Whether you’re expecting your first baby or your fourth, the days and weeks postpartum are a whirlwind of adjustments to your new normal—your new baby, your new body, and your new family dynamic. And while there’s no way to truly prepare for what’s to come, there are some tenets you can follow to help you feel your best during this crazy time.
Here are five things every postpartum mom needs to know from Dr. Heather Johnson, OB/GYN with Reiter, Hill + Johnson, an Advantia practice, and author of What They Don’t Tell You About Having A Baby: An Obstetrician’s Unofficial Guide to Preconception, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Life.
First and foremost, your postpartum hospital stay is for recovery. It is not time for entertaining guests, especially in our current Covid world.
Your body has been through a lot over the last nine months, so use these short 48 hours or so to rest and recover as much as possible. Trust and depend on the hospital nurses and staff. They are extremely experienced and there to help.
The first couple of days provide special mother-baby bonding time. Try to enjoy this special, uninterrupted time together.
At the same time, don’t feel pressured by “baby-friendly” hospitals that encourage you to keep your new baby in the room with you instead of the nursery. If this is what you’d like, wonderful! But if not, it is okay to have your baby sleep in the nursery so you can get a few hours of much-needed rest.
#2 Focus on recovery at home.
Next, recovery continues at home. But, before you get there, make sure you have everything you need to recover comfortably.
Postpartum Recovery Essentials
Every recovery is different, but here are the items Dr. Johnson recommends most often:
- Pads: You will get industrial-strength pads at the hospital. Bring the extras home, and make sure to have an extra box on hand. A little liner just won’t do the trick.
- Ice Packs: If you have tears, definitely use the hospital’s ice packs and bring any additional home with you.
- Peri Bottle: There’s no need to buy this, just take your bottle home with you from the hospital.
- Underwear: You’ll get mesh undies from the hospital, but you may want to purchase a few pairs of oversized underwear to accommodate the oversized pads.
- Nursing Supplies: If you plan on breastfeeding your baby, make sure to bring nipple cream or gel home with you from the hospital. You will definitely want breast pads and may also want a nursing pillow like the Boppy. Look into breast pumps as well. Depending on your insurance, you may not be able to get one before your baby is born. If you are able to get one ahead of time, it can be helpful to bring it with you to the hospital.
Steps You Can Take to Feel Your Best
The first thing you can and should do to jumpstart your physical recovery is the least possible—get rest. Make it a priority.
Depending on how dramatic or traumatic your delivery was, you may have bursts of energy. Try to let these go, at least at first. Give yourself at least a week of not doing anything more than you did in the hospital.
There’s a tendency to try to do everything once the baby is finally asleep—laundry, meal prep, etc. Try not to. You don’t have to sleep when the baby sleeps, but do try to rest during these times to help yourself feel better.
Nutrition-wise, protein is essential. Eat lots of protein (even red meat) to make up for the blood loss and physical drama/trauma your body just endured. Hydration is also key, both for nursing and feeling better in general.
As soon as it feels comfortable, try to get outside. This is NOT the time to exercise, but rather an opportunity for fresh air and a little movement to help you feel better.
Definitely Do Not…
Drive. It’s just practical—you’re exhausted. It would be like driving drunk. Your ability to concentrate is affected. You can’t predict how much bleeding you’ll do. You may be on pain medication. If you experience abdominal or pelvic pain, manipulating your feet can cause extra strain.
You certainly don’t want to be in charge of a baby and driving a car. It’s just not reasonable at first.
Most women who delivered vaginally and non-traumatically can probably drive after one to two weeks. For women who had c-sections (or any major surgery for that matter), it’s prudent to not get behind the wheel for 4-6 weeks.
Exercise strenuously. This is NOT the time to start jogging or weight training! You really are recovering, and your body can only take so much at a time. Getting back into shape can’t be a priority at this time.
Many people can go for walks after a couple of weeks, but lifting weights or jogging should wait until 6 weeks.
Feel pressured to go back to work too soon. You may experience pressure to go back to work sooner rather than later. If you absolutely must, then you have to. But certainly don’t volunteer to go back before you are ready. Again, this is your recovery time.
#3 Wait six weeks before shifting focus to more physical activity.
After about six weeks, you’re probably good to go (for the most part!). You can do most of life’s things, maybe just at a different pace.
