Learning about your postpartum recovery before labor and delivery is smart. I focused so much on the actual birth, that I really didn’t know what to expect in the weeks after birth.
I knew I needed to get some pads and witch hazel wipes, but that was about it. I wish I’d read about how I would feel, common discomforts and learned healing tips while I was preparing for birth.
Today’s guide will help you understand exactly what it feels like to heal from a vaginal delivery. You learn what you can expect during your postpartum recovery, and tips to help alleviate some of the common discomforts during the postpartum period.
While recovering from birth is no picnic, having a sweet-smelling and cuddly newborn you’ve waited 9 months for makes it MORE than worth it. With these postpartum recovery tips you’ll hopefully remember more of the snuggles and less of the pain.
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Recovering from Labor and Delivery
How long does it take to recover after birth?
Just like every birth story is unique, your recovery will also be unique. There are a lot of factors that contribute to healing after birth including how long your labor is, what pain interventions you use, how long you spent pushing, whether there was tearing, and even your general fitness and activity level while pregnant.
That being said, on average, most women are feeling mostly back to normal between 6 and 8 weeks postpartum. If you sustained injuries like tears or muscle strains during labor, it could be a bit longer and may require physical therapy.
How will I feel right after giving birth?
No matter how painful and physically exhausting your labor is, once your baby comes out your adrenaline will be pumping. You will feel the greatest relief of pressure. You will have a surge of energy and excitement like no other.
If you are like me, you will be bubbling over with joy-filled emotion. I cried happy tears the moment N arrived. I couldn’t believe the relief I felt of labor being over, and I was so consumed by the new baby that most of the post-delivery things are a blur to me.
Shaky and Jittery
After the intensity of labor and having the adrenaline pumping, you may feel a bit shaky and jittery. I would almost explain it like having had a lot of caffeine. As my epidural wore off my legs felt like jello and my who body was ‘humming’ with energy.
Thirsty and Hungry
Within about an hour of N being born, I was struck with the most intense hunger. Luckily, my immediate family were on their way and Pat had them stop for burritos from a favorite Mexican place. I didn’t realize I’d be so starving and feel lucky that place was open!
Next time around, I will pack more in the way of real food to have on hand just in case. A friend of mine delivered at 11pm. At that point the Hospital kitchen and all of the area restaurants were closed. She had to survive on crackers and ice pops until the kitchen opened for breakfast.
I distinctly remember holding N and nursing her for the first time after birth. I remember that I really wanted to shower right after that (and did) but everything else really is a blur.
The best way I can describe it is dazed. I know that we switched to a recovery room and had visits from a number of hospital personnel, but the details are very foggy.
What will the hospital stay after birth be like?
If you have a vaginal delivery you can expect a 2 to 3-day hospital stay. This will depend on how you and baby are recovering and what time of the day you deliver. Most hospitals have you do your postpartum stay in a different room than labor and delivery rooms. Bigger hospitals may even have a separate unit/floor for recovery.
Your hospital stay after birth is a great time to utilize all of the experts and support staff in house. Be sure to get the most out of your hospital stay by meeting with the lactation consultants, learning newborn care skills, and really understanding your own recovery plan.
What to expect during your postpartum recovery?
Let’s first talk about the symptoms and discomforts you are likely to feel during your postpartum recovery. Having an idea of what to expect and what is normal before you deliver will be helpful. After we go over the symptoms, you can find healing tips to help you feel more comfortable faster.
Soreness and swelling
After birth, you can expect to have significant soreness and swelling in and around your vaginal area. This of course makes sense when you think about what happens during childbirth. But I was actually pretty shocked by how it actually felt. Just walking around I was extremely aware of all the swelling present. My husband distinctly remembers (and reminds) me saying ‘I’m just a mess down there!’.
I guess it’s one of those things that’s hard to wrap your head around until it actually happens. Just be ready for some pretty severe discomfort. Embrace the padsicles (more on that below) and other remedies to help you feel more comfortable and remember it will heal.
Recovering from childbirth involves a lot of blood. The bleeding comes from the area where your placenta was attached. In the first three to five days you will have bleeding that is like a very heavy period. From this point on it will slow down. Some women stop bleeding or only have light spotting after 10-14 days while others bleed for up to 6 weeks.
All of this is considered normal. What’s not normal is a sudden increase in bleeding, or a sudden appearance of very bright red blood. Often it’s just a sign you are overdoing it, but any change in bleeding will warrant a call to the doctor.
