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Recovery After the Birth of Your Baby: What to Expect

Learn what happens to your body after the birth of your baby.

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Physically, you may feel like you’ve been through a lot during your pregnancy and childbirth. As your body adjusts from pregnancy, you’ll start feeling more like yourself. There are, however, more changes in store. Emotionally there are changes, too. Here are a few basics to help you understand this time called postpartum.

Postpartum physical changes

Here are some common physical changes you can expect in the days and weeks after you give birth.

Vaginal discharge
Called lochia, it is initially heavier than your period but slowly goes away, then stops within several weeks. Sanitary pads are recommended instead of tampons.

Perineum healing
The area between your vagina and anus is called the perineum. It may tear during childbirth, or your doctor may have made a small cut, called an episiotomy. The episiotomy and any tears were repaired with stitches. This area can be very tender after delivery.

Breast engorgement
Your nipples can leak some milk even if you aren’t breastfeeding. You may also be uncomfortable for a few days, as your breasts feel full and tender. If you're not breast-feeding, your body stops producing milk within seven to 10 days. If you’re breast-feeding, engorged breasts will feel better as you establish a breast-feeding pattern.

Your legs and feet may swell. Elevate your feet when possible.

Hemorrhoids and constipation
You might feel constipated for a few days after childbirth. Drinking adequate amounts of fluids and eating food high in fiber like fresh fruits and vegetables may help. Ask your doctor about a stool softener. Do not take any medications unless recommended by your doctor, especially if you’re breast-feeding. Some women find that alternating warm sitz baths and cold witch hazel compresses can help with hemorrhoids.

Menstrual-like cramping is common, especially if you are breast-feeding. Cramping helps the uterus return to its normal size and decrease the amount of lochia that you are experiencing.

Weight loss
After giving birth, you’ll lose about 10 pounds right away. The rest of the weight won’t go away immediately. You can lose it gradually over the next few months. Losing weight slowly is the safest way. This is especially true if you’re breast-feeding. Talk to your doctor and get his or her clearance before you start an exercise or weight loss program.

Talk to your doctor about your postpartum health. Ask about what to expect and which symptoms need your attention. Your doctor can tell you when to call, come in for an evaluation or seek emergency care.

Special considerations

Cesarean section
If you delivered by cesarean section, there are some special considerations for you. The incision on your abdomen will likely be sore for a few days. Discuss pain relief methods with your doctor. Also, you may have mild cramping and bleeding or vaginal discharge. Don’t have sex or place anything in your vagina for a few weeks to help avoid infection. Ask your doctor what else you should expect during your recovery.

Vaginal delivery
Like a woman after a cesarean birth, you may also have mild cramping and bleeding or vaginal discharge. (See vaginal discharge above.) Your doctor will dicuss with you when it is safe for you to resume sex, but don’t have sex or place anything in your vagina for a few weeks (typically at least 4 to 6 weeks) to help avoid infection.

Postpartum emotional changes

Some women may feel sad after the birth of their baby. This is called baby blues. Lack of sleep, changing hormones, and worrying about the baby, new stresses in the family, or financial concerns can take their toll on new mothers. But if the blues last longer than two weeks, are severe or progressively get worse, see your doctor. About 13 percent of mothers and up to 10 percent of fathers experience postpartum depression. The sooner it’s diagnosed, the more successful the recovery. Symptoms may include:

  • Being very tired, having no energy, not being able to sleep or oversleeping
  • Not being able to eat and losing weight, or overeating and gaining weight
  • Feeling sad, depressed or crying a lot
  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Trouble focusing, remembering or making decisions

If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, your baby or others, call your health care professional, 911 or a suicide hotline such as 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or have someone drive you to your nearest emergency department.

If you feel you’re in immediate danger of hurting yourself, your baby or someone else, Call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

Taking care of yourself

Just after birth is a tender time for new mothers. Here are some helpful tips to consider.

  • Fatigue is normal. Try to nap when your baby sleeps.
  • Start to exercise as soon as your doctor tells you it’s OK. But only start with your doctor’s approval.
  • Try to do small things you enjoy like going outside, reading a book or listening to music.
  • Get support from your family and friends. If they offer to help, accept it gratefully.
  • Change your expectations for how clean your house has to be temporarily or get help from others for a short time.
  • Purchase prepared meals or accept donated meals from family and friends.
  • Limit visitors according to your comfort with having guests.
  • Talk with other new moms who are positive and could give you support.
  • Look for mom and baby classes in your area.
  • Spend time each day with a friend, spouse or partner, so you can have adult conversation and include him or her in what you are experiencing.
  • Take a bath or shower every day. It may help you feel better when you feel clean and have some personal cares met.
  • Enjoy time with your baby.

While recovering from delivery can take time, things will get easier. Every day you may wake up feeling healthier and stronger and more like yourself. 

By Mary Small, Contributing Writer

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month. 6th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2015.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Frequently asked questions. Labor, delivery and postpartum care. Cesarean birth. Accessed: July 12, 2016.
Health and Human Services. Pregnancy: Recovering from birth. Accessed: July 12, 2016. Parents. Recovering from delivery. Accessed: July 12, 2016.

Last Updated: July 14, 2016