After nine long months of waiting, growing, and anticipating the birth of your child, your little bundle of joy finally arrives. Most women spend their pregnancies worried about the birth experience and the struggles of new parenthood. An often-overlooked aspect of the birthing process is the postpartum period. Many women feel underprepared for this part of the birth. With all the excitement now focused on your new baby, it can be easy to forget the physical and emotional trauma that the new mother has just experienced and will continue to experience for about six weeks, all while caring for a newborn. The postpartum period is an intense and difficult time for new parents, especially for recovering new mothers. Check out this timeline of postpartum recovery to get a glimpse of what the physical and emotional healing after birth may look like.
Week one postpartum
The first week postpartum is the most intense and difficult for most women, regardless of their birth experience. Whether you had a natural birth or a c-section, this week will be one of the most difficult. Your body just went through a stressful and lengthy pregnancy and birthing experience, and you’re adjusting to new motherhood. This is especially difficult if you had any birthing complications, such as an episiotomy or tearing.
During this week, although timelines differ by woman and birthing experience, your body’s organs are slowly moving back to where they were pre-pregnancy, and your body is also experiencing rapid hormone changes. Your breasts will begin to fill with milk whether you plan to breastfeed or not. You will also experience heavy postpartum bleeding regardless of your delivery method. It is simply the leftover uterine lining from your pregnancy. You’ll need to wear pads during this period and possibly longer.
It is normal to still look pregnant and have extra weight after giving birth. It takes time for your uterus to shrink down to normal size, and you’re still in the process of releasing extra fluids. Weight loss will happen naturally during the postpartum process and is most healthy when done gradually through healthy eating and exercise once you’re physically able.
Most women experience sadness, anxiety, and frustration during the first postpartum week. This is normal and stems from new parenting frustrations, hormonal changes, physical pain, and lack of sleep. These feelings of sadness and depression should subside within two weeks postpartum.
Week two postpartum
By the second week postpartum, most of the extreme pain should start to subside, although it’s important to still take it easy and not overdo it as you’re still in the beginning stages of recovery.
There may still be some postpartum bleeding going on, but this should be starting to lighten up. Contact your doctor if you’re still experiencing extremely heavy blood flow at this point in the postpartum process. There should also be significantly less pain in the vaginal and perineum areas. If you had tears or an episiotomy, you may start to itch, which is an indication of the healing process.
Many women during this period continue to experience extreme hormonal changes, which often lead to hot flashes and mood changes. You may feel more irritable, tired, or sad, and you may swing rapidly between them.
If you had a c-section, your incision site is most likely hurtling less. Be sure to follow your doctor’s orders by properly cleaning and caring for the wound.
This period is a great time to check in with your doctor if symptoms from your first week postpartum haven’t lessened.
Weeks three and four postpartum
Weeks three and four postpartum are all about continued healing. Given a doctor’s permission, you may be able to start participating in more frequent and longer walks, power walking, and even very light exercise if you had a vaginal birth. You should still avoid strenuous exercise at this point in your recovery, but your body should be well on its way back to normal. This means your organs are in the right place, your uterus is back to its pre-pregnancy size, and your body is general healing.
During these weeks, your postpartum bleeding should become very light, and it may stop for some women by week four, while others bleed longer. If you’re still bleeding heavily at this point, schedule an appointment with your doctor and decrease your activity levels.
Your hormones should be starting to level out, although you may still experience some rapid mood changes. If you are still feeling extremely down or depressed, talk to your doctor. Sadness in the postpartum period lasting longer than two weeks is a sign of postpartum depression, one of the most common ailments of new mothers.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, you may experience engorged breasts that require you to massage them or release some milk to increase comfort and avoid further complications. You may also still be experiencing sore nipples, especially if you decide to breastfeed. Be sure to consult your doctor to learn the best ways to cut down on chafing, soreness, and cracking.
Weeks five and six postpartum
These two weeks, you should start to feel a little more like yourself. You can start to do light exercise with your doctor’s permission, and you may be able to ease back into sexual activity. Be sure to use a method of birth control, as you can get pregnant during this time, and it’s healthiest to allow your body to heal from its last pregnancy before starting a new one.
During this period, your doctor may clear you for more rigorous physical activity, but this differs based on birth method and healing process, as every woman is different. Consult your doctor before returning to normal activities.
By this point, your postpartum bleeding should stop, and you should consult a doctor if it is not lessening or stopping. Your uterus should be back to its regular size, and your body should start to feel a bit more normal again. You may still be experiencing some discomfort and pain as your body readjusts to postpartum life.
The true postpartum process is around six months long. Recovery is a slow and hard process. Your body grew an entire human and then delivered the baby—it may take time to get back to normal, and your body may never look exactly the same as it did before you became pregnant. Remember to take care of yourself as well as your new child during this time, as you are healing and dealing with the struggles of new parenthood. Some women find that wearing their maternity compression pantyhose in the first few weeks postpartum can help with discomfort. Compression is known to have qualities that reduce the appearance of scarring as well, and it’s a popular choice among women who delivered via c-section. Ask your doctor about the use of compression and what benefits it may have for you.