The first six weeks after giving birth are really tough on your body.
Not only do you have the wounds, bruises and general aches and pains from giving birth, but you’ve also got a baby to look after.
Postpartum recovery is challenging, but it’s so important to take care of yourself and give your body the best possible chance of healing quickly.
During birth you may have suffered a vaginal tear or needed a episiotomy (where a doctor performs a small surgical cut to your vagina to make room for the baby to be born). You’re also likely to feel a little battered and bruised down there anyway from the experience.
Your postpartum body will not only be suffering down at the “business end” where your baby actually made an entrance, but there are also lots of changes happening to your boobs too.
Engorgement, leaking and sore nipples are all challenges new mamas may face in the early weeks.
My best comparison for what it feels like immediately after giving birth is what I imagine being hit by a bus would feel like. Everything aches and you’re just completely wiped out.
This post will give you all the tips you need to take care of your body and speed up your postpartum recovery.
If your baby was born by C-section there are lots of tips on recovering from a caesarian over on this post. These are all tips from real mamas who have been there and done that, so it’s well worth a look.
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1. Get your kit ready
Before you even give birth to your baby, you can aid your postpartum recovery by making sure you have a full kit of postpartum essentials ready to help you.
The absolute number one item to stock up on is maternity pads. You will bleed for weeks after the birth, so get several packs of pads ready to go.
Other postpartum essentials you will be glad to have are:
There’s a whole post on your postpartum kit essentials here.
2. Don’t put off having a poo
The very idea of the first poo is pretty scary after giving birth.
It’s particularly daunting if you have suffered a cut or vaginal tearing during the delivery of your baby.
Although it might feel a little weird and uncomfortable, do not put it off. The longer you wait to poo, the harder it gets, no pun intended.
Drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that are high in fibre.
When it does come time to try going to the toilet, you can hold a damp, clean cloth on your perineum to help you feel more secure.
3. Try an ice pack
If you’re feeling bruised and battered after giving birth then an ice pack can help to numb the area a little.
Don’t put an ice pack directly on your bits, but make sure it’s wrapped in a clean cotton cloth first.
Another option for easing your discomfort down there is to use witch hazel padsicles.
These are maternity pads soaked in a little witch hazel and can help to soothe the pain. You can check out another DIY padsicle here.
4. Try a postpartum sitz bath
A sitz bath can be a brilliant way of soothing the area. Sitz is from the German word for “to sit”, and a sitz bath is simply a shallow bowl or a few inches of water in the bath.
The water should only come up to your hips. You can add epsom salts to the water to help with the pain. There are lots more tips about sitz baths over on this post.
5. Change your maternity pad regularly
This is especially important if you do have a wound, however small, that needs to heal down there.
The area needs to be kept clean and dry. Change your pad regularly throughout the day.
You can make this easier by having a stash of pads in every single bathroom of your home so that you can change at every bathroom break.
Remember if you do pass any blood clots that are particularly large, for example bigger than a coin, then speak to your doctor.
6. Wear a comfy bra
You will need to do this whether you are breastfeeding or not. Hormones cause your milk to come in a few days after giving birth, whether you are feeding your baby from the breast or not.
Avoid underwire when you are breastfeeding, and for the first six weeks after giving birth whether you are nursing or not.
Wear a nursing or maternity bra that offers support without being too tight around your boobs.
You will also need nursing pads to soak up any leaking milk.
7. Keep an eye on engorgement
Gritting your teeth through the pain of engorgement is not a great idea. When your milk ducts in the breast are not emptied then they can become clogged and infected.
Infection of the breast is also known as mastitis and can cause flu-like symptoms. It needs to be treated with antibiotics.
To avoid this from happening, empty the breast of milk just enough to take the discomfort away. You can hand express in the shower under warm spray to help with this.
Gently massage the breast in a downward motion towards the nipple in order to extract the milk manually.
If you are breastfeeding or using a pump, be sure to feed or drain the breast on a regular basis. In the first few weeks you will need to feed or empty the breast every two to three hours, including overnight.
This does settle down once your supply has been established.
8. Heal painful nipples fast
Breastfeeding experts will say that a good latch will not hurt your breasts or nipples. That is true but I’ve suffered sore nipples in the early weeks with both my girls.
