Overview

Many people refer to the postpartum period as the fourth trimester. The first three months after your baby is born will be the most significant adjustment period. In reality, recovering from birth takes longer for many new parents. You are healing and navigating how to take care of yourself and a tiny human. This is a big transition from pregnancy and an even bigger transition from pre-pregnancy. Your baby is making the transition from being inside your belly to being out in the world, which is a huge adjustment. Planning will be key in setting you up for an ideal postpartum period. Learn how to plan for your postpartum period to be as comfortable as possible and tips to promote healing and make life easier as you navigate caring for a new baby.

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There is an episode on what to expect postpartum, typical aspects of birth recovery, and warning signs of complications after your birth. Once you know what to expect, you can plan. This episode covers how to prepare for your postpartum period to be as comfortable as possible and tips to promote healing and make life easier as you navigate caring for a new baby.

The Fourth Trimester

Many people refer to the postpartum period as the fourth trimester. The first three months after your baby is born will be the most significant adjustment period. In reality, your fourth trimester and postpartum period could be much longer, and that is okay. This recovery and adjustment process will be unique based on the intricacies of you, your baby, and your life. You are healing, navigating how to take care of yourself and a tiny human. This is a big transition from pregnancy and an even bigger transition from pre-pregnancy. This is also a significant shift for your baby. They are adjusting from being inside your belly to being out in the world.

Processing Your Birth Experience

The first thing you may be dealing with following having your baby is processing your birth experience. Ideally, you have a magical birth where everything goes just like you imagined. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. An episode on when birth does not go as planned goes into detail with tips for processing your experience. It can be frustrating or even depressing to cope with feelings of disappointment for a birth that didn’t go as you hoped. One way to prepare in advance is to create a backup birth plan if your circumstances change during labor.

Recording Your Birth Story

Writing down or recording your birth story is a fantastic way to process your birth and preserve some details. I recommend doing this within the first few days of having your baby. Some of your birth details will fade and become blurred as time goes on. My midwife advised me to write down my birth story before looking at photos from my birth to record my story without any outside influences. You may never do anything with your birth story, and it could be an awesome thing to have those details documented later down the line.

Recovery Time

I often talk about birth as being a marathon. It can be an intense experience. Whether you have a vaginal or cesarean birth, your body will need to heal and recover. Generally, you hear about recovery times as six weeks for a vaginal birth and eight weeks for a cesarean birth. The time frame will vary from one person to the next. My experience after having both of my children was that it took much longer than six weeks to recover. I felt like it was a full two years before my body, hormones, and everything had made a full recovery.

In the book Birthing from Within, the author, Pam England, talks about birth being a labyrinth. It could take you 12 hours to get to the center of the labyrinth and have your baby, but a much longer time to get out. That resonated with me, reflecting on how long I felt it took me to “get back to normal” after birth. I was much better prepared for my second baby and was able to find my way back to feeling recovered much quicker.

The Value in Planning Ahead

Planning is vital in setting yourself up for an ideal postpartum period. Don’t wait until your baby arrives to think about recovery and taking care of yourself. A little preparation goes a long way, and having a few things on hand can make life a lot easier and more comfortable.

Rest

The first thing you should plan for is a lot of rest, especially in the first couple of weeks. You should plan to be in your pajamas or comfy clothes and cuddle with your new baby. Plan visitors, meals, and everything else around you getting plenty of rest. Luckily, having an adorable baby to cuddle with is a fantastic excuse to lay low and relax. If you have the energy in the weeks leading up to your labor to take care of any tasks ahead of time, take advantage. The fewer items on your to-do list after your baby arrives, the better.

Plan to Take Care of Your Physical Health

There are a few essential components to taking care of your physical health. These basics are always crucial regardless of your life stage but are especially important after having a baby. You should continue to take a high-quality prenatal vitamin after having your baby. When breastfeeding, your baby relies on you for all of its nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

Staying Hydrated

Staying hydrated is crucial to help your overall health and healing. Water makes up around 60% of your total body weight, and every cell in your body needs water to function. Staying hydrated helps you regulate body temperature, aids in digestion, absorption of nutrients, transporting nutrients and oxygen to cells, and eliminating waste. When breastfeeding, you have increased water requirements and should shoot for 13 eight-ounce cups (3.1 liters) per day.

