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If you’re a mum-to-be, chances are that you’ve read more than your fair share of guides to pregnancy and childbirth. But the period of life after giving birth is all about your baby, right? Well, no, actually. While it’s true that your focus will quite rightly be on caring for your newborn, you’ll also need plenty of time to heal.
Recovering after giving birth can be complex, whether you had a ‘straightforward’ delivery or not. It’s wise to be clued up about what to expect from the postpartum recovery process so that you can make the most out of those precious early weeks of your baby’s life.
To find out how to make postpartum recovery easier, we’ve joined forces with UpSpring, who produce pregnancy, postpartum and breastfeeding healthcare products to support mums-to-be, new mums and infants in the first 1,000 days of life. UpSpring’s range includes all-natural, science-based products, including supplements, and postpartum underwear.
How long does it take to recover after giving birth?
The postpartum period is considered to be the six to eight weeks after delivery. Generally speaking, it can take longer to recover from a caesarean section than a vaginal birth. But there are no hard and fast rules, and it can be hard to map out an exact postpartum recovery timeline because every birth and recovery is unique.
What happens during the postpartum period?
After your baby’s birth, your uterus gradually shrinks to its normal size. As your body recovers from pregnancy and delivery, you’ll experience some or all of the following:
- Bleeding: Regardless of whether you have a vaginal delivery or c-section, you'll have vaginal bleeding and discharge after birth. Known as lochia, it’s the way your body expels extra tissue and blood in your uterus.
- Stomach pain: Some women feel pain as their womb shrinks, and this can especially kick in during breastfeeding.
- Painful breasts: Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, your breasts will be painful and tender as your milk first comes in.
- Perineal and vaginal soreness: It can take a while to recover after a vaginal birth and stitches to repair a tear or episiotomy cut can be painful as they heal.
- Soreness around a c-section wound: If you’ve had a c-section, your wound may take a little while to heal and there can be a risk of infection.
- Trapped wind, especially during recovery from a c-section: Never forget that a c-section is major abdominal surgery and it can take up to four days for your digestive system to start functioning again, which can cause painful constipation and wind.
- Difficulty peeing: As vaginal birth can leave the perineum and urethra swollen, this can make it difficult to pee. Constipation - caused by surgery or postnatal dehydration - can also make peeing a tricky process.
- Pain when peeing: Vaginal tears, wounds and stitches can lead to super sensitivity and urine can sting delicate skin.
- Piles: Are very common after birth but usually disappear fairly quickly. Hemorrhoid creams can also be used to shrink them.
- Constipation: It’s common to find it hard to poo postpartum and some women experience constipation (fewer than three weekly bowel movements) for up to a year. There are many possible causes, including dehydration (very common after an epidural and during breastfeeding), hormonal changes, damage to the anal sphincter, changes to the pelvic floor, fear of damaging stitches and taking iron supplements which can slow down the process of passing stools.
- Bladder leaks: Changes to your pelvic floor, caused by pregnancy and vaginal delivery, can lead to unexpected leaks when you laugh, sneeze or cough.
- Back pain: Caused by the strain of late pregnancy or the rigours of labour.
It’s also important to know about the effect the postpartum period may have on your mental health:
- Baby blues: Many women feel emotional during the first couple of weeks after their baby’s birth, caused by a heady mix of hormones, exhaustion and nerves.
- Postnatal depression: If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, you may be experiencing postnatal depression, which can affect more than one in every 10 women. It can start any time in the first year with symptoms including persistent sadness, lack of energy and difficulty bonding with your baby.
- Postnatal anxiety: Symptoms include constant worry, racing thoughts, dizziness, panic attacks, and disturbed sleep and appetite.
You’ll have a postnatal check around six weeks when a doctor will check that you’re healing properly after birth and that no issues - either physical or linked to your mental health - have arisen. Be honest with your doctor if you have any concerns or worries - they are there to help you and your baby.
How to make postpartum recovery more comfortable
Follow these tips to help you recover but bear in mind that, while some of these ideas may aid your postpartum recovery, your ultimate goal should be healing gently and properly rather than too quickly.