In the first few days after you give birth, you will experience more contractions. Don’t worry, they won’t be anywhere near as intense as labor contractions, but uncomfortable nevertheless. What’s going on here? Your uterus is shrinking back to its normal size. Nursing your baby actually stimulates these contractions.
I remember every time I fed N during the hospital stay I felt intense cramping (contractions). Mention this to your nurses if they don’t bring it up. They will be able to give you some ibuprofen or Tylenol to ease the pain.
Ah! The worst. I actually had these pretty bad, and every nurse and my midwife felt the need to comment when checking me. But like everything else, they will eventually heal! Pushing during labor is what leads to this postpartum discomfort.
Postpartum can be a bit troubling when it comes to using the bathroom. First of all, it can be really uncomfortable to even wipe due to all of the swelling, which is where your peribottle will come in handy…but aside from that you may find that you have issues with constipation and incontinence.
This is really common, and can feel exaggerated simply because everything is already so uncomfortable. You will likely be given stool softeners during your hospital stay and I urge you to accept. It will make a big difference. As you transition back home you may want to keep up with a true stool softener. Or, just be very aware that you are getting plenty of water, drink lots of tea and eat high-fiber foods.
This is also a common occurrence that a lot of women don’t talk about. It can feel hard to “hold it” if that makes sense and you may find that you leak when you laugh or sneeze for a while after birth. Wearing panty-liners is a quick fix, but you should mention this to your provider because physical therapy can really make a huge difference.
Postpartum incontinence is something you can start learning about and working on right away. There are a variety of exercises and advice to become familiar with while you are waiting to discuss a more detailed recovery plan with your provider. Another support that can help with this? A fitness class geared specifically towards healing your body postpartum, like Erica Ziel’s Core Rehab Program. It’s designed for post-pregnant women who want to strengthen their deep core and heal incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction, diastasis recti and other postpartum issues.
You know how everyone raves about pregnancy hair? It’s so thick and beautiful because it literally stops falling out. Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your body will make up for this and then some. Postpartum shedding, ahem, hair loss, is totally normal and affects most women.
I had read about this and really thought I was in the clear, but at about 4 months postpartum it started falling out at alarming rates. Don’t worry, it will grow back slow and steady. Unfortunately, this occurrence is one you just have to deal with.
As your hormones rebalance after giving birth, many women experience very intense night sweats and hot flashes. Similar to what is often a stereotype of menopause. Just realize that this is normal. You may feel warmer than usual and may be changing the sheets a bit more often than you’re used to. Just know that hormones are the culprit here.
Mood Swings and Baby Blues
On the note of hormones fluctuating, you can expect to experience some serious mood swings and baby blues in the postpartum period. Processing your birth and change in identity is intense. You will feel like you’re on a roller coaster. The highs are amazing but the lows can be tough.
I know that I cried quite a bit in the first few weeks at home over some of the silliest things. Just know that this is normal. Learn about the red flags associated with PPD and other postpartum mood disorders now so that you can be on the lookout.
In general, sadness that is interfering with your ability to care for your baby is not normal. Also a general feeling of being down that lasts for more than two weeks should be discussed with a medical professional.
Postpartum weight loss really varies from person to person. Some women find that an initial amount of weight melts off and are stuck with the last 10 lbs. Others stay stagnant right away and then after a few weeks or months find it just goes. And still others really need to focus on healthy eating and exercise to see results.
All of this is to say, I know it’s hard, but don’t obsess! What’s most important is letting your body heal from the incredible thing it just did…growing a baby! You want to make sure you have a well-established milk supply and nursing is going well before you make any drastic changes to diet or exercise too.
10 Postpartum Healing Tips to Help you Recover Faster
1. Recovery Underwear and Giant Pads
You may already know you are going to need giant pads, but don’t make the mistake of using your regular underwear. It will get messy, and you may need something bigger than normal to accommodate your pad and padsicle.
I recommend sizing up on ‘granny panties’ or getting some true maternity underwear. The maternity underwear has a wide band meaning they will be comfy sitting on your waist and can accommodate everything you need to heal faster.
When choosing which pads to stock up on you want to get overnight or specific maternity pads for the first 7-10 days. After the first week or so you will still need a pad, but a regular one will suffice.
2. Witch Hazel wipes and Padsicles
Witch hazel is an amazing and natural way to find relief from the pain, swelling and itchiness associated with hemorrhoids and perineum discomfort after birth. Witch Hazel will reduce swelling and fight bacteria which leads to faster healing.
I recommend getting some witch hazel wipes or pads and having a stock in your bathroom at home, in your hospital bag, and in the refrigerator at home. They feel heavenly when they are chilled.
