Tips for an easier recovery after childbirth

by Kaiser Permanente |
A beautiful young mother nurses her 2 week old baby while relaxing on the couch at home.

Your body needs time to recover after you give birth. During the first few weeks with your newborn, remember to take good care of yourself. Your body is healing from the labor and birth process. If you gave birth vaginally, it could take up to 6 weeks to start feeling like yourself again. Recovery from a cesarean birth (C-section) might take even longer.

Recovery after giving birth

Vaginal bleeding and cramps are normal after giving birth. Bleeding may last up to four weeks or longer and will stop once your uterus is fully healed. Be sure to use sanitary pads instead of tampons. This helps you monitor your blood flow and reduces the risk of infection.

During this time, cramps can be painful. Try heating pads, warm showers, and pain relievers recommended by your clinician to help alleviate discomfort.

It’s normal to pass blood clots during this time, but they shouldn’t be larger than a golf ball. If you pass larger clots, let your clinician know.

Recovery after vaginal delivery

It is normal to feel sore or sensitive when sitting down, walking, or using the bathroom after a vaginal delivery. Some of this is due to bruising and swelling that gets better on its own within a few weeks. Some of this may be due to tears or a cut made at the time of your delivery.

If you have stitches in or near your vagina, you’ll need to care for them. In most cases, they will fall out on their own as your body heals. Until they do, you should:

  • Avoid wiping after going to the bathroom. Instead, use toilet tissue to pat the area dry, always patting from front to back.
  • Rinse the area with warm water each time you use the bathroom. You should receive a bottle for this purpose before leaving the hospital.
  • Sit in a bathtub with warm water covering only your hips and buttocks. This is known as a sitz bath. You can do this several times every day. Avoid any bubble bath products.
  • Use witch hazel pads, ice compresses, Dermoplast spray, or medicated pads to help with swelling and pain.

Recovery after cesarean section

After a cesarean birth, you will have to take care of your incision as you recover. There are layers of stitches below the surface that dissolve on their own. Your skin incision may be closed with skin glue or stiches that dissolve on their own. In some cases, you may have staples on the skin that are typically removed within a few days. They are replaced with small adhesive strips that help keep the edges together as your incision heals.

Once you are home, you can shower and let warm, soapy water run over your incision. Do not scrub the area. Pat dry or use a blow dryer on the cool setting after you shower. Unless otherwise instructed by your clinician, you do not need to cover your incision or apply any creams or ointments. If you have questions or concerns about how to care for your incision, contact your medical care provider.

Is it normal to feel this sore?

Some discomfort is expected after giving birth. Your body has gone through a major change (and in some cases, a major surgery) and it is normal that you feel sore in the first few weeks as you return to doing various activities at home. It’s important that you give yourself the time you need to rest and heal.

If you are experiencing pain not relieved with pain medication, or if your pain is worsening over time, contact your clinician. If your pain is associated with a fever (a temperature of 100.4 F or more), vomiting, or an inability to urinate, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Constipation after birth

Constipation can strain the tissues that need to heal after giving birth. Take steps to avoid constipation by:

  • Drinking plenty of water.
  • Eating high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
  • Taking a fiber supplement or stool softener if your clinician recommends one.

Caring for your breasts

Breast tenderness is common after childbirth. Breastfeeding regularly helps relieve pain and swelling. If you’re not breastfeeding, try not to touch your breasts or apply anything that warms them, like a warm towel.

If your breasts are uncomfortably swollen, you can:

  • Apply cool compresses after breastfeeding your infant.
  • Hand-express a small amount of breast milk to help your infant latch on.
  • Use an over-the-counter pain medication if your clinician recommends one.
  • Apply moist heat to your breasts before beginning breastfeeding.

What to avoid while healing from birth

In the first few weeks after giving birth, there are some activities you should avoid in order to decrease the risk of complications. Use pads for bleeding, but don’t use tampons. Wait between 4 and 6 weeks before resuming sexual activity. It is generally OK to take walks and use the stairs, but avoid lifting anything heavier than 25 pounds, especially if you have stitches or had a cesarean delivery.

How others can help

Taking care of yourself and your newborn is a full-time job. It is easy to become overwhelmed or exhausted when you try to resume your regular responsibilities in addition to caring for a baby. Remember that you can lean on your support network for help.

Ask a friend or family member to prepare meals ahead of time. Encourage your partner or another person to watch any other children or pets while you rest. Accept offers of help if someone volunteers to run errands or assist with housework. This can help you recharge while you adjust to life with your baby.

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.