This post was inspired by one of my clients. We were chatting after class and she described how she felt she wasn’t given enough guidance for right after she had her baby for her own self care. She had lots of information on pregnancy, birth and taking care of her baby. But none for her, in her fourth trimester of pregnancy a.k.a. immediately after birth. Since then, I’ve talked to other mums who say that they were equally unprepared for their recuperation. I was totally unprepared myself and I had written this article first!
Understanding the recovery process can help you feel less stressed about the changes taking place in your body, and better able to take care of yourself and therefore better able to take care of your baby. So I’ve since read a ton of articles, talked to my Mummy friends and compiled the tips below.
Six Weeks For Recovery Is Just An Estimate
It said to take six weeks to recover from a vaginal delivery, but you may, in fact, need more time to heal from bruising, swelling, episiotomy stitches and sore muscles. If you’ve had a caesarean section, you’ll need to give yourself at least 12 weeks to recover from major abdominal surgery.
No matter how your baby arrives, you will have cramping as your uterus slowly contracts back to its usual size, shape, and position. You may lose some hair, develop acne, feel teary, and have night sweats until your hormones return to normal. While you and your baby are learning to breastfeed, you may temporarily experience sore nipples and engorgement (when your breasts are tender and swollen with milk).
Your body has been through a massive change over the past nine months; it will really take the next nine months to return to normal, so be patient. You will get there!
The First Few Weeks
The first few weeks after giving birth are all about healing from birth, bonding with your baby, and transitioning into motherhood. The more each mother can enjoy this precious time in vibrant health the better.
Know your body
When you get home, use a hand-held mirror to look at your perineum or your caesarean section incision. This way, if you experience problems, you will have a baseline to know if something is different, for example increased swelling, redness, tenderness, or drainage from an incision. It is helpful in knowing when to contact your doctor with these issues.
Plan to Convalesce
When you get home from the hospital, you will be exhausted from the birth, possibly dealing with stitches, may have no prior experience in looking after babies and breastfeeding (aka me!). If you had a caesarean birth not only did you birth a baby, but you had major abdominal surgery (plan to stay in bed for the first couple of days). Regardless of how you delivered, you will need to rest and recover for your own sake and to give your baby lots of attention.
Plan to stay in your bed, sleeping as much as you can or simply laying/sitting quietly for as much of the day for the first week or so. Use this time to bond with your new-born with skin to skin contact, learning how to breastfeed, change and burp and when you feel ready, could be sooner, you’ll be in much better shape than if you tried to get right back to your usual routine.
If you have young children. You can always rest on the couch. The little ones can play around you or watch a film. Limit trips up and down the stairs, avoid long walks, and wait to do rigorous exercise until you’ve gotten the okay from your doctor and you’re getting a good night’s sleep. The point is to AIM for keeping your feet up and your body quiet.
This is the one piece of advice I wish I had listened to. After I had our first, I was in the supermarket not even a week after having him because I wanted to buy extra clothes. Big mistake! I was so uncomfortable by the time I got home I felt I might just never bother getting out of bed again. After our second, I could have done a whole shop and been fine, but I stayed in bed regardless. Lesson learned, I stayed in bed!
Skin to Skin Contact
Babies love to be snuggled – feeling warm and secure, and listening to your heartbeat; which they’ve been hearing for the last several months. And there’s something so irresistibly precious when they’re so tiny and new.
Skin-to-skin is a great way to promote bonding and breastfeeding, and helping regulate a newborn’s body temperature, breathing, and heartbeat. Plus it encourages the bonding between you and your baby and releases the oxytocin (happiness) hormone. Be sure to get Daddy in on the snuggling too!
Ask visitors to wait until you’ve been home for a week or two, longer if you are recovering from a caesarean before they visit or if you’re having trouble getting the hang of breastfeeding. Baby’s hunger cues could be missed when there are too many visitors for long stretches of time. Set visiting hours to control how much time you’re spending receiving. Don’t be afraid to ask people to leave when you are feeling worn out yourself.
Get some Nice Pyjamas
Buy yourself some pretty and comfy pyjamas that are appropriate to receive visitors in but are also easy to feed your newborn if you’re breastfeeding. Having something nice to rest in will help you feel better than sweats.
Receiving visitors in your pyjamas means that people will realise that you’re recovering and less likely to overstay their welcome.
