mom holding newborn standing up wearing padded underwear from postpartum recovery kit

Postpartum Recovery: The Ultimate Care Guide

9 minute read

mom giving baby pacifier as they adjust to life in postpartum recovery mode

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The Importance of Postpartum Care:

No matter how your birth story unfolds…childbirth is one of the most physically demanding experiences you’ll go through in your entire life. Like running a marathon or climbing Mount Everest, your body will need time to rest and recover after such a major physical event!

The first 6 weeks after birth — known as the postpartum period — is so important for your lifelong healing and vitality. Ignoring signs from your body, breezing past your recovery, and jumping back into pre-pregnancy activities too soon can be harmful to your health. 

But knowing what to expect and protecting your postpartum recovery will set you up for success. Follow this Postpartum Recovery Ultimate Care Guide so you can be the best version of yourself and take care of your new bundle of joy! 

Postpartum Recovery Care Guide:

You’re physically exhausted, sleep-deprived, and adjusting to everyday life with your little one. Although it’s important to care for your baby, you also have to take care of yourself! 

Even if you had the smoothest pregnancy and your delivery was a breeze…your muscles have been stretched to the max and will need a little time to heal. 

Here’s what you can do to have an easier transition in the immediate postpartum period: 

Bond With Your Baby:

mom cosleeping with baby as she rests after recovering from giving birth.

Gazing into each other’s eyes…sweet snuggles…first baths…There’s nothing like spending time with your new baby. This bonding is also good for you and can release positive hormones in your body like oxytocin and endorphins that will benefit your postpartum recovery. 

So soak in those precious moments and give yourself time to get into a routine with your little one. At times it may feel like you don’t know what you’re doing…but that’s ok! You’re both learning, so it may take some time! Focus on the basics:

  • Establishing a feeding routine — chest/breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
  • Getting into a rhythm of baby care basics — burping, diapering, soothing, swaddling, bathing.
  • Letting your baby sleep when they need it — don’t worry if their days and nights are confused at first. They’ll most likely sleep in spurts of 2-4 hours off and on throughout the day/night. 

Get Plenty of Rest

For centuries, many cultures around the world have observed a special “lying-in” period — usually around 40 days long — following the birth of a baby. During this time, birthing parents are only expected to rest, recover, nurse and bond with their babies.

But often we think we can do more sooner than we actually can. You may find yourself being tempted to do more in those early days than you should…and this can actually lead to problems down the road. 

A good rule of thumb to follow as you prepare for your postpartum recovery is the 5-5-5 rule. Essentially you should expect to spend 5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed, 5 days near the bed.

Forget about doing stairs or getting dressed in those first 5 days! Sleep, nap, chest/breastfeed, read, watch TV and rest, rest, rest.  You may find it is convenient to have baby within arms reach in these first weeks and maybe even beyond.

And as you feel ready, start to spend 30 minutes away from your bed — maybe sitting in your favorite cozy chair in the living room or on your front porch. Take it slow and return to bed to rest in-between getting out and about.

If you start to feel a little “stir crazy,” try not to venture too far from home in those first 2 weeks. A short walk may be just what you need — but not jetting off to some other part of the city. Don’t expect to be your old self quite yet. Take things slow especially when it comes to walking, exercising, etc. 

Eat Warm, Nourishing Foods

What type of food comes to mind when you’re not feeling well? 

For me, there’s nothing like sipping on a savory, hot soup to help you feel grounded when you’re exhausted or anxious. 

And in the postpartum period — it’s super important to be fed warm, nourishing, revitalizing foods that encourage recovery, balance hormones, fight fatigue and encourage lactation. Plus, warm foods are just plain comforting and will bring energy back into your body to help you rest, recover and heal… 

But when you’re sleep deprived — or have a grumbly tummy — it may be tempting to reach for anything that’s quick and easy… Fast-food, cold cereal, processed snacks… 

Before you reach for your favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, just remember that maintaining a healthy diet will promote your healing and a smoother recovery.

Pro Tip: Keeping the house stocked with nourishing foods can be a challenge. Simplify your life by using instacart to have your favorite foods delivered to your door – without having to order out every night. If you’ve never used instacart before, you may even be able to grab a free week of deliveries.

Be Gentle with Yourself

Your hormone levels are changing — again — so you may feel more emotional at times. You may also be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed as you adjust to life with your new baby. 

That’s totally normal! In fact, 80% of birthing people experience baby blues. 

At times it may feel like you’re on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but remember that these feelings won’t last forever. 

Prioritize self-care to promote your physical and emotional healing. Whether that’s taking 30 minutes to soak in a warm sitz bath or calling up your best friend to have a quick chat. 

Be patient as your body physically, emotionally, and mentally heals from labor and adjusts to life postpartum. 

Lean on Your Postpartum “Village” 

Everyone will be really excited to see your new baby, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding visitors! 

But it’s important to be careful who you invite into your home in those early days postpartum. Hosting an endless stream of visitors is a quick way to feel even more exhausted and overwhelmed. 

Talk with your partner to determine which family and friends will visit and when. 

And while you’re resting and recovering, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Whether it’s starting a load of laundry, running an errand, or picking something up from the grocery store…Most likely the people that love and care about you want to help out, they just need to know how they can be there for you. 

If you don’t have family members close-by, consider hiring a postpartum doula to make the transition a smoother experience. 

What to Expect: Postpartum Recovery Body Changes: 

new moms snuggling with newborn

Many things are happening in your body right after you have a baby. While everyone’s experience will be different, you may be wondering what your postpartum body will be like after giving birth. 

Here are the 4 most common changes you can expect in the first few weeks postpartum, along with my favorite tips to ease your recovery: 

  • Postpartum bleeding: Usually lasts 4-6 weeks. At first it will be like a very heavy period for the first 3-10 days. And then it will become lighter in flow and color as your body recovers. 

