Motherhood isn't easy, period. Pregnancy is pretty much the easy part!
Although you are not the first woman to have a baby and won't be the last, it's a big deal. After childbirth you will continue to face unique emotional and physical changes associated with being pregnant and delivering a baby. Having a mixed bag of emotions is totally normal.
Even if you had a great pregnancy and a textbook delivery, your body has been through quite an ordeal. If you are one of the minority of women who had an orgasm during delivery and bounced back after a day, lucky you! If not, thankfully, the mommy gods are somehow able to help us forget, or block out, the less glamorous aspects of the experience.
Unfortunately, this may be the first time you realize that you have a lot going on in your life, which can be completely overwelming! Aside from caring for your little peanut and recovering physical (and mentally and emotionally) from delivery, you may be faced with juggling a multitude of other important responsibilities such as looking after older children or other family members, tending to household tasks (cooking, cleaning and laundry, etc.), not to mention a career.
In the same way that you are encouraged to put on your own oxygen mask first on an airplane, before helping others, we believe that if you take care of yourself you will be in a much better position to care for your baby and the rest of your family. Be honest, you won't be any help to anyone if you are unable to function. Don't be afraid to admit that it's too much to handle on your own and that you need extra support from your friends and family.
When it comes to babies and children (and parenthood), old habits die hard. We believe it's unfair to babies and children to allow for them to establish a routine or habits only to expect them to adapt to a new routine and break those habits afterward. We're focussed on making life easier and more predictable for parents. An important part of this involves parents establishing healthy feeding and sleep habits for babies from day one, in a way that ensures everyone in the family is as happy and tear free as possible!
Food, love, career, and mothers, the four major guilt groups – Cathy Guisewite could not have said it any better.
Before we get into all the postpartum details, would be remiss if we didn't forewarn you. Overcoming Mommy guilt is hard, so much easier said than done, but it's important! Truly, it doesn't matter what you do, how hard you try or how much you love your baby, Mother's guilt will always be there regarding one thing or another. This includes, but is by no means limited to, the decision to go back to work or not (and if so, when), to breastfeed or not (and if so, for how long), to take time for yourself, or to put your newborn down or let them cry for five minutes or longer. We know that being the perfect Mother is not realistic but doing the best you can is simply good enough.
Try to be patient and gentle with yourself!
Welcome to the fourth trimester
The period after delivery is often considered the fourth trimester and can last between 30 days and three months. There are many changes that occur in a woman’s body during this time including hormone fluctuations where estrogen levels drop approximately 300%. This hormonal shift generally takes an average of 10 days to balance out. With the hormone changes that occur post-pregnancy coupled with sleep deprivation, adapting to the demands of a newborn, and fulfilling countless other responsibilities, it is normal for a new mom or even a seasoned mom to have multiple changes in mood over the course of a day. After the much anticipated arrival of the new baby and the excitement of birth, it may come as a surprise for new moms to experience emotions such as sadness and anxiety. It's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about how you feel physically and emotionally postpartum. Read more about mental and emotional health below.
There's a pretty significant pregnancy hangover in the fourth trimester. We're not just referring to the nausea resulting from taking pain medication or as an aftereffect of a C-section. We're really talking about everything, including the physical and emotional affects of pregnancy and delivery, including feeling bloated, mentally and physically depleted and just yucky generally. These things can take days, weeks or months to go away, especially any emotional scarring. Unfortunately, there's no set date for the postpartum recovery period.
Your body will go through a number of changes during the weeks and months following delivery. Some things will never be the same as pre-pregnancy which can be hard to come to terms with. Be patient with yourself, the healing process and all of the changes you experience. Below are some key things you can expect and tips for healing more quickly after you've had a baby.
Basic bodily functions
After delivery, your nurse or midwife will measure the amount of urine you pass to make sure you are able to empty it each time, checking your bladder for distension. If you're not able to pee or empty your bladder when you pass urine (if your bladder is overly distended), your healthcare provider may insert a catheter to drain the urine from your bladder. If you've had a C-section you will already be catheterized. An overly distended bladder could lead to urinary problems. It could also make it more difficult for your uterus to contract resulting in more bleeding and afterpains.
Even if you were not experiencing incontinence during pregnancy, this may start, either temporarily or permanently. If so, ask your doctor for a referral to an osteopath and/or pelvic floor specialist who has experience assisting women with incontinence.
It may take a few days before you have your first bowel movement after birth, maybe even three. And it can really hurt, a lot! Keep a constipation remedy and stool softener on hand just in case (other things for your healing kit are listed below).
