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How the body recovers after giving birth

Above, me and my husband after induction, stalled labor, fetal distress, and emergency c-section.

The Postpartum Period

After nine months of growing a new life and many hours or days of laboring and birthing, a mother's body deserves a rest! Yet, that's not what usually happens. Usually, a mother is handed a baby and sent home.

I think with all of our planning for baby and birth, we often forget to plan for the postpartum period, which actually lasts quite a lot longer than birth and delivery. Postpartum is meant to be a time for parents to focus on healing, adjustment, and the immense changes that come with bringing a child into the world.

Typically, the postpartum period is thought of as the first six weeks after childbirth, though I've also heard it defined as encompassing the entire first year, which I kinda like more. I feel like if it took nine months to grow the baby, then we should allow at least nine months for the body to heal and adjust to the absence of pregnancy.

However you choose to define your postpartum period, understanding what to expect and how to care for yourself can make your transition smoother and your experience better. In this post, I'm focusing on the physical aspects of that transition. I'm also including tips for managing physical recovery during the postpartum period.

How The Body Recovers After Giving Birth

Vaginal Birth Recovery

If you had a vaginal delivery, your recovery may involve managing perineal soreness, dealing with lochia (post-birth bleeding), and handling stitches from tears or an episiotomy.

Tips for recovery after a vaginal birth:

  • Perineal Care: Be very gentle. Use a peri bottle to clean the area, use witch hazel pads or cold packs to reduce swelling, and take sitz baths often (see my post all about sitz baths).

  • Manage Bleeding: Use heavy-duty pads, adult diapers, or period underwear. Do not use tampons or vaginal douches until your doctor says it's okay.

  • Pelvic Floor Care: Once your doctor okays this and you feel ready, start simple Kegel exercises or gentle yoga to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. Consider visiting a Pelvic Floor Therapist for support with your recovery.

Cesarean Section Recovery

Recovering from a c-section involves recovering not only from pregnancy but also from a major surgery. Pain levels and tolerance vary widely between people, as does recovery time. It may be difficult to move around and accomplish simple tasks. I recommend as much extra help as you can arrange.

Tips for recovery after a cesarean delivery:

  • Incision Care: Keep the incision clean and dry, watch for signs of infection like warmth, redness, or oozing. Avoid lifting heavy objects.

  • Pain Management: Many moms are hesitant to take pain medication while breastfeeding. However, most medications are safe to use while breastfeeding. I believe it is important to take enough medication to feel human and capable and I recommend taking prescribed pain medications as directed for as long as needed.

  • Belly Binding: This can help stabilize your abdominal area while you heal. Many moms find this comforting and helpful in reducing pain.

  • Activity: Gradually increase your activity level as you feel up to it - short walks that slowly increase in length are perfect. Avoid strenuous activities and heavy lifting until cleared by your doctor.

Managing Common Postpartum Symptoms

  • Breast Engorgement: Some engorgement is common in the early days of breastfeeding and usually lessens after a few days. Use warm compresses before feeding and cold compresses afterward to ease discomfort. If breastfeeding, feed your baby often. If your baby is asleep but your breasts are uncomfortably full, it's okay to wake them for a feed. If expressing or pumping, remove just enough milk to feed your baby and remain comfortable. Avoid removing more milk than your baby needs, as this can cause an oversupply.

  • Cramping: You may feel some cramping in the days after giving birth. This is the uterus contracting and shrinking to its original size. Breastfeeding helps this process, and cramping may be felt more during the early days of breastfeeding.

  • Hemorrhoids: Increase fiber intake, stay hydrated, and use over-the-counter treatments to manage hemorrhoids. Sitz baths can be really helpful.

  • Constipation: Drink plenty of water, eat high-fiber foods, and consider stool softeners.

Nutrition and Hydration

Good nutrition is important for recovery and maintaining your energy levels. Focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. I also recommend indulging in your favorite comfort foods during those first few weeks with your baby.

Remember to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Many moms feel extra thirsty while breastfeeding, so it's a great idea to keep a water bottle handy or at your breastfeeding station.

Rest and Mental Health

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps: I know, I know, but yes, really do this. Rest as much as possible, even if that means frequent, short naps.

  • Ask for help: Ask for help from family, friends, and neighbors. If you can afford it, hire a cleaner, meal service, or postpartum doula.

  • Know the signs: Be aware of the signs of postpartum depression and seek professional help if you have questions or worries about your mental health and coping abilities.

Physical Activity

Gradually reintroduce physical activity based on your comfort level and medical advice. Gentle exercises like walking and yoga can help you recover and boost your mood. Avoid more intense activities until your healthcare provider gives you the green light.

Follow-Up Care

Regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider are standard and used to monitor your recovery. You will likely have questions and concerns. However, as a sleep-deprived new parent, it's easy to forget them once you finally make it to your appointment. I recommend creating a running list on your phone where you can jot down concerns, questions, or issues you are facing in real-time, then run through the list with your provider.

Your body is miraculous

The postpartum period is unique and challenging, and you deserve care and support as you learn and adjust. Prioritize your health, listen to your body, and ask for help. Remember, every recovery journey is different.

Allow yourself grace and patience. Treating yourself well during this time can set the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling parenting experience.

Remember, your body will never "go back" to what it was before pregnancy. It has been transformed by childbirth and the mark of having born a child will always remain in some way. For some, this is an unmistakable mark, like stretchmarks or a cesarian scar. For others, it is something they may only notice.

I encourage every mom to embrace and honor the changes in their body. Your body is miraculous and has created a life. How incredible is that?!


Would you like some help settling in with your new little one? I'm here to help! Send me a message or book now!

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