What To Expect From Postpartum Recovery
You just had a baby. Congratulations!
Welcome to motherhood. Now for the stuff nobody tells you about: postpartum recovery.
If there is one thing that women are often blindsided by, it's the recovery postpartum. This is the part that nobody talks about but which we all need to know.
What to Expect From Immediate Postpartum Recovery
The first few hours after giving birth are a unique time in your life. All women experience it a little differently, but there are some common elements.
Immediately postpartum and for the first few days you will likely lose quite a bit of blood. The point in your uterus where the placenta was attached is essentially a large wound. You will lose some blood from this area.
People often complain about the frequency of infant nursing in these early days, but this is a healthy response from your newborn for both them and you. Frequent nursing helps stimulate oxytocin which helps you love your baby and also, very importantly, helps the uterus contract and shrink. This shrinking helps make the placental insertion point smaller so that you hopefully lose less blood.
Some women feel these contractions, especially during breastfeeding, and some don't. They are called postpartum afterpains. If you don't notice them with your first or second baby, you will very likely notice them with your third and four babies. Women often report they get stronger with each birth, until about baby number five.
There are various pain killers, both pharmaceutical and natural which may help ease this time. Ask your care provider what they recommend.
In the first few hours after you have your baby, the most important thing you can do is rest and feed your baby frequently.
When you give birth vaginally, you will be sore and swollen from giving birth. Going to the bathroom is made easier by the generous use of a peri bottle. Filled with body temperature water, you use the peri bottle to rinse the perineal area rather than wiping in the first few days postpartum. This is especially helpful if you have any tearing or stitches.
Women often have a burst of energy for a few hours after giving birth so that they can focus on and enjoy their baby. When this passes they are tired from the hard work of birth. Rest as much as you can! Your baby will likely be tired too.
For women that have given birth via cesarean section, they may not have vaginal pain and swelling, but will need to be very conscientious of their incision, moving carefully, protecting it when breastfeeding, even avoiding stairs or things that put strain on the incision. It is also helpful to know some tips for breastfeeding after cesarean, as nursing after a c-section can have its own particular challenges.
No matter how you give birth, no matter how fast or long the delivery was, there is considerable recovery time and often pain involved in postpartum recovery. This is normal. Take time to rest and be gentle with yourself.
What to Expect The First Few Weeks of Postpartum Recovery
While the first few days postpartum are intense and demanding, it actually takes weeks and months to recover from having a baby. This lengthy recovery time is normal and needed.
Very frequently women hear tales of their friends who were back at the gym running on the treadmill a few days postpartum, or of their aunt who was back at work three weeks later. Endless celebrities walk the red carpet just weeks after giving birth with seemingly flawless bodies and only increased cup sizes to show they gave birth. There is, of course, the ever present tale of the "rice paddy" birthing woman who squats, pushes out a baby, throws it on her back, and keeps on working in the field without missing a beat.
All of these tales, real or imagined lead to the idea that recovery from giving birth should be quick, painless, and should shortly return us to our pre-baby, svelte perfection.
What's lacking in these stories is the truth.
Many women lose blood, called lochia, for about six weeks postpartum. Not only is there the visible signs of recovery like blood loss and loose skin, your body is recovering internally. The incision from a cesarean takes many weeks to mend. Tearing or episiotomy from a vaginal birth also takes time to fully heal. The tissues themselves through which the baby has passed also take time to return to a state more similar to that experienced prior to birth.
Some women feel like their body and organs do fully return to their pre-baby state, while others feel as though things are never quite the same again.
The weeks after giving birth should be a time of patience with yourself. Your life is different now. A new baby nurses frequently. This helps them grow and it forces us to sit, be still, and let our body recover. Be patient with this process. It may feel as though you are getting nothing done, but recovering from the major event of childbirth and breastfeeding a baby are big jobs which take time, effort, and focus.
Remember that you are doing something important. It just requires a lot of rest!
Preparing Ahead of Time For Postpartum
Preparing ahead of time for postpartum recovery is helpful. Like childbirth, breastfeeding, and all that changes with life after having a baby, it is difficult to recognize how helpful preparation is until we find ourselves knee deep in body fluids and sleep deprivation.
There are things that you can do to prepare for postpartum recovery.
-Freeze meals ahead of time-
Even a few frozen meals will help you have something on hand that is nutritious and warm when you need it or just have a rough day. Here are some great ideas for healthy postpartum foods.
-Stock your fridge-
After you have your baby, send your partner, postpartum doula, mom, or loved one out with a list of healthy, easy-to-eat foods that you love. It is much easier to make nutritious food choices when that food is close at hand. Fresh cut veggies, fruits, healthy yogurt, soups, nuts, hummus, whole grain breads, etc, are all wonderful to have on hand so you can be nourished. These fabulous pregnancy snacks work great for postpartum too.
It can be hard to accept, much less ask, for help. Having a baby is a great time to learn. If you have family, mom groups, church family, coworkers, or friends who offer to bring a meal or help postpartum, accept their help. Some days with baby are totally focused on feeding them with not a minute available to prep dinner.
Many wonderful partners are a great help during this time, but it is important to remember that the partner may also be tired and sleep deprived after the birth. Sometimes the whole family can benefit from outside help until everybody recovers and is back on their feet again.
-Accept a New Normal-
Things do change after having a baby. This is not a bad thing, though that can be hard to accept. Everything from our time to our bodies has shifted in priority. Sometimes even our careers make major changes.
It can be hard to deal with these changes, especially when what we seem to see from others is immediate perfection, bliss, and flat stomachs. That kind of recovery is a fabulous thing when it happens, but it doesn't always happen. And that is OK too.
Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do as you navigate postpartum recovery is have a sense of humor and an overarching patience for yourself and your baby.
Postpartum recovery can be hard but also funny if you step back for a moment. Waking in the night drenched in fluids from night sweats, breast milk leaked lactating breasts, and baby spit up, is kind of funny when you think about it. A folded flat sheet on your side of the bed to protect your mattress and that can be tossed in the washing machine each morning, is a lifesaver. (Here is a list of postpartum must haves that nobody mentions!)
Wearing diapers at the same time as your baby does also has a hint of amusement (but is also very helpful those first few days!)
Postpartum recovery takes time. It is also one of the few times in your life where wearing pajamas and sitting on the couch constitutes hard work and a job well done. Don't be afraid to take advantage of this time. Resting in the first few weeks almost always yields a quicker and fuller recovery. Mothering is hard work!