A lot of thought goes into preparing for birth or VBAC but very little thought goes into the postpartum VBAC period, or as some people like to call it The Fourth Trimester. Some women will feel on top of the world after they give birth but others can feel shocked or traumatised, and they can struggle with the physical recovery. Preparing for the time after VBAC is a really good idea, especially if this is your first vaginal birth.
Women often anticipate birth eagerly, they can’t wait to meet their babies! They know birth is an intense event, and put lots of time and energy into planning it – and rightly so – but it’s very hard to plan for afterwards when you don’t know how things will turn out.
Even after the best of births women can still feel exhausted, and sore. From head to foot everything can ache, you might realise you were using muscles to support yourself through birth. You may have spent hours in a strange position, without realising it at the time, and your arms and legs don’t want to let you forget it in a hurry.
Your vagina, vulva, perineum, and anus can be quite tender. Your pelvic floor might feel weak, or it might not feel anything at all! Don’t worry, it will come back soon enough. If it doesn’t start to feel stronger after ten to fourteen days you can always start doing some gentle squats to help it along. Squats throughout pregnancy can also help minimise this aspect of the postpartum experience.
The first bowel motion after birth can be a nervous experience. Everything is tender, and can feel bruised, you might have a tear or grazing. All movement in that region can make women nervous. It’s a good idea to ensure that you eat plenty of good quality soluble fibre, healthy fats, and drink lots of water throughout pregnancy so that this isn’t any harder – no that wasn’t an intentional pun – than it has to be. Many women say that this wasn’t as bad as they anticipated, and that it was worse after a caesarean because of the wound in muscles, and the constipation from surgery and pain relief.
It helps to be realistic about how you might feel emotionally after VBAC. Although your birth might go perfectly to plan, you may still feel shocked by it. It’s an undeniably intense experience. If that’s how you feel it’s ok! It’s highly likely that in time it will settle and you will enjoy looking back on the experience.
If your birth doesn’t go to plan and you are traumatised, reach out for support either online or with close friends. Be very sure that the people you open up to won’t try to dismiss your feelings (At Least You Got A Healthy Baby). After a traumatic caesarean women can often seek to VBAC to avoid the same experience, without the understanding that vaginal birth can be traumatic too.
There’s absolutely no way to predict how a birth will turn out, or how you will feel about it, so it’s really important to have a plan for the early days with your new baby. You can freeze some meals for your family, and you can freeze any school lunches or snack foods for the kids too.
Set up your living areas so that you’ll be comfortable. Have plenty of pyjamas and clean towels, or polar fleece blankets to put over the bed or couch to protect it from any lochia (the blood after birth) and baby vomit. You probably already know this, because it’s normal even after a caesarean, but it pays to think about it for after VBAC too.
Don’t make plans for the first couple of weeks after VBAC. Our culture is very rush and bustle but that is unhealthy for a mother with a new baby, yes even one who already has older children. After birth the whole community needs to help out with school runs, housework, and other necessary tasks. Talk to your girlfriends about how you can help each other out. Look into a postpartum doula. Try to rest for as long as possible because your body needs to recuperate after a pregnancy and even after a wonderful birth.
Birth is designed to make women feel good, literally. There’s a reason we release vast quantities of oxytocin at the moment of birth. However modern obstetrics can often block the rush of oxytocin that causes that feeling. A genuine emergency can also cause women to feel emotionally shaky after birth. We should plan to give birth in a venue that supports the optimal release of hormones, and using techniques that support hormone production to help us manage the early days postpartum. Hormone support should be a part of your birth plan, if you want them to play a role in the postpartum period.
The emotional aspect after VBAC success is regularly talked about, but the more uncomfortable physical aspects of vaginal birth are sometimes forgotten in the excitement. Which is a great testament to the power of birth as a transformative experience! However we must also honour the less rosy side of the journey, so that we can better support women with new babies and help them plan for it.
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