Depending on the level or bruising or tearing you've experienced (or if you have hemorrhoids from pushing!), expect to experience symptoms ranging from discomfort to excruciating pain down there if you've had a vaginal delivery. Toilet paper can be dry and rough on your tender parts. Keep a package of wet wipes in your diaper bag or purse. Read below for more about perineal healing, including topical healing herbs and recipes.
Your period, ovulation and sex
The longest period-like flow ever
It's a nice break not getting your period during pregnancy. Unfortunately, regardless of whether you've had a vaginal and caesarean birth, you will have a bloody discharge from your vagina called lochia. This lasts for up to six weeks following delivery, sometimes longer. The first 2-10 days, expect a red flow like a heavy period, sometimes with small clots. From 5-10 days after, expect it to become lighter, to pink then brownish flow, then eventually yellowish-white, white or clear flow. Your lochia may be heavier after you finish physical activity or if you are breastfeeding. It should become lighter the more rest you have.
Don't forget to change your pads frequently, at least five times per day. The general recommendation is no tampons for first six weeks after delivery. Consult your healthcare provider about using them.
Your real period
There is no set time period when your period will return after the birth. It may take up to a year. Generally, the longer and more you breastfeed the longer it will take for your period to come back. If you're not breastfeeding, you may get your period as early as six weeks after delivery. Your first period may be slightly heavier and longer than usual.
Most women ovulate 6-8 weeks after their baby is born so keep in mind you could get pregnant again even if you haven’t started your menstrual cycle! Since your body will likely release an egg about two weeks before your periods resume and you could get pregnant before you get your first period, you may want to consider using birth control when you have sex. If you are breastfeeding, talk to your doctor about birth control that is safe to use.
Most healthcare practitioners recommend women wait six weeks postpartum to engage in sexual intercourse but do not be afraid to consult with your doctor or midwife about how long you should wait. Some women feel ready for sex before six week but it may also take months – let your body be your guide. It is best to wait the full six weeks if vaginal bleeding has not stopped or if you had stitches or an episiotomy that is sore or still bleeding. It may also be appropriate to wait longer if your C-section is still healing. You may be nervous about pain occurring during sex, this is a normal concern, go slow and do not have sex until you feel ready. Express your concerns with your partner and share that it can take a minimum of 4-6 weeks so they’re not anticipating relations 1-2 weeks postpartum!
If you had a vaginal delivery, don’t expect for sex to feel the same for you (or your partner) for a while or ever. Not only will your vagina have stretched, you may have experienced perineal tearing. Kegel exercises and yoga can be invaluable in helping to strengthen your muscles. Read more below about exercise postpartum and quicker healing of perineal tears.
Your breasts and breastfeeding
The first few days
Your breasts may feel hot, swollen and tender after you've had a baby. For the first few days, your breasts will likely be soft because they only contain colostrum (a thick and sticky yellow to orange coloured milk containing nutrients and antibodies that will help to protect your baby from infection). It usually take three or four days after delivery for milk to come in. Have some formula available at home when you leave the hospital in case you're having trouble breastfeeding or don't produce enough for your baby. If you're expressing milk, keep in mind that colostrum is very difficult to pump out.
The decision to breastfeed or not
The decision to breastfeed your baby versus feeding expressed breastmilk or formula during the early part their life is, unfortunately, a controversial topic among women. There is no denying that there are a number of health benefits associated with feeding your baby breastmilk. Breastmilk is a whole food that is dynamic and changes with the needs of the infant as they grow. It contains vitamins, nutrients and antibodies, including essential fatty acids important for brain development. Unfortunately, there is nothing on the market that is comparable and scientists are not able to completely replicate the qualities found in breastmilk.
Breastfeeding helps your uterine contract after delivery and burns lots of calories which helps you lose your baby weight more quickly.
We understand that there are a number of reasons why women do not feed their babies breastmilk, including personal preference, for health reasons or lack of supply. We acknowledge those realities and respect their decisions. If you have chosen breastfeeding, make sure to have some formula of your choice readily available just in case it takes longer than expected for your milk to come in or if you don't produce enough.
Latching, milk production and other concerns
Consult with your midwife, healthcare provider or nurse about all of your breastfeeding concerns. If your baby doesn't latch properly, which is not an uncommon problem especially the first few weeks, you may need some help so be sure to talk to your midwife or a lactation consultant. Your healthcare provider should be able to recommend a number of resources to assist you with breastfeeding and pumping, but if not a great starting point is the La Leche League.
