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?
Certified Nurse Midwife Magen Reigel shares her expertise on postpartum care because care also involves “mothering the mother.”
“Postpartum care involves caring for your baby as well as yourself,” Reigel 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.
“This is a very special time,” Reigel said. “A time where you get to form a strong bond with your baby. You can establish breastfeeding, regulate hormones and strengthen emotional well-being – all which are beneficial for postpartum health.”
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. Reigel said that some bleeding is expected after birth and a nurse will often “massage” your lower abdomen over your uterus to ensure it’s a normal amount. “This is to ensure your uterus properly contracts to prevent excessive bleeding,” 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 to this new role of life differently, both physically and emotionally,” Reigel said. “There is no right or wrong way to grow into motherhood because it is your journey and it will look much different than anyone else’s as was your personal birthing experience. Surrounding yourself with support and help allows you to bond with your baby, heal and love yourself in this new chapter.”
Birth “side effects”
Although experiences vary, most women can expect to have vaginal bleeding, known as lochia, for several weeks into postpartum. Reigel said the first few days can be heavier bleeding, followed by light bleeding similar to a normal period, then spotting for a few 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. Reigel 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. Reigel recommends hemorrhoid cooling pads and ice packs, 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.
“It is a small amount of milk and you may feel its not enough for your baby. However, this is full of the nutrients your baby needs in the first days of life,” Reigel said.
You may not notice any postpartum breast changes until your ‘mature milk’ comes in between day two-four. Reigel says that frequent feeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps the milk come in. Depending on the demand, your breasts may feel full in between feedings. Reigel recommends buying a supportive breastfeeding bra to help with comfort.
“It’s best to do frequent feedings to help prevent the breasts becoming engorged or too full,” she said
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,” Reigel 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 postpartum period and recovery will be uniquely your own and you will be so in love with your little one, while adapting to motherhood and a great fluctuation in hormones” Reigel said. “The first two weeks during the postpartum period are known as ‘baby blues’ which is a normal response to hormone changes. Support is necessary as well as remembering the importance of self-care.”
Reigel encourages having a solid support system. Reach out to your loved ones for help and don’t be ashamed to accept help offered to you. Sleep while your baby sleeps, take walks outside when the weather permits, and get some quiet time to reflect. “You must take care of yourself and your baby. You are important,” she said.
“Nutrition also is so important in this period and is often overlooked,” Reigel said.
Reigel suggests freezer meals that can be thrown in a crockpot and healthy snack foods are beneficial when busy with a newborn. Gentle stretching and walks with your baby during this time is advised. Avoid vigorous exercise until discussed with your care team, as it is normally not recommended until six 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.
“Be gentle with your mental health,” Reigel said. “There is no right way to feel about transitioning into motherhood. Discussing your emotions and how you are feeling is important. So many changes are happening and your emotional health is essential for you and your newborns well-being.”
Some mothers experience baby blues or post-partum depression. Reigel encourages you to voice your concerns if you are struggling with any mental health symptoms, especially beyond the first two weeks. Support, counseling, medications, and many other resources are available.
“It is okay to feel unwell during this period and help if available and warranted,” she said. “You are not in this alone and your mental health is important.”
If you feel you are struggling with depressive symptoms, please contact your provider.Download Checklist
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