A mom’s guide to postpartum recovery

Published: Monday, March 25, 2024
Obstetrics and Gynecology

Are you preparing for a new arrival? As you get your house and your life ready for a baby, take a little time to prepare yourself, too—for the postpartum recovery.

Many new parents put a lot of thought and effort into getting ready before the arrival of a new baby. Decorating the nursery, attending baby showers, cooking up meals ahead of time to freeze, and even squeezing in extra time with friends may all be on the to-do list.

With all those bases covered, you might think you’re amply prepared. But you also need to prepare yourself for how your body and health will change after you give birth. Keep reading to learn the facts about postpartum recovery.

Postpartum recovery: a marathon, not a sprint

Pregnancy and birth are among life’s biggest miracles. During your pregnancy, your body did one of the hardest things possible—you created a mini human being! That takes a lot of work, even if you’re unaware of all the changes happening.

It’s often said that pregnancy lasts for nine months, but in actuality, pregnancy actually lasts for 10 months. That means your body was nurturing and providing care for two people for almost an entire year.

Ten months is a long time. It took a while for your baby to develop, and now it will take a while for your body to recover. How long? That will depend on several factors.

Your postpartum recovery in the days and weeks after you give birth will depend on how your child was born, including how your labor progressed and whether you delivered by C-section or vaginally. Any complications for mom or baby can also affect how long postpartum recovery takes.

In general, many women feel mostly recovered after six weeks to two months, but that isn’t always the case. Postpartum recovery isn’t one-size-fits-all, so listen to your body (and your mind) and check in with your OB/GYN regularly about what you’re experiencing.

A women’s health provider like an OB/GYN will be able to provide you with personalized information about when you can safely resume normal activities or when you might feel more like yourself again. Your OB/GYN can also get down into the nitty-gritty of it all, with details such as when you’ll stop bleeding, when vaginal swelling will ease, how long it takes to heal after an episiotomy, or how to care for a C-section scar.

Practice self-care as you recover

Rule No. 1 of postpartum recovery? You have to put yourself first! Obviously, you’ll be caring for the new addition to your family, but your body underwent some level of trauma to introduce your baby to the world. Now it’s time to help it recover.

After you give birth and before you’re discharged from the hospital, you’ll be given some guidelines and suggestions for caring for your body after delivery. Think about it this way: If you were an athlete participating in a strenuous sports competition, you’d be dealing with some aches and pains afterward.

In this scenario, you are the athlete—and your strenuous activity was giving birth. Pay attention to how you’re feeling physically and take time to ease those aches with tools such as warm sitz baths, hot showers, a heating pad, and comfortable and supportive clothing, like a good nursing bra (supplemented by ice packs as needed).

Back to that athlete scenario. Like an athlete, you’ll want to help yourself recover by taking the best possible care of yourself. That means fueling your body with healthy foods, including plenty of fiber, getting enough quality sleep and rest, drinking lots of water, and gently moving your body. At first, exercise is a no-go, but even simply moving around your house will help you feel better faster.

While most of these tips relate to your body, you also need to pay careful attention to your mental health during postpartum recovery. Most new moms experience at least a mild version of the “baby blues,” which can make you teary and moody. In some cases, though, more serious mental health issues can develop in the days, weeks, and months after pregnancy.

Up to 20 percent of mothers develop postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety following pregnancy, which can cause insomnia, sadness, worry, irritability, appetite changes, and even suicidal thoughts. How can you tell whether the way you’re feeling is normal or a sign of a problem? The baby blues are typically mild and go away within a couple weeks.

If your mental health symptoms last longer than a couple weeks or they’re particularly intense, check in with your OB/GYN. Because postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can affect both you and your baby, it’s a good idea to also have others in your circle keeping an eye on your mental health in the days and weeks after you give birth.

Even if you aren’t dealing with mental health issues, it’s still important to devote time and energy to your mental health during postpartum recovery. It can be incredibly challenging to deal with the changes to your body after pregnancy, along with the needs of a new baby.

Pay attention to yourself and how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling out of sorts, dig in a little with some self-care. Ask a loved one to take over care for your newborn for a little while and do something you enjoy, whether that’s reading, taking a bath, meditating, doing a hobby, or simply tuning out with your favorite reality TV.

If these basic self-care strategies don’t help and that icky feeling sticks around, let your family and your provider know. Being a new mom is hard, so take care of yourself!

Learn more

Our Women & Children’s Services team gets to witness life’s most sacred moments every day. Preparing for a delivery? Call 770-525-6572, or click here for more information.