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Caring for yourself after delivery

In the first few weeks after you give birth, you'll be focusing a lot of attention on your baby. But don't forget to take care of yourself as well.

A new baby in the house is reason for joy. But it can also be a challenging time as you recover from childbirth and take on added responsibilities. That's especially true in the first weeks after your baby is born.

While rest and recuperation may not be foremost in your mind right now, they are essential to your physical and emotional well-being.

Let your body heal

Your body needs time and care to recover from the strain of pregnancy and childbirth. According to the UpToDate and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, you may experience:

  • Spotting or bleeding for up to six weeks. Soak up the discharge with sanitary pads—don't use tampons.
  • Swelling in your legs and feet. Elevating your feet may help.
  • Constipation. Drinking plenty of water and eating fresh fruits and vegetables should help. Ask your doctor about a stool softener.
  • Breasts that feel full, hard or tender. Nursing will provide the best relief. You might also try ice packs to ease swelling. If you aren't nursing, this feeling will gradually go away once your breasts are not stimulated to produce more milk.
  • Menstrual-like cramping, especially while nursing. These cramps will go away in a few days. In the meantime, a nonprescription pain reliever may help.
  • Soreness in the vaginal area. Ask your doctor about using a numbing spray or cream. Cushion the area with a pillow when you sit. Soak in a few inches of warm water to bring relief.
  • Back pain due to weakened abdominal muscles. Practice good posture, support your back when you breastfeed, and try not to lift anything heavier than your baby for a while.
  • A lack of interest in sex. This is normal and healthy. Your body needs four to six weeks to heal before you're ready for sex again. Before you resume intercourse, talk with your doctor. And remember, you could get pregnant again—even if you're breastfeeding.

Also, ask your healthcare provider about exercises you can do to help strengthen abdominal muscles, control bladder leaks and tighten a vagina stretched by childbirth.

Take care of your emotional needs

The months after giving birth are also a time of emotional adjustment. These tips can help:

Rest. Try napping when your baby does or having someone else handle late-night diaper changes.

Accept help. Ask your partner or someone else to help with laundry, meals or baby care. Letting your partner help with the baby not only gives you a chance to rest; it also may help the two of them bond.

Pamper yourself. Doing things that make you feel good will let you have more fun with your baby. For example:

  • Take a warm, relaxing bath while baby sleeps.
  • Ask your partner or a friend to give you a shoulder massage when you feel tense.
  • Watch a movie while you nurse.
  • Don't answer the phone if you're too tired to talk.

Don't worry about your weight quite yet. You may have been disappointed when the weight you gained during pregnancy didn't disappear after delivery. Don't worry. There will be time to lose weight later. For now, focus on recovering from delivery and adjusting to life with your little one.

Follow your doctor's instructions on how much activity, like climbing stairs or walking, you can do for the first few weeks.

Watch for the baby blues. Many new mothers experience feelings of sadness or depression commonly known as the baby blues. You may feel discouraged or tense, or feel like crying over things that wouldn't usually bother you.

These feelings should get better in a few weeks. However, if they don't get better, or if you are extremely sad or unable to care for yourself or your baby, call your doctor right away. You might have a serious condition called postpartum depression.

To learn more about the symptoms of the baby blues, take this short quiz.

Don't expect perfection. If you can't do more than eat, sleep and care for your baby during the first few weeks, that's OK.

And remember, mastering baby care takes time, patience and practice. If you stumble now and then, don't take on a load of guilt. There is no such thing as a perfect baby or a perfect mother. However, there are many happy mothers and happy babies.

Reviewed 10/9/2023

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