Always make sure that you are on top of engorgement and blockage issues. Placing cold compresses on your breasts will tend to help reduce milk flow whereas warm compresses will help to increase it. Putting a warm facecloth on your breasts or having a warm shower or bath, massaging your breasts and gently moving your hand from the outside of your breast toward the areola may make them feel better if you have a blockage or lump between feedings or pumping sessions.
In terms of milk production, there are a number of nursing teas on the market that your healthcare provider may recommend. One of our favourites is Weleda Nursing Tea. Fenugreek herbal tea and palm dates can also be helpful to increase and maintain milk production. If you're baby is sleeping through the night, be aware of the times you ingest milk enhancing herbs as you don't want to increase your supply in the middle of the night or your breasts will become engorged.
Blockage and engorgement issues
There are a number of opinions on what is best for Mom and baby when it comes to breastfeeding such as feeding baby in a vertical or horizontal position, and feeding on one breast for an entire feeding and accessing let-down milk. We're pretty big believers in doing what works best for you because we think you're baby's probably going to be just fine with any ounce of your breastmilk. Although one of your breasts might produce more milk than the other, it can help if you to try to keep things equal. You may find it best to breastfeed and pump for the same number of minutes on each breast each time, or alternate breasts from feeding to feeding. This is mostly because engorgement and blocked milk ducts really hurt. You can keep track of this with a stopwatch – there's probably one on your pump as well as your cell phone. Keeping track of the number of minutes you've fed (altogether and per breast) as well as feeding on your right or left breast is easy to do on your baby's chart (see our feeding and sleep program).
Pain, sensitivity and cracking
Breastfeeding can be quite painful. Your nipples may feel extremely sensitive. It may even hurt or be uncomfortable for up to 30 seconds at the beginning of each feeding. This usually begins to ease off after five days but can take a number of weeks to get your baby to latch properly! Try to be patient with your baby and especially with yourself when breastfeeding.
If you're finding your nipples are dry and cracking, consult your physician about what cream is best to use while breastfeeding. There are also a number of other breast shield and protective products on the market to help make things easier when your breasts are sensitive.
If you are finding it painful to breastfeed, like shards of glass cutting you or sharp pains throughout your breast either at or between feedings, you may have thrush (a yeast infection). If your baby has thrush (a yeast infection on the inside of their mouth and tongue) their tongue will likely have a white film on it and they may be fussy and have difficulty breastfeeding. See you healthcare provider if you or your baby are showing signs of thrush. Prescribed treatment may involve up to 10 days of topical cream for your breasts and drops for baby.
Don't forget to buy yourself a few comfortable nursing bras and keep breast pads on hand in case you start to leak! Other important breastfeeding and pumping is listed below.
How to stop breastfeeding
To avoid pain and discomfort when you stop breastfeeding, make sure to taper down slowly when you decide to cut back or stop pumping or breastfeeding altogether. Try shortening your pumping time by two or three minutes each day until you are at zero minutes. Regardless of whether you are increasing or decreasing the number of minutes you are pumping, always have breast pads readily available in case you leak.
More breastfeeding tips
For more about breastfeeding, including how to maintain your milk supply when you baby starts sleeping through the night, must-have products and milk storage, and tips for tapering down, read our baby feeding and sleep program and accompanying Q&A.
Your new body
Unless you are a supermodel, your dress size is probably the least of your worries after delivery. Even if you are fully aware that your post-delivery body will not resemble your chiseled beach-ready body, there are a few things that you should know about your post delivery body. We figure the fewer surprises the better on this front. There are enough surprises after your baby is born, like their unique little personality and just how exhausting being a new parent can be, without having to think about all the changes your body undergo postpartum.
Your body generally
Your dress size. Following delivery expect to look like you're about five months pregnant. During your pregnancy, your arms and legs may appear smaller than they actually are simply because your breasts and tummy become ginormous. Obviously it is a great illusion at the time, but unfortunately it's a bit of a double edge to the sword. Depending on your expectations, it can be a total downer when you look at yourself in the mirror after delivery, especially if you are already feeling self-conscious or blue postpartum.
Stretch marks. You may be left with stretch marks on your breasts, tummy and thighs, especially if you gained a lot of weight quickly during pregnancy. Lather up using your favourite body lotions and oils. Watch what you're putting near your breasts if you're breastfeeding.
