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Postpartum Recovery: FAQ & Tips for Physical and Emotional Recovery

Postpartum Recovery: FAQ & Tips for Physical and Emotional Recovery

Expect postpartum physical and emotional changes as you heal and transition to parenthood.

You’ve waited nine months, and your little one has finally arrived. And while your baby adjusts to their new world, so are you. After giving birth, you will experience a range of physical and emotional changes. Your body will begin to heal from pregnancy and childbirth, and you will transition into your exciting new role as a parent. Let’s look at what you could expect after delivery and tips for a smooth and safe recovery.

What happens immediately after childbirth?

After you give birth to your baby, the medical staff will move you to a recovery room. They will monitor your vital signs until you are in stable condition. You may notice that your body has small tremors or shivers, which is a completely expected reaction. Try to let the tremors out and don’t suppress them, as it’s just your body’s reaction to the birth experience. This shivering will last from minutes to upwards of one hour after birth.

If you've had a cesarean section, your recovery time will be longer than if you had a vaginal birth. You may not feel strong enough to keep your baby with you full-time at first, but nurses will be there to help care for your baby as your body recovers. A c-section postpartum hospital stay usually lasts three to four days.

When can I eat after giving birth—and what should I have?

You may not eat more than ice chips for the first 24 hours after giving birth, and you may also need an IV to keep you hydrated. As for food, you need to wait for your digestive system to get going again. Once you pass gas, you're ready to eat a small meal of something mild. Talk to your doctor about when and what you can eat after giving birth.

As you decide what to eat, know that your baby has been taking in the nutrients you consume and will continue if you're breastfeeding. If you choose to breastfeed, start focusing on a healthy breastfeeding diet now. In particular, you'll need iron to help support your baby’s brain development. Good sources of iron are lean meat, leafy dark green vegetables, enriched or whole grains, and dried beans. Alternatively, your doctor may suggest supplementation based on your diet.

When can I start breastfeeding during pregnancy recovery?

The sooner you and your new little one can get used to each other and bond during breastfeeding, the better. You're good to start breastfeeding right after delivery if you feel up to it. If you're unfamiliar with breastfeeding positions, ask the nurse to help you get comfortable. Some hospitals may have a lactation consultant on staff who can further assist you. It takes time to get used to this new experience, so be patient with yourself and your baby as you acclimate to this beautiful ritual.

How long is physical postpartum recovery?

The amount of time physical postpartum recovery will take differs for every new mama. It also depends on whether the delivery was vaginal or a cesarean section. While some doctors will suggest that the true postpartum recovery period is six weeks post-delivery, others believe that the postpartum recovery process lasts for six months to a year after giving birth. Ultimately, everybody is different, and as such, timelines will differ.

How can I speed up the postpartum recovery process?

Healing can take time, and much of your postpartum recovery will occur naturally. However, here are some tips that may facilitate the process.

Do kegel exercises. You can start exercising those pelvic floor muscles, like you may have done during pregnancy.

Take vitamins. Support your nutrition and recovery by taking vitamins and other supplements your doctor recommends.

Drink plenty of water. Keep your body well-hydrated, especially if you are breastfeeding. Fluids can also help you manage postpartum constipation.

Follow recommended c-section care. Clean your incision as directed by your doctor, and don't lift anything heavier than your baby in the first few weeks.

Soothe your body. Everything from your perineum to your breasts may be sore. Apply an ice or cold gel pack to your perineal area for 10-20 minutes throughout the first 24-72 hours after giving birth. Using a cold compress between feedings, massaging breasts while nursing, and applying a warm compress before nursing can help ease breast engorgement discomfort.

Take naps. Sleep when you can and limit visitors so you can rest and heal.

As always, follow your doctor’s guidance.

What physical changes can I expect during postpartum recovery?