Your diet may provide up to 20%-30% of your daily fluid needs. This largely depends on what you are eating and will be higher in diets high in fruits and vegetables. Lettuce and cucumber are 96% water. Fluids in food can also come from sources like eggs, which are 75% water. Even a chocolate chip cookie is about 7% water.

It helps to have water bottles in a few places around the house, so you always have water next to you. It is easy to get stuck sitting in one spot when breastfeeding, and it can be challenging to get up and move around in those first few days and weeks. A stainless steel insulated water bottle has been a game-changer for staying hydrated. These can keep water cold for up to 24 hours and are convenient to take anywhere, whether from one room in your house to the next, the park, or on errands. Hydroflask and Yeti are my favorite brands. Ironflask is also a good option and is much less expensive. I am also a fan of adding electrolytes to my water, and the hydration mix from Basis is my favorite. It isn’t overly sweet and has the perfect hint of flavor.

Eating Healthy Whole Foods

Eating well is another vital component of your postpartum healing. You have increased calorie requirements after your baby because breastfeeding burns 300-500 calories per day. Just like during pregnancy, you want to stick to healthy whole foods. You can plan to make some meals ahead of time and put them in your freezer. You can make almost anything ahead of time and freeze it. It is nice to have meals that require no preparation, except for heating them. Think about the grocery shopping, prep, dishes, cooking, and cleaning up you save by prepping ahead of time. You could also ask a friend or family member to set up a meal train for you after your birth so people will bring food to your family in the weeks following your baby being born. The less meal prep, shopping, and clean-up you have to do, the better.

Consider that you will spend a lot of time holding a baby and plan to have easy snacks and meals you can eat with one hand. You may also consider a meal delivery service that delivers pre-made healthy meals that can be ready in minutes. Daily Harvest is an excellent option for healthy smoothies, soups, and bowls that are easy to eat while breastfeeding. Freshly is perfect for delicious pre-made meals and can be ready in just three minutes.

These simple reminders about taking care of your physical health may seem trivial. It will be a lot more challenging to recover from birth and meet the demands of a newborn if you do not meet your basic needs. Your body has been through a lot, and you need to take care of it.

Taking Care of Your Physical Recovery

After birth, you have a few important areas of your body recovering. As your uterus is returning to pre-pregnancy size, you will have lochia. This is excess blood, mucus, and tissue from the lining of your uterus. You may be sore around your vagina or perineum from an episiotomy or tear or have hemorrhoids.

Lochia

Even if your baby is born via cesarean, your uterus will need to shed excess blood, mucus, and tissue. Bleeding is heaviest in the first three to ten days postpartum and will taper off several weeks. Tampons and menstrual cups are not recommended after having a baby, and you should use menstrual pads. You can use any type of the pad and will likely want a high absorbency pad for at least the first week. With the rising popularity of period underwear, some companies, like Thinx, are also marketing products to new moms. Either period underwear or pads are a must after you have your baby.

Vaginal Tears

Research shows the rates of tearing with a first baby are 90% and decrease to 69% in subsequent births. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the rate of some type of laceration during all vaginal births is between 53-79%. If you have an episiotomy or a tear during birth, the wound will probably be sore for a few weeks, and this is especially true when you walk or sit. If the incision or tear is extensive, the tenderness can last longer. Thankfully, there are many things you can do to give yourself some relief and promote healing. There is an in-depth episode on vaginal tearing, episiotomy, and recovery that goes into more detail on healing.

Hemorrhoids

One study found a significant predictor of hemorrhoids after birth is straining during delivery for more than 20 minutes. The pushing or second stage of labor typically lasts more than 20 minutes, especially for a first-time mom. It could be anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending on many factors. As a result, many new mothers have hemorrhoids after their birth. Unfortunately, the only cure for hemorrhoids is time. The good news is that you can do things to relieve pain or itching.