Night sweats. Expect these to be like you've just worked out, typically caused by hormonal adjustments.
Swelling, especially feet and ankles. If you've had an IV you may find that your entire body is swollen but this should subside in a few days. Swollen ankles may take about a week to go down.
Perineal tears, swelling and bruising down there. Following a vaginal delivery, your vagina and the whole area around your perenium will be (completely) stretched, swollen and bruised. A girlfriend once described it as feeling like her insides were hanging out!
Hemorrhoids, which are caused by pushing, can take weeks to go away!
Cramps or after-pains. You may experience after-pains for up to eight weeks after birth. This is caused when your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size and position. The cramps may vary in severity, getting worse when doing activities or breastfeeding - when you breastfeed, the hormone oxytocin is released, which causes your uterus to contract. After-pains can be particularly painful the first week following delivery, similar to mild-mid labour contractions while this happens.
Your hair and complexion
Hormones prevent normal hair loss during pregnancy so you hair may have become thicker and more luxuriant. Once those hormones drop postpartum, you may start to lose the hair that you held onto during pregnancy. Over time your hair will likely return to how it was.
You may find that you get more blemishes postpartum due to hormonal changes. Unfortunately being prone to acne won't necessarily subside over time like some of the other symptoms.
Honestly, after you've had a baby, your waistline to be pretty much non-existent and your tummy be stretched, flabby and wrinkly.
You will notice that your tummy will gradually become a bit smaller naturally as your uterus begins to contract. If you're breastfeeding, getting your beach-ready body back can happen pretty quickly, especially if you've had more than one baby, because your body knows what to do. Read more below about when to start exercising after having a baby below.
If you've had a C-section your mobility will be significantly limited for weeks following delivery until your incision heals. This includes restrictions on lifting heavy objects (or even your baby!) and driving. Discuss all limitations with your physician.
Don’t be embarrassed if you were under the impression that your body would immediately go back to its pre-pregnancy form after delivery. It can be more of a surprise than you'd expect! Your body won’t necessarily bounce back to the way it was before you got pregnant but you never know (and it may not mater to you either way). Expect slightly wider hips and a bit more cellulite, but this will vary depending on genetics, your eating habits and how hard you work to get back into shape. It may not happen as quickly as you might expect and it may take a lot more work than you had hoped. Be patient and learn to love your new body!
Your mental and emotional wellbeing
Baby blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis
As a new Mom your balance may be out of whack for a while. It is normal to feel mixed emotions, from being overjoyed to completely exhausted, disappointed or overwhelmed... Don’t beat yourself up if you do not feel an immediate attachment to your baby after birth.
Up to 80% of all mothers experience some degree of low mood or “baby blues” generally starting around day two postpartum lasting up to two weeks. In rare cases baby blues can last a few months to a year. Symptoms include: irritability, crying for no reason, impatience, low self-esteem, restlessness, oversensitivity, anxiety, and lack of feelings for the baby (some degree of this is normal). When these feelings are more intense and frequent or include anger, panic, hopelessness, and severe anxiety, you may be experiencing postpartum depression. Approximately 10% of mothers experience postpartum depression (which is more common than most might think). A more serious but much rarer disorder is postpartum psychosis which includes hallucinations, suicidal thoughts, or attempts to harm the infant. With postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, pharmaceutical intervention may be required and can offer relief. If you have a family history of postpartum depression or psychosis let your healthcare provider know prior to delivery so they can monitor you appropriately.
Staying on top of your emotional wellbeing
There are so many things to do all of the time when caring for a newborn, not to mention your other responsibilities. Staying on top of your emotional wellbeing is important and should never be ignored. Here are some proactive ways to :
Take time out for yourself - you may feel too busy to stop and think but it is important now more than ever take a few minutes to yourself to breathe, reflect, regroup and rest.
Keep a journal - documenting your observations, organizing your thoughts and feelings and just writing stuff down can be therapeutic.
Turn to your support network to help with chores and responsibilities - there are so many things to do all of the time when caring for a newborn, not to mention your other responsibilities, and even though most are willing to help no one will know what you need unless you communicate it.
Check in regularly with your support network for emotional support - if you have a partner, try to make the time to have a conversation with them daily about how you feel and how you are coping (and how they are doing as well!). Make sure to have at least one other friend or family member that you know you can call for support at any time of the day or night. Always take the time to call your best friend or designated support person to vent, cry, catch up, or ask for help.