While you’re healing, you can expect to feel some or all of the following, depending on how you delivered your little one:

Physical changes while recovering from a vaginal delivery

  • Perineal soreness, whether or not there was tearing or an episiotomy
  • Painful urination
  • Overall achiness from pushing

Physical changes while recovering from a cesarean section:

  • Pain at the incision site, then itchiness as it heals

Physical postpartum recovery for both delivery types:

  • Six weeks of afterbirth pains due to the uterus returning to its previous size
  • Breast soreness, especially if you’re breastfeeding
  • Three to 10 days of vaginal discharge and bleeding for post-delivery
  • Bladder control issues
  • Skin changes
  • Hair loss, which may last for up to six months

Expect it to take six to eight weeks to feel like your old self. However, it's important to remember that your body just went through a significant process, and it may take longer for some women to recover fully.

What about weight gain during pregnancy? How much weight do you lose at birth?

Keep in mind that weight gain during pregnancy is 100% normal, and giving birth is the quickest weight you'll ever lose! Most women will lose about 13 lbs in the birthing process. The weight increase from growing your baby, the placenta, and its fluids are just part and parcel of the pregnancy weight gain picture, so you’ll shed those pounds quickly once the baby comes into the world!

As for the rest of it? You'll lose more weight in the first week as you pass more fluids. Breastfeeding helps drop postpartum pounds, too. Otherwise, be patient. Remember that it took you nine months to put on the weight, and your body knows how to regulate itself after childbirth, but that does take time. Sensible eating and doctor-approved exercise can help take it off. One thing to remember is excess amounts of cortisol can cause women to retain weight, so proper self-care and stress management can increase your chances of weight loss.

When can I start exercising after birth?

When you can begin exercising after birth depends on your doctor and your delivery type. It may be OK to take a brief walk around the maternity ward as soon as six hours after a vaginal birth to help get your digestive system going, but getting back to a routine will likely take a few days. Conversely, you may need to avoid doing too much activity for a few weeks if you’ve had a c-section.

What exercises can I do after birth?

If you’ve had no complications and a vaginal birth, it’s generally safe to start light movement or exercises a few days after delivery. When to start exercising depends on whether or not you experienced complications during childbirth. It’s best to wait for the green light from your doctor to start being more active post-birth.

Feeling too tired to get moving? While having a newborn is exhausting, it’s important to remember that exercise can help you fight fatigue, sleep better, and be more alert. It also increases your circulation, lifts your mood (and helps regulate indications of postpartum depression and anxiety), and helps drop unwanted baby weight in a healthy way.

In fact, most pregnancy workouts are also ideal and safe for postpartum bodies. If you’ve had an episiotomy, be extra mindful of exercises that may stress the healing area. With all that in mind, in the weeks after birth, as you recover, it’s best to start small, so some easy ways to get back into a fitness routine include:

  • Walking
  • Kegel exercises
  • Gentle yoga poses and stretching

Why do I still look pregnant after giving birth? How long do you look pregnant after birth?

Not many people realize that people will still look pregnant after birth. As a woman's uterus has to make room for the growing baby during pregnancy, it takes time for that organ to shrink again. Your body also spent months building up fat to protect your organs and your baby. Some women will look up to six months pregnant after birth, while others look a full nine months pregnant postpartum. It usually takes a full six weeks for your uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.

Postpartum recovery checklist

Whether you've had a vaginal delivery or a c-section, having the following items on hand can be a good idea. These supplies can help you manage some of the expected post-labor discomforts, bleeding, and discharge. Always check with your doctor before using any remedies or over-the-counter medications.

Pain medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Your doctor may advise you to take ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or a combination of both to manage postpartum pain.

Stool softener. Constipation is a common issue after childbirth. A stool softener can help with those first post-birth bowel movements. Take as directed by your doctor.

Maxi pads. Stock up on a few-week supply of maxi pads to absorb postpartum bleeding and discharge.

Ice packs. Ice can help reduce vaginal swelling.

Cotton underpants. Stretchy, high-waisted cotton underpants can be comfortable to wear postpartum and will fit a maxi pad.

Nursing bras. Nursing bras provide comfortable breast support and easy access for breastfeeding.

Lanolin cream. This soothing cream can help dry and cracked nipples.

Lidocaine spray. A topical anesthetic that can help ease perineal pain.

Nursing pads. After birth, breast milk will start to come whether you choose to breastfeed or not. Nursing pads protect your clothing from leakage and help ease nipple soreness.