Caring for your Vagina and Perineum.
Whether it’s a tear, episiotomy or piles/haemorrhoids (from pushing), you are going to be sore. In order to heal well, it is important to keep this area clean. If you are consistent, you will find this area healing up very nicely in no time at all.
Make sure to have a “peri bottle” for gently squirting warm water on your privates after you use the toilet, which you can then dab off with a soft, dry facecloth. If you put a few drops of lavender essential oil in the water, it will be even more effective. Plus you can spray yourself with a Witch Hazel spray afterward for even more soothing goodness.
This is basically a bath or even a large basin, filled with a few inches of warm water that you sit in. The warm water will soothe the pain and also relieve any tightness and itchiness of stitches.
I recommend at least one warm bath a day with a few drops of lavender essential oil and some therapeutic bath salts when the nether-regions ache.
Maternity Pad Ice Packs
You can reduce swelling with ice packs or chilled maternity pads. You can create your own chilled Maternity Pad using a Maternity Sanitary Pad with some Witch Hazel sprayed on top. Witch Hazel is very healing.
It’s a little blow-up ring that you sit on so your swollen areas don’t have to touch wherever you’re sitting.
You may have experienced fluid retention while pregnant or come home from the hospital with swollen ankles due to the administration of fluids. I remember looking at my ankles and thinking, "how did I not notice myself putting on so much weight?" and "wow! my arms look so thin!" All the fluid had settled in my legs.
Sit with your legs elevated as much as possible. Ensure you are drinking plenty of water, and stay hydrated, especially if you are breastfeeding. Applying cold compresses to your legs and ankles will help relieve the swelling and soothe the stretching of the skin associated with oedema.
The Frequent Bathroom Breaks Won’t Be Over Just Yet
You might feel like you’re peeing as often as you did while you were expecting. Pregnancy causes an increase in your blood volume, and all of that excess fluid has to be eliminated too.
Try to urinate frequently, even when you don’t feel like you have to. A vaginal birth can cause mild temporary damage to nerves of the bladder, so you may not feel the urge. You may also leak a little bit of urine when you cough or sneeze, this is stress incontinence. In the first few weeks your sanitary pad will catch it and after that specialist bladder pads will do the job well. Get started on your pelvic floor recovery.
When you are home alone and really need to go, it is better to set him down just for a moment, even if he’s crying, than to delay going to the toilet. You might suddenly wet your pants, and then you have much more work to do and are more upset than if you just endured two minutes of baby being upset.
It Takes a Village
Build a village for when things get tough and you need help. My best advice is to have one or even two designated family helpers to take care of what you can’t so you can use that time to take care of your baby and so you can take much-needed naps throughout those exhausting first several days. Perhaps your husband/partner can take some extra time off. Or see if you can arrange to have someone stay with you for the first week or two, eg. your mother/mother-in-law to help out. If you have older children, enlist them to help out. Even young children can do something and it’s a good to get them started helping out.
Be sure to accept help from anyone who offers so you can rest and spend more time looking after yourself and your newborn. Let other people do the chores for now. Things they can do to help:
• Cook a meal and bring it over.
• Grocery shopping (have a shopping list prepared).
• Carry heavy loads of laundry from upstairs to beside (into...) the washing machine.
• Do simple housework like emptying/stacking the dishwasher, sweep the floors, hoover, slice veggies.
• This is the perfect time to temporarily hire a cleaner, even once per week to do the big stuff like changing your bed, clean the bathroom, hoover the stairs.
• Watch your baby while you shower, eat a decent meal and have a proper nap.
• Take your older children on an outing.
Many new mothers feel like they should be able to cope with the demands of caring for a new baby on their own. Therefore, asking for help can be difficult. If no one offers, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. They might not realise that this is a time they are needed. Plus culturally we have lost this element of postpartum recovery. Your baby shower is the perfect time to put this out there. Everyone there to celebrate you having a baby!
While planning your new routine, ask someone (daddy, grandma?) to watch the baby for an hour of each day for you to spend as you please. You can bathe, read, or anything that you need for that hour. Daddy needs time to get to know baby too! And you need a well-deserved mental break. While this sounds simple, it may not be straightforward for all mothers to achieve this. It requires the ongoing support of partners, family and friends. But you must protect your own needs.
