A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Postpartum recovery: Your care after baby arrives

The most amazing part of childbirth happens the moment when your baby is born and you get to meet face to face for the first time. You have been waiting for this moment for several months.

Now that the time is here and what can you expect after baby arrives? How can you best care for your newborn, and importantly, yourself, after delivery?

A mother cuddles her newborn baby - Postpartum care

After baby arrives, how can you best take care of your newborn and yourself? Postpartum care is important to overall health for you and baby.

Certified Nurse Midwife Amy Roff shares her expertise on postpartum care because care also involves “mothering the mother.”

“You need to take care of yourself in order to take good care of your baby,” Roff said.

First moments after delivery

For women who experience a vaginal birth, your baby may be placed onto your chest, if this is what you desire, where baby will be dried off and vital signs taken.

“If all is well, this is what we refer to as the ‘golden hour,’ where your baby will remain skin to skin on you for at least the first hour or two after birth,” Roff said.

If your little one needs some extra help transitioning to life outside the womb, your care team may bring in a baby warmer to have near your bed. If your baby is born by cesarean section (C-section), a baby warmer will be used for quick assessment by staff, and your baby will be brought back to you as surgery proceeds.

Some women after birth will need stiches due to tears during delivery. Your care team will keep a close eye on any bleeding and your vital signs. Roff said that in order to determine you are not bleeding too much, a nurse will often “massage” your lower abdomen over your uterus. “This is not a comfortable ‘massage’ but necessary,” she said.

Several hours after delivery, you may be transitioned to a postpartum room. With a vaginal birth, your hospital stay will vary from 24 to 48 hours, and 48 to 72 hours with a C-section.

Recovery for mom

The “recovery period” for new mothers varies widely. The physical recovery period after a vaginal birth can be six weeks and extend to around eight for C-section. However, many factors can affect this process like your birth experience and support at home.

“We all transition into motherhood at our time both physically and emotionally,” Roff said. “It is so very important to realize that this is your journey and it will look much different than anyone else’s as was true for your birthing experience. Surround yourself with support so you are able to bond with your baby, get adequate rest and good nourishment.”

Birth “side effects”

Although experiences vary, most women can expect to have vaginal bleeding, known as lochia, for several weeks into postpartum. Roff said the first week can be heavier bleeding, followed by light bleeding or spotting for up to six weeks.

Along with bleeding, you may experience cramping. This can be increased when you breastfeed because your uterus is working to resume its pre-pregnant size. Roff recommends pain medication and using a heating pad to help with cramps.

Must-have items for recovery

If you have any discomfort or soreness, you should receive several items at the hospital to make yourself more comfortable, including pain medication, ice packs, cooling pads, and even numbing spray.

Some women will experience hemorrhoids during their pregnancy or after pushing out baby. Roff recommends ice packs and cooling pads, along with a possible stool softener to prevent constipation. You also should drink an adequate amount of water and keep your fiber intake up.

Items for breastfeeding moms

If you are breastfeeding, you will produce a “first milk” known as colostrum for the first one to four days.

“This is a nutrient power house for your baby,” Roff said. “Because it is so nutrient dense, your body only makes about a tablespoon of colostrum every 24 hours. Given that, you may not notice any postpartum breast changes until your ‘mature milk’ comes in between day two-four. At that time you may feel like you have enough milk for six babies.”

Depending on the demand, your breasts may feel full in between feedings. Roff recommends waiting to buy breastfeeding bras until after your baby has arrived because it can be a challenge to know what size.

If you choose not to breastfeed, or are unable to, your breasts will still fill with milk early on. This can be quite uncomfortable. It is recommended to have a snug fitting sports bra, ice packs and ibuprofen for when you are not breastfeeding.

“It also is important not to stimulate your breasts in anyway during this time, such as water flowing down from the shower,” Roff said.

Home postpartum items

It’s important to know what to pack for your hospital stay for childbirth, but it can be just as important to have some items at home during your recovery.

These items include:

  • Array of peri-pads, ranging from super overnight absorbency to liners
  • A “frozen pad” or ice packs
  • A loose fitting nursing bra without underwire (if breastfeeding)
  • A snug fitting sports bra (if not breastfeeding)
  • Medicated, cooling pad
  • Over-the-counter hemorrhoid cream
  • Pain medication
  • Numbing spray
  • Stool softener

In addition, a breastfeeding mom may find it helpful to have nipple cream, breast pads, breastfeeding pillow and breast pump.

Happy mom, happy baby

“Your post-partum period and recovery will be uniquely your own and no amount of preparation or things can prepare you for being so in love with your little one, and at the same time having your world turned upside down and inside out,” Roff said. “Certainly having the ‘essentials’ at your fingertips is helpful, but you also need to remember the importance of self-care.”

Roff encourages having a solid support system. Reach out to your loved ones to help when they can. Getting a few good hours of sleep can turn your entire day around. Eating well also helps your body recover.

“Nutrition is so important in this period and is often overlooked,” Roff said.

Roff suggests freezer meals that can be thrown in a crockpot. She also said to get outside in the sun and go for a walk, if you are able. Gentle stretching during this time is advised, but vigorous exercise is not recommended until six to eight weeks.

Reach out to your provider

The emotional changes that will happen during this period can be overwhelming; from all-time highs to all-time lows.

“Give yourself some grace and allow all those feelings,” Roff said. “There is no right way to feel about transitioning into motherhood. Having conversations about how you are feeling is important.”

Some mothers experience baby blues or post-partum depression. If you feel you are struggling with depressive symptoms, please contact your primary care provider.

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  1. Oct 15, 2020
    • Oct 15, 2020

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