Be honest about how you are feeling and how are you coping with a newborn and reach out for help - recognize what is bothering you and never be ashamed to ask for support. Be true to yourself and your needs -- allow yourself to be human not a super-human -- you did just have a baby after all! Do not try to self-diagnose or downplay how you really feel. Discuss the way you are feeling with your healthcare provider.
We cannot express enough how important it is to be gentle with yourself and to never dismiss your feelings. Consulting your healthcare provider and asking for help is integral for your family's health and wellbeing, especially your own!
Five general recommendations for treating low mood after delivery
Brace yourself for feeling at least a bit different than your normal self postpartum. You may not feel prepared for how you feel and your loved ones may feel completely helpless. Consult your healthcare provider about how you feel. Here are a few ideas for treating low mood postpartum.
1. Maintain excellent nutrition
Eating right is key during this time for both postpartum depression and baby blues.
Support your "happy hormones" – Choose foods high in tryptophan and tyrosine as these amino acids are important building blocks for serotonin and dopamine (our “happy hormones”). Examples of foods rich in these amino acid rich include: meat, fish, eggs, some dairy options (preferably organic full fat options), oats, fermented soy, nuts and seeds, seaweed, and of course lots of vegetables!
Supplement your vitamin B, vitamin D, and fatty acid intake – Staying on a professional quality prenatal vitamin with all of the B vitamins especially a good dose of vitamin B6 and iron (for most women) provides all of the required minerals and vitamins essential for energy but also hormone and neurotransmitter production. Essential fatty acids like those found in fish oil are known to prevent and treat mild to moderate depression. Supplementing with vitamin D3 has been linked to improving mood and for maintaining immune health; it may be a good idea to have your blood vitamin D levels tested to make sure you are in the optimal range.
Stabilize your blood sugar levels to prevent variability in mood – Having a small meal that includes protein and fiber every two hours during the day can help prevent changes in mood.
Monitor your iron levels – Have your healthcare provider rule out and correct iron deficiency or anemia prior to pregnancy when possible and continue to monitor it postpartum. Iron levels become depleted when women lose blood during and after delivery. Ferritin is a blood measurement of stored iron and is usually depleted before true anemia occurs (hemoglobin level is measured below normal range). Hemoglobin normally decreases during pregnancy as blood volume increases almost 50% – when this occurs it is not necessarily anemia. After delivery, it can take 4-6 months for hemoglobin to return to pregnancy levels. Other measurements your healthcare provider may obtain to assess iron status include serum iron, TIBC (total iron binding capacity) and transferrin saturation. (This Q&A provides helpful information about the importance of iron for your baby.)
2. Remain hydrated
Insufficient hydration leads to lowered blood volume which can lead to lower mood. It is important to increase your intake of fluids while you are breastfeeding; aim for 2-3 liters of water each day. Pay attention to your thirst and have water accessible so grabbing a quick drink is easy and doesn’t take up too much of your time – having a glass of water each time you sit down to breastfeed can be a helpful reminder. Herbal teas throughout the day also count as fluid repletion. Here is a list of teas and herbs that are safe while pregnant and breastfeeding.
3. Light exercise – getting fresh air
Daily exercise might be the last thing on your mind during this time however it may also be the best way to elevate your mood. Exercising outside in fresh air has been well studied for its effects on mood. In fact, 20 minutes of brisk exercise releases serotonin (our “happy hormone”) similar to the effects that Prozac has on our brains. Having an exercise routine in place before and during pregnancy can help make it easier to continue exercising after delivery – and exercise increases strength and stamina for labor preparation.
Joining a group can be a great way to stay motivated and make new connections especially with other new moms. If you prefer to exercise indoors, that's okay too, you will still benefit from increased endorphins and mood enhancing neurotransmitters. Mommy & me yoga classes can be a nice way of getting you out of the house. Yoga is gentle and can help rebuild much needed core and pelvic floor strength after birth!
Most new moms can start their regular exercise routine after six weeks postpartum but you should consult your healthcare practitioner about when the best time to start exercising is for you. Read more about exercise postpartum read below. Other great tips about postpartum exercise can be found here.
Sleep is important for so many factors including mood stabilization. Our feeding and sleep program could help provide you with a routine and the ability to get more rest (and it is gentle enough that most parents should be able to start right away). If you are pumping or bottle feeding and it is available, consider trading off with your partner for some of the night or early morning feeds to allow you to get more continuous hours of sleep. Alternatively, have your child sleep in a bassinet in your room for easier feeding without too much interruption; having baby sleep in bed with you may be an option if your healthcare provider is okay with it. Having a nap while your baby naps during the day may not always be possible but even a 10 or 20 minute nap will help increase the amount of rest you get in a day. Try not to overdo it; most chores can be left for another day or for a family member to help out with.