You can exercise.
Now you can get back to exercise. But, make sure to be kind to yourself. It takes just two weeks to get out of shape but a minimum of six to get into shape. You’re not going to start where you left off, so leave your pride at home. Start slowly and be kind to yourself.
You can have sex … but that doesn’t mean you’ll want to.
On average it takes about six weeks for it to be safe for you to have sex with your partner. In this context, “safe” means you won’t be harmed by having sex. Whether you feel comfortable or ready to do it is another matter.
Some women are ready, some need to wait a few more months. You decide what feels right to you.
Red Flags to Share With Your Doctor
While most women feel much better after 6 weeks, that’s not the case for everyone. Make sure to tell your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following:
- Baby blues or sadness (Really, you should share this concern with your doctor before the six-week mark.)
- Continued heavy bleeding
- Pain associated with core exercise
- A sudden drop in milk supply
- Unusual fatigue
#4 Look out for your mental health after baby’s arrival.
The first few weeks are such a blur between hormones, sleep deprivation, and your healing body. But, this is a time to prioritize yourself and your mental health.
Be easy on yourself!
In the first few weeks, you are literally in survival mode. Focus on getting to the bathroom, combing your hair, and brushing your teeth. If you get those done and it’s noon, you’ve done well!
You don’t have to do it all yourself, so learn to accept help. This one can be difficult for a lot of women, but whatever help is there, take it. It doesn’t matter who it’s from or what they’re offering, just accept the help.
Lastly, focus on “good enough.” No matter how much help you have or how prepared you thought you were, things are not going to be perfect, and that’s okay. Perfection isn’t achievable, but good enough is.
Postpartum Depression Warning Signs
It’s not uncommon for women to look back months or even years after their child was born and realize they had postpartum depression. Often, their partners didn’t realize what was happening either.
If you or your partner have any concerns at all about postpartum depression, contact your doctor.
Warning signs to look out for include:
- No interest in anything, particularly no interest in the baby
- Thoughts of harming the baby
- Significant weight gain or loss
- Obsessions (We all want to take care of our babies and prevent harm, but it’s different when these perceived dangers become obsessions.)
- Crying for no reason
- Difficulty suppressing thoughts you don’t want to come forward
#5 Changing Relationships After Baby’s Arrival
Lastly, many women are surprised by the changes to their relationships after their babies arrive – relationships with partners and other children, in particular.
Your Relationship with Your Partner
A new person is joining your family, and things are going to change. Many of these changes will be wonderful, but many others will pose new challenges. This is normal.
Dr. Johnson’s number one piece of advice is: don’t keep score. Just don’t. It’s not helpful. There’s going to be waxing and waning. There’s just no point.
You also will likely have some different ideas about parenting styles than your partner. Except in cases when the child’s safety is at stake, there are no absolutes when it comes to parenting. No right way, no wrong way, and lots of gray areas.
Try to keep an open mind and to work together to come up with a parenting style that works best for both of you and your new child.
When things start to get heated, try to speak as best you can to what your needs are without getting into a fight. It’s tough but essential.
Your Relationship with Your Other Children
When you bring a new baby home, everything changes for your older child or children. The first child now has a sibling, which they’ve never had before. And while the adjustment may be difficult at first, it’s a good thing in the long run.
Realize your limitations and work out ways to make it all work (“good enough” comes back into play here). If you’re nursing, maybe your partner can do something special with the older kids.
Try not to feel guilt for not being able to give each child 100% of your attention. Separate activities can provide special time between parents and children, so try to create opportunities for these when you can.
Do not compare your children or the way you cared for your first with your younger children. You won’t be able to take the same care of your second baby as you did your first, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many of us showered too much attention on our firstborn!
Lastly, know you will love your second (and third, fourth…) child just as much as you love your first. It doesn’t feel possible before the baby arrives, but it’s true. People have been doing it for centuries, and you will, too.
Have a Question for Dr. Johnson?
Ask her in our upcoming Facebook Live on August 26!
Or, get more details in her book, What They Don’t Tell You About Having A Baby: An Obstetrician’s Unofficial Guide to Preconception, Pregnancy, and Postpartum Life.
For more information, please check out her website, askdrheatherjohnson.com.