During the first weeks after giving birth, your body begins to heal and adjust to not being pregnant. This is called postpartum (or the postpartum period). Your body goes through many changes as you recover. These changes are different for every woman.
The first weeks after childbirth also are a time to bond with your baby and set up a routine for caring for your baby.
Your doctor will want to see you for a checkup 2 to 6 weeks after delivery. This is a good time to discuss any concerns, including birth control.
You likely will feel sore for a few days and very tired for several weeks. It may take 4 to 6 weeks to feel like yourself again, and possibly longer if you had a cesarean (or C-section) birth.
Over the next few days and weeks, you may have some bleeding and afterpains as your uterus shrinks.
It is easy to get too tired and overwhelmed during the first weeks after childbirth. Take it easy on yourself.
Your doctor will tell you how to care for your body as you recover. Your doctor will tell you when it's okay to exercise, have sex, and use tampons. He or she also will tell you how to manage pain and swelling while your body heals.
The first few weeks after your baby is born can be a time of excitement—and of being very tired. You may look at your wondrous little baby and feel happy. But at the same time, you may feel exhausted from a lack of sleep and your new responsibilities.
Many women get the "baby blues" during the first few days after childbirth. The "baby blues" usually peak around the fourth day and then ease up in less than 2 weeks. If you have the blues for more than a few days, or if you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, call your doctor right away. You may have postpartum depression. This needs to be treated. Support groups and counseling can help. Sometimes medicine also can help.
For more information, see the topic Postpartum Depression.
During your baby's first few weeks, you will spend most of your time feeding, diapering, and comforting your baby. You may feel overwhelmed at times. It's normal to wonder if you know what you are doing, especially if this is your first child. Newborn care gets easier with every day. Soon you may get to know what each cry means and be able to figure out what your baby needs and wants.
At first, babies often sleep during the day and are awake at night. They don't have a pattern or routine. They may make sudden gasps, jerk themselves awake, or look like they have crossed eyes. These are all normal, and they may even make you smile.
You naturally develop an emotional bond with your baby simply by spending time together, being physically close, and responding to his or her cues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about the postpartum period:
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During the days and weeks after the delivery of your baby (postpartum period), your body will change as it returns to its nonpregnant condition. As with pregnancy changes, postpartum changes are different for every woman.
The changes in your body may include sore muscles and bleeding.
Call your doctor if you are concerned about any of your symptoms. For more information, see When to Call a Doctor.
Most women need some time after delivery to return to their normal activities. It's important to focus on your healing and on taking care of your body after delivery.
What to avoid
Give your body a chance to heal. Wait to start certain activities.
If you had a C-section, you will need to take it easy while the incision heals.
For more information, see the topic Cesarean Section.
Having a new baby is exciting. But it also can be exhausting and stressful. It's common to feel a range of emotions at this time.
Tips for coping during the postpartum period include accepting help from others, eating well and drinking plenty of fluids, getting rest whenever you can, limiting visitors, getting some time to yourself, and seeking the company of other women who have new babies.
If you have a partner and this is your first baby, your focus may have shifted from being part of a couple to being parents. That's a common—and wonderful—change. But it can take some time to adjust. You and your partner may not have as much time or energy for each other for a while. But you also will get to know each other in new ways, as parents.
It is common to have little interest in sex for a while after childbirth. During the time when your body is recovering and your baby has many needs, you and your partner will need to be patient with one another. Talking together is a good way to deal with the changes in your sexuality after childbirth.
"Baby blues" are common for the first 1 to 2 weeks after birth. You may cry or feel sad or irritable for no reason. If your symptoms last for more than a few weeks, or if you feel very depressed, ask your doctor for help. You may have postpartum depression. It can be treated. Support groups and counseling can help. Sometimes medicine can also help. For more information, see the topic Postpartum Depression.
If you're feeling tired or overwhelmed, talk to your partner, friends, and family about your feelings. You also might want to:
Some women have problems—such as constipation, hemorrhoids, and sore breasts—that last for a while after childbirth. Many minor postpartum problems can be managed at home. If you develop problems and your doctor has given you specific instructions to follow, be sure to follow those instructions.