Sleep When the Baby Sleeps
Forget about “getting things done” while the baby sleeps. As soon as he starts snoring, you need to sleep too. Gradually, as you regain your strength, you won’t need this extra rest. Unless you’ve been awake the night before.
Try to Get “Eight Hours” of Sleep
How? You may be thinking. Extend your “night” of sleep so that you end up with a good 7-8 hours every 24 hours. Go to bed with your baby early, say, 8:00pm and go through the night time routine of sleeping/eating every 2-4 hours and get up late the next morning around 9:00 or so.
Lack of sleep will be your worst enemy in those first few weeks. Your body repairs itself when you are asleep so invest in yourself with some solid rest.
Breastfeeding is an instinctual and natural act, but it is also an art that is learned day by day. If you are prepared for it to be a challenge, you have more of a chance at making it. Be patient and try, try again. It is a wonderful thing for you both, but needs to be learned by both you and your baby. The benefits of breastfeeding, both physically and emotionally for both you and baby, are so worth it if you’re able to do it.
Do not suffer in silence, contact your midwife for lactation nurse help/referral if you are having difficulty with latching and/or very sore nipples. Also, bring your pump in and they can help you learn to use it. Find a local breastfeeding support group.
Faithfully apply a sterile, medical grade lanolin cream (or some other type of healing nipple cream) to your nipples after each nursing session. You will avoid cracked, bleeding nipples this way, and your breasts will adjust more quickly to nursing.
Not all mothers’ choose to or are able to breastfeed. If you find that nursing isn’t working for you or your baby after pursuing professional help, give yourself emotional permission to quit and enjoy skin to skin contact while feeding your baby without the added pressure on yourself.
Personal note: After I had my son in 2018 I was ready for breastfeeding to be hard and painful! I learned as much about it as I could in advance. A few days before I went into labour I attended my local breastfeeding group and asked as many questions as I could. I was both lucky and prepared, I found breastfeeding to be reasonably easy and I only got a little sore when he had a growth spurt and fed non stop.
With our second, I didn't revise any of what I had learned. I thought it would come back to me when she was born. No, I had painful, bleeding nipples for the first few days. I looked everything up on our second day together and got well on the road to healing up my sore nipples and then everything was great within a week. The Flipple Technique really helped, plus I had unused lanolin and soothing pads that I didn't need when my son was young stashed in my maternity bag that I began using straight away.
I only read stories of breastfeeding being hard in the beginning which can be discouraging for anyone on the fence about trying. For me, it wasn't hard or painful, other than the times I have mentioned. I really liked being able to pick them up and feed them and not have to worry about bottles in the nighttime. I like my sleep!
Learn how to swaddle.
The biggest bonus to swaddling: babies love being swaddled! They’re used to being all warm and snug! They’ll sleep much better all swaddled tight.
Invest in a Baby Sling
It’s a great way to keep them feeling snuggled, and keep them close, but still have your hands free to get things done around the house. Even as tiny as they are, your arms do start to get tired after holding them for hours. Babywearing is great, especially if you’re going out grocery shopping. And a bouncer is great if you need to take care of an older child, or cook at the stove, etc.
Good nutrition is key.
Sure, you can live on instant noodles, pizza and coffee, but it turns out your body needs more. Your body is healing, it is likely you lost blood and you just need good nutrients. Get some decent food! That means following the same healthy diet you followed during pregnancy and abstaining from alcohol if you’re breastfeeding.
Drink lots of fluids and take a good Multi Vitamin and Mineral Supplement. This will help provide the nutrients/vitamins and minerals your body needs for maximum healing and recovery. It will also give you extra energy and a feeling of well-being.
When people ask how they could help, tell them you’d love some cut up fruit and veggies. If you have a day with a helper home (e.g. daddy or grandma). Batch cook things that you can throw together during the week when you have less time. Show your partner how to cook simple meals for those days when you are just too tired. Chop some fruit to eat one-handed while you’re feeding. Stock up with things you can eat straight away like soup you can simply heat up, chopped carrots and hummus, plain Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, oats for porridge, nuts, whole grain bread and peanut butter. The new diet might be boring, but nobody will perish.
Put the scale away!
At least for a few weeks. You may be keen to get started on weight-loss and to wear your old clothes again. But those first weeks are all about recovering and adjusting to life with your little one, not trying to diet and exercise. Especially if you’re breastfeeding, you really shouldn’t be trying to limit calories. Eat healthy, of course – that’s best for you and baby! But don’t start obsessing over the numbers on the scale for a while. It takes time.
The first few weeks are hard, but you really will find your groove. Try to enjoy every moment with your newborn, no matter how difficult each day is. They go SO fast. Take excessive amounts of photos every single day. Remind yourself that this is one time you will not get back, so enjoy it.
After those First Few Weeks
Get out of the House Every Day
Fresh air and light activity help to restore and rejuvenate sleep-deprived minds and bodies as well as improve the blues! Get outside for a walk with the pram in the sunshine (hopefully) and fresh air. Plus getting out every day means you have to shower and get dressed, and feel human again and get a change of scenery. Even if it’s just to do some grocery shopping.
NEVER feel guilty for putting your baby down. The guilt. Leave it behind. Well — ok, do feel guilty if you’re not feeding your baby while you shoot some drugs and pass out. Those poor people should feel guilty. You should feel ok taking a quick shower, even if your baby cries a bit during it. Life will go on, and you are likely to feel better afterwards and be a good mum.
Get Dressed Up and Have a Day or Night Out, without Baby!
Have an enjoyable activity to look forward to each week. This can be meeting your girlfriends for lunch, spoiling yourself with a trip to the hairdressers/beauticians or a date with your husband/partner. But the important thing is to have some adult company. Plus it will be good to get used to leaving baby with a babysitter and feel ok about it. Especially if this will be the norm when you return to work. If you can’t do something out of the house, do something you enjoy or pamper yourself at home.
Find Some Adult Company
Once “settled” in with the baby reach out to a Mother’s group ( eg. breastfeeding support, Mum and Baby yoga ), to get out of the house and receive and provide support to other new Mom’s. You are an adult human, who needs adult human interaction. Make sure you value that.
Lower your standards.
Your house doesn’t have to be spotless. You are finding your new norm. Just focus on the clutter control. And make your bed in the morning—at least one room will look neat.
It takes time to get the hang of looking after babies and work their routines into your schedule, which might go out the window at any moment anyway. So never be hard on yourself about not having a show home. If anyone complains, hand them a duster and tell them to get on with it.
The Baby Blues vs Postpartum Depression
“Baby Blues” are common through the first 1 to 2 weeks after birth. It’s common to feel moody, weepy, tired or anxious. You may cry or feel sad or irritable for no reason. Some women describe it as “very bad PMS!” I remember sobbing in the bathroom over how sore I was and how slowly I was healing.
Levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are high during pregnancy—higher than they will ever be at any other time in a woman’s life—and after delivery of the baby and the placenta, they plummet. This neurobiological process triggers the baby blues and you’ve just been handed a brand-new baby to take care of, manual not included.
Accept the blues when they sweep over you and remind yourself, that they’ll be sweeping away again soon. Normal baby blues are like the ocean tide. They come in and they go out.
The baby blues are perfectly normal, but if you continue to feel very low and/or your symptoms get worse and aren’t enjoying being a mum, you could be suffering from postpartum depression. If you are feeling very anxious and worried all the time, feeling panicky, obsessing about things, or you can’t concentrate because you’re feeling so down, speak to your health visitor or GP. They can give you the help and support that you need.
Signs and symptoms of postnatal depression:
- Lack of interest in your baby
- Negative feelings towards your baby
- Worrying about hurting your baby
- Lack of concern for yourself
- Loss of pleasure
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Drastic changes in appetite or weight
- Sleeping a lot or insomnia
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
Many (not all) baby blues that persist in hanging around are due largely to unhealthy thought patterns that we so easily fall prey to when we are in the middle of this vulnerable time of healing. Anger, feelings of being unfairly dealt with, resentment when others close to us can’t seem to understand where we are at…all these things can build up into what feels like an insurmountable, overwhelming obstacle.
You’re stronger than you think! Enjoy every moment. Parenthood is a beautiful experience. Allow yourself grace and room to grow. Trust yourself and your instincts. And know that if you’re worried about being a good mum, you already are.
If you have anything you would like to add please comment below, I’d love to hear from you. I know that not all of this advice is for everyone. My goal is to share it anyway in the hope that it will help someone.