4.3.2 THE PERIOD AFTER DELIVERY
After delivery, both mother and child are exhausted and need rest. Although most women get up and leave the hospital within a few days, they usually take some time to regain their full strength and to adjust to their new role. Some aspects of this post-delivery period are discussed below.
In the weeks following childbirth, the uterus slowly shrinks back to its former size. In the process, the uterine lining breaks down and is discharged through the vagina. First, this discharge is thick and bloody, then it becomes thin and yellowish or whitish in color until, after about three weeks, all waste material has been removed. After six weeks, the shrinkage of the uterus is completed. The process can be helped considerably by appropriate physical exercises. Such exercises can also alleviate certain complaints and discomforts that some women feel during this time, such as loss of appetite or constipation. In addition to these minor annoyances, many women experience a mild depression. They become overly sensitive, irritable, and may cry without any apparent reason. This kind of unexpected despair has not always been taken as seriously as it should. Many people speak jokingly of "the baby blues." However, there is nothing funny about it. The physical strain of giving birth together with the demands of the new role as mother may, for a while, seem to overwhelm a woman who suddenly feels that she is unprepared for the task. After all, whether recognized or not, becoming a parent is a genuine crisis in everyone's life. Still, like any other crisis, it carries great possibilities for growth. In this situation, a woman can be helped a great deal by her family, and particularly by the baby's father, it is another of those occasions when mutual understanding between man and woman is invaluable.
Immediately after birth, the mother's breasts produce a watery fluid called colostrum which seems to have some immunizing effect on the baby. About three days later, this fluid is replaced by milk. The production of milk is called lactation (from Latin lac: milk), and if the mother decides to nurse her child, she will be able to do so for many months.
Most women stop ovulating (and therefore menstruating) during the first few months because of certain hormonal changes in the body. Obviously, this also means that, in the same period, no new conception can take place. However, couples should not count on this "natural protection." Nursing a baby is no substitute for contraception.
It is quite normal for a woman to become sexually aroused while she has her child suckling on her breast. There is no reason whatsoever to become upset or alarmed about this. On the contrary, the experience should he enjoyed as it serves important physiological and psychological functions.
Sexual Intercourse After Delivery
Once the baby is born, some women need time to regain interest in sexual relations, and traditionally couples have been advised not to engage in coitus for at least six weeks after delivery. However, recent research indicates that such general rules are not really helpful and that each case should be judged individually. Very often sexual intercourse can take place much sooner without any harm to the mother. Indeed, from a purely medical standpoint coitus can be resumed as soon as vaginal bleeding has stopped and any tears or incisions in the vaginal area have healed. A slight brownish discharge from the vagina can be disregarded.
Full communication (including sexual communication) between parents, is of course, also in the interest of the newborn child. Still, during this period the woman's personal feelings and desires should be considered first.