Heating pad. Use a heating pad to manage postpartum uterine cramping.

Postpartum recovery belt. Postpartum recovery belts, also called belly bands, can provide gentle pelvic and abdominal muscle support.

Why am I so emotional after giving birth?

Regardless of whether you had a vaginal or c-section birth, it’s important to remember that your body has just been through a major ordeal. Your hormones are fluctuating dramatically. On top of the physical change, you've just made a huge lifestyle change by bringing a baby into your life. Is it any wonder that you're a bundle of emotions?

Mild depression (sometimes referred to as “baby blues”) and feelings of stress are common at this point. Things are wonderful and new, but they're also chaotic, and you're likely sleep-deprived.

Whether you're weeping for joy, crying from exhaustion (or both!), it's important to know that you're not alone. Many, many women go through it. Don't be afraid to ask for help from your partner, family and friends, doctor, and other moms who've been there too.

Is it baby blues, postpartum depression, or postpartum anxiety?

Bringing your baby into the world is a very emotional time—but how emotional should you be? Again, this portion of postpartum recovery—mental and emotional health and well-being—differs for everyone. Still, there are some common changes to expect and behaviors to stay on the lookout for.

Baby blues can last a few days or up to two weeks without treatment. Intense feelings of sadness or worry that interferes with the ability to do daily tasks indicate postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. These feelings begin commonly around 1-3 weeks after giving birth but can occur up to a year later.

Feeling down or having mood swings during postpartum recovery doesn’t necessarily mean you have developed or will develop postpartum depression, but could make you more susceptible to it.

Keep track of your feelings while you heal, either by journaling or sharing your thoughts and feelings with supportive loved ones. Importantly, you should contact your physician immediately if you feel you’re a danger to yourself or your baby.

What are the indicators of postpartum depression?

Here are a few indicators of postpartum depression to watch out for:

  • Severe mood swings, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • Severe anger, being quick to irritate
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Feelings of disinterest in your newborn
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or logically
  • Withdrawing from social interaction
  • Radical changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Fear of being bad at motherhood
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
  • Thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby

How long can postpartum depression last?

Postpartum depression can last for months or years after giving birth. It’s essential to see your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you think you may have postpartum depression or if you notice these feelings and behaviors in your loved one. Treatment is available.

What are the indicators of postpartum anxiety?

While postpartum depression is more widely discussed, postpartum anxiety disorder can happen in up to 10% of new moms. While some anxiety is typical (and actually adaptive—your mama brain is on the alert to keep the baby as safe as possible), if it exceeds what you think of as common worries or seems irrational, it’s worth talking to your doctor about your elevated anxiety levels.

Postpartum depression and anxiety indications often overlap, but postpartum anxiety has a stronger overtone of worry and frantic thoughts and feelings. If exercising, journaling, meditating, or taking some “me time” doesn’t help, talk to your doctor.

When to see a doctor during postpartum recovery

Postpartum care from a doctor is no longer a one-time visit. Instead, plan to see your doctor for your first postpartum visit within three weeks of giving birth. You should have another appointment for a full postpartum examination no later than 12 weeks postpartum—at least. Much of this depends on whether you have experienced birth complications or if you gave birth through cesarean or vaginally. Ultimately, your doctor will know and suggest what’s best for your particular case. As always, if you feel something is amiss, reach out to your healthcare provider to put your mind at ease.

Knowing what to expect during postpartum recovery can help you feel more prepared. Take your time, be patient with yourself, and enjoy all those precious moments bonding with your baby and experiencing new milestones together. Congratulations, mama!

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As you welcome your little one to the world, you may have questions about both your baby and your recovery from childbirth. Enfamil is here to help with postpartum resources and support for your baby’s nutritional needs at every age and stage. For more tips and resources on all things baby, be sure to join Enfamil Family Beginnings®. Enjoy up to $400 in savings, plus exclusive rewards, support, and surprises.

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All information on Enfamil, including but not limited to information about health, medical conditions, and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for a healthcare professional's medical identification, advice, or management for specific medical conditions. You should seek medical care and consult your doctor or pediatrician for any specific health or nutrition issues. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment, care, or help because of information you have read on Enfamil.