Peri Bottle

A must-have item for your postpartum recovery is a peri bottle. This is a small plastic bottle you use to squeeze the water on your vagina or perineum when you use the bathroom. If you have a tear or stitches, it may sting when it comes into contact with urine. By using a peri bottle, it dilutes the stinging effect. In the days after your birth, wiping with toilet paper may irritate a vaginal tear or hemorrhoids. A peri bottle is a perfect tool to clean everything without irritating any sensitive areas. If you have your baby in a hospital, they should send you home with a peri bottle.

Postpartum Healing Pads (Padsicles)

There are some additional tools you may want to utilize for comfort and healing that are optional. You can make your soothing postpartum pads, sometimes called padsicles, to help you feel better and promote healing. To make these, you add a few ingredients to pads and freeze them. Some of the ingredients you may want to include are witch hazel, aloe vera gel, and lavender oil. You mix the ingredients and pour or spray the mixture on the pad. You can use aluminum foil to layer the pads, so they do not stick together. I recommend putting them in a bowl when you freeze them so they will be slightly curved, making them a little more comfortable and effective, and you just store them in your freezer. These are most effective during the first few days. I recommend making 12-24 around week 37, so they are ready to use after you have your baby.

Sitz Bath

A sitz bath is a small plastic tub that you can put over your toilet, fill with warm water, and sit in it. The reported benefits of a sitz bath are to relieve pain and promote healing. This can be from the heated water, increasing blood flow, and relaxing muscles. A sitz bath is also great for cleaning your vagina, perineum, and anus without irritating those areas by wiping them with a cloth or toilet paper. You can add Epsom salt or even purchase sitz salts to add to your sitz bath.

There are a few small studies on sitz baths and healing postpartum. One review states that additional randomized and controlled clinical studies are needed to investigate whether this time-consuming recommendation benefits patients. The downside is the small cost of the sitz bath ($15-30) and the time to prepare, use, and clean it.

Postpartum Herb Bath

A postpartum herb bath is something I was introduced to in my last pregnancy at the suggestion of my midwife. This can include many herbs that are thought to help healing and recovery. Many of these herbs have been used for centuries or longer in traditional medicine worldwide.

Unfortunately, I could not locate any evidence on whether this effectively helps recovery. From my personal experience, I don’t know what effect this had on my healing. It certainly didn’t hurt. I liked that it forced me to take some time and relax in those first few days. I also put the herb mixture in my peri bottle.

If this is something you want to consider. You should plan to have the supplies on hand and ready to use once you are home with your baby. You can purchase a pre-made herb bath mix, like this one from Earth Mama Angel Baby. Pre-made mixes are convenient because you can just add them to a tub or sitz bath. You can also make your own. Below is a recipe used by my midwife. I found almost all ingredients at a local health food market and then ordered one thing they didn’t carry on Amazon. The only issue about ordering on Amazon is that you tend to buy larger quantities than you need.

Postpartum Herb Bath

Ingredients

  • 1-ounce comfrey leaf
  • 1/2-ounce comfrey root
  • 1-ounce calendula flowers
  • 1/2-ounce rosemary
  • 1-ounce lavender
  • 1-ounce yarrow
  • 1/4-ounce goldenseal

Directions

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  • Turn off the heat
  • Add herbs to the pot, cover, and steep for 30 minutes
  • Strain the mixture with a fine-mesh strainer
  • Add the liquid to a shallow bath and enjoy
  • You can reuse the herbs to make a second batch by repeating the process
  • Refrigerate herbs or mixture if you are not using them within a few hours, and they should be good in your fridge for a few days

*If you have a cesarean birth, please check with your doctor before soaking in a tub and ensure it does not conflict with their instructions for healing your incision.

Your Belly Postpartum

After birth, your belly will still look around five months pregnant. As your uterus is shrinking and organs and tissues are moving, some moms benefit from support around their abdomen. You can get support in the form of belly binding or a wrap.

