Giving birth is one of the most incredible and physically demanding experiences of your entire life. But the process doesn't end once your little one is born—it actually goes on for weeks after birth, generally while you are at home bonding with your 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 to have the best possible postpartum recovery (along with our favorite products to help the process).

Keep an eye on postpartum bleeding

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.

Try it: Get some big pads or disposable underwear—sometimes a pad can bunch up and be uncomfortable (especially if you've had stitches), but the disposable undies don't!

Your belly will still be larger-than-normal for months to come

Be prepared for it. A swollen belly is completely normal as your uterus contracts back down to it's pre-pregnancy size. And while we're on the topic, you may experience some uncomfortable cramping (especially when you breastfeed) for the first few days. This is again, totally normal—and won't last forever, we promise!

Try it: 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 posture and simply makes their midsection feel more secure.

Your breasts may be sore

Whether or not you are nursing, your breasts are probably pretty tender these days, as your body adjusts to milk production (and your new little suckling). This is not forever—you'll feel better soon (but if you're concerned, call a lactation consultant!)

Try it: Breast gel pads and nipple ointment can work incredibly well.

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 from them.

Try it: 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 are taking iron for anemia, know that it can cause some constipation, so ask your doctor for a stroll softener to go along with it. There are also pads and creams that do a great job relieving a lot of the discomfort.

Your vulva may be tender

Whether you got stitches or not, your vulva and vagina have been through a lot. The good news is that vaginas are excellent at healing themselves. Many women find that they are feeling better by about 6 weeks (could be much sooner).

Try it: Sitz baths feel great on swollen vaginal areas: 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. You can also use a plastic bottle to pour warm water over your vaginal area to help soothe it more.

Try it: More and more women are visiting pelvic floor therapists after they give birth. They can help you regain strength in your vaginal area, as well as address any pain that you may be having.

Vaginal birth recovery kit

What to watch out for

We hope your recovery is totally uneventful. But just in case, here are some big things to look out for, and if you do have them, call your doctor or midwife right away (even if it's 2 am):

  • Multiple blood clots, or a blood clot that the size of a golf ball
  • Heavy bleeding that fills a pad in an hour or two
  • Lower belly tenderness
  • Fever
  • 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 9-1-1, or go to the nearest emergency room for immediate support.