Your Guide to Postpartum Recovery

The first six weeks after giving birth are known as the postpartum period. This period is an intense time that requires all sorts of care for you and your baby.

During this time — which some researchers believe actually lasts up to six monthsTrusted Source — your body will experience a number of changes, from healing after childbirth to hormonal mood swings. All of this in addition to the added stress of tackling breastfeedingsleep deprivation, and the overall monumental adjustment to motherhood (if this is your first child).

In short, it can feel like a lot. It’s not uncommon for the first year to feel like a tidal shift.

That said, the recovery period can vary wildly. If you’re on your third kid and pushed for 20 minutes, your recovery will look different than if you labored for 40 hours, pushed for 3, and had an emergency C-section.

Yet while everyone’s experience is different, there are some recovery milestones that you should ideally hit. To help give you a sense of where you should be in your postpartum timeline, we’ve highlighted what you can expect from both your body and mind.

Week 1

Physical status, post-vaginal delivery

If you had a hospital delivery, you’ll most likely stay there for at least part of this week after a vaginal delivery. Depending on whether or not you tore (and how much), your vagina may hurt quite a lot.

Perineal soreness is normal, as is bleeding. This first week, the blood should be bright red, but will eventually turn brown like at the end of your period. You’ll also probably feel little contractions, especially when breastfeeding — as weird as it feels, this is just the uterus contracting back to its pre-pregnancy size.

Physical status, after C-section

After a C-section, or cesarean delivery, most movement will be difficult and your incision can be painful. A lot of women have trouble getting in and out of bed — but it’s important to move around, at least a little bit, to avoid blood clots.

If you had a bladder catheter put in, it will be removed.

Mental health status

Day 3 in particular is infamous for being emotionally difficult. “The birth buzz is wearing off, estrogen and progesterone levels are dropping off, and prolactin and oxytocin levels rise and fall throughout the day while the baby suckles,” says Jocelyn Brown, a licensed and certified midwife in Los Angeles.

“That combined with sleep deprivation makes for lots of weepiness and feeling like nothing is going right.”

Suggestions for aiding your recovery:

  • If you had a vaginal delivery, use an ice pack or frozen pads with witch hazel on your perineum. Use a spray bottle of warm water during or after peeing.
  • Take Tylenol or Advil at regular intervals. Pain begets pain, so do your best to get ahead of it.
  • Take a stool softener and drink lots of water. Many hospitals won’t let you leave unless you’ve pooped, so make it a little easier on yourself.
  • Again, for C-section moms: Your major job the first week is to keep your incision clean and dry. Give it fresh air after a shower, pat it down with a towel, and set your hair dryer to cold and point it at your scar.
  • “It’s very important to take your temperature 2 to 4 times a day for the first 72 hours,” says Brown. “We want to catch a uterine or kidney infection quickly.”

Week 2

Physical status, post-vaginal delivery

For some women, bleeding will start to taper off. For others, it can last up to six weeks. Both are totally normal.

At this point though, the bleeding shouldn’t be heavy. You may start to feel vaginal itchiness, which is caused by the area starting to heal. The sutures — which swell with fluid when they disintegrate — may also be bugging you.

“All of this often means that the wound has healed enough that mama simply now has the luxury of being annoyed by the stitches because she is no longer in pain in that area,” says Brown. “I view the itchy-annoyed complaints as a good sign of healing.”

Physical status, after C-section

You’ll still likely feel quite sore but it will probably feel a little easier to move around. Your scar might become a little itchy as the incision site is healing.

Mental health status

Baby blues are totally normal. In fact, most women are said to get them. Postpartum depression (PPD), however, is something else entirely.

If you’re feeling overcome with sadness and anxiety — if you can’t eat or sleep, aren’t bonding with your newborn, or are having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting anyone else — talk to your doctor.

Suggestions for aiding your recovery:

  • If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll be deep into it by now. Make sure to have lanolin on hand for sore nipples and keep an eye out for clogged ducts. A lactation consultant can make an enormous difference here, so make sure to see one if you’re having trouble.
  • Incorporate a little bit of movement into your day — whether that’s a walk around your house or the block.
  • Continue to eat well. Foods with potassium can help keep your energy up.

Week 6

Physical status, post-vaginal delivery

This is when the uterus goes back to pre-pregnancy size and the bleeding stops. Most people are cleared for exercise and sexual activity, but many don’t feel ready for the latter for a long time.

“Around six to eight weeks, I frequently get outreach from mamas who report that their bleeding stopped many days ago, but mysteriously started up again,” explains Brown. “This is because your uterus is involuting so much that the placental scab is getting pushed off, so there’s a brief few days of bright red bleeding.”

Physical status, after C-section

Same goes for the uterus and being cleared for sex and exercise. You’re now permitted to drive and lift something other than the baby — but try not to overdo it. The scar probably won’t hurt anymore, but you might still be numb (or even itchy) around the incision.

You should be fully recovered from the surgery and will probably only feel the incision if you bump into something. Walking is great, but go slow on more intense exercise.

Mental health status

If you have any lingering worries about your emotional or mental health, bring them up with your doctor at your six-week checkup. It’s normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, but deeper feelings of depression, hopelessness, or anxiety can be treated.

Suggestions for aiding your recovery:

  • Although this is technically when the postpartum period ends, many women don’t feel remotely like themselves for a full year, so be gentle with yourself.
  • If you’re ready to resume exercising, start slowly.
  • Same holds true for sexual activity: Just because you’re cleared doesn’t mean that you feel ready. Listen to your body above all else. Very few womenTrusted Source experience painless sex this early after giving birth.
  • The exhaustion at this point can be overwhelming. Nap as often as possible.

Six months

Physical status, post-vaginal delivery

If your hair was falling out after your delivery, it should stop now. You should also have full bladder control again, if this was a problem before now.

Depending on your work schedule, milk may be drying up. Your period may come back anytime (or not for a year or more).

Physical status, after C-section

One studyTrusted Source found that women who had C-sections were more tired after six months. This, of course, depends on how well your baby is sleeping.

Just as with post-vaginal delivery, your milk may be drying up depending on your work schedule and your period may come back anytime.

Mental health status

If you’re getting into the swing of motherhood — and the baby is sleeping more — your mental state might be more positive around this time.

Again, any lingering feelings associated with PPD should be addressed.

Suggestions for aiding your recovery:

  • Exercise is very important at this stage, for both mental and physical health.
  • You can do abdominal strengthening exercises in earnest, which should help alleviate some back pain.

One year

Physical status, post-vaginal delivery

You may be feeling back to yourself, but your body may still feel slightly different — whether it’s a few extra pounds, or just weight distributed in different places.

Depending on whether you’re still breastfeeding, your breasts will appear different than they did pre-pregnancy.

Physical status, after C-section

Your scar will have faded, but it might still be a little numb. If you want another baby soon, most doctors will recommend (or insist on) a C-section if the babies are 18 months or less apart. This is due to the risk of uterine rupture during labor and vaginal delivery.

Mental health status

This will probably hinge on how comfortably you’re adapting to motherhood and how much sleep you’re getting. If you can, continue to nap on weekends when the baby naps to catch up on sleep.

Suggestions for aiding your recovery:

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