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Recovering From Delivery

Your baby's finally here, and you're thrilled — but you're also exhausted, uncomfortable, on an emotional roller coaster, and wondering whether you'll ever fit into your jeans again. Childbirth classes helped prepare you for giving birth, but you weren't prepared for all of this!

What to Expect Physically in the First Few Weeks

After your baby arrives, you'll notice some changes — both physical and emotional.

Physically, you might experience:

What to Expect Emotionally in the First Few Weeks

Emotionally, you may be feeling:

In addition, when it comes to sexual relations, you and your partner may be on completely different pages. Your partner may be ready to pick up where you left off before baby's arrival, whereas you may not feel comfortable enough — physically or emotionally — and may be craving nothing more than a good night's sleep. Doctors often ask women to wait several weeks before having sex in order to allow healing to occur.

The Healing Process

It took your body months to prepare to give birth, and it takes time to recover. If you've had a cesarean section (C-section), it can take even longer because surgery requires a longer healing time. If unexpected, it may have also raised emotional issues.

Pain is greatest the first few days after the surgery and should gradually subside. Your doctor will advise you on precautions to take after surgery, and give you directions for bathing and how to begin gentle exercises to speed recovery and help avoid constipation.

Things to know:

Birth Control

You can become pregnant again before your first postpartum period. Even though this is less likely if you are exclusively breastfeeding (day and night, no solids, no bottles, at least 8 times a day, never going more 3 hours during the day or 6 hours at night without feeding), have not had a period, and your baby is younger than 6 months old, it is still possible.

If you want to protect against pregnancy, discuss your options with your doctor. This may include barrier methods (like condoms or diaphragms), IUDs, pills, a patch, implantable devices, or shots.

Breastfeeding

You need adequate sleep, fluids, and nutrition, especially if you are breastfeeding. An easy way to stay on top of drinking enough fluids is to have a glass of water whenever your baby nurses. At least until your milk supply is well established, try to avoid caffeine, which causes loss of fluid through urine and sometimes makes babies wakeful and fussy.

If you have any breastfeeding problems, talk to your doctor, midwife, or a lactation specialist. Your clinic or hospital lactation specialist can advise you on how to deal with any breastfeeding problems. Relieve clogged milk ducts with breast massage, frequent nursing, feeding after a warm shower, and warm moist compresses applied throughout the day.

If you develop a fever or chills or your breast becomes tender or red, you may have an infection (mastitis) and need antibiotics. Call you doctor if this happens. Continue nursing or pumping from both breasts. Drink plenty of fluids.

Engorged Breasts

Engorged breasts will fell better as your breastfeeding pattern becomes established or, if you're not breastfeeding, when your body stops producing milk — usually within a few days.

Episiotomy Care

Continue sitz baths (sitting in just a few inches of water and covering the buttocks, up to the hips, in the water) using cool water for the first few days, then warm water after that. Squeeze the cheeks of your bottom together when you sit to avoid pulling painfully on the stitches.

Use a squirt bottle with warm water to wash the area with water when you use the toilet; pat dry. After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to avoid infection. Reduce swelling with ice packs or chilled witch hazel pads.

Talk to your doctor about taking an anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen to help with the pain and swelling.

Exercise

Resume as soon as you've been cleared by your doctor to help restore your strength and pre-pregnancy body, increase your energy and sense of well-being, and reduce constipation. Begin slowly and increase gradually. Walking and swimming are excellent choices.

Hemorrhoids and Constipation

Alternating warm sitz baths and cold packs can help with hemorrhoids. It also can help to sit on an inflatable donut cushion.

Ask your doctor about a stool softener. Don't use laxatives, suppositories, or enemas without your doctor's OK. Increase your intake of fluids and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. After your doctor has cleared it, exercise can be very helpful.

Sexual Relations

Your body needs time to heal. Doctors usually recommend waiting 4-6 weeks to have sex to reduce the risk of infection, increased bleeding, or re-opening healing tissue.

Begin slowly, with kissing, cuddling, and other intimate activities. You'll probably notice reduced vaginal lubrication (this is due to hormones and usually is temporary), so a water-based lubricant might be useful. Try to find positions that put less pressure on sore areas and are most comfortable for you. Tell your partner if you're sore or frightened about pain during sexual activity — talking it over can help both of you to feel less anxious and more secure about resuming your sex life.

Incontinence

Urinary or fecal incontinence often resolves gradually as your body returns to its normal prepregnancy state. Encourage the process with Kegel exercises, which help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. To find the correct muscles, pretend you're trying to stop urinating. Squeeze those muscles for a few seconds, then relax (your doctor can check to be sure you're doing them correctly). Wear a sanitary pad for protection. Let the doctor know about any incontinence you experience.

What Else You Can Do to Help Yourself

You'll get greater enjoyment in your new role as mom — and it will be much easier — if you care for both yourself and your new baby. For example:

Getting Help From Others

Remember, Wonder Woman is fiction. Ask your partner, friends, and family for help. Jot down small, helpful things people can do as they occur to you. When people offer to help, check the list. For example:

When to Call the Doctor

You should call your doctor about your postpartum health if you:

While recovering from delivery can be a lot to handle, things will get easier. Before you know it, you will be able to fully focus on enjoying your new baby.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2012

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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