Your Guide to Postpartum Care
Having a baby is an exciting and sometimes overwhelming experience. Adjusting to life with a new baby who is dependent upon you will take much of your time and attention. Your own body has gone through significant changes during and after pregnancy. It’s important to recognize your body needs to heal. Caring for yourself is important during this time.
As a new mother, some common postpartum issues you may encounter include:
How Long Will It Take to Heal?
In general, for both vaginal delivery and a C-section, your body will need six weeks to recover. Because every birth experience is different, your symptoms and recovery timeline will be unique. Many symptoms will decrease over the first 1–2 weeks postpartum, but other symptoms may continue for weeks or months.
At your six week postpartum visit, your doctor will discuss any issues you are continuing to experience and will help with treatment options if needed.
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Identifying & Treating Postpartum Issues
Postpartum discharge (lochia) is similar to a heavy period and may last up to six weeks. Typically, postpartum bleeding is heavy for the first 3–10 days, then slowly decreases. You may notice a change in the color of your discharge as the bleeding tapers from red to brown to a yellow-white color.
During this time, use pads, not tampons. If you are bleeding through more than one pad per hour or notice large clots, contact your doctor.
Your vaginal area has been through enormous stress and strain. While it will return (almost) to normal, this takes some time. It’s not unusual for lacerations or tears to occur with delivery. The sutures used for repair will dissolve on their own by six weeks.
Women may also experience some uterine cramping, especially with nursing, in the first 1–2 weeks.
To assist with healing, it's important to let the area rest. Avoid vaginal intercourse and tampons for the first six weeks. You may use ice the first several days after delivery.
Spraying warm water over the area before and after urinating may help reduce irritation. Sitz baths, which are shallow bath bowls for soaking the vaginal area, may also be helpful. Kits are available in most pharmacies or online.
It’s important your body gets the rest it needs after a C-section. Expect that it will take six weeks to heal. You will have a two-week and six-week postpartum visit to ensure the healing process is on track.
During the first six weeks, you should not lift anything heavier than your baby in a car seat. If needed, over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and discomfort.
Whether you’re nursing or not, sore breasts are common after childbirth. If you’re not nursing, your production of milk will stop over time. You may notice some pain and discomfort from breast engorgement in the interim as well as milk leakage.
To help ease the pain:
- Apply warm compresses or ice packs
- Wear a tight-fitting sports bra or ace bandage to help decrease symptoms of engorgement
- Take over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which may help decrease swelling or pain
If you’re breastfeeding:
- Apply warm compresses or ice packs
- Apply a lanolin cream to prevent or treat cracked nipples
- Wear a comfortable nursing bra
If you develop a fever higher than 100 degrees or note increasing redness and pain, contact your physician for evaluation of possible mastitis, which is an inflammation of breast tissue that sometimes causes an infection.
Constipation or Hemorrhoids
It may take several days to have your first bowel movement after delivery. Constipation is common during the first few weeks as your body adjusts back to normal. Over-the-counter stool softeners, fiber-rich foods, and drinking plenty of fluids will help.
You may also use over the counter hemorrhoid medications to help unless you had a fourth-degree laceration (involving the rectum).
Postpartum bladder leakage is quite common for many women. By your six-week check-up, you should see some improvement. However, most bladder conditions improve slowly over time as your muscles and nerves recover. Expect it may take 6–12 months to see significant improvement.
If you don’t notice an improvement, a referral to see a pelvic floor physical therapist may be helpful.
Fatigue is a normal part of the postpartum experience. Your baby will likely wake up every two to three hours for feeding, making it difficult to get enough sleep. It’s important to try and sleep while your baby sleeps, even during the day. If possible, ask others to watch your baby for a few hours so you can rest.
If your fatigue feels more significant than expected for sleep deprivation or is significantly impacting your mood, talk to your provider.
Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression
It’s normal for new mothers to experience mood swings and negative feelings after giving birth. These emotions occur due to hormonal changes, exhaustion and fatigue, and adapting to a new lifestyle.
You may experience symptoms such as:
- Unexplained or frequent crying
- Mood changes
Mild symptoms that improve over time are normal. However, postpartum depression may be present if you are unable to perform daily activities because you are so overwhelmed, have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, or if symptoms persist or worsen over 2–4 weeks.
Postpartum depression may develop up to one year after giving birth and requires medical treatment. It’s important to speak to your doctor if your symptoms persist or are severe.
Self-Care after Birth
As a new mother, much of your energy and attention will focus on caring for your baby. However, it is essential to remember to care for yourself. You will best be able to care for your baby when you are physically and emotionally well.
Eat Healthy Meals
Maintaining a well-balanced, healthy diet will help your body heal and combat fatigue. Be sure to eat a balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein. You should also drink plenty of water, especially if you are breastfeeding or constipated.
Exercise after Pregnancy
It's generally fine to begin light exercise five to seven days after an uncomplicated delivery. Start slowly with walks. As your body recovers and heals, you may increase the amount and intensity of exercise.
If you had a complicated birth or C-section talk to your health care provider before exercising.
Weight Loss after Pregnancy
Most new moms are eager to lose their “baby fat.” However, it’s important to approach weight loss after pregnancy in a healthy and accepting manner. Weight loss is different for every woman.
Here are some suggestions to help:
- Set realistic weight-loss goals. It may take six to 12 months to return to your pre-pregnancy weight.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly are the best ways to promote weight loss.
- Factor in breastfeeding. Breastfeeding may help you lose weight as breastfeeding uses fat cells stored in your body during pregnancy. The production of breast milk also uses calories.
Postpartum Body Care & Follow-Up
To ensure that your body is healing appropriately, it is important to contact your OBGYN to set up your six-week postpartum visit soon after you give birth. If you had a C-section, you should set up a two-week and a six-week visit with your OBGYN.