- How long does it take to recover after giving birth?
- What to expect during postpartum recovery?
- Postpartum recovery tips
- Recovery after birth — checklist
- When to see your doctor?
Childbirth is a normal physiological process, but one that changes the woman’s body in many ways. It may take days or even weeks for the body to recover from the birthing process and get back to normalcy.
Easy or complicated, vaginal or cesarean, lasting a few hours to a couple of days, no matter how or what the labor process was, the general healing process is the same and your body needs time to recover.
How Long Does It Take To Recover After Giving Birth?
It takes around six to eight weeks for recovery after childbirth (1). For some, it may even take longer. No matter how you gave birth, your body would have undergone enough stress and stretching and requires time to recover.
What To Expect During Postpartum Recovery?
During the childbirth process, your body will undergo many changes ranging from normal to unusual. Whether it is vaginal or cesarean delivery, you can expect the following physical and emotional changes postpartum (2) (3).
Physically, you may experience
- Constipation: You will have trouble passing stools after your delivery. Probably, the first bowel movement will happen two to three days after the child’s birth. It may be due to the pain medications during labor, healing stitches, painful hemorrhoids or sore muscles.
- Sore breasts: Your breasts will get ready, even before childbirth, to produce milk that your baby needs. They may become painfully engorged for many days and the breasts and nipples turn sore.
- Hemorrhoids: They are swollen blood vessels in the rectal or anal region that cause pain and bleeding with passing stool. Sometimes, they develop during the pregnancy, or from the strain due to all that pushing during delivery.
- Vaginal soreness: During labor, the perineal region (the area between anus and vagina) will stretch, tear, and hurt. The soreness gets worse in case of episiotomy (a surgical incision made in the perineal region to enlarge the vaginal opening for the baby to emerge out easily). It is then closed with stitches that may take a couple of weeks to heal. The sutures may cause vaginal pain while you sit, walk, cough or sneeze.
- Abdominal pain: As your uterus starts to regain its normal size post delivery, you will experience a dull or sometimes sharp pain in your abdomen. You will also feel pain while breastfeeding your baby. The reason being that breastfeeding stimulates the production of a chemical, which causes contraction of the uterus.
- Vaginal discharge (lochia): After delivery, your body eliminates the extra blood and tissue which it had used to nourish the growing baby. There would be heavy bleeding in the first ten days followed by light spotting that will last for about six weeks.
- Weight loss: You might lose around six to 12 pounds (depends on your baby’s size) during childbirth. After that, there will be a gradual weight loss over the next few months. Breastfeeding also promotes weight loss in some new mothers while in some others it does not have any effect.
- Water retention: The swelling you might have had during pregnancy may take some time to subside. Also known as postpartum edema, your body will continue to stay swollen due to the increased progesterone hormone. You will experience swelling of hands, feet, and legs, which will last no longer than a week.
- Hair and skin changes: Your hair may thin in the first three to four months after birth. It will happen due to the fluctuating hormonal levels. During pregnancy, the hormone levels are so high that they cause faster hair growth and lesser hair fall. You will also notice purple or red stretch marks on the abdomen and breasts. They will fade gradually but may not disappear completely.
Emotionally, you may experience:
- Baby blues: You may feel anxious, overwhelmed, restless, irritable, and sad for around one to two weeks after birth. These emotions are very common due to the physical changes and emotional adjustment you have to deal with as a new mom.
- Postpartum depression: the baby blues are severe and last longer than two weeks, it is a sign of postpartum depression. It might develop anytime within the first year after delivery, especially in women with a history of depression and multiple life stressors.
If you experience any unusual changes such as severe pain and soreness, go to the doctor as soon as possible. Never ignore your health even if you are bogged up with infant care.
Postpartum Recovery Tips
- Care for perineum: Cleanse the perineal region with warm water after urinating or passing stools. Keep the area dry and change your sanitary pad every four to six hours to avoid irritation and infections. Use warm compresses or try warm sitz baths to ease pain and promote healing.
- Keep C-section incision clean: Clean and dry the cesarean incision at least once a day. Apply antibiotic cream as prescribed by your doctor. Avoid carrying heavy loads and vigorous exercises for some time.
- Ease pains and aches: Treat yourself with a hot compress or hot water showers, or a massage to ease the overall pain.
- Follow a routine: Your first bowel movement might happen two to three days after childbirth, but you should not force things. Include more fiber-rich foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), take a stroll and use mild stool softeners. Do not strain as it is not good for the C-section scar or perineal tear.
