What’s normal and what’s not after giving birth

As a new parent, you might downplay or not prioritise the symptoms of an injury as you focus on your new pēpi (baby).

This information will help you understand if what you’re experiencing is normal after birth, or whether you may have a maternal birth injury that needs treatment.

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    What’s normal after giving birth?

    After growing and delivering a pēpi (baby), it’s natural your body will need time to recover, whether you had a vaginal or a caesarean birth. Here are some of the normal symptoms you can expect during your recovery:

    Feeling tired

    Many new parents may feel tired for the first few days, or even weeks, after giving birth. Not only are you recovering from the delivery process, but now you’re also caring for a baby. Try to rest when your baby does and take advantage of help when offered.

    Feeling sad

    It’s normal to feel down or have the ‘baby blues’ as it’s often called, around 3-5 days after giving birth. This is caused by hormone changes. Know that you're not alone. Up to 80% of women struggle with feeling sad the first few weeks after having a baby. Talk to your midwife, who will help you with strategies to support you during this time.

    Abdominal pain

    As your uterus returns to its normal size and shape, which can take up to six weeks, you may feel pain in your lower belly. These are known as afterpains. Most of these pains are dull, but they may feel more intense as you breastfeed your baby. 


    Many birthing parents experience constipation in the days following childbirth. This could be due to pain-relieving medication or the anaesthesia you received in the hospital and should subside after a few days.


    You could develop haemorrhoids, which are swollen and inflamed veins in the rectum and anus that can be painful and cause bleeding. These should shrink over time but there are medications to help you that your midwife can prescribe.

    Perineum soreness

    For several weeks after giving birth, you may feel pain in the perineum, the area around your vagina and anus, especially if you had a vaginal birth and had stitches or tearing. Plunket has guidance on what you can do at home to ease the pain.

    Plunket guidance after giving birth


    Your pelvic floor muscles often become weaker during pregnancy and childbirth, so it’s not unusual to leak a little urine when you sneeze, cough or exercise. It’s important to discuss these concerns with your midwife or primary care provider so they can provide advice on helpful exercises and other support. You should see improvement in about six weeks after giving birth. It’s not normal for incontinence to be an ongoing childbirth-related problem so it’s important to seek help and receive the necessary care to ensure that this completely resolves.

    Sore nipples and breasts

    If you’re breastfeeding, you could experience sore or cracked nipples and breasts, especially in the first few days. Seek advice from your midwife if the pain continues.

    Vaginal bleeding and discharge

    After giving birth, it's normal to have vaginal bleeding and discharge, even if you had a C-section. Expect this to be heavier at first, up to 10 days, but then taper off. Light bleeding and spotting can last up to six weeks after delivery.

    Fluid retention

    The swollen hands, feet, or legs that many experience during pregnancy doesn't always go away immediately after giving birth. Your body may continue to retain water due to an increase in a hormone called progesterone. It shouldn't last more than a week after delivery.

    Sweating and hair loss

    You may find yourself sweating more, especially when you sleep, or notice your hair falling out more than usual. This is due to changes in hormones and is only temporary.

    When to seek medical help

    While some symptoms after giving birth are normal and will reduce over time, too much pain, bleeding or swelling could mean something is seriously wrong. So, it’s important to listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, talk to your midwife, doctor, or other healthcare provider.

    If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact your healthcare provider.

    • heavy vaginal bleeding that continues to increase and soaks a maternity pad in less than 30 minutes, or passing large blood clots (lumps of blood)
    • chills of less than 36°C or a fever of more than 38°C
    • fainting or dizziness
    • changes to your vision or a severe, persistent headache 
    • painful urination or difficulty urinating 
    • vaginal discharge with a strong odour
    • heart palpitations, chest pain or difficulty breathing
    • vomiting
    • if the wound from your C-section or episiotomy is red, swollen, or has pus
    • abdominal (lower belly) pain that is getting worse, or new abdominal pain
    • sore breasts that are red or feel hot to the touch
    • pain in your legs with redness or swelling
    • increase in swelling in the legs, feet or hands
    • incontinence that lasts more than 6 weeks
    • passing gas, faeces, urine, or pus from your vagina
    • prolonged sadness, significant anxiety, or other significant changes in mood or energy, that impacts your ability to complete daily tasks
    • pain during and after sex
    • heaviness or a dragging sensation in the pelvic region.
    • pain when walking and sitting which continues several weeks after birth

    What to do if you’re experiencing mental distress

    If you're feeling distressed, please reach out for help. Talk to your doctor or midwife and let them know how you’re feeling. There are other free services available that can also provide support to you.

    Where to go for information and support

    Last published: 17 May 2023