1. Stock up on comfy pants and maternity pads
You’ll find that bleeding is heaviest the first few days after your baby is born so you’ll need a plentiful supply of maternity pads, which tend to be softer and more padded and absorbent than standard sanitary towels.
The more absorbent the pad, the better it is at preventing bacteria growth. In order to keep everything clean and infection-free, it’s a good idea to change pads frequently. You’re likely to get through a fair few packs of maternity pads in the early days but lochia does usually stop by the time your baby is 12 weeks old.
Forget skimpy knickers for the time being too - you’ll need some generously-sized, sturdy pants to keep pads secure and to ensure comfort.
“Allow a pack [of maternity pads] per day - you will need them even if you don’t have bleeding as they go a long way to soothe the bruised feeling you get when you sit. You can freeze them for a bit of extra relief too.” GrumpyHoonMain
“[Get] quite a few packs of maternity pads. [And] black pants.” Horehound
2. Supercharge your immune system
Boost your depleted immune system and energy reserves after birth by eating plenty of healthy immune-boosting foods such as blueberries, broccoli, oranges, spinach and ginger.
If you find yourself forgetting to pick up snacks from the fruit bowl because you’ve always got your hands full with that cute bundle of yours, how about blending easy-to-drink fruit smoothies for a quick way to get one of your five a day?
Fibre-rich whole grain foods do their part by maintaining digestive health and regulating inﬂammation to help your immune system do its job. Maintaining a strong immune system will help you fight off infections, even when you’re surviving on minimal sleep. Don’t underestimate the power of plenty of rest during the day for nurturing your immune system and daily immune system vitamins can help too.
“I was told your immune system can be lowered up to 12 weeks postpartum.” bookish83
3. Boost your omega-3 intake
Eating a boiled egg could aid your recovery from birth - yes, really! Scientific studies have found that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - an omega-3 fatty acid - can aid postpartum recovery by easing inflammation and reducing the risk of postnatal depression.
Sources of DHA include dairy, eggs and cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines, so try to make these a regular part of your postpartum diet. You could even be super organised and start taking an omega-3 supplement during pregnancy and breastfeeding to boost your intake and preload your body’s omega-3 levels before you give birth.
“I would definitely recommend taking omega-3 fish oils when pregnant and breastfeeding.” Aurea
4. Stay hydrated
Drink plenty of fluids to stave off dehydration, which is really common after a medical procedure such as a c-section or epidural and can cause other painful issues such as constipation.
Breastfeeding can also dehydrate you at a time when it’s crucial to stay hydrated in order to encourage and maintain your milk supply for your baby. Keep a glass of water or a reusable water bottle close to hand during and between feeds and take regular sips.
“Plenty of water is the only drink that will affect your supply. Coconut water and vitamin drinks are great in general but beer and energy drinks aren't a great choice. Drink plenty, make sure you're moving around as much as possible and try not to worry.” Lacedwithgrace
5. Ease your swollen bits
When it comes to healing your poor, overworked perineum after a vaginal birth, some new mums swear by using ice packs to ease swelling.
To prevent urine irritating torn skin, spray warm water over the area before you pee. For the same reason (no judging, please), you may find peeing during a warm shower a blessed relief. Soothing baths can ease discomfort but avoid using perfumed bubble baths which could irritate wounds. Some new mums find a peri bottle useful for gently cleaning their bits after birth.
Try not to stand or sit for long periods, as this can put pressure on your delicate area, and sleep on your side for the same reason. Finally, do your pelvic floor exercises - aim for three sets of 20 every day to help get your vagina back in shape and tackle postpartum urinary incontinence.
“Midwife told me to soak sanitary pads in witch hazel and pop them in the freezer. Cheap and pretty effective.” RHTawneyonabus
“I LOVED my peri bottle. It was a godsend after an episiotomy.” Cap89
6. Care for yourself after a c-section
To avoid infection, gently clean your C-section incision with mild soap, you don't need to scrub it. Often, just letting the water run over your wound in the shower is enough. Dry it carefully with a clean towel and then apply antibiotic ointment. You may opt to wear loose clothes and leave your wound uncovered to help it dry out and form a scar.