What you can do: Use mesh or disposable underwear and sanitary pads until the discharge stops. 

  • Muscle soreness: You may experience muscle soreness all over your body after giving birth. Whether you gave birth vaginally or by a c-section, your body went through intense strain during contractions, which can lead to lower back pain, a stiffness in your neck and shoulders, hip pain, abdominal, perineal, and vaginal soreness. 

What you can do: 

  • Soak in a warm bath. 
  • Ask your provider about pain medication. 
  • Breast engorgement: As your milk begins to come in — usually around day 3 after childbirth — your breasts may become very full. If feeding or pumping doesn’t remove enough of the milk from your breasts, they may become engorged. This can be uncomfortable and even painful. Try out these helpful tips to ease your symptoms. 

What you can do: 

  • Breastfeed your baby. Try not to miss a feeding or go a long time between feedings. Don’t skip night feedings.
  • Take a warm shower or lay warm towels on your breasts to help your milk flow. If your engorgement is really painful, put cold packs on your breasts.
  • If you’re not planning to breastfeed, wear a firm, supportive bra (like a sports bra).
  • Constipation: It’s common to experience constipation after giving birth as your bowels return to “normal.” Forgetting to hydrate or eat a healthy diet that’s rich in fiber can aggravate your symptoms. 

What you can do: 

  • Eat a well-balanced diet that’s rich in fiber. 
  • Hydrate throughout the day.
  • Ask your provider about using a stool softener. 

Additional Postpartum Recovery Symptoms:

There are many discomforts and body changes that happen after giving birth. These are perfectly normal — your body is simply changing now that your baby has been born! 

Along with the 4 most common postpartum symptoms described above, you may also experience: 

  • Nipple pain
  • Swelling in your hands and feet
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Stretch marks
  • Postpartum hair loss
  • Postpartum headaches
  • Postpartum night sweats
  • Postpartum anxiety and stress

While annoying, uncomfortable, or even painful… These symptoms are not that unusual. Talk to your provider about treatment options to relieve any pain or discomfort that you may be experiencing. 

“Baby-Blues” vs. Postpartum Depression

new mom holding baby feeling sad and overwhelmed baby blues vs post partum depression in postpartum recovery

It’s ok to feel sadness even while holding your precious bundle of joy in your arms. Maybe your birth experience wasn’t everything you hoped it would be. Or adjusting to life as a new parent is a lot harder than you thought. 

It’s important to take note of these feelings, even if they’re hard to acknowledge or talk about. 

“Baby blues” are not uncommon and are caused by all the hormonal changes taking place in your body. In fact 70-80% of birthing parents experience mood swings or negative feelings after giving birth. 

Often the symptoms of the “baby blues” will hit forcefully within the first two to five days after your baby is born. You may be experiencing the “baby-blues” if you notice these symptoms:

  • Unexplained crying
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness
  • Mood changes
  • Restlessness

These symptoms may last for a few minutes or a few hours each day. But they generally subside within the first two weeks postpartum. 

If you experience the “baby-blues” you can take care of yourself by: 

  • Talk with your partner, a family member or friend about how you are feeling.
  • Maintain a well-balanced diet. Omega-3 fats are super important for your health right now and too many simple carbohydrates can make mood swings more pronounced. 
  • Write down your thoughts or feelings in a journal. 
  • Sit near a window or get outside for a few minutes to enjoy some fresh air.
  • Ask for help with any tasks that may be causing you stress (meals, errands, caring for other children, etc.).

And most importantly, don’t expect perfection in the first few weeks! It’s important to give yourself time to heal from birth, to adjust to life as a new parent, and get used to your new routines. 

A Word About Postpartum Depression

The “baby-blues” are the least severe form of postpartum depression. But if your symptoms increase or don’t subside after two weeks, you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

I want you to know that you aren’t alone if you’re experiencing these feelings. 1 in 7 birthing people experience postpartum depression.  

And the good news is that there are treatment options for postpartum depression. The important thing is to be aware of what you’re experiencing and reach out for help when you need it. Start by contacting your healthcare provider to get the support you need.

There are even therapist you can see online that can help you work through this challenging transition in life.

My #1 Tip For Preparing for Your Postpartum Care:

mom resting with newborn on her chest

Putting together a postpartum recovery kit! Stocking up on these must-have postpartum products ahead of time will help you heal and ease into the transition of being a new parent. Here’s a simple checklist to get you started!

Postpartum Recovery Kit Checklist: 

Want to simplify the process with an all-in-one kit? Here are my favorites: 

Frida Postpartum Recovery Kit

This postpartum kit from Frida has many of the postpartum must-haves in one place! I especially love Frida’s 5-step postpartum regimen! This kit will provide everything you need to cleanse, wear, cool and absorb, soothe and relieve pain in the perineal area.

Putting This Postpartum Recovery Care Guide Into Action!

The excitement of meeting your new baby may have motivated you to get through the tough times in your pregnancy. And while you’ll have LOTS of adjustments as you get used to life with your new baby, it’s important to take care of yourself during the postpartum period. 

Just by reading this guide will put you way ahead of the curve. But remember that your postpartum recovery will be unique. 

Most moms will make a full, or near full recovery in the first 6 weeks. The more rest you get, the more progress your body will make. However, after 6 weeks, if you have lingering pains, leak urine or just feel uncomfortable, talk with a pelvic floor physical therapist and begin understanding pelvic floor and diastasis recti symptoms.

Be extra kind to yourself in the first weeks with your baby. Your body just got you through what’s likely the most enormous physical task of your life!

With the right self care, you’ll be feeling like yourself again in no time!