Postpartum Recovery: FAQs and Tips for Emotional and Physical Recovery

    Postpartum Recovery: FAQs and Tips for Emotional and Physical Recovery

    Labor is over. Your baby is healthy and perfect. But what about you? Here’s some helpful information every new mom needs to know about recovery from the pregnancy journey and what to expect post-childbirth.

    In this article

    What happens immediately after childbirth? | Is it baby blues, postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety? | How long is physical postpartum recovery? | When to see a doctor during postpartum recovery

    What happens immediately after childbirth?

    Right after giving birth to your bundle of joy, you'll be moved to a recovery room. Your vital signs will be monitored until you're in stable condition. You may notice that your body has small tremors or shivers, and that is a completely normal 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 C-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, and nurses will be there to help care for your baby as your body recovers. A C-section postpartum hospital stay lasts usually three to four days.

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

    You won't be eating more than ice chips for the first 24 hours after giving birth. You'll 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.

    As you're deciding what to have, know that your baby has been taking in the nutrients you consume, and will continue to 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 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 positions, ask the nurse to help you get comfortable. Some hospitals may have a lactation consultant on staff that can further assist you during this time. It does take time to get used to this new experience, so be patient with yourself and baby as you both acclimatize to this beautiful ritual.

    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 wellbeing—is different for everyone, but there are some common changes to expect and symptoms to stay on the lookout for.

    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?

    For a lot of women, the hormonal changes that come after giving birth—a dramatic drop in estrogen—can cause mood swings. Mild depression is common at this point, (sometimes referred to as baby blues) and so are feelings of stress. 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, your family and friends, your doctor, and from other moms who've been there too.

    What are the signs of postpartum depression?

    Feeling down or having mood swings during postpartum recovery doesn’t necessarily mean you have developed or will develop postpartum depression. Approximately 50-75% of women experience “baby blues” after giving birth, but only up to 15% of these women will develop postpartum depression.

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

    Here’s a few signs 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 baby

    What are the signs of postpartum anxiety?

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

    There is usually an overlap of symptoms from the postpartum depression symptoms mentioned above, but with a stronger overtone of worry and frantic thoughts and feelings. If exercise, journaling it out, meditation or taking some “me time” doesn’t help, talk to your doctor.

    How long is physical postpartum recovery?

    The amount of time physical postpartum recovery will take is different for everyone. It also depends on whether or not delivery was vaginal or if you had 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, every body is different and as such, timelines will differ.

    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:

    Recovery from vaginal delivery:

    • Perineal soreness, whether or not there was tearing or an episiotomy
    • Painful urination
    • Overall achiness from pushing
    • Recovery from cesarean section:
    • Pain at incision site, then itchiness as it heals
    • Expect it to take six to eight weeks to feel like your old self

    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

    When can I start exercising after birth?

    This depends on your doctor and the type of delivery you've had. It may be OK to take a brief walk around the maternity ward as soon as six hours after 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 birth. When to start exercising is highly dependent on if you have or have not had complications. 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, have better sleep and increase alertness. It also increases your circulation, lifts your mood (and helps regulate symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety) and helps drop unwanted baby weight in a healthy way.

    In fact, most pregnancy workouts are ideal and safe for postpartum bodies as well. 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

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

    It’s important to remember 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 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 exercise that is approved by your doctor 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.

    Why do I still look pregnant after giving birth and 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 offer protection to 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 size that it was pre-pregnancy.

    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 within three weeks of giving birth for your first visit. You should then have an appointment again for a full postpartum examination no later than 12 weeks postpartum—at least. Much of this is dependent on if you experience 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 doc to put your mind at ease.

    When you’re armed with knowledge and know what to expect for postpartum recovery, hopefully you’re feeling a little more at ease with the process. And the next steps are some of the most magical—from bonding with your baby, seeking out the best diet for new moms, and further info on life after pregnancy. Congratulations, momma!