5. Other considerations
There are many options available, below are a few ideas to consider.
Look into B12 or IV therapy – Consult your naturopath or other healthcare provider about whether you would benefit from B12 or IV therapy. These concentrated nutrients bypass the digestive system and give a boost of energy by saturating the tissue and supporting the adrenal glands. IV therapy is generally considered safe while breastfeeding.
Keep a journal for you (not just for your baby) – Writing down how you are feeling may be a good way to express difficult emotions and provide an opportunity for you to reflect on a consistent basis. It might also add some perspective for what you're going through and makes a nice keepsake.
Keep Bach Rescue Remedy spray or drops on hand – These natural products provide a calming essence for many people especially when dealing with acute stress.
Monitor and support your thyroid gland as needed – Having your healthcare provider assess your thyroid function is a good idea as the thyroid gland is important for numerous metabolic functions in your body. Thyroid hormones can fluctuate during pregnancy and the postpartum period and these swings may play a role in mood and energy.
Ask about placenta encapsulation – Placenta encapsulation may be a consideration. Discuss this option with your midwife or naturopath.
Nutritional status prior to and during pregnancy can impact how you feel after delivery – Have your healthcare provider rule out and correct iron deficiency or anemia prior to pregnancy when possible and continue to monitor it during pregnancy and postpartum.
Have an exercise routine in place before and during pregnancy to make it easier to continue exercising after delivery – This can include going for brisk walks daily. Exercise increases strength and stamina for labour preparation not to mention increases endorphins and mood enhancing neurotransmitters. See below for more about exercising after delivery.
Organize support before your baby is born – Asking for help is a good thing, don’t be afraid to ask for it! Most people are willing to help out (especially friends and family) but they need to know what you need help with. Consider asking for help planning and making healthy meals (freezer or fresh), doing laundry, looking after older children (organizing play dates) or assisting with any number of items important to you. Let your friends and family know ahead of time that you are not sure what you will require help with after your baby is born but having reliable people on standby can make daily chores more manageable.
Your partner, if applicable – It is particularly important to communicate with your partner. They may not be able to anticipate your needs like you would prefer them to and most likely they are feeling a bit helpless so would appreciate some loving guidance!
Your support network – In addition to the above, have at least friend or family member (other than your partner) that you know you can call for support at any hour of the day or night.
It is not possible to predict how you are going to feel after you give birth and the period that follows, even a subsequent pregnancy will be different. A girlfriend who experienced postpartum depression said she wish she would have known more about it during pregnancy to prepare herself a bit for what could happen, who to reach out to and how to handle it.There are no failsafe ways to prevent baby blues or postpartum depression!
Mother's list for postpartum healing and comfort
For the first month following delivery, even if you feel like you have an abundance of energy, focus on trying to get as much rest as possible. Having a baby is no small feat and, over time, the sleep deprivation will catch up with you. Fight the overwhelming urge to be superwoman – now is the time to sit back and relax at every opportunity you get, and enjoy your baby because they really do grow so fast!
There are many theories around what is best for a new Mom. Like with pregnancy, everyone is going to have their own opinion on what you should do to help speed up the healing process and cope with having a newborn. You may find you're offered advice about when your baby should eat and sleep and if you should let them cry, to things like making sure you dry your hair immediately after you wash it, making an appointment with an acupuncturist and taking special herbs after delivery. Other ideas may include things like taking placenta vitamins, drinking red date tea, cutting out salt and eating chicken soup. Speak with your healthcare provider about what is best for you and your baby.
If you're lucky enough to have family, friends or have hired a caregiver to help you care for you and your baby for the first month or two (or longer), that is amazing. Do not feel bad if you take a break while people are visiting, they will understand, particularly if they have children. Try to rest, stay warm, and keep well nourished and hydrated. Speak to your doctor about an when it is appropriate for you to begin exercising again, particularly if you had a C-section. Other ideas and things to discuss with your healthcare provider are discussed below.
There are so many things to buy for your new baby that it can be easy to forget what you need for yourself! The quicker you heal mentally and physically postpartum, the better it is for you and that little angel you're so busy doting over.
We're here to make sure you're well taken care of, starting with this postpartum essentials list.
