situation to deal with, so it is important, in case of difficulty, to be followed not only by your partner and family, but also by your midwife or gynecologist.

Precautions and important checks in the postpartum period

To ensure the health of both the mother and the baby, it is important that both undergo regular check-ups and medical visits, at least in the first few weeks.

In addition to verifying the general state of health of the mother and the regular physiological course of the puerperium, checking the renal and gastrointestinal functions, the presence of any disturbances or significant blood losses, it is also important to check on a psychological level, to avoid the onset of any  postpartum depression .

In some cases it may be necessary for the new mother to take a supplement of iron and vitamins, as well as to carry out an antibiotic treatment in case of surgical incisions or vaginal lacerations.

As far as the child is concerned, it is important to check its weight and state of health, checking its vital functions and temperature, and observe scrupulous hygiene and cleanliness.

Is it possible to have sex during the puerperium?

For a woman, rediscovering her femininity and sexuality is often an incentive to overcome a complex and difficult moment such as the puerperium. However, it is a widespread opinion among doctors and gynecologists to wait three / four weeks before resuming an active sexual life, especially if surgical incisions were made during the birth to facilitate labor.

However, it is a subjective element, which every woman must feel free to live as she sees fit, in accordance with her own sexual habits and with her partner.

What is meant by postpartum depression

As we have said, it is quite normal for a woman, in the first days after giving birth, to feel a sort of melancholy, due both to the need to adapt to the new family situation and to the sudden collapse of hormone levels.

Some women, especially if subject to mood swings and anxiety disorders, may also experience significant feelings of agitation, tiredness, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, sudden and unmotivated crying spells.

It is very important in this period that the new mother sincerely asks for help, without feeling unhappy or demotivated for this, either from her partner or family members, or from her doctor or gynecologist, to avoid finding herself in an unpleasant and unpleasant situation of postpartum depression. sometimes even risky, both for herself and for the newborn.

Facing the puerperium with grit and good humour: how to do it?

The puerperium is a complicated period, as we have said, but it is also a physiological evolutionary phase and it is also a moment full of joy and pleasant emotions.

To face it in a positive spirit, it is important that a woman arrives at this point already prepared, for example confiding in her mother, friends and family or, if she prefers, in her trusted doctor or gynecologist.

Although it may create some discomfort, childbirth is a natural event, and it is good for a woman to take care of herself and the baby, and then gradually think about taking back her whole life, home and family commitments and work.

It is advisable to avoid loneliness and be accompanied by trusted people, but at the same time also exclude situations of confusion and overload of commitments: the best solution to spend this period in serenity is precisely to slowly start again to restore a full and dynamic, letting oneself be guided by the sensations that the body and mind transmit.

For those who have accumulated a lot of weight during pregnancy, moderate physical exercise, under medical supervision, meditation and relaxation techniques are also indicated, just as it is important to follow a complete diet rich in all the necessary nutrients to promote fitness and health.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform, Maternicity.com.

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