Postpartum Belly Binding

There are a lot of blogs from postpartum doulas promoting Bengkung belly binding. This is rooted in Malaysian culture, and the word bengkung means cloth belt in Malay. Practitioners of Bengkung belly binding promote it to give you support and help the postpartum recovery process. Some even go so far as to claim that it helps balance your hormones, although I did not find evidence to support that.

Practitioners recommended you wrap within the first week after vaginal birth and that you wait 4-6 weeks after a cesarean with your doctor’s approval. You will continue to wrap for each day, for around 10-12 hours, up to around the 40-day mark.

Some postpartum doulas who offer Bengkung binding as a service combine it with massage and belly creams. They will typically wrap your belly, teach you how to do it, and include a cloth wrap. If you want to see how you can wrap yourself with this technique, there is a short tutorial on YouTube.

Postpartum Wraps and Girdles 

There are also many different types of belly supports you can buy. These can be called pregnancy shapewear, belly wrap, belly binder, postpartum girdle, or support belt. Brands vary, and there are a lot of different styles. Overall the idea behind all of these is the same. Generally, the companies that sell these recommend that you begin wearing them within a few days of birth and continue for 6-8 weeks. For examining the marketing claims and the evidence on these, see the episode on belly binding and postpartum girdles.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding comprises a large part of your life after having a baby. Establishing breastfeeding and making it work can be challenging, and you and your baby navigate your breastfeeding relationship. Some items can be beneficial to have on hand from the start.

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is the best resource for everything breastfeeding. I read this from cover to cover during both of my pregnancies. Plus, I referenced it often throughout breastfeeding both of my kids. It is an in-depth book that covers everything related to breastfeeding. Even if you prefer to listen to audiobooks, having a physical book you can reference for troubleshooting is very convenient. I consider this book my breastfeeding bible because it is so comprehensive.

A nursing bra will make breastfeeding convenient while still giving you support throughout the day and night. The most comfortable nursing bra I have ever tried is the Everything Bra from Bodily. This was designed with a lactation consultant to optimize breast health and minimize afflictions like mastitis and clogged or plugged ducts. You can breastfeed without a nursing bra, but they are very convenient. Please make sure any bra you are wearing is comfortable and not too tight. Wearing a too-tight bra can lead to breastfeeding complications like plugged ducts and mastitis.

It is common to have sore and sensitive nipples in the first few days of breastfeeding. Sore nipples are often related to a poor latch. As with anything breastfeeding, you always want to fix or correct the underlying problem, not just treat symptoms. If you have any breastfeeding issues, please consult a lactation consultant or go to a breastfeeding support group. As you correct the underlying problem, you want to relieve yourself if you damage your nipple. The Bodily Nip Dou will increase skin elasticity, provide soothing moisture, and protect your nipples. These contain all-natural ingredients and are evidence-based and formulated with a certified lactation consultant.

After you have a baby, leaking happens, especially in the first few weeks as you calibrate your milk supply. Nursing pads can help avoid leaking on your clothes. Bodily makes excellent washable breast pads that are soft, absorbent, and organic. If you are looking for a disposable option, the Lansinoh pads are my favorite.

Organic Mother’s Milk Tea promotes healthy lactation and will help you stay hydrated. This contains fennel and fenugreek, two of the most popular supplements to increase milk supply. See this episode for more information on galactagogues and the evidence on lactation cookies. I prefer this tea with a little bit of honey. This is delicious and great to make ahead of time and pour over ice. The best way to increase your milk supply will always be to remove milk by feeding your baby or pumping. Remember, breastfeeding works on a demand and supply system. The more milk that you remove, the more you will make.

Plan to be Comfortable

You can expect to continue to wear your maternity clothes in the weeks or months after you have your baby. Even after birth, you will still have a belly and can expect to look several months pregnant. If you do fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes, fantastic, but please prioritize comfort over fashion.

You want to wear comfortable underwear during your recovery. Underwear (like the all-in panty from Bodily) is designed for postpartum. You may enjoy a high waist for some support and cover and not irritate a healing cesarean incision. You may also enjoy some extra coverage as you will be wearing pads.

