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Postpartum Recovery Guide




HIGHLIGHTS

  • Giving birth will require time to recover your physical health, especially if you had an episiotomy or a C-section.

  • Feeling tired is natural for the first few weeks or months after you bring your baby home. Your newborn will need to be fed, cleaned, and cared for 24 hours a day, which will cause you to lose sleep. Plan to nap during the day if you can and hire/seek support for caring for your child.

  • Exercise and eating a healthy diet will help you lose weight, tone your body, sleep better, increase your energy, and lift your mood when you feel down.

  • You are dealing with many hormonal levels changing, lack of sleep, pain from childbirth, high expectations, and changing routines.

  • It helps to talk with other new mothers or join a supportive non-judgmental parenting group. If you feel frustrated, depressed, angry, or otherwise unable to take care of yourself or your baby, seek out hands-on help and reach out to your healthcare provider.

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Most mothers-to-be focus on pregnancy and the birth of their child. After your baby comes home, you have a new set of challenges.


Here are some tips for dealing with some common postpartum issues.


Recovering after giving birth


C-Section

A C-section is a surgery that delivers your baby through a cut in your belly and uterus.

After a C-section, your belly will be sore. You may need help with positioning your baby comfortably for feeding. Walking and standing will be uncomfortable for the first few days.


To help recover from a C-section:

  • Use the time in the hospital to rest. You may need to limit the number of phone calls and visitors.

  • Make sure you have help for at least the first 2 weeks when you come home. The more you rest during that time, the faster your body will heal.

  • Try to keep everything you and your baby will need close to you. A feeding or changing supply cart may be a great way to keep supplies gathered and nearby.

  • Avoid overdoing the stairs, reaching, twisting and bending. Until your belly heals, be sure you lift your baby slowly, keeping your arms close to your body. This will put less strain on your stomach muscles. Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby during recovery.

  • Follow your provider’s instructions about how to take care of the cut.


Episiotomy or vaginal tear

An episiotomy is a cut in the tissue between the opening of the vagina and the rectum, done by a provider, to widen the opening of your vagina for childbirth.


Large babies, fast deliveries or many factors can contribute to a perineal tear. These tears may be given a degree by your provider that tells how deep the tear is measuring from the birth canal to the anus.


Cuts or tears in your vaginal area should heal and stop being painful a week or two after delivery. You may have pain or swelling.


Pain and swelling can be relieved by:

  • Cloth-covered ice or cold packs on the area of the cut to lessen swelling and pain.

  • Sitz baths 2 or 3 times a day for 20 minutes to help reduce soreness.

  • Sprays or pads that contain a numbing medicine.

  • Pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Read the label and take as directed.


Feeling tired


Giving birth is tough work for your body. Additionally, your newborn will need to be fed, cleaned, and cared for 24 hours a day, which causes you to lose sleep. Feeling tired is natural for the first few weeks or months after you bring your baby home.


To help manage tiredness:

  • Expect to be tired, and don't be upset with yourself about it.

  • Nap when your baby naps. Sleep is more important for you right now than doing dishes, laundry, and other chores. Let others help you with chores rather than trying to do everything yourself.

  • Try to sleep at least 1 and 1/2 or 2 hours during the day for the first 2 to 3 weeks. Ask your spouse, a friend, or relative to take care of your baby for a couple of hours to help you out.

  • If you breastfeed, you may want to nurse your baby in bed during night feedings. Place your baby’s bed near your bed to make for easy feeding and help you both get back to sleep with less stimulation and fuss.

  • If you are bottle feeding, share night feedings with your partner.


Getting in shape


After the pregnancy, it will take time to get your body back into shape. Exercise and eating a healthy diet will help you lose weight, tone your body, get better sleep, feel increased energy, and lift your mood when you feel down.


To help get back in shape:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, non-fat dairy products, meats, fish, poultry, and legumes. Drink enough liquids to keep your urine light yellow in color. Avoid restrictive or low calorie weight-loss diets as they can decrease your milk supply if you are breastfeeding and can leave you feeling even more tired.

