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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 — are so important for your lifelong health 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! 

5 Jobs To Encourage Full Postpartum Recovery

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: 

Postpartum Job 1: 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 . The first two weeks home, give yourself a baby moon where your only focus is resting, eating well, and feeding. That way, your milk supply has time to get well established and you can do a lot of healing.

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:

  • Practice feeding – it may feel like your baby is eating around the clock – they are!
  • Create repetition – babies crave predictability. Establish habits that you can repeat such as always changing a diaper before nursing, and swaddling for sleep.
  • 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. By 3 weeks they should fall into more of a predictable rhythm and you can start building structure. Until then, feed regularly and embrace you may have to go with the flow a bit more.

You can find a bit of help creating a flexible newborn schedule here. But finish this article first. Remember, taking care of you helps you take care of everyone else.

Postpartum Job 2: 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. 

If 40 days of rest seems like to much, try the 5-5-5 rule instead. Essentially you should expect to spend 5 days in the bed, 5 days on the bed, and 5 days near the bed.

Forget about doing stairs or getting dressed in those first 5 days! Sleep, nap, feed your baby, let others meal prep and clean, while you read, watch TV, hold baby and rest, rest, rest. 

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. Eventually you can add in short walks or trips from upstairs to downstairs. Take it slow and return to bed to rest in-between getting out and about.

Even 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. 

Postpartum Job 3: 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. Anti inflammatory foods will help you and baby physically and mentally the weeks after birth.

  • Fresh, colorful veggies
  • Fruits and berries
  • Iron rich proteins like beef, lamb, liver and bone broths
  • Healthy fats like avocados, ghee, and coconut oil
  • Fatty, low mercury fish like salmon
  • Nutrient rich grains like quinoa and oats
  • probiotic rich foods like yogurt, keifer, kimchi and kombucha

Pro Tip: Though eating healthy nourishing foods is important to your recovery, it is also best if you stay off your feet and out of the kitchen for that first 6 weeks. If you plan ahead, you can stock your freezer with easy meals that reheat well.

If you don’t have time for that, consider having meals delivered from Real Eats to fill in gaps through that first 6 weeks. These meals are always farm fresh, and you simply have to heat and eat. I love their Shredded Chicken Fajitas, the Hearty Turkey Chili, the Citrus Miso Salmon, and the Lobster Macaroni And Cheese. But this is just. the beginning, the options are endless!

Postpartum Job 4: 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. 

Postpartum Job 5: 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 5 most common changes you can expect in the first few weeks postpartum, along with my favorite tips to ease your recovery: 

What To Expect: Postpartum Bleeding

Postpartum bleeding usually lasts 4-6 weeks, but, it can last up to 12 weeks. You may also have stitches that will take time to heal. Make sure to read our guide on how to heal perineal tears quicker after birth as well.

But for now, here’s what you should expect as far as postpartum bleeding:

Day 1-2: during the first day after giving birth, bleeding will be more than a heavy period. And, you may pass clots. Some moms pass several small clots. And when we say small, we don’t mean very small. These can be the size of a plumb. Some moms will pass one large clot that can be the size of an orange! while this is normal, we still think you should point it out to your nurse!

In addition, during the first 24 hours after giving. birth, you may notice a gush of blood when you get up or move. You will want to use the restroom frequently to help the uterus contract and help slow your bleeding.

The first day after giving birth, you should always have someone to help you get up and don’t stand with your baby. It is possible to feel dizzy and maybe even faint if you aren’t supported. So it makes sense to be cautious.

Day 3-5: Bleeding will thin out and become a more pinkish color instead of a bright red color.

Day 5-10: Bleeding will continue to change from red and pink to a darker color indicating the blood is ‘older’ or dried. The color will change to be yellow, white or brown in color.

Day 10 – 6 Weeks: During this time, some moms will bleed quite a bit, and others will hardly bleed at all. You may notice that you bleed more on days you are more active. If this is the case, it is a sign that you should slow down and do less.