- Include Kegels: Try pelvic floor exercises to stimulate circulation in the cervical area and ease healing. These exercises help in getting your vagina back in shape, reviving your sex life, and resolving urinary incontinence.
- Pay attention to breasts: Gentle massage and cold or warm compresses can bring relief to achy breasts. Wear a comfortable nursing bra to air dry your breasts after each nursing session. Apply lanolin to treat cracked nipples.
- Follow a healthy diet: A combination of carbs and protein (such as whole wheat toasts with peanut butter, whole grain crackers, veggies with hummus, and hard cheeses). Drink about eight glasses of water every day. Quit caffeine and alcohol as they might disturb your sleep pattern and affect your mood.
- Rest well: Take as much rest as possible during the first week after delivery. Do not indulge in any activities other than taking care of the baby. Let others in the family take care of cooking, cleaning, and other errands. You can also hire a doula or supportive companion to help with postpartum care.
- Sleep more: You will experience interrupted periods of sleep in the night, for which you should take naps during the daytime. Try to get as much sleep as possible when your baby is also sleeping.
Recovery After Birth — Checklist
Here is a list of a few things you may need to make your recovery smooth and quick.
- Maxi pads that may last for a couple of weeks
- Acetaminophen to help with overall aches and perineal pain
- Standard ice packs to avoid frostbites
- Witch hazel pads to treat hemorrhoids and ease vaginal pain
- Squirt or peri bottle to rinse off the perineal region
- Sitz bath tubs for relief from postpartum pain
- Nursing bras and cotton underpants for comfort
- Lanolin cream for treating cracked nipples
- Stool softeners to deal with constipation
- Lidocaine spray for postpartum hemorrhoids
- Heating pads to relieve breast pain and soreness
- Postpartum recovery belt to help belly regain its original size
If you think that the recovery process is not going as smoothly as it should be, talk to your doctor.
When To See Your Doctor?
You may need an appointment with the doctor around six weeks after delivery. There will be an examination of the vagina, uterus, and cervix along with blood pressure and weight as well. If all the reports are positive, you may also continue your sexual life.
Also, let your doctor know if you experience any of the following postnatal symptoms (3):
- Severe vaginal bleeding that needs you to change more than one pad in an hour
- Fever or chills with a temperature of above 100.4°F
- A persistent headache and vision changes
- Dizziness or fainting
- Difficulty urinating
- Foul smelling vaginal discharge
- Chest pain and heart palpitations
- Increasing abdominal pain
- Sore and tender breasts
- An incision from episiotomy or C-section becoming swollen or red
- Swelling and pain in your legs
Keep reading for answers to a few commonly asked questions about recovering after childbirth.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How long does it take for the stitches to heal after birth?
It might take two to three weeks for the stitches to heal after delivery. However, it may not be the same with every new mother (5).
2. When can I take a bath after giving birth?
You can take a bath whenever you feel like after vaginal delivery. A bath is known to stimulate the healing processes immediately. But in case of cesarean delivery, you may have to wait until the incisions are healed properly.
3. Is it necessary to take bed rest after delivery?
Yes, taking bed rest post delivery is necessary for recovery. Rest as much as you can at least for the initial six weeks, as you may not have enough energy to do much. Try to include short walks and moderate exercises since staying inactive for a longer time may cause muscle weakness.
4. How soon can you leave the hospital after giving birth?
It depends on whether you have had a vaginal or cesarean birth. If it was a vaginal delivery, you will be leaving the hospital within 24 to 48 hours. In case of a cesarean, you will be leaving in three to four days (6).
5. How long does it take for your stomach to go in after having a baby?
Although you will lose most of the bump immediately after delivery, it might take six to eight weeks for the stomach to return to its original size.
6. How do you know when stitches are infected?
If stitches are infected, you may notice redness and swelling around them. The wound site becomes tender, and you may also develop a fever.
Since childbirth is a normal process and not an illness, your body is programmed to heal it normally, in time. Remember a few days of discomfort is normal and will be overshadowed by the joys of a newborn with you.
Take proper care to avoid health complications, recover soon and attend to your little one. In case of any unbearable symptoms, contact your doctor without delay.
Write to us if you have any more tips that could help other moms-to-be too.
2. Common Conditions; University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester (2018)
3. A Guide to Postpartum Recovery & Newborn Care; Greater Baltimore Medical Center
4. The New Mother – Taking Care of Yourself After Birth; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (2018)
5. Caring for Yourself After the Loss of Your Baby; University of Washington Medical Center (2008)
6. Postpartum Care; UC San Diego Health (2018)