What’s normal, what’s not—and what to buy to help you recover faster.
Giving birth is one of the most incredible and physically demanding experiences of your entire life. But the process doesn't end once baby is born—it actually goes on for weeks after birth, generally while you're at home bonding with baby.
We're sure you (and everyone else) will be busy attending to the baby's every need. And while that's great, we also want to make sure that YOU are being taken care of as well.
As a midwife and mom, I've cared for thousands of women healing from childbirth. Here's what you need to know (for vaginal and cesarean births) to have the best possible postpartum recovery.
What normally happens after birth?
Women typically bleed for about 6 weeks after birth (check out our bleeding warning signs at the bottom of this article).
The bleeding will start heavy and taper off over the course of a few weeks. Call your doctor if you experience heavy bleeding that fills a pad in an hour or two, if you have multiple blood clots or if you have a blood clot the size of a golf ball.
You can wear pads just like when you have your period (no tampons until you get the green light from you provider at around six weeks). Alternatively, many moms choose to wear disposable absorbent underwear, like these. Sometimes a pad can bunch up and be uncomfortable (especially if you've had stitches), but the disposable undies don't!
Your belly will be larger than normal for months to come.
Be prepared for it. A swollen belly is completely normal as your uterus slowly shrinks back down to its pre-pregnancy size.
Many cultures around the world practice belly binding, the art of wrapping fabric around a woman's abdomen after she gives birth. This has nothing to do with “looking trim" and everything to do with comfort: Many moms find that belly binding relieves back pain, helps with their posture and simply makes their midsection feel more secure. If you don't have access to a belly binding expert, you can ask your provider if they can offer you a Belly Band, or you can check out these.
Your breasts may be sore.
Whether or not you are nursing, your breasts are probably pretty tender these days. We love gel pads for comforting your hardworking postpartum breasts, and nipple ointment for soothing irritated nipples.
You may have hemorrhoids.
Ah, hemorrhoids, everyone's favorite “congratulations on having a baby" gift. Whether you got them from pushing or simply from carrying around a growing baby, you now likely have them, and possibly some discomfort as well. So let's talk about how to make it all feel better.
And just a word on hemorrhoids: Make sure you're drinking lots of water and eating foods with fiber so you don't have to strain when you go to the bathroom (that makes hemorrhoids worse). If you're taking iron for anemia, know that it can cause some constipation, so ask your doctor for a stool softener to go along with it.
Your vagina may be tender.
Sitz baths feel great on swollen vaginal areas: This is mostly for the vaginal-birth moms, but also the C-section moms (because you may have pushed for a while before your surgery, which leads to some swelling). If you didn't get one from your provider, you can buy one here. Essentially, it is a whirlpool for your bottom. Place it on the toilet seat, fill the bag with warm water, sit, and let the water gently soothe your sore parts. Plain water is fine, or you can get fancy and try a special soak like this one.
Vaginal birth recovery kit
Maxi pads or adult diapers
You'll need large pads, aloe vera gel, witch hazel and little lavender oil if you want. Open the pad (but save the wrapping) and add about a tablespoon of aloe, a teaspoon of witch hazel, and a few drops of lavender to the top of the pad, and blend it together. Re-wrap and stash it in your freezer. And when you're in pain, you have a super-soothing solution ready to go!
Wiping your vaginal area can be uncomfortable after you've given birth. If that's the case, try the Frida Mom Washer. Fill it with room-temperature water and gently spray your vagina while you pee and afterward. The counter-pressure can feel great.
C-section birth recovery
Comfortable underwear is key. It can be hard to find underwear that doesn't rub your incision. Thankfully, these lovely undies exist! UpSpring has created underwear specifically for you: They're high-wasted, so nothing rubs your incision, and they offer just enough support to keep your insides feeling secure.
Breastfeeding after a C-section can be tricky: It's hard to get the baby positioned in a way that doesn't put pressure on your incision. Nursing pillows can be especially helpful for you in this case. We like the squishier versions because you can slide them around to your side (again, so there's no pressure on your belly), and still be able to lean backwards comfortably against the pillow. Our favorite for C-section mamas is the Boppy.
What isn't normal
We hope your recovery is totally uneventful. But just in case, here are some big things to look out for. If you notice them, call your doctor or midwife right away (even if it's 2 am).
- Multiple blood clots, or a blood clot the size of a golf ball
- Heavy bleeding that fills a pad in 1 to 2 hours
- Lower-belly tenderness
- Foul-smelling or green/yellow vaginal discharge
- A severe headache
- Blurry or spotty vision
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Sharp pain in an area of your body (usually the leg) accompanied by warmth, redness and hardness (i.e., a blood clot)
- Sharp or shooting breast pain, especially if accompanied by a hard spot, redness and/or a fever
- Feeling very sad or anxious, disconnected from your baby, not enjoying life, feeling excessively tired or worrying about things often. If you feel like you want to hurt yourself or the baby, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately. Seeking help is the most loving thing you can do for both of you in that situation.