When To Call Your Doctor About Postpartum Bleeding

Though bleeding is normal after giving birth, some bleeding may be a sign something is wrong. You should call your care provider if you:

  1. Soak through a pad in 30 minutes to an hour or less.
  2. If your discharge smells bad – it should smell like a normal period, maybe a bit stronger. If it smells like pus or rotting meat call your care provider.
  3. Though it is normal to pass blood clots, too many is not safe. Keep note of how many clots you lose and their approximate size and keep your care provider updated.
  4. Though you may notice bleeding slow and pick up with activity, if it picks up without activity, please reach out to a care provider.
  5. If your uterus is persistently tender, reach out to a care provider.
  6. If you have a fever, reach out to a care provider.

What To Expect: Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness: Most of us assume that the last contraction is the end of any discomfort associated with giving birth. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Almost all women will have pain in their vaginal area and perineum, – even if they didn’t tear.

Vaginal pain will last about 3 weeks for moms who didn’t tear, and may last up to 6 weeks for moms who did tear or who had an episiotomy.

Apart from vaginal pain, many moms will also experience a bit of pain while they pee. In addition, if. a mom had an epidural, soreness in her back at the epidural site.

On top of that, many moms will feel achy from head to foot as labor had her in new and unusual positions for hours and hours on end. If your hips, legs, back, shoulders and jaw hurt, you are not alone.

How To Treat Muscle Soreness

Most doctors will approve use of tylenol or advil the first few days after birth. Of course, speak to your health care provider directly about how much you should take.

Other things that can help are baths, either sitz baths or a nice warm soak in a tub. Again, even for a bath, you should speak with your care provider directly.

Whether or not you can soak in a tub can depend on how you gave birth – vaginal or surgical. And, if you needed stitches or staples, which materials were used.

Taking a nice warm soak can have many benefits, from easing muscle aches, to lowering the risk of infections, promoting blood flow, and simply being relaxing and enjoyable.

Some moms will add epsom salts or herbs to their bath that promote healing. But again, get an okay from your doctor before using these products.

What To Expect: Sore Breasts, Engorgement And Nipple Pain

Sore Breasts:

Although breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt, it actually can the first few days. Just like the rest of your body, your breasts are going through massive changes. So be patient. Your breasts may feel feel tired and sore – similar to how your muscles feel after a workout, or how your feet feel when breaking in a new pair of shoes.

Discomfort is okay. Things that should prompt a call to your doctor, midwife or lactation consultant are:

  • lumps that are painful, persistent, or increasing in size
  • unusual nipple discharge
  • dimpling or puckering of the skin on the breasts
  • an area of hard swelling
  • red streaks on the skin of the breast
  • hot skin around the clogged duct
  • intense pain in the breast
  • fever
  • pus or blood in the breast milk

Breast engorgement:

When you first start nursing, your body will make a yellowish type milk called colostrum. As your milk begins to come in — usually around day 3 after childbirth — your breasts may become very full.Even if you are feeding perfectly, 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).
  • If you have any blocked ducts try a simple massage to help move the milk and relieve discomfort

What To Expect: Constipation And Difficulty Peeing

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. 

What To Expect After Pains

Over the 9 months of pregnancy, your uterus grew 25 times its normal size. It will take time for the uterus to shrink back down. During this time, you may not only still look pregnant, but experience afterpains. Afterpains is when you feel smaller contractions as your uterus shrinks back to size. You most likely will feel this while breastfeeding.

Afterpains can get more intense with each pregnancy. If you don’t notice them much as a first time mom, don’t worry. But most moms will feel them, especially if they are on baby two or more.

What To Expect: Mood Swings

During pregnancy, women have elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen in their bodies. These hormones are busy creating other hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin, which regulate your mood.

Shortly after delivery, these hormones rapidly drop. This causes some moms to feel like they are in a haxe for several weeks or several months after giving birth. It’s normal to have days where you feel weepy, anxious or emotional for no apparent reason. But it shouldn’t last.

“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. 

However, One in 8 women will have postpartum depression, while many others will experience postpartum depletion. Estrogen and progesterone won’t return to normal levels until about three months after delivering your baby. And the rest of your hormones may take 6 months or more to stabilize.

