Having a child can be an incredible experience, but the realities of childbirth are rarely spoken of in all their varied details. ‘Embarrassing’ postpartum health issues and experiences are left to many new mums to come to terms with largely in silence.

Especially if your child is not born with a clean bill of health, the postpartum period can be one of heightened stress and strain, even without all the exhaustion and incontinence. Here are five postpartum experiences every woman should be aware of to help you be better prepared.

1. Unexpected hair loss

Many women experience hair loss in the weeks and months following childbirth. While this is unusual, it is completely normal and should not be a cause for concern. It typically occurs in the third month following birth, although this might be delayed if a woman is breastfeeding.

Postpartum hair loss occurs a result of estrogen imbalances following childbirth. During pregnancy, estrogen levels increase and extend the growth process of hair, preventing it from falling out as normal. However, once a woman has given birth, her hormones return to prenatal levels and the hair that didn’t fall out during pregnancy now is shed all at once.

Hair loss can be a stressful experience, particularly for women. However, postpartum hair loss is only temporary, and your normal hair quality will return in time. In the interim, a healthy, balanced diet rich in vitamins A, C, D, and E, combined with good hair care habits, will help restore a woman’s hair back to its prenatal quality.

2. Incontinence and sore parts

Both fecal and urinary incontinence are relatively common after birth. Understandably, your vaginal and perineum areas will feel more tender and sore than usual after giving birth. Tears are also common with vaginal births, which can lead to hemorrhoids.

It’s important to take care of yourself and your gut health and not push yourself to start exercising too quickly, though light exercise soon after birth can help strengthen the pelvic floor. Eat a balanced diet and rest as much as you can to help regulate your gut (easier said than done).

Big protective underwear and plenty of trips to the toilet are just part of the realities of being a new mum — be prepared and work on building up your stamina as your body heals.

3. Postpartum bleeding & discharge

A little bit of postpartum bleeding is fine, but heavy bleeding could be a sign of something more serious. It could be that a part of the placenta has become dislodged in your uterus and is causing an infection. If you have anything that resembles a heavy period, get it checked out.

Discharge from your vagina is again quite common and normal, but it can make you feel self-conscious. Check in to see whether you could have bacterial vaginosis (BV) if your vaginal discharge has an unpleasant smell. It’s easy to treat.

The extra reassurance of wearing period panties can save a new mum during the postpartum phase when everything can seem a little precarious. Just having an extra layer between you and any leaks can help you fit back into your favourite clothes a little faster.

4. Infections

Postpartum, you may experience more infections than usual — including bladder, uterine, and even kidney infections. Infections can be quickly treated if caught on time, so be vigilant and flag any fever or intense soreness and discomfort.

You may need to go to hospital if you catch an infection too late, so visit your doctor as soon as you spot something.

Your milk ducts may also become infected — an infection of the breasts is called mastitis and will need treatment. This is again quite common whether it’s happening to mothers who delay breastfeeding, have problems with breastfeeding, or mothers who have had no issues with it at all.

5. Depression

Sometimes termed as ‘the baby blues’, feeling consistently low for more than 10 days straight after giving birth could mean that you have postnatal depression. This is something you should get treated for as it can affect your ability to take care of yourself and the baby.

Usually a course of drugs and some therapy are prescribed. Don’t feel discouraged if this happens to you — postnatal depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems are very common and won’t stop you from being a caring mother.

Giving birth is an intense experience with many positives, but be prepared for a bit of postpartum discomfort alongside the new baby smell and all the euphoria.