Large comfy underwear
Your favorite heavy flow maxi pads and padsicle spray remedy (see this post)
Squeeze or peri bottle and topical perineum healing brew (see this post)
Witch hazel (Hemorrhoid cream)
Flushable wet wipes (witch hazel wipes or Tucks medicated wipes)
Bath herbs to promote healing (see this Mommy and me bath recipe)
Stool softener and Unda magnesium packages (or Healthy Mama Move it Along!™ Constipation Relief)
Perineal pillow (donut cushion)
Hot water bottle
Anxiety spray (see this post)
Pain relief (see below)
Post pregnancy tummy support
Journal, for tracking your personal wellness, etc.
You may have recognized these items from our commentary above. Other reasons for having these items are discussed below.
Tips for healing down there
To say that childbirth isn't easy understates it. Same goes with saying that the after-effects aren't sexy. A girlfriend once described the feeling after delivering her 10-pound baby like her insides were hanging out.
Even without experiencing perineal tearing, the swelling and bruising caused by childbirth can range from uncomfortable to excruciatingly painful. It can take weeks, months, or even years to heal physically and emotionally.
Here are our top five tips for postpartum comfort and perineal healing.
1. Have a perineal (donut) cushion on hand
Some women aren't able to sit comfortably for weeks (or months) after delivery. This cushion can be a real lifesaver especially when you have to sit to feed your baby! You may not need to use it but it's worth having at your fingertips just in case -- hopefully it can be returned with the receipt at a later date if it's unused and in original packaging.
2. Use botanicals and creams for topical support to speed the healing process
Witch hazel (or hemorrhoid cream) is another thing that doesn't hurt to keep on hand just in case you need it.
Perineal healing herbs can be tremendously helpful for speeding up the healing process. Dr. Beverly Huang, ND suggests making these botanical padsicles to promote tissue healing after childbirth. Also check out Dr. Beverly's mommy and baby bath recipe and topical healing brew tea to promote perineal healing.
3. Switch out the TP for a squeeze bottle and wet wipes while you're healing!
Toilet paper can be so dry and uncomfortable on your tender parts. Keep a package of wet wipes in your diaper bag or purse. Bamboo wipes are great but there are a number of options, including Tucks brand and using witch hazel.
Dr. Beverly's topical healing brew tea for cleansing and soothing the perineum, can be kept in a squeeze bottle on the back of your toilet or frozen in a peri bottle and used as a cooling spray on the perineum.
4. Use painkillers that works for you, period
Dr. Beverly recommends considering Arnica and Hypericum pellets for pain management: "Arnica can help with bruising and achy pain following delivery and Hypericum can help with sharp shooting pain".
Ask your health are provider about all options available to you, including the ones referred to in this post.
If you decide to use homeopathic remedies, consider requesting that your healthcare provider include then on your childbirth and postpartum medical chart. Also included reference to them in your birth plan, so that your nurse and delivery doctor are aware of your intention to take them.
5. Do Kegel exercises daily (when it's safe to exercise)
Some women are referred to pelvic floor specialists for assistance with strengthening pelvic floor muscles (perineum muscles) and bladder control after childbirth. Kegel exercises can help promote perineal healing, and help with increasing bladder control and strengthening pelvic floor muscles.
According to Dr. Pamela Smith, ND, kegel exercises be done each day by tightening your pelvic floor muscles, holding for 10 seconds then releasing, repeating 3-4 times. Read this post to find out more about when to start Kegel exercises and other forms of exercise after childbirth. Find out more about exercising postpartum below.
A healthy diet and appropriate supplements are important for a new Mother, especially to help facilitate quicker healing. A number of nutrients are lost when a woman gives birth to a baby, including iron which facilitates oxygen absorption in the blood, assisting your body in the postpartum healing process. A loss of iron in your body is thought to be a contributing factor to exhaustion postpartum and consequently, the baby blues.
Support your "happy hormones"
Choose foods high in tryptophan and tyrosine as these amino acids are important building blocks for serotonin and dopamine (our “happy hormones”). Examples of foods rich in these amino acid rich include: meat, fish, eggs, some dairy options (preferably organic full fat options), oats, fermented soy, nuts and seeds, seaweed, and of course lots of vegetables!
