Every woman wants to recover quickly after giving birth. However, the body will heal at its own pace, and every effort to speed up the recovery will only make you feel worse. It will take you from six to eight weeks postpartum to fully recover.
Despite common belief, bleeding doesn't have to stop six weeks after the birth. Be patient and don't get upset if the bleeding persists, as long as your gynecologist confirms there are no underlying health issues. The episiotomy stitches and tears can stick around more than usual.
You can use remedies such as cooling pads and sitz baths to ease the pain, itching, and swelling, but allowing the body sufficient time to heal and supporting it with rest is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family.
Healing after childbirth is a slow process, and understanding some of the major changes in the body will allay your fears. Here's what you can expect after childbirth:
- Uterine contractions proceed after giving birth and will most often appear while breastfeeding due to oxytocin. These contractions are called afterbirth contractions, or afterbirth pains. Afterbirth pains get stronger after each birth due to stretching of the uterus.
- Postpartum bleeding, called lochia, is not as same as a period. It lasts up to eight weeks after birth, and it's harmless as long as you don't notice changes in the smell or an increase in blood flow.
- The uterus is firm and contracted postpartum, and the recovery of your abdomen can last between six and eight weeks. You can massage it or use a heating pad or mild medication to ease the feeling of pressure. Nursing encourages afterpains, so you will notice more pain when the baby is by your side.
- Hot and cold flashes are also normal due to hormonal imbalance, but you should go to the doctor right away if your temperature increases. Elevated temperature after giving birth can be a sign of an infection.
- The perineum tear or episiotomy stitches will heal at its own pace and you can treat the area with remedies from your local pharmacy. Clean and dry the wound with warm water after every trip to the toilet during the first couple of weeks after childbirth.
- The first breastmilk is called colostrum. It could take up to 72 hours after delivery for your breasts to feel full. If the milk doesn't come in after 72 hours, talk to a breastfeeding consultant. You should receive advice about taking care of the breasts and positioning the baby. Waiting for the milk supplies to arrive on its own can increase the chance of lactation problems.
- The discomfort in the breasts is best relieved by nursing, but you can remove extra breastmilk manually or with a breast pump.
- Sensitive or inverted nipples are a common issue when you start breastfeeding. Specialized pads, balms, and ointments are great to prevent nipple tears. If you notice any nipples fissures or signs of secretion, talk to a doctor or a breast consultant. Proceeding to breastfeed with damaged nipples can cause an infection for both you and the baby.
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Here's a couple of advice for postpartum recovery:
- Find all the help you can get. Think about your resources for a smooth recovery. Can you order catering instead of cooking, and pay for help around the house until you get back on your feet? Help during this sensitive period is a must for a healthy recovery of the body and mind past childbirth.
- Sitz bath helps to heal postpartum tears, but also to feel more comfortable. You can use an appropriate bath you have at home, or buy a specialized kit for postpartum recovery. Immersing yourself into a warm bath, sometimes with herbs, reduces pain in the area and helps cleanse the wound.
- Resting and energizing is the most important part of recovery. Once you're overtired, you will experience mood swings, appetite changes, and risk of health complications will go up. Eat up to 500 more calories in addition to your pre-birth diet, focusing on proteins and vegetables.
Also, rest helps to reduce bleeding and the contraction pain. Make sure not to get up unless necessary during the first couple of weeks postpartum recovery. Movement and changing positions may increase the flow and contraction pains. You should call help, either a midwife or a doctor if you soak a pad within a half-hour timeframe. Lochia should have an organic smell, but not fowl. If you discover that the lochia smell changed, talk to your midwife or a gynecologist. Bleeding will be heavier in the morning and after lying down. This is due to blood pooling in the vagina while you're laying down. Clots are common and normal, but combined with cramping could be an alarming sign. Empty your bladder as often as possible to reduce afterbirth pains.
- After child birth, the presence of the baby will spur the breastfeeding hormones. Being near the baby will help your body recover and stimulate contractions to take the uterus back to its natural size.
- It's time to slow down and let people help you. Don't try to be tough and force yourself to recover ahead of time. The body has its own recovery pace, so pushing it ahead will only harm your mood and long-term recovery.
- Having support at home is important and you need to put yourself first. Your only tasks are rest, nutrition, self-care and bonding with the baby.
- Planning postpartum period recovery with your family can be more than helpful. Who will be there to help you with food, cleaning, and errands?
- If you worked before giving birth, the lack of activity and the lack of an organized schedule may lay heavily. With a newborn, it is difficult to structure time and organize activities. If you're coming from a mindset of completing daily tasks to feel good and productive, understand that the postpartum recovery is the time when you are being most productive. You might feel like you're "not doing anything", but your body is always at work. It's working to bring your reproductive organs into their previous shape, to heal, and produce breastmilk.
- Caring for a baby is a challenge, as you're just getting to know your newborn. Don't hesitate to ask questions and ask for help.
- Focus on being present with the baby and not the next important activity. Savor the time with the baby. Savor the rest and the activities that make you feel good.
- Babymoon - your initial time with the baby is the time to feel safe and careless at all cost. Create a safety bubble and make sure no one is bothering you, even if it means locking inside your room.
- Hold off your exercise plans until the postpartum recovery is complete. Before your body heals fully, exercise carries the risk of injury, dehydration, and loss of consciousness.
Healthy recovery time after giving birth includes the right foods and supplies To make sure you have all of the necessary postpartum recovery items by your side, here's a short checklist for your after birth recovery kit:
- A heating pad or an ice bag to relieve afterpains
- A Peri bottle and Witch hazel for cooling pads
- Essential lavender oil to heal tears and the episiotomy wound
- Extra comfortable and loose pajamas and trainers
- Extra large underwear of natural materials to fit pads and ice packs to relieve postpartum pains
- Nursing tanks
- Breast pump
- Nursing bras
- A carrier or a wrap to carry the baby around the house easier.
Ultimately, healing after childbirth is a rocky emotional journey. Losing autonomy over your body and being unable to set boundaries is a novelty.
Acknowledge your feelings, especially if you feel upset that your private body parts are now in the service of the baby and subject of health checks. For many women, having to respond to baby's needs at all times and feeling like their body no longer belongs to them drives depressed feelings and fear.
Be patient with yourself, acknowledge these feelings and talk about them with those who are closest to you. By surrounding yourself with people who are willing to be emotionally supportive and appreciate your work, your afterbirth recovery will go easier, and you will have more time to focus on bonding with your newborn.
Reviewed by Tahir Mahmood, Chair of Standards of Care European Board and College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.