I think this is caused by a bit of trial and error with getting the latch correct as well as your nipples needing to toughen up a bit to cope with nursing.
To heal your sore or cracked nipples, allow them to air as much as possible by going topless. Avoid wearing tight tops and go bra-free if you can around the house.
You can express a little breast milk and rub them around the area in order to help the area to heal.
You can also use this nipple cream to help ease the pain and discomfort when your baby latches on.
There are loads of amazing tips and a full guide to getting the latch right when breastfeeding your baby in this brilliant course. It only costs $19 and you can do it in your own time and pace from home!
Find out more about this brilliant breastfeeding instructional course here.
9. Stick to a healthy diet
I’m not saying you can’t indulge yourself here and there, but keep up with a healthy intake of fruit and vegetables as well as water.
This will help to keep your bowel movements regular, because constipation is not what you want right now, and give your body the nourishment it needs.
Remember to eat three meals a day and get your five hits of fruit and veg every day too.
Have a water bottle with you at all times to remind you to sip some water frequently throughout the day.
10. Do your postpartum exercises
You will be so glad in years to come that you stuck to the exercises! They help your abdomen and pelvic floor muscles return to normal.
Your midwife or a physiotherapist should go through all of the exercises recommended for you before you are discharged from hospital.
You may need to do extra exercises if you have suffered an abdominal separation, where there is a gap between your abdominal muscles following pregnancy.
Pelvic floor exercises can be done at any time of day, no one needs to know you’re doing them! Try doing them in the shower or when you’re sitting in front of the TV. Just tightening and releasing multiple times every day can make all of the difference.
There are lots of abdominal exercise tips here.
11. Have some spare bedding handy
One of the weirdest things about the postpartum period for me was the night sweats. I would wake up absolutely dripping wet. I was shocked at how much I was sweating!
Combine that with leaking boobs and you’re going to have a fairly grimy bed before too long.
Have some spare bedding handy, but ask your partner or a friend to do the hard work for you!
12. Avoid discomfort when peeing
If you have a cut or soreness around your vagina then urinating may sting a little for the first few days after giving birth.
You can help to ease this by using a peri squirt bottle to squirt water at your vagina while you are having a wee.
13. Treat your haemorrhoids
The straining involved in giving birth, and the after effects of pregnancy, can cause haemorrhoids or piles. These are lumps around your anus.
They may not feel uncomfortable at all, or there may be some pain and itching associated with them.
Get a good haemorrhoid cream and eat lots of fibre to keep your bowel movements soft so that they are not irritated.
14. Don’t panic about your hair
Another fun fact about your body post-pregnancy is that your hair might start to fall out. Shocking!
Some days it might be quite a scary amount of hair that’s coming out of your scalp. But do not panic.
This is all normal and to do with your hormones settling back to what they were before you fell pregnant.
So nourish your hair with a conditioning mask and remember that you will still have a full head of hair when this is over!
15. The baby blues
It’s normal to feel emotional and that you have no control over your emotions in the weeks after giving birth.
You might be very weepy, or find yourself being quick to anger. It’s a lot to take in if you have just welcomed your first baby and your hormones are totally haywire after birth.
Do keep an eye on your emotions during the first week, because if you feel particularly bleak and down all of the time you may need to speak to your doctor. Always share with your partner or a loved one if you are feeling particularly overwhelmed.
There are lots more tips about postpartum depression and how to spot in over on this post.
16. Be kind to yourself
This is such a challenging time for your body. Although you will be focused on caring for and bonding with your baby, it’s very important to remember self-care too.
You cannot take care of your baby, or really enjoy these short newborn weeks, if you are not well.
Follow your doctor’s advice for exercise and diet, but also remember to take lots of breaks.
When your relatives or friends offer to give you a little helping hand, accept!
Try having a list of chores or shopping that needs doing so that if someone offers to do something for you, you can refer them to the list right away.
If your messy house is bugging you, then consider hiring a cleaner, or have one area of the house where you dump dirty laundry and other things to be sorted at a later date.
The first six weeks go by in a real flash, so try to focus on your recovery and getting to know your baby. Everything else can wait!
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