For all the talk around the trials and tribulations of pregnancy, there’s often not much talk about the aftermath. It’s time we changed that, because the postpartum recovery period (AKA the fourth trimester) is so damn important for your health and the health of your baby.
Your body has just been through a lot. Hate to state the obvious here, but a baby came out of you! After spending nine months inside you. And now you have to care for a real-life, living, human being. It’s totally normal to be feeling out of sorts.
Coupled with the fact that there’s so much expectation around bouncing back quickly. We may feel we have to work, finish projects, take care of other children, animals, partners, and parents. Being completely out of action for a few weeks is just not always viable.
So here’s a guide to postpartum recovery – knowing we use the word “guide” quite loosely here. There is no one way to do this. No two mamas have the exact same set of postpartum needs. No two mamas have identical-looking support structures. Your self-care toolkit is yours alone, but we’ll show you some tools that might be of use. You decide, of course.
Your postpartum recovery kit
How long should you rest after giving birth?
Six weeks is the rough timeline given to the postpartum period. The recovery period will look a little different depending on whether you had a vaginal birth or c-section:
Vaginal birth: The area between your vagina and your butt is called the perineum—and it needs some recovery time after vaginal birth. It can take about three weeks for the pain to go away. If you’ve had an episiotomy (where your doctor makes an incision here to help the process) or your perineum has torn during delivery, you will likely need a little longer—somewhere in the region of six weeks.
C-section: A c-section is surgery, and that’s a lot for your body to go through. After a c-section, you’ll probably be staying in the hospital for a few days. Your body will then need some healing time at home. A ballpark of how long healing might take is six weeks—but there are many bodies that don’t frequent ballparks.
What should you not do after giving birth?
When it comes to what’s safe and what’s not, you’ll likely get some guidance from your healthcare practitioner about your specific situation.
Some things to avoid:
- Heavy lifting of any sort (Not the time to help your friend move.)
- Intense exercise.
- Swimming. (Chat to your doctor about this one but it’s usually recommended that you stay out of the pool for the first few weeks to stave off the risk of infection.)
- Listening to anyone who is condescending or preachy. You have full control over the mute button, mama.
And postpartum sex can be a tricky business. There’s no hard and fast rule (pun intended) but it’s generally a good idea to wait until you’re healed up before having penetrative sex.
And now for a quick postpartum supplies checklist:
- Cotton underwear. Now is the time to rock those granny panties.
- Pads. (Not tampons) You will be bleeding for a bit.
- Pain medication. Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) is good.
- Ice packs and heating pads. Think ice for your lower half (perineum area) and heat for your upper half (breast area).
- Hemorrhoid help. Yes. Hemorrhoids. It’s a well-kept postpartum secret. Lidocaine spray can be a good soother.
- Sitz bath. This is for cleaning your perineum area. You can get options for your toilet or for your bath.
- Breastfeeding essentials. Nursing bra. Nipple cream. Good to have these prepped beforehand.
Don’t miss our postpartum essentials complete guide.
Postpartum recovery timeline
This is by no means a strict schedule—but it will give you a rough idea of what the postpartum recovery process looks like:
1 week postpartum
You’ll have some blood, and you might notice some blood clots, too. If you’re concerned about the amount you are bleeding, check in with your doctor. And it’s a good idea to take your temperature frequently. If an infection occurs, the sooner you catch it, the better.
You’ll have some pain—sometimes quite a lot of it—in the perineum and lower abdomen. Your uterus has begun the process of getting back to its pre-pregnancy state.
There may be overwhelm and exhaustion and tearfulness. No matter how well prepared you are, those first few nights can be something. Day 3 has a particularly bad reputation.
You will be figuring out the whole How do I feed this baby? thing. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, don’t hesitate to get help.
General movement can be hard. Try to at least get a little bit mobile to prevent blood clots.
Drink lots of fluids. Breathe. Get fresh air if you can.
2 weeks postpartum
By the second week, you might feel a little more in the swing of things. There will be less blood. Hopefully, there will be a little less pain.
If you had a c-section, try to keep the site clean and dry. The scar may start to itch at this point. Weirdly, the itch is good. It means that you’re healing.
Also, you may be peeing when you don’t actually want to pee. Exercising your pelvic floor can help with this in the longer term and pads and protective underwear can help in the short term. What fun.
Your breasts may feel really full. And tender. And hard. And weird. If they feel really sore, try changing positions. Pain may also be a sign that your ducts are clogged. Best way out of this is frequent feeds.
3 weeks postpartum
Constipation might be a thing. Hemorrhoids might be a thing. This is normal, but uncomfortable. Speak to your doctor about gentle relief.
You know what else might happen? Night sweats. It’s those hormones doing a dance inside you. Keep things cool. Sleeping under a sheet rather than a blanket and using a cold compress can help.
Another thing those hormones might do? Give your hair a bit of makeover. Some mamas shed a bit more during this time.
4 weeks postpartum
You may be utterly pooped. A good combo of an out-of-whack sleep schedule, hormone depletion, and just general What just happened? fatigue may leave you feeling finished.
Take naps when your baby naps. Let people do things for you. Eat food that makes you feel powerful. And only do what’s needed. (Yes, having a 4 week old baby is a perfectly legitimate excuse to cancel.)
You might be able to do some VERY gentle postpartum exercise at this point. Walking is great. Leg raises are great. Light core workouts are great. Intense spinning classes are not.
5 weeks postpartum
By the end of this week, your uterus may be pretty close to the shape it was in pre-pregnancy. You’ll probably have a check-up this week or the following one. If there are no complications, you could be back to a healthy diet of fitness and fornication in no time. (If you actually feel like any of it.) Just go gentle. And only do what you’re up for.
Sadness and anxiety are quite normal at this point. At least 1 in 8 mamas go through periods of postpartum depression. (Depression is serious, ongoing, and needs treatment.) Between 70 and 80% of mamas experience some form of postpartum blues.
Whether you’re feeling a mild case of the blues or you’re seriously depressed and overwhelmed, reach out. Talk to friends and family. Speak to other mamas on Peanut. Chat to your healthcare provider. You really, really don’t have to do this alone.
Once you raise your voice, you might be surprised how many mamas feel the same way.
Let’s normalize having the conversation.
Good luck with your recovery, mama.
You might be interested in:
5 Ways to Advocate for Yourself During Pregnancy and Postpartum
11 Postpartum Sex Tips From Real Moms
Postpartum Bleeding: What’s Normal and What’s Not
Postpartum Preeclampsia: Symptoms, Treatment, and More
25 Postpartum Essentials to Know About
Your Guide to Postpartum Swelling
What is Postpartum Thyroiditis?
24 Baby Essentials You’ll Need
How to Deal With Postpartum Gas
10 Ideas for a Nutritious Postpartum Diet
A Guide to the Best Types of Postpartum Massage
Postpartum Exercise Tips
An Intro to Postpartum Yoga
Why Do I Get Postpartum Night Sweats?
What are the Possible Postpartum Complications?
Postpartum Hemorrhoids: What You Need to Know
What’s Causing My Postpartum Headache?