Too often, the postpartum recovery process is left out of the discussion. It’s time we brought it in. Let’s have the conversation.
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.
In this article: 📝
- What is the postpartum recovery process?
- How long does postpartum recovery usually last?
- What should you not do after giving birth?
- What helps recovery postpartum?
- What are common postpartum problems?
- Your postpartum recovery timeline
- What happens to body during postpartum?
- Postpartum recovery tips from real moms
What is the postpartum recovery process?
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.
How long does postpartum recovery usually last?
So just how long is postpartum recovery, roughly?
6 weeks is the rough timeline given for the postpartum period.
The recovery period will look a little different depending on whether you had a vaginal birth or c-section.
Postpartum recovery after 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.
Postpartum recovery after 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 many bodies don’t frequent ballparks.
How long after birth are you considered postpartum?
The postpartum period is generally considered as the first 6 weeks after giving birth.
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. Now’s not the time to help your friend move.
- Intense exercise. There’s no pressure to increase your workout plan just yet, mama.
- 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.
What helps recovery postpartum?
And now for a quick postpartum recovery checklist:
- Cotton underwear. Now is the time to rock those granny panties.
- Pads. It’s best to use pads instead of 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.
Want more? Don’t miss our Postpartum Essentials Complete Guide
What are common postpartum problems?
Now for the slightly scary bit ‒ this isn’t intended to scare you, mama, but instead to make sure you’re aware of any potential postpartum complications.
Your health matters just as much as baby’s right now.
Here are some of the more common postpartum problems to be aware of:
- Infections, like sepsis or UTIs
- Lots of bleeding
- Cardiovascular issues
- Postpartum thyroiditis
- Thrombotic pulmonary embolism
- High blood pressure
- Postpartum preeclampsia
Your postpartum recovery timeline
So what is the expected postpartum healing timeline?
Well, it depends from mama to mama, but here’s a rough 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.
You might be feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and tearful.
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.
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.
Your breasts may feel really full.
If they feel really sore, try changing positions.
Pain may also be a sign that your ducts are clogged.
The best way out of this is frequent feeds.
3 weeks postpartum
Constipation might be a thing.
Hemorrhoids might be a thing.
These are both normal, but that doesn’t make them any less 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.
Try to take naps when your baby naps, where possible.
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)
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).
Whether you’re feeling a mild case of the blues or you’re seriously depressed and overwhelmed, reach out.
Talk to friends and family.
Chat to your healthcare provider.
You really, really don’t have to do this alone.
What happens to body during postpartum?
A word on your body in postpartum recovery.
Yes, your body will be different.
Not good or bad, just different.
It’s been through a lot, after all!
Here are some things you may notice about your postpartum body, for different skin tones and body types:
Postpartum recovery tips from real moms
We asked our veteran Peanut mamas what top postpartum recovery tips worked for them ‒ whether they did them or they wish they did:
- “Try not to put your hair into a tight ponytail to reduce shedding. If you do have to put your hair up, use a silk scrunchie.” ‒ Kayla
- “Remember that you’re doing great!” ‒ Erica
- “Take a walk outside with baby within the first week. It’s easy to stay indoors.” ‒ Navi
- “Book a postnatal massage. Regularly, if you can.” ‒ Neha
- “Connect with other moms in person. The adult conversation and opportunity to relate to people in your situation helped me so much.” ‒ Emily (PS, Peanut can help here!)
- “Do something that’s just for you. I got a mani/pedi every two weeks.” ‒ Trish
- “Prune juice [for constipation]. 100% prune juice.” ‒ Jessie
- “If you’re scared to pee, do it in the bath underwater. It helps.” ‒ Morna
- “Try not to go up and down the stairs as much if you can.” ‒ Kelly
- “Raspberry leaf tea helps bring the belly back down and soothe the period pains.” ‒ Amelia
- “Accept help when offered and ask for it if no one offers. Ask for specific things from family or friends like out on a load of washing or grab some bread and milk from the shop.” ‒ Beth
- “Sleep when you need to sleep - housework can wait.” ‒ Fern
- “I had a little bag with some essentials (mobile phone, lip balm, hand cream, hankies/tissues, phone charger, snacks, bottle of water, insulated cup). These went everywhere with me so I didn’t have to keep getting up or going upstairs for things. Also never sit down to feed the baby without the TV remote within reach!” ‒ Lucy
- “And dry yourself with a hairdryer on cool if you have stitches so you are not rubbing at them.” - Katie
- “Ring cushion or feeding cushion to sit on.” ‒ Kitty
- “Take it easy and build a routine to make it easy. I started to get a routine in place from day one. Feeding at exact same time, sleep, etc. once the cord fell off, 8:30pm, bath, dress, feed and sleep for the night by 9pm.” ‒ Anastasia
- “Defo get a peri bottle, and do not be afraid of a hot bath with no soaps, it doesn’t hurt and it’s actually soothing and I think it helps the healing process after, I usually bath then lie down naked to air out the stitches for a bit!” ‒ Abby
- “Peri bottle! It’s a savior!” ‒ Christina
- “Make time to do your Kegels and pelvic floor ASAP even if they are just super gentle for the first couple of weeks.” ‒ Hayley
- “If your appetite has disappeared, stock up on some postpartum protein shakes, so you’re still getting the nutrients you and baby need.” ‒ Karina
- “Always talk to someone about how you are feeling.” ‒ Bryony
- “Be around people who make you laugh.” ‒ Caroline
- “If breastfeeding, find a local breastfeeding cafe to go to, they provide loads of support.” ‒ Carys
One of the best tips from our Peanut mamas is to find your people.
Once you raise your voice, you might be surprised how many mamas feel the same way.
And it’s easy to find your people on Peanut.
Let’s normalize having the conversation.
Good luck with your recovery, mama.