  • Start exercising as soon as your healthcare provider gives the OK. Walk with your baby around your house, yard, or neighborhood as often as you can. Being more physically active will help you lose weight, and walking outside can also help calm a fussy baby and avoid depressive moods for mom.

  • When you are physically ready, joining an exercise program or aerobics class that will get you out of the house and keep you motivated to exercise. If you go back to work, park as far away from entrances as you can and use stairs instead of elevators.


Having sex


  • You may not have much of a sex drive at first, especially if you’re breastfeeding. This is normal due to changing hormones.

  • Ask your healthcare provider how long you should wait before having sex again. Many providers recommend waiting 6 weeks because it takes this long for your uterus to recover from pregnancy and delivery. You may have some discomfort the first few times, but it should go away after that. Using a gel lubricant may help.

  • Talk to your provider about methods of birth control you can use after the birth of your baby. The method that may be best for you depends on the type of delivery you had, how you are recovering, and if you are breastfeeding.

  • If you do not breastfeed, it is usual for menstrual periods to start in 6 to 12 weeks. If you breastfeed, it may take months for your cycle to begin again.

  • Remember that you can get pregnant before you start having periods again. Breastfeeding is not birth control.


Adjusting to being a mother


You probably got a lot of advice while you were pregnant and will get a lot more as a new mother. Some people will tell you to let your baby cry, while others will tell you that you should always hold, sing, or rock your baby.


With all the choices you must make every day, you can feel like you are wrong no matter what you do.


You may miss your job and coworkers, yet don’t want to leave your baby.

You may need to return to work for financial reasons.

You may feel guilty no matter which choice you make.

  • Talk with other new mothers or join a parenting support group. Sharing common concerns and solutions to problems with other new moms can help you have more reasonable expectations.

  • Talk to friends who can help you stay balanced and help you remember that you are more than “just” a mom.

  • Give yourself time to get to know your newborn and don’t expect to get it perfect every time. Some babies are fussy, some are colicky, some develop allergies, and most won’t sleep through the night for many months. Even if you followed every piece of advice from books, the Internet, friends, and relatives, your baby will cry, not sleep through the night, or get a fever. Stay flexible and have a good sense of humor.

  • It's OK not to take advice that does not work for you. Each baby is different, and you are a different mother than your friend or relative. If you are worried about your baby’s health, talk with your baby’s healthcare provider.


Feeling depressed


  • After childbirth, many mothers feel more emotional. You are dealing with fluctuating hormone levels, lack of sleep, pain from childbirth, high expectations, and changing routines. Some women feel sad or weepy at some point during baby’s first year, often referred to as the “baby blues”. For most women these baby blues are mild and go away within a few weeks.

  • Depression related to pregnancy and childbirth lasts longer than a few weeks, is more severe, and makes it hard to manage your daily tasks. It may be called postpartum depression. If you have severe symptoms and they don’t go away within a couple weeks, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

  • Socialization, medication, sunlight, and exercise are all things your provider may suggest to help you cope with postpartum depression.


If you have the blues, here are some ideas that might help:

  • Find someone you trust to talk about how you are feeling. Other new mothers are a good support system.

  • Get someone to watch your baby and do something to relax and pamper yourself. Get a massage, take a bath, listen to music, or just take a long nap. Take time to focus on yourself and not just on the baby. Try to return to some of the things you liked doing before your baby was born.

  • Try infant massage. Spending quiet time with your baby not only can relax your baby but can relax you as well.

  • If you feel frustrated, depressed, angry, or otherwise unable to take care of yourself or your baby, talk with a trusted friend or relative, a counselor, or your healthcare provider. If you ever feel like shaking or hurting your baby, stop, put the baby in a safe place, and take a quiet break to calm yourself. Call a friend or relative for support or to take care of the baby for a little while. Also call your healthcare provider. NEVER shake a baby.


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