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How to prep for post-pregnancy life

You've probably already discussed what the stages of labor look like with your provider. But it's also a good idea to understand what your post-birth recovery might look like. 

The fact is, your body is recovering from a major event. You're going to go through both physical and mental changes over the coming days, weeks and months.

Here is a sampling of what you can expect:

Physical changes

Your provider will review many of these things with you before you leave the hospital. If you had a C-section, be sure and ask if you'll experience any physical discomforts specific to your surgery.

These are some possible symptoms you may experience after birth: 

  • Lochia. This is a vaginal discharge of the tissue and blood that lined your uterus while you were pregnant. It will start out heavy and bright red. But it soon will turn lighter in flow and color until it disappears after a few weeks. Wear sanitary pads until it stops.
  • Swelling in your legs and feet. You can reduce this by keeping your legs elevated above your heart whenever possible.
  • Constipation. You can help get things moving by eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. Also, drink plenty of water.
  • Abdominal cramping. These afterbirth pains are caused by your uterus contracting and then relaxing as it shrinks back to its normal size. You can ease the cramping by taking over-the-counter pain relievers. But check with your provider first.
  • Swollen breasts. Your breasts will fill with milk a few days after delivery. That can make them feel very full, hard and tender. The best treatment? Breastfeeding your baby. Breastmilk should be all your baby eats for the first six months of life.

Mental changes

Many mothers feel sad after childbirth, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The "baby blues" usually starts within a few days of giving birth. 

You might feel anxious and depressed. You may even feel frustrated with your baby, your partner or your other children. None of this makes you a bad mother. It makes you normal. According to the College, you can expect the baby blues to go away within a few days to a couple of weeks.

The baby blues is not the same as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression brings on feelings of severe anxiety and despair that disrupt your daily life. It can start within a week or so of childbirth. If you think you're experiencing postpartum depression, see your provider right away. Don't wait until your next scheduled visit.

Fatigue

Whether you delivered your baby vaginally or by C-section, you're going to be tired. Your body has been through a major ordeal. And until your baby gets on a regular sleeping and eating schedule, sleep will be a precious commodity. 

Here are a few steps you can take to reduce fatigue:

  • Ask for help. Give specific chores to family, friends and your partner.
  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. Night feedings will make you tired—rest when you can.
  • Limit visitors. Not everyone needs to see the baby right now.
  • Eat nutritious foods. Foods high in protein and iron can help you get back some strength.

When can you exercise again?

Didn't we just talk about fatigue? As it turns out, working out can help you regain your pre-pregnancy energy. You can usually start exercising again whenever you feel up to it. But stay on the safe side and talk to your provider first. 

Walking is a good way to begin. And you can take the baby with you in a stroller—or use this time to be baby-free. 

If you didn't exercise much before your pregnancy, start out slowly. Walk on flat ground, then work your way up to marching uphill.

This isn't the time to diet

It's not unusual for women to lose as many as 20 pounds in the month after delivery, according to the College. But don't let that persuade you to go on a crash diet to lose more. You need to heal. And to do that, you need to stick to the healthy eating that you started when you became pregnant.

Keep the emphasis on fruits and vegetables at mealtime. Eat whole grains. And focus on healthy fats.

What about sex?

According to the College, it's not unusual to feel some apprehension about having sex for the first time after giving birth. It's also common not to have much interest in sex soon after childbirth. Your hormone levels are dropping, and you're tired and dealing with a needy baby. 

Most experts suggest waiting four to six weeks after childbirth to resume your sex life. But be careful—you may be able to get pregnant again even if your period hasn't started. Most women should wait at least 12 months before trying for another baby.

More pregnancy news

Wondering how the hospital will care for your baby after he or she is born? Find out what to expect from your baby's hospital stay

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; Office on Women's Health 

Reviewed 2/5/2024

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