Alternatively, you may prefer to keep it protected and covered up to avoid it snagging. If this is the case, sturdy compression pants designed to help protect c-section scars may work for you.
Avoid straining your wound by carrying anything like laden shopping bags or your little one’s buggy. Stick to cuddling your baby instead and let others handle the heavy lifting for now. To ease any wind, try a cup of soothing peppermint tea.
“I had a lot of cramping and found a microwaveable hottie really helped. Peppermint tea and some senna was also useful to have in for the wind and potential constipation!” Tinkerbellswings
“Big comfortable knickers (search post c-section pants) and lots of large sanitary towels!” Missingthebridgegene
7. Stay active
Exercise is off limits for the first few weeks after delivery so don’t even think about heading to the gym to embark on your pre-pregnancy workout. You’ll need to be cleared for exercise by your doctor at your six-week postnatal check.
However, staying active (within reason) can aid your recovery and there’s nothing better for postpartum activity levels than going for a simple walk. You don’t need to work up a sweat - you can enjoy a gentle stroll around your house or garden or to your local park with your baby in tow.
Walking helps to deal with gas and gives your digestive system a kickstart too, reducing the risk of constipation. Staying active also boosts muscle tone and circulation, which aids your physical recovery, as well as boosting your mental wellbeing. Always check with your doctor or midwife before embarking on a postpartum exercise routine.
“I felt physically back to normal around five months after birth. Before then I just took the baby for walks. I could feel the strain of just that.” jellybellydancer
“The guidelines are around six weeks, but it really depends on how the birth goes. Walks in the fresh air at first will do a lot of good for you and baby.” Angeldust747
8. Be kind to your boobs
Your breasts may well ache as your milk comes in during the early days of breastfeeding and your nipples are likely to feel sore as you adjust to feeding a hungry newborn. New mums and midwives recommend Lansinoh nipple cream, which was awarded Mumsnetters’ best nipple cream for breastfeeding and for easing dry, cracked nipples.
To encourage milk let-down, use a warm compress (a warm wet flannel will do the job) or take a warm shower. Feed more often to encourage milk supply and always feed your baby for as long as they’re hungry - let them guide you.
To ease discomfort in your breasts, massage them during feeds and apply a cold compress or ice pack between feeds to reduce swelling. Wear a comfy, supportive nursing bra too.
“Lansinoh pure lanolin [nipple cream]... Use a small amount just on the nipple itself after every feed. No need to wipe off before baby feeds. Also makes a great lip balm!” Kiwi32
Postpartum recovery essentials checklist
- Postpartum underwear - including a nursing bra and comfy compression pants or post c-section pants (Get 20% off post c-section pants when you use the code MUMNETCPANTY on Amazon)
- Lansinoh nipple cream for sore nipples
- Cold compress for aching boobs
- Flannel for making a warm compress for boobs
- Breast pads to help keep leaking nipples at bay
- Witch hazel pads for easing delicate bits
- Maternity pads to help cope with postpartum bleeding
- Arnica to ease bruising
- My Expert Midwife Spritz for Bits Perineal Spray to aid perineal recovery
- Peppermint tea bags to ease wind
- Omega-3 supplements (Get 50% off when you use the code MUMSNETOMEGA on Amazon)
- Immune system supplements (Get 20% off when you use the code MUMAIMMUNITY on Amazon)
- Reusable water bottle to help you stay hydrated
Upspring exists to build the next generation of mighty mums. Why? Because mums hold the future in their hands (quite literally). Here’s the thing though: we already know you’re mighty. You don’t need us for that. We’re simply here to help unlock that marvellous mightiness, however that looks for you.
How? Through zero-compromise innovation. For us, that means creating mum-centric innovations that meet real-life needs, without unnecessary settling or sacrificing. In other words, we don’t believe in only ‘sort-of’ solutions. We were built by (and are still run by) mums, so we know how wonderful and challenging and beautiful and scary motherhood can be, sometimes all within the same half an hour.