Also known as a Postpartum Cold Packs are essentially pads that provide cooling relief. Your hospital will probably supply you with some ice packs to use during your stay. They go on your pad and provide amazing relief.
Try making your own padsicle
Something I didn’t do the first time around but should have, is make my own padsicles. You can find a wealth of resources for this on Pinterest. But basically, you take an absorbent pad and dose it with a thin layer of aloe vera and witch hazel. You then place it in a ziplock and store in the freezer. This sounds absolutely heavenly and I totally underestimated this in my first pregnancy.
The reason a homemade padsicle is better is because it is infused with witch hazel and will be very absorbent while you are bleeding
How to set-up your underwear during your postpartum recovery?
Okay, maybe not something you’d think to ask, but you’ll be glad you know! Don’t worry too much though, your nurse will probably help you with this during your hospital stay.
- Position your pad on your underwear, put a postpartum ice pack on top of the pad.
- Then line the top of the ice pack with witch hazel wipes, position them in a line, slightly over-lapping, down the entire length of the pad.
- You won’t use an ice pack every time. When you skip the ice pack, simply line the pad with the witch hazel wipes.
- I recommend using a witch hazel or Sitz Spray that contains witch hazel on yourself at each pad change as well.
3. Peri-bottle to clean yourself postpartum
This is something that you will get at the hospital, and will be essential to using the bathroom in the first few weeks after birth. Wiping can cause unnecessary pain and discomfort, so instead you will squirt water to clean yourself.
It may be worthwhile to invest in one or two additional cleaning squirt bottles for use in multiple bathrooms when you set up a postpartum recovery kit. Getting one that is slightly higher quality than what you get in the hospital will make your life a lot easier too.
4. Take sitz baths to aid in postpartum recovery
Taking sitz baths will be absolutely heavenly on your poor postpartum bum. What you want to do is fill your tub with 3-4 inches of warm water and mix in a sitz bath soak.
5. Get more comfortable sitting
Many mamas find it is even uncomfortable to just sit up in bed, or especially, on a hard chair. Insert donut pillow! This is basically a pillow with a hole in the middle so that you don’t have pressure on your bottom.
Looking to save? I used my pregnancy pillow, the snoogle to achieve the same results. This is actually a great tip for getting more use out of your pregnancy pillow during postpartum recovery. And if you’re having trouble getting comfortable in the third trimester, you will LOVE having a snoogle now too.
6. Wear comfortable clothing
This might sound obvious to some, but really is worth stating. I don’t want you to have unrealistic expectations about getting right back into your pre-baby clothes. And this isn’t just about weight! You will want loose fitting pants and flowy skirts and dresses during your recovery. Go for wide elastic waist bands for ultimate comfort. This is especially important to keep in mind when you are packing your going-home-outfit in your hospital bag.
Consider reaching out to Stitch Fix for a pregnancy style box, like Trina did. You can ask your stylist for clothes that will serve you while pregnant and during the postpartum period. Or ask for specific postpartum clothes that will be nursing friendly.
7. Consider breastfeeding comfort
On the note of nursing clothes, you can expect be doing a whole lot of breastfeeding while you are recovering from birth. You’ll be building your milk supply and learning to breastfeeding successfully in real time with your baby.
It’s important to have some things on hand to keep your nipples comfortable as well. Invest in a high quality nipple cream, reusable nursing pads, and comfortable night nursing bras for sleeping and resting.
8. Prep Healthy Meals before Baby Arrives
Recovering from birth while taking care of a newborn is exhausting. It’s really important to be eating enough calories to build your milk supply and give your body the nutrients it needs to heal. While you shouldn’t be restricting calories, making sure the calories you are eating are healthy and coming from real foods will help immensely with losing the baby weight.
Set yourself up for stress relief before baby comes by stocking your freezer with healthy meals you can just throw in the oven or crock pot. The Complete Freezer Bundle will help you do this in a flash with premade shopping lists and meal plans. Your postpartum self will thank you!
9. Stay Hydrated
This is so important for both postpartum healing and breastfeeding success! Invest in a nice water bottle and keep it filled. I loved having an insulated water bottle that kept water cold. Nursing will make you extremely thirsty, and staying hydrated helps your body heal and combat sleep deprivation too.
10. Don’t overdo it
Above all, you should expect to be pretty out of commission for the first 7-14 days. It’s likely you’ll be fine to move about the house and care for your baby, but anything more than this shouldn’t be expected. Birth is intense and your body needs to recover.
