Your Guide to Postpartum Recovery
After waiting nine (or so) months for their arrival, your little bundle of joy is finally with you! Congratulations!
Giving birth is a beautiful yet difficult process, and although you have a baby to care for now, it’s equally important to give yourself the care you so rightfully deserve.
Your body and mind are experiencing a lot of changes in the weeks and months following your birth. You might be feeling tired, sore, and anxious about everything that’s to come, and that’s normal, mama.
Before diving deep into what you can expect during your postpartum period, here are some postpartum care essentials that you should have with you at home to ease your worries and pains:
Postpartum Binder – Using a binder provides light compression that eases the aches and pains you feel in the area as you heal.
Absorbent Maxi Napkins – It’s a big no-no to use tampons until you’ve fully recovered from giving birth. For the time being, comfortable, absorbent maxi pads should be used for the bleeding and discharge that happens after birth.
Perineal Rinse Bottle – Using a peri spray bottle filled with warm water when using the bathroom promotes healing and protects stitches while they heal.
Nursing Bras – Save yourself the trouble of having to remove one layer of clothing after the other by using nursing bras designed to give you comfort and support while breastfeeding.
Nipple Cream – These specially-formulated creams treat sore, dry, and cracked nipples, which are prone to happen when breastfeeding. They can be applied at any time when feeling discomfort, and are often made with baby-safe ingredients, so there’s no need to rinse it off before a feed.
Herbal Soak Bath – Sitting in a herbal soak bath can soothe irritation and clean your perineal area in the process.
Pain Relief Medications – While in the process of recovery, the use of pain relief medications can help ease your pain. Ask your doctor for pain relief medications before being discharged from the hospital so you can take them home with you.
Now that you have everything you need with you, let’s go through the postpartum recovery process and everything you can expect from it:
The Postpartum Recovery Period
Whether you delivered your baby vaginally or through c-section, the postpartum recovery period is considered to be the first six weeks after childbirth.
However, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that when you reach the six-week mark, your body will bounce back to its pre-baby state. It simply means that the physical healing of your body after birth can take an approximate six weeks.
Bleeding and Discharge
Your uterus will shed the thick lining it maintained during your pregnancy which will result in vaginal bleeding and discharge (known as lochia.) It’ll start out as bright red for a day or two, before gradually fading to pink, then light brown/yellow.
Expect bleeding to be its heaviest within the first several days after birth, but it will become lighter as time passes. Typically, lochia happens in the first four to six weeks.
If you are using more than one pad an hour for more than two hours, call your doctor right away. If you continue to have bloody discharge or pass clots for more than four weeks, this merits a call to your doctor as well.
Postpartum Hormone Changes
During pregnancy, your hormones helped support your growing baby and prepare you for childbirth. After delivery, your hormones’ new goal is to help your body heal while you care and nourish your baby through breastfeeding (if you choose to).
One of the biggest factors in determining when your first period will come back is whether you’ve chosen to breastfeed your little one, and if breastmilk is their only food source.
Those who choose not to breastfeed may expect their period to return sooner – from four weeks to three months after giving birth. For those that breastfeed, it is possible for their period to return in the same timeframe, but many do not get their period until they’ve started to wean or stop breastfeeding altogether.
Your postpartum belly might be experiencing contractions or after-birth pains, which could be uncomfortable at times. While this could be alarming, these contractions actually help reduce uterine bleeding, and are a sign that your uterus is shrinking back to its pre-baby size.
Breastfeeding mamas are more prone to these contractions, because breastfeeding causes the body to release oxytocin, which is a hormone that causes uterine contractions.
The arrival of a new baby can be overwhelming for some mamas, and it can bring about conflicting feelings of excitement, joy, sadness, or irritability. Feeling all these and more is both normal and common, mama, so don’t beat yourself up over it.
According to studies, 80% of new mamas experience mood swings during their first days with their new bub, called “baby blues.” These can lead to insomnia and postpartum anxiety, but usually go away on their own within two weeks.
During this time, be kind to yourself and talk to others about how you feel. Let them know how they can support you and help you get through the ordeal.
If your blues last more than two weeks or your symptoms become severe, call your doctor to rule out postpartum depression.
In general, doctors often ask mamas to wait until their postpartum checkup (or six weeks after birth) before they can start working out again. While taking some walks and doing gentle stretches or yoga can help prepare the body for some pre-baby workout routines, it is best to wait for your doctor’s go-signal before doing any of these.
Tips to speed up the postpartum recovery process:
Help the healing. Aid the healing of your perineum by icing it every few hours for the first 24 hours after birth.Spray warm water over the area before and after peeing using a peri spray bottle to keep urine from irritating the torn skin.
Care for your c-section scar. Clean your c-section incision with soap and water once a day. Pat it dry with a clean towel, then apply antibiotic ointment. Talk to your doctor about whether it is best to cover the wound or leave it open. While your scar is healing, avoid carrying heavy things (other than your baby), and do not exercise until getting a go-signal from your doctor.
Do kegels. Aim for three sets of 20 every day once you’re able to do kegels to get your vagina back in shape, to resolve postpartum urinary incontinence, and to make private time with your spouse more enjoyable.
Be kind to your breasts. Whenever your breasts feel achy, use a warm compress and gently massage the area. Wear a comfortable nursing bra and apply lanolin cream to prevent or treat cracked nipples.
Ease aches and pains.
Eat well and stay hydrated. Aim to eat fiv e smaller meals throughout the day instead of three large ones, and keep a combination of carbs, protein, and fiber in your diet. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day, and try to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the first few weeks as these can affect your mood and make it more difficult to care for a newborn.
Keep moving. While exercise is off-limits for the first few weeks, keep moving by strolling around the house (and eventually the neighborhood) with your baby in tow. This helps with gas and constipation, and speeds up recovery time by boosting blood circulation and muscle tone.
It may seem as if the focus is on your little one after you’ve given birth, but that’s not true, mama. The focus should be on you, too, as a healthy and happy mama means a healthy and happy baby. Take care of yourself, and don’t forget to ask for help!