Once the baby has moved through the birth canal and out of the vagina, the labor process is almost over. However, a few more contractions are needed to detach the uterus and push out the placenta. Afterwards, the woman's uterus will change size, shape and feeling. This change is very important in order to stop bleeding after the baby is born.
The uterus is full of tiny, and not so tiny, blood vessels that kept the placenta nourished throughout the pregnancy. These blood vessels must be closed off after the baby is born in order to stop bleeding. While the woman will have bleeding for up to six weeks after the baby is born, the bleeding should only resemble that of a normal period. The uterus will clamp down and tighten up after the last pieces of the placenta are passed out through the birth canal. Nurses will check the firmness of the uterus several times before discharging the woman from the hospital.
The firmness of the uterus denotes a restriction that causes blood vessels to stop flowing blood. If the firmness is not tight enough, oxytocin will be administered through an IV to stimulate the uterus to contract harder. During this time, cramping can occur and the woman may feel some pain. Pain is more common in women who have given birth via C-section.
Other changes that occur after the baby is born include a quick reduction in fluid retention. The woman may feel as though she needs to go to the bathroom more often as fluid retained during pregnancy is pushed out of the body. The first urination after giving birth can be a bit scary or painful. Episiotomies may cause some additional pain.
After giving birth, hormone levels will also gradually return to normal. Women may see a clearing of the skin, evening of skin tone, and reduction in swelling soon after the baby is born. Weight loss is also common, but there should not be caloric restriction or exercise for at least six weeks after giving birth.