I went on a walk at about 10 days postpartum, something slow and wasn’t very far, and immediately had increased bleeding. This meant I over did it and I quickly listened to my body and scaled back. Take it slow and focus only on caring for your sweet newborn.
What Postpartum Supplies should I stock up on?
- Witch Hazels Wipes
- Sitz Spray
- Sitz Bath Salts
- Peri-Bottle/Mom Washer
- Overnight Pads
- Aloe Vera and Witch Hazel for DIY Padsicles
- Nipple Cream
- Nursing Pads
- Nursing Night Bras
- Pants with wide waist bands
- Insulated Water Bottle
How to make a Postpartum Care Kit?
You can read the full details in my post on creating a postpartum care kit, but basically, make sure each bathroom in your house is equipped with what you need to get yourself clean and comfy. Set up a small basket with some witch hazel wipes, a sitz spray, a peri-bottle, and pads.
Understand your postpartum care plan
When it comes time to be discharged from the hospital there are a number of steps you need to take. One important one is chatting with your provider about your postpartum care. She will tell you things like:
- How to continue the use of medications you might be taking
- What to expect in terms of postpartum bleeding
- How to care for your stitches (if applicable)
- When to schedule your postpartum check-up
- What would be considered ‘not normal’ or warrants a call
Other questions you might have about postpartum recovery after a vaginal birth
How long does it take for your stomach to go down after having a baby?
This will vary from person to person, but in about 6-8 weeks your uterus will have fully contracted back down to its normal size and position. Right after birth, you will lose at least some of the weight. About 12 pounds can usually be attributed to baby, placenta and fluids, which all come out during delivery.
Your stomach will most likely still be a bit pooched and ‘ballooned’ in the first weeks after birth. That’s why those wide-waist-banded pants and even your maternity clothes will still be most comfortable.
Will I need to get stitches after birth?
Between half and three quarters of all vaginal deliveries result in some degree of perineal or vaginal tearing. But most of these will not be too severe. Tears are classified by “degree” and first degree tears are usually treated with just pressure and are most common.
Second degree tearing will require stitches, but once they heal you’ll never know the difference that you even had the tear. Third and fourth degree tears may require surgical treatment, but with today’s medical advances and technology you will likely heal up just fine.
In short, tearing is a very normal part of giving birth and not something to get overly stressed about.
When will my milk come in?
There’s a lot to learn in your first week of breastfeeding. But one of your main questions might be, when will my milk come in? Typically between days 3-5 after birth. Prior to this, you should be nursing your baby every 2 hours (minimum) from the start of each nursing session. Your baby is getting colostrum which is their perfect first food. Lots of nursing during the first days after birth signals to your body for the milk to come in.
This means your milk most likely will not have come in before you leave the hospital. This was not something I was aware of or expecting and had me a bit worried. Remember that it is normal, but round the clock breastfeeding is key to signaling its arrival and building your supply.
When can I have sex again after giving birth?
Officially? You will usually get the okay to have sex again at your 6 week postpartum check-up. But don’t be surprised if you still aren’t feeling up to it. While that is MORE than okay, I want to urge you to put some focus on at least keeping the romance alive in other ways.
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your new baby is nourishing your own love affair with your husband. You need support from your partner and you need to stay connected. Modeling a loving and respectful relationship to your children, even when they are this young, sets important ground work for them as they learn about the ways relationships work in the world.
One step in making this easier is to intentionally prepare your relationship before birth.
You will find your new normal after birth
While healing from a vaginal delivery is less than comfortable, you will survive! And while I can’t promise you’ll ever be your exact ‘pre-baby self’, you will find your new normal.
Your stomach will shrink back down, the swelling and pain ‘down there’ will go away, and you will be able to exercise again.
With this guide you’ll know what to expect, and how to help yourself heal faster. So don’t stress about the postpartum recovery.
Keep focusing on preparing as much as you can in your home, for yourself, and in your life in the weeks before birth. Check out our FREE Nest Smart email course to get it done fast!
What are you most nervous about when it comes to your postpartum recovery? What supplies are you stocking up on? Leave a comment below! I love to hear from readers <3
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Alli Wittbold is a wife, mama, blogger, and online teacher. She feels passionate about connecting expectant mothers with childbirth class educators, and supporting them to achieve the birth they desire. After having her first baby delivered by a Certified Nurse Midwife, Alli is an advocate for midwifery prenatal care. She has learned so much about labor and delivery by attending and reviewing dozens of birth classes to help mothers learn and explore options. Alli co-authored the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook, resources she is proud to share with as many expectant and new mothers as possible. Read more about Alli.