A comfortable bathrobe is amazing in the first few weeks after having a baby. It is warm and cozy to relax in and very convenient for breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact. This plush robe on Amazon is inexpensive and super soft.

Postpartum Kits and Boxes

Many companies offer postpartum kits and boxes with products for your recovery. If you consider a postpartum box, Bodily has a few birth kits with products I love. They have a Care for Birth Box and a Scheduled C-section Box. If you want several of these products for your birth recovery, it is more cost-effective to purchase the pre-made kit. I am a huge fan of Bodily because its products are designed with experts and are evidence-based.

Store Go-To Items in Convenient Places

One simple tip that can make your postpartum period easier is to stock supplies in a few different places in your home. You will be changing a lot of diapers. You may have a changing table set up in your baby’s nursery, but you will have times that it will be more convenient to change your baby wherever you happen to be in your home. Having a stash of diapers, wipes, onesies, and burp cloths in a few places will be helpful. This is especially true if you live in a big home or have more than one story.

You also need some supplies for yourself. It is easy to get stuck in one spot, especially when breastfeeding a newborn. It may not be comfortable to get in and out of a chair and walk around with a baby. Having some things next to you to make you more comfortable or entertained is nice. I had an oversized zippered pouch to keep everything I needed by my side. It was nice to have everything in one place and super easy just to grab one thing when I moved from one room to another. Some things you may want to include are a water bottle, snacks like protein bars or nuts, something to read like a book or magazine, and a phone charger.

Plan to Take Care of Your Mental Health

Taking care of your mental health is just as critical after having a baby as taking care of your physical health. After the birth of your baby, your hormone levels drop pretty quickly. A significant drop in estrogen and progesterone after birth leads to chemical changes in the brain that trigger mood swings. Other hormones produced by your thyroid gland also may drop sharply, which can make you tired, low energy, and depressed. Changes in the thyroid are common after pregnancy. If you or your family has a history of thyroid issues, get this checked after you have your baby.

When you combine drops in hormone levels with a lack of sleep, your body working to recover from labor and birth, and the stress of caring for a newborn and you have the perfect storm to be bummed out. Many new mothers will experience the baby blues and postpartum depression. The two biggest things you can do to take care of your mental health are making your recovery and healing a priority and asking for help, and connecting with people.

Social Connection

Being a new mother today looks a lot different than it did 100 or 200 years ago. It used to be that you had a village of support behind you after having a baby. Today, we often do not live close to family. We think we have to be independent and don’t ask for help. There is a large body of evidence to support a connection between social connection and physical and mental health. Starting or growing your family can significantly impact your lifestyle and the people you connect with. Going through pregnancy and parenting in isolation or with little support from a larger community of friends and family will make everything more difficult. You need to connect with other people. If you feel like you do not have a great support system right now, that is something you have the power to change. There will always be people going through pregnancy and having babies in your community or area. You have the opportunity to meet other expecting or new parents through an in-person birth class, a local Facebook or Meetup group, at a breastfeeding support group, or even at your neighborhood park.

Having a baby is a significant life shift and the perfect time to lean on your village, whether this includes friends, family, or neighbors. People want to help. They just often do not know how. Giving them some things they can do can make a world of difference for your recovery and your postpartum period, not just for you but also for your partner and your baby.

Visitors

If you have visitors, it can lead to you being more exhausted if you feel like you have to be on and entertaining. In the beginning, stick with visitors you are comfortable around without a perfectly cleaned house or your makeup done and hair styled. Your best friend who isn’t going to judge you, your sister who has two kids and knows what it is like to have just had a baby. In the first few weeks, one good rule of thumb is to stick to people who won’t have an issue if you are topless and breastfeeding.

You need to know that you are in charge of who comes to visit, when, and for how long. I know it can seem as if this isn’t up to you. You may have family or friends that are pretty insistent on coming over, but it isn’t up to them. This is a good thing to talk to your partner about ahead of time to make sure you two are on the same page, plus they can help act as a gatekeeper for you. As tempting as it may be to make plans ahead of time for people to visit, you may want to hold off until your baby arrives and have a better idea of how you are feeling and whether you are ready for visitors.