Home treatment measures are usually all that is needed to relieve mild discomfort from hemorrhoids or constipation.
To prevent or ease symptoms of constipation:
To treat the itching or pain of hemorrhoids:
Soreness in the vagina and the area between it and the anus (perineum) is common after delivery. You can ease the pain with home treatment. To reduce pain and heal:
Recovery from an episiotomy or perineal tear can take several weeks.
Recovery from pelvic bone problems, such as separated pubic bones or a fractured tailbone (coccyx), can take several months. Treatment includes ice, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and sometimes physical therapy.
Breast engorgement is common between the third and fourth days after delivery, when the breasts begin to fill with milk. This can cause breast discomfort and swelling. Placing ice packs on your breasts, taking a hot shower, or using warm compresses may relieve the discomfort. If you aren't breastfeeding, use ice rather than heat for breast soreness. For more information, see the topic Breast Engorgement.
For breast problems related to breastfeeding, see the topic Breastfeeding.
Your doctor will want to see you for a checkup 2 to 6 weeks after delivery. This visit allows for your doctor or midwife to check on your recovery from childbirth and see how you are doing emotionally. You may have a pelvic exam to make sure that you are healing well. If you had a C-section, your doctor will check your incision.
Your doctor or midwife will talk with you about birth control and find out how you're doing with breastfeeding. He or she also will ask about your moods and check you for signs of postpartum depression.
This visit is also a good time to talk to your doctor about anything you are concerned or curious about.
It is easy to get too tired and overwhelmed during the first weeks after childbirth. Take it easy on yourself. Get rest whenever you can, accept help from others, and eat well and drink plenty of fluids.
Like pregnancy, the newborn period can be a time of excitement, joy, and exhaustion. You may look at your wondrous little baby and feel happy. You may also be overwhelmed by your new sleep hours and new responsibilities. Make time to rest.
Your body needs time to heal after childbirth. This can take about 4 to 6 weeks, but it's different for each woman. Avoid sexual intercourse and putting anything in your vagina (including tampons) until you have stopped bleeding. Your doctor will let you when it's okay to have intercourse.
Your menstrual cycle—and your ability to become pregnant again—will return at your body's own pace. Remember that you can ovulate and get pregnant during the month before your first menstrual period, as early as 3 weeks after childbirth. If you don't want to become pregnant right away, use birth control even if you are breastfeeding.
Most methods of birth control are safe and effective after delivery. But in the first couple of weeks after delivery, it's best to use a method that doesn't contain estrogen. Talk to your doctor about which type is best for you. For more information, see the topic Birth Control.
Eating a variety of healthy food is important to help you keep your energy and lose extra weight you gained during your pregnancy.
For more information on eating well, see the topic Healthy Eating.
Exercise helps you feel good and helps your body get back to its prepregnancy shape. In general, you can start exercising 4 to 6 weeks after delivery. But check with your doctor before you start exercising, especially if you had a cesarean birth (C-section).
During your baby's first few weeks, you will spend most of your time feeding, diapering, and comforting your baby. You may feel overwhelmed at times. It is normal to wonder if you know what you're doing, especially if this is your first child. Newborn care gets easier with every day. You may get to know what each cry means and be able to figure out what your baby needs and wants.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill—you will get better at it with practice. You may have times when breastfeeding is hard. The first two weeks are the hardest for many women. But don't give up. You can work through most problems. Doctors, nurses, and lactation specialists can all help. So can friends, family, and breastfeeding support groups.
Some women choose to feed their babies using formula. While breast milk is the ideal food for babies, your baby can get good nutrition from formula.
Most babies sleep for a total of 18 hours each day. They wake for a short time at least every 2 to 3 hours. Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back, not the stomach. This lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
For more information on sleeping, diapering, and other areas of newborn care, see the topic Growth and Development, Newborn.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- American Academy of Pediatrics (2012). Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129(3): e827–e841. Also available online: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.
Other Works Consulted
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Update to CDC's U.S. medical eligibility criteria for contraceptive use, 2010: Revised recommendations for the use of contraceptive methods during the postpartum period. MMWR, 60(26): 878–883. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6026a3.htm?s_cid=mm6026a3_w.
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