Vanderbilt Center for Women's Health

Mom's recovery after birth

Right now, you are focused on caring for your new baby. But new mothers must take special care of their bodies after giving birth and while breastfeeding, too. Doing so will help you to regain your energy and strength. When you take care of yourself, you are able to best care for and enjoy your baby.


Getting Rest
The first few days at home after having your baby are a time for rest and recovery — physically and emotionally. You need to focus your energy on yourself and on getting to know your new baby. Even though you may be very excited and have requests for lots of visits from family and friends, try to limit visitors and get as much rest as possible. Don't expect to keep your house perfect. You may find that all you can do is eat, sleep, and care for your baby. And that is perfectly okay. Learn to pace yourself from the first day that you arrive back home. Try to lie down or nap while the baby naps. Don't try to do too much around the house. Allow others to help you and don't be afraid to ask for help with cleaning, laundry, meals, or with caring for the baby.


Physical Changes
After the birth of your baby, your doctor will talk with you about things you will experience as your body starts to recover.

  • You will have vaginal discharge called lochia (LOH-kee-uh). It is the tissue and blood that lined your uterus during pregnancy. It is heavy and bright red at first, becoming lighter in flow and color until it goes aware after a few weeks.
  • You might also have swelling in your legs and feet. You can reduce swelling by keeping your feet elevated when possible.
  • You might feel constipated. Try to drink plenty of water and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Menstrual-like cramping is common, especially if you are breastfeeding. Your breast milk will come in within three to six days after your delivery. Even if you are not breastfeeding, you can have milk leaking from your nipples, and your breasts might feel full, tender, or uncomfortable.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions on how much activity, like climbing stairs or walking, you can do for the next few weeks.

Your doctor will check your recovery at your postpartum visit, about 6 weeks after birth. Ask about resuming normal activities, as well as eating and fitness plans to help you return to a healthy weight. Also ask our doctor about having sex and birth control. Your period could return in 6 to 8 weeks, or sooner if you do not breastfeed. If you breastfeed, your period might not resume for many months. Still, using reliable birth control is the best way to prevent pregnancy until you want to have another baby.


Regaining a Healthy Weight and Shape
Both pregnancy and labor can affect a woman's body. After giving birth you will lose about 10 pounds right away and a little more as body fluid levels decrease. Don't expect or try to lose additional pregnancy weight right away. Gradual weight loss over several months is the safest way, especially if you are breastfeeding. A healthy eating plan along with regular physical fitness might be all you need to return to a healthy weight. But talk to your doctor before you start any type of diet or exercise plan.

If you want to diet and are breastfeeding, it is best to wait until your baby is at least two months old. During those first two months, your body needs to recover from childbirth and establish a good milk supply. Then when you start to lose weight, try not to lose too much too quickly. This can be harmful to the baby because environmental toxins that are stored in your body fat can be released into your breast milk. Losing about one pound per week (no more than four pounds per month) has been found to be a safe amount and will not affect your milk supply or the baby's growth.

You can safely lose weight by consuming at least 1800 calories per day with well-balanced, healthy food choices that include foods rich in calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and folate. Eating less than 1500 calories per day is not recommended at any point during breastfeeding. This can put you at risk for a nutritional deficiency, lower your energy level, and lower your resistance to illness.


Feeling Blue
After childbirth you may feel sad, weepy, and overwhelmed for a few days. Many new mothers have the "baby blues" after giving birth. Changing hormones, anxiety about caring for the baby, and lack of sleep all affect your emotions.

Be patient with yourself. These feelings are normal and usually go away quickly. But if sadness lasts more than 2 weeks, go see your doctor. Don't wait until you postpartum visit to do so. You might have a serious but treatable condition called postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can happen any time within the first year after birth.

Call 911 or your doctor if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby!

Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Feeling sad, depressed, or crying a lot
  • Having no energy
  • Having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations (the heart being fast and feeling like it is skipping beats), numbness, or hyperventilation (fast and shallow breathing)
  • Not being able to sleep, being very tired, or both
  • Not being able to eat and weight loss
  • Overeating and weight gain
  • Trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • Being overly worried about the baby
  • Not having any interest in the baby
  • Feeling worthless and guilty
  • Having no interest or getting no pleasure from activities like sex and socializing
  • Thoughts of harming your baby or yourself

Some women don't tell anyone about their symptoms because they feel embarrassed or guilty about having these feelings at a time when they think they should be happy. Don't let this happen to you! Postpartum depression can make it hard to take care of your baby. Infants with mothers with postpartum depression can have delays in learning how to talk. They can have problems with emotional bonding. Your doctor can help you feel better and get back to enjoying your new baby. Therapy and/or medicine can treat postpartum depression.

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