You can do some things ahead of time to prepare for visitors. The first is to set expectations beforehand. This can include when you are comfortable having visitors over and how long they are welcome to stay. Ask for some help while they are over. Ask them if they would mind doing a load of laundry, holding or watching your baby while you take a shower, or just getting a break. Ask them to do some dishes or empty your dishwasher. This may sound trivial, but even small chores can be a challenge to get done with a newborn.

Chores and To-Do Items

Having a baby does not pause the normal obligations in your life. While you may not be able to opt out of these things, you can simplify and minimize the time and energy spent on them while you focus on your baby and recovery. If you have the resources to outsource, like grocery shopping or house cleaning, this is the perfect time to take advantage of that. If you are the person in your house who typically does most of the housework, ask your partner to chip in more.

Small tasks like doing dishes or laundry can be daunting with a newborn. If you are accustomed to keeping your home clean, you may need to adjust your expectations for the short term or be prepared to ask for help.

Planning for Your Other Children

If this is not your first baby and you have older kids, you want to plan to make sure you take care of them both physically and emotionally. Just as the postpartum period is a huge transition for you and your baby, it is also a significant transition for siblings getting used to having a little brother or sister who commands a lot of your attention.

There are some tips you may want to consider if you have other children. The first is to plan for ways they can contribute and help out. The older they are, the more responsibility they may be able to take on, but even a small child can do some things that will be helpful. This could range from doing their laundry to just putting a dirty burp cloth in the hamper for you. Kids like to help and be involved.

If you have visitors over, you can have a visitor just come over to play with your other child or children. If you plan to be home with a newborn, perhaps you can arrange for your partner or a friend or family member to take your little one to the park or somewhere outside the house. Alternatively, you may want to let them know that they can go to their room or some other area of the house that is their space if they do not feel like socializing with visitors or helping out with the baby.

Your Partner’s Role

Don’t forget about your partner during the postpartum period. Okay, maybe they didn’t give birth, but hopefully, they were right there by your side, and it is important to make sure they are taken care of, supported and that they know what your expectations of them are after your baby arrives.

Setting expectations is important, and this is a conversation you should have before your baby arrives. This should be an ongoing conversation as both of your expectations may evolve as you two are navigating parenthood. Ask your partner how they imagine life with a new baby, and make sure you two are on the same page. If you expect your partner to do more cooking or cleaning or to commit to taking the baby on weekend mornings so you can have time to yourself, talk about these expectations ahead of time.

One great role for dads and partners is the role of gatekeeper for the birth and directly following it in the first few days and weeks. Many partners feel like there isn’t much they can do for a newborn since they cannot breastfeed. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While mom is taking care of all the breastfeeding, partners can take care of diaper changes, do the dishes, make dinner, clean the house, or go grocery shopping. There are so many things your partner can do to support your breastfeeding.

Plan for Paternity Leave 

There is a counterpart to maternity leave for dads and partners, which is paternity leave. I urge your partner to take some time off when your baby arrives. It is such a special time for your family, and the first few weeks are a significant adjustment period. If your partner is employed, they should start by checking with your employer. Next, they can look into the policies in your state if you are in the United States. If you are in another country, check with the government agencies there.

For self-employed partners, look at putting systems in place to spend some time away from your business or at least cut down on hours. Taking a big chunk of time away from work can be challenging, especially if you lose some income. This is such a short window of opportunity to be with your new baby. I urge you to explore your options and get creative to try and find a way to spend as much time as possible with your family in those first few weeks. 

The Key to Birth Recovery

The key to birth recovery is planning to give yourself time and space to heal. There are a lot of products marketed towards mothers recovering from birth. Many of these items are nice to have, and only a few are mandatory. No products will replace rest and taking care of your physical and mental health.

Talking to Your Doctor or Midwife

You may feel like you bounce back and recover quickly, or you may hit some bumps along the way. If you feel like you are not recovering as soon as you think you should or have any challenges, please get in touch with your doctor or midwife. Your care provider is an excellent resource for any questions about your birth recovery and what you are experiencing postpartum.

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