Postpartum Recovery: What to Expect After Birth

Mother resting with her newborn baby on her chest

Postpartum recovery can be a challenging time for any mother, whether it’s her first delivery or her sixth! When recovering from childbirth there are often physical, emotional, and even relational obstacles to overcome. It’s important to remember that while each and every pregnancy and delivery experience is unique, it is a process that women have gone through for millenia. You can learn from mothers in your community, from books and articles, and even from history about how to best manage this time period in your life. Read on to learn more about what to expect during your postpartum recovery journey.

Mother kissing her baby with her hand on it's chest

Remember, while postpartum can be challenging and even difficult, it can also be a time for you to enjoy bonding with your baby. Try to focus on the positive aspects of postpartum instead of the negative. Even if you choose to have many children, it will still be a short period of time in your life and you don’t want to miss out on the good parts!

Physical Recovery

Childbirth is a tremendously stressful experience for your body. Whether you deliver vaginally or via c-section, you should expect to spend at least 6-8 weeks recovering. During this time, make sure you’re getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of water, and eating healthy foods. Avoid lifting, heavy work, and stress when possible. It can seem impossible to take care of yourself and also care for a newborn, and possibly other children, but it’s important to do what you can. 

One piece of advice that is often given, and almost as often scoffed at, is “sleep when the baby sleeps.” While you can’t immediately jump into bed the moment your baby’s eyes close, it is important to prioritize rest when your baby is resting. While your baby is sleeping you can shower, get something to eat, get some fresh air, and even take a quick nap. If you have other children this can be a good time for quiet play or even some screen time to give you a break.

When you are discharged from the hospital, or when your midwife leaves if you choose to deliver with a midwife at home, you will be given postpartum care instructions on when to call the doctor/midwife, what to expect, and what you can use to manage your pain. Pay close attention to these instructions. Following them carefully can help to speed your recovery and ensure you have the best postpartum recovery possible.

Vaginal Delivery

If you deliver vaginally, you can expect to have soreness and bleeding. If your bleeding becomes very heavy or you pass large clots, contact your healthcare provider. Soreness is to be expected, you just had a baby after all, but if your pain is hard to manage or becomes suddenly worse you should contact your doctor. Ice packs, a squirt bottle to clean yourself, and sitz baths (after at least three days) can help you feel more comfortable and manage your pain.

C-Section Delivery

Woman holding her hand over a gauze covering her c-section scar

After a c-section, you can expect less bleeding and discharge than after a vaginal delivery, but you should still be on the lookout for large clots or excessive bleeding. You also need to monitor your incision site for swelling, seeping, or any other concerning signs and symptoms. Additionally, you should plan to avoid lifting and heavy work for at least eight weeks. A c-section is abdominal surgery and requires a longer postpartum recovery time than a vaginal delivery. Your recovery may be even more difficult if your c-section happened after laboring or in an emergency situation.


If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll be experiencing changes with your breasts and nipples as well as the rest of your body. You may also find you are more thirsty and hungry than you typically are. If you choose not to breastfeed, you may feel uncomfortable waiting for your milk to dry up. Touching base with a lactation consultant at the hospital, through your doctor, or through a service like WIC can be extremely helpful. If you have any tender spots on your breasts, red streaks, or fever be sure to contact your provider.

Emotional Recovery

Pregnancy and postpartum recovery come with many different hormones, new experiences, and new emotions. Expect the first several weeks of your recovery to feel a bit like an emotional rollercoaster. Ask for support from others, give yourself time to experience the emotions that are coming at you, and be reassured that it is totally normal! There are times when you should seek help, however. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, your baby, or others it is important to seek help from your provider or an emergency room. If you have disturbing images that seem to come from nowhere, contact your provider immediately or seek emergency help. Finally, if you have feelings of sadness or “the blues” that last longer than two weeks, you should talk to your provider.

Relational Challenges

Adding a new baby to the mix, especially if this is your first child, can put a strain on your relationships. Friends who loved the idea of a baby may be less interested in the realities of having a baby. Family who promised to be there for you may be absent more often than not. Partners may not want to get up in the middle of the night or change their activities to help care for the baby. Some mothers feel very possessive about their babies and don’t want anyone else to provide care. Or, if they do allow someone to provide care, they don’t feel it is being done appropriately.

In the early weeks of your child’s life you will need help, whether it’s with the baby or around the house. If someone offers help – take it! If you need them to do dishes or laundry, ask them. If you’d rather they held the baby so you can do chores, ask them to do that. If someone said to you earlier “let me know if you need anything!” it’s ok to let them know and see if they can help. This is a critical component to postpartum care that will benefit you both mentally and physically.

Planning ahead for postpartum can help as well. Purchase baby essentials, stock up on snacks and groceries, and freeze meals ahead of time. Planning ahead can keep you from running out of things you need when you would rather focus on your baby instead of errands. You can also hire help. Housecleaning, grocery delivery, meal delivery, and other services can make your postpartum recovery experience much more enjoyable. 

Having a baby is beautiful but can also put a strain on you and your relationships, specifically an unsupportive partner. If you are being threatened, spoken to harshly, or physically harmed please reach out for help. It’s normal to have some tension while adjusting to a baby in the home, but it is never ok for someone to hurt another person.

All in all, postpartum recovery can be a rollercoaster ride, but it’s also a beautiful time to bond with your baby and reflect on the amazing work your body just did. Take care of yourself, and your baby, and soon you will be fully recovered and ready to take on the world!

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