Caring for yourself after giving birth

by Kaiser Permanente |
A mother and father are sitting in their living room along with their newborn son. They are watching over him while he sleeps.

After giving birth, it’s easy to focus on your baby and forget about yourself. It’s important to remember that you are recovering from a monumental emotional and physical experience and that it is okay to ask for assistance with activities of daily living while you get used to your new routines, sleep schedules and recover physically. Your body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy and birth, and it can take time to get back to your new normal.

Your body during the postpartum period

As your body heals after giving birth it’s completely normal to feel sore and tired, since your uterus takes several weeks to return to its pre-pregnancy size. You will experience some bleeding and cramping as this occurs.

It’s also common to have some discomfort using the bathroom. You may experience pain or a stinging sensation during urination if you’ve had a vaginal delivery. Spraying warm water on the area during and after urination can help.

Also be sure to drink plenty of fluids to help avoid constipation. You can also use a stool softener if needed to help avoid straining or inflaming hemorrhoids.

Be patient with yourself during the initial 6-week postpartum window. It can take several weeks for your body to get back to a non-pregnant state. This includes waiting for vaginal tears to heal, bleeding to stop and pelvic and back pain to resolve.

If you’ve had a Cesarean section (C-section), it may take longer than 6 weeks to feel ready to return to normal activities. A C-section is a major abdominal surgery, and you may require more assistance as you recover. That’s a completely normal expectation for your recovery.

Postpartum breast concerns

As your milk comes in at 3 to 4 days after birth, your breasts may feel swollen and uncomfortable. Breastfeeding frequently or pumping a little in between feeds can help alleviate some of the discomfort. You can also gently massage your breasts while taking hot showers, or use cool compresses on your breasts to find relief.

Your nipples can often feel tender and sensitive, especially if you are breastfeeding and your baby is learning how to get a good latch. Getting a good latch is the key to avoiding long-term nipple discomfort and damage. Cool compresses, nipple ointment, soothing breast pads and nipple shields can be temporary fixes to help nipple pain while you and your baby get more confident at breastfeeding. Once you and your baby have established a good latch and breastfeeding routine your nipples should no longer hurt. If you’re having a hard time with breastfeeding, call our lactation consultants who are here to help.

How to care for yourself

If you gave birth vaginally, try these tips:

  • Allow yourself to rest.
  • Limit visitors and social activities.
  • Stay hydrated and eat several smalls meals per day.
  • Take naps when your baby naps if you can.
  • Have another adult with you to help you adjust to having your newborn at home.
  • Increase activity levels slowly.
  • Invite friends and family to help in small ways, such as starting a load of laundry or bringing a meal, remember that you will still need to rest despite having visitors.

If you had a C-section, you shouldn’t lift anything heavier than your baby for at least 6 weeks. If you have a bandage over your incision, it should be left in place as directed by your clinician. Be sure to keep the incision clean using warm water and gently pat dry. Don’t use any lotions, ointments, or powders near it. To help with discomfort, take the pain medications your doctor recommended for you. If you are breastfeeding and recovering from a C-section, you may find that a more reclined or side-lying position may feel best.

Following a C-section, contact your doctor right away if you have:

  • A fever of 100.4 degrees or higher.
  • Opening of your incision.
  • Pain that won’t go away even with pain medications.
  • Redness or discharge from the incision.

Signs of postpartum mood disorders

Postpartum mood disorders can be common after giving birth. The birth of a child is a life changing event whether it is your first or fourth child. Feeling exhausted, emotional, and sometimes frustrated can be normal during the early postpartum weeks.

Many parents experience a downturn in their mood, i.e. baby blues, but this should usually stop within a couple weeks. If you are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated it is okay to take a break from your baby by leaving them safely in a sleeping spot while you take a walk or shower, even if they are crying. Other stress-reduction techniques, like breathing exercises, can also help.

If you feel down for more than a few weeks or your moods are very low and affecting your ability to care for yourself and baby, contact your care team. The sooner you talk about your mood, the sooner you can get help to feel better. Keep in mind that if you ever feel like hurting yourself or your baby, your clinician should know immediately. There is help, there is hope, and you are not alone. People are available 24/7 to listen, help, and get you the support you need. You can:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
  • Text the Crisis Text Line — text “WORDS” to 741741
  • Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital

Postpartum appointments

After giving birth, you’ll need to visit with your healthcare team regularly to make sure you and your baby are both doing well. You may have appointments with lactation specialists, clinicians, nurses, and family support groups to help you get off to the right start.

What to know about visitors

It’s likely that many other people will want to check in on you and your newborn after you get home. Have visitors as soon as you feel ready, but remember that your baby’s immune system isn’t fully developed yet.

To keep your baby safe and healthy, ask all visitors to wash their hands with soap and water, or use hand sanitizer, before holding your infant. Also, ask people not to visit if they’ve recently been sick. It’s a good idea to let people know you’ll likely limit visitors during Flu/RSV season.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.