Supplement your vitamin B, vitamin D, and fatty acid intake
Staying on a professional quality prenatal vitamin with all of the B vitamins especially a good dose of vitamin B6 and iron (for most women) provides all of the required minerals and vitamins essential for energy but also hormone and neurotransmitter production. Essential fatty acids like those found in fish oil are known to prevent and treat mild to moderate depression. Supplementing with vitamin D3 has been linked to improving mood and for maintaining immune health; it may be a good idea to have your blood vitamin D levels tested to make sure you are in the optimal range.
Stabilize your blood sugar levels to prevent variability in mood
Having a small meal that includes protein and fiber every two hours during the day can help prevent changes in mood.
Monitor your iron levels
Have your healthcare provider rule out and correct iron deficiency or anemia prior to pregnancy when possible and continue to monitor it postpartum. Iron levels become depleted when women lose blood during and after delivery. Ferritin is a blood measurement of stored iron and is usually depleted before true anemia occurs (hemoglobin level is measured below normal range). Hemoglobin normally decreases during pregnancy as blood volume increases almost 50% – when this occurs it is not necessarily anemia. After delivery, it can take 4-6 months for hemoglobin to return to pregnancy levels. Other measurements your healthcare provider may obtain to assess iron status include serum iron, TIBC (total iron binding capacity) and transferrin saturation. (This Q&A provides helpful information about the importance of iron for your baby.)
Consult with your healthcare practitioner regarding a postpartum vitamin regime, including having your placenta encapsulated. The placenta is a rich source of iron and other nutrients such as amino acids, essential fats and your own hormones. When taken in an encapsulated form, it may help you to recover more quickly from birth by helping to balancing your hormones, increasing post partum iron levels, assisting the uterus in returning to size, enhancing your milk supply, shorten postpartum bleeding. The placenta may also help to prevent the baby blues and postpartum depression. Read our post about placenta encapsulation.
See our health tips for postpartum nutrition.
Benefits and when to start
Feeling tired, overwhelmed, insecure or downright exhausted after pregnancy are all valid reasons to avoid getting (back) on the exercise train. After all, the thought of punishing ourselves with copious amounts of crunches in hopes of regaining some assemblance of a waistline sounds like the opposite of fun, right?
While it may seem like the last thing on your mind, there are far too many benefits from exercising postpartum to ignore. Aside from getting back into your skinny jeans, getting active promotes cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and toning, can boost your energy level, improve your mood, relieve stress and help combat postpartum depression. According to Dr. Pamela Smith, ND, "20 minutes of brisk exercise releases serotonin (our 'happy hormone') similar to the effects that Prozac has on our brains and produces increased endorphins and mood enhancing neurotransmitters".
A lot of woman are eager to start exercising again soon after delivery to get back in shape. Exercise is important to help with healing and recovery as it improves circulation and lifts mood. However, too much too soon can offset the healing process!
Most healthcare practitioners recommend waiting six weeks postpartum to engage in strenuous exercise. But may take up to ten weeks before your abdominal muscles can handle any exercises. A full recovery can take up to six months so be gentle with yourself and as always check in with your healthcare provider to determine when is appropriate for you to increase your activity level.
If you have had a vaginal delivery, your healthcare provider may say it's okay to start some simple exercises for the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles right away, whereas you will likely need to wait longer if you've had a C-section. Start slow and very gradually increase your intensity level – pain may be your body’s way of saying you’re not completely healed so listen to this message. Have a conversation with your healthcare provider about when it's best for you to begin exercising postpartum.
After a vaginal delivery
If you have had vaginal delivery, some simple exercises you can start right away include isometric contractions of the abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. This is similar to mild Kegel exercises of simply tightening specific muscle groups, holding for 10 seconds then releasing, repeating 3-4 times. If you had complications during delivery, it may take longer for the tearing or incisions to heal so it is important to not contract these muscles until they have fully healed. Start slow and very gradually increase your intensity level – pain may be your body’s way of saying you’re not completely healed so listen to this message. Have a conversation with your doctor or midwife about when is appropriate for you to get back to your regular exercise routine.
After a C-section
Moving your body after a Caesarean delivery is very important for healing but only do so under the supervision of your doctor. While in the hospital, you may be encouraged to practice deep breathing or coughing to keep your lungs clear. This is essentially a mild workout for your body after the surgery you just had. It is also a good idea to try wiggling your toes a few times a day to help improve circulation especially while still in the hospital. Short walks may be encouraged right away to decrease your chances of developing a blood clot – do your best and always check in with your nurse or doctor before exerting yourself too much, especially while still in the hospital!
Tips for getting started
Check out these posts for ideas:
The key is to start slowly, listen to your body and find something you enjoy!