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Postpartum Recovery

Posted on May. 14, 2021 ( comments)

Giving birth will likely be one of the most difficult — yet rewarding —things you’ll do in your lifetime. If this is your first child, you’ll likely have a lot of questions as you recover from birth, a time know as your “postpartum period.” To help, we came up with a list of common questions a lot of first-time mothers have during this time. 

How long does it take to recover after giving birth?

No matter how you gave birth, the first six weeks postpartum are considered a “recovery” period. Even if you sailed through your pregnancy and had the easiest delivery on record (but especially if you didn’t), your body has been stretched and stressed to the max, and it needs a chance to regroup.

Keep in mind that every new mom is different, so every woman will recover at a different rate with different postpartum symptoms. The majority of these symptoms ease up within a week, but a few others (tender/sore nipples, backaches and sometimes perineal pain) may continue for weeks, and still others (like leaky breasts or an achy back) might stick around until your baby is a little older.

If you’ve had a vaginal birth, you’re probably also wondering how long it will take for soreness to go away and for your perineum (the area between your vulva and your anus) to heal. Recovery can take anywhere from three weeks if you didn’t tear to six weeks or more if you had a perineal tear or an episiotomy (a surgical cut made in the perineum to help prevent tearing).

If you delivered by C-section, expect to spend the first 48 hours after delivery in the hospital recovering; it will take four to six weeks before you’re feeling back to normal. Depending on whether you pushed and for how long, you can also expect to have some perineal pain.

How can you speed up the postpartum healing process?

The following tips can help you to speed up your postpartum recovery, so you heal — and feel — better:

  • Help your perineum heal. Ice your perineum every couple of hours for the first 24 hours post-birth. Spray warm water over the area before and after peeing to keep urine from irritating torn skin. Try warm sitz baths (warm, shallow baths that cleans the perineum) for 20 minutes a few times a day to ease pain. Aim to avoid long periods of standing or sitting, and sleep on your side.

  • Care for your C-section scar. Gently clean your C-section incision as directed by your doctor. Pat dry gently with a clean towel. Your nurses will talk to you about how to care for your incision once you are home. Avoid carrying most things (besides your baby) and hold off on vigorous exercise until you get the OK from your doctor, typically six weeks postpartum.

  • Ease aches and pains. If you’re achy from pushing, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen and/or Ibuprofen, as directed by your doctor. Ease overall achiness with hot showers or a heating pad — or even treat yourself to a massage.

  • Stay regular. Your first postpartum bowel movement can take time, but don’t force things. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods (whole grains, fruits, veggies), go for walks, and use gentle stool softeners to get and stay regular. Avoid straining, which isn’t good for perineal tears or your C-section scar, if you have either.

  • Do your Kegels. Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. There’s no better way to get your vagina back in shape, make sex more enjoyable for you and your partner, and resolve postpartum urinary incontinence — no matter how you delivered. So get started with postpartum Kegel exercises as soon as you’re comfortably able, and aim for three sets of 20 every day.

  • Be kind to your breasts. For achy breasts, try using a warm compress or ice packs and gentle massage. If you’re breastfeeding, let your breasts air out after every nursing session and apply allow colostrum/breast milk to dry on your nipples. This will help keep them healthy. Also be sure to wear a comfortable nursing bra. 

  • Keep your doctor appointments. Checking in with your doctor is essential, since it helps ensure that everything is healing as expected. Your OB/GYN can also check in with how you are doing emotionally and, if necessary, suggest how to get help to adjust to being a new mom. If you had a C-section, be sure to make your appointment to remove your stitches, as leaving them in for too long can make scars look worse. And of course, let your doctor know if you have any symptoms that concern you, like fever, pain or tenderness around an incision.

  • Eat well to ease fatigue and fight constipation. Just like you did during pregnancy, aim to eat five smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger ones. Eat a combination of complex carbs and protein for energy, plus plenty of fiber (found in fruits, veggies and whole grains) to help prevent hemorrhoids: Think whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, veggies with hummus, or yogurt with a handful of berries. Drink at least 64 ounces (about eight glasses) of water every day. And try to skip the alcohol and caffeine, which can affect your moods and make it even more challenging to sleep than it already is with a newborn at home.

  • Keep moving. Exercise is likely off limits for at least the first few weeks if you've had a C-section, and you won't be immediately back to hard-core pre-pregnancy workout routines if you had a vaginalbirth. But definitely talk to your doctor about when and how you can exercise; you may be able to do more than you think. No matter how you delivered, start by taking walks. Stroll around your house and, eventually, around the neighborhood (stroller in tow!). Walking helps with gas and constipation and speeds recovery by boosting circulation and muscle tone. Plus, it boosts your mood and has been shown to help ease depression-like symptoms. 

Your postpartum recovery checklist

Here are a few things you’ll want to stash away while you’re still pregnant to make your postpartum recovery go as smoothly as possible:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen/Ibuprofen. It can help with perineal pain and overall aches.

  • Maxi pads. You’ll probably need these for at least a couple of weeks, until postpartum bleeding lets up.

  • Ice packs. There are lots of ways to ice your perineal area — from frozen padsicles to your standard lunchbox ice blocks (wrapped in paper towels, of course, to avoid frostburn).

  • Witch hazel pads. This is often used in combination with ice packs to ease vaginal pain and help with postpartum hemorrhoids.

  • Sitz bath. This little tub is designed for you to just sit and soak away postpartum pain.

  • Peri or squirt bottle. You’ll use this to rinse off your perineal area before/after peeing as the area heals.

  • Cotton underpants. Go for the comfortable, high-waisted style that come up on your tummy rather than below your belly button. Bikini-style panties hit right where your C-Section incision is.

  • Nursing bras. Invest in a few comfy ones that fit you well.

  • Nursing pads. If you’re planning to breastfeed, these will help keep leaky nipples from wetting your shirt.

  • Lidocaine spray. It helps ease the pain of postpartum hemorrhoids.

  • Stool softener. In case you get stopped up, this can gently help get things going.

  • Postpartum recovery belt. These are meant to be worn around the waist to help support your body after childbirth. If you think you might want one, ask your nurse for one before you leave the hospital. It can help keep things in place as your belly shrinks back to size.

  • Heating pad. This can help ease aches and pains in your breasts.

About The Author

Cody Hanson

Cody Hanson is the digital marketing specialist for the MultiCare Inland Northwest's marketing team. He manages online reputations for both MultiCare providers and locations in the region. He also manages paid search, display, retargeting and social media campaigns. You can reach him at [email protected].

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