postpartum recovery: what the first 6 weeks are like?
No doubt you’ve taken many steps to prepare your mind and your home for the newest edition of your family, your precious baby. Your little bundle of joy isn’t the only one deserving of attention after giving birth because you too have undergone transformation and will need time to heal and recover.
Here are some common things to expect and consider in the first six weeks after having your baby:
No matter what kind of birth you have, you can expect some bleeding for the first couple of weeks after delivering. It’s a good idea to stock up on adult diapers, heavy pads, or postpartum absorbent underwear ahead of time. Be sure to bring home a peri bottle from the hospital, or pick one up if you birth your baby outside of a hospital. These will be helpful in keeping yourself clean, when your vagina is still feeling tender or sore. Fill it with either warm or cool water (whichever you find most soothing) and use while urinating or showering.
Range of Emotions
Whether you are feeling particularly overwhelmed, anxious or emotional there are bound to be some heightened feelings in the days and weeks after having your baby. Blame a fluctuation in hormones, sleep exhaustion and the new pressures of taking care of a baby. While some people experience the early days as an extremely joyful and momentous time, to others it can look like lots of crying, a need to process your birth story, arguing with your partner, feelings of resentment or missing your old life. Mood swings can be normal for up to 10 days or so, but if you are feeling unable to care for yourself or your baby, reach out to your support system for help or hire a postpartum doula. If you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression, reach out to your doctor or midwife and let them know so that you can be screened and given additional resources like a mental health therapist who focuses on pregnancy and postpartum.
It takes on average 3 days for milk to come in after having your baby. Before then, your body will produce what some call “newborn milk” or Colostrum, which is a highly nutrient and calorie concentrated food for your baby. Your body makes just enough for your baby’s tiny newborn stomach, which may not seem like a lot to you, but it’s all they need in the first few days of their life.
Once your milk comes in you may notice the new sensation of your breasts filling up with milk or “letdowns”. This can cause breast engorgement if you or your baby have difficulty removing enough milk. Engorgement is often described as your chest feeling hard to the touch, like a bag of rocks and for some it can be painful. It’s important to establish a healthy chestfeeding relationship with your LO and frequent nursing or pumping will help avoid engorgement which can lead to clogged ducts or infections like mastitis.
In the first days to weeks after having your baby, you can expect to feel mild uterus contractions when bodyfeeding or pumping (please note, if you are planning to exclusively nurse, it is not recommended to pump for the first three weeks postpartum). The suckling stimulates the uterus and helps it shrink and return to its pre-pregnancy size. It can be uncomfortable and may feel like a milder version of labor contractions.
Nutrition and Hydration
Now is the time to eat well and listen to your body’s hunger and thirst cues. If you are nursing your baby, add an additional 400-500 calories to your daily intake (compared to your pre-pregnancy diet) to make up for the calories burned from nursing.
The first bowel movement after having your baby can be intimidating. If you have your baby in a hospital, you will likely be offered a stool softener. If you would rather not take a stool softener, it’s important to eat and drink foods that you know help you go to the bathroom, ie water, tea, fruit and high-fiber foods.
It is generally recommended to abstain from penetrative sexual acts for 6 weeks after having your baby, whether you had a vaginal delivery or a c-section. Some providers may instead advise that you wait a full week after you have stopped bleeding to have penetrative sex. Whichever rule you choose to abide by, it’s important to be gentle and patient with your body. You may also want to consider other ways to be sensual, alone or with a partner, that don’t involve penetration. If any sexual act feels uncomfortable, stop immediately and reassess if your body is ready.
Everyone’s postpartum journey looks different and so might the supports that are needed to aid in recovery. Some different ways that new parents seek help are: mental health therapy, postpartum doula, pelvic floor and physical therapy, chiropractor, massage therapy, lactation consultant, acupuncture and with a nutritionist. Listen to your body and speak with your medical providers if anything is feeling off so that you can be pointed in the right direction for more support.
Whether you personally experience everything on this list or just one or two, it’s important to remember to be slow and patient with yourself. Your baby wasn’t the only one recently born, because you also have been birthed into this role of a parent. Explore your new body, feelings, thoughts and experiences and do so lovingly to set yourself down a path to postpartum recovery.
Laura Max is a birth and postpartum doula, available on the boober platform, having served clients in both New York and in mid-Michigan. She is a wife and the mother of two, a teenager and a 9 month old. When Laura is not supporting new families, you can find her out in nature with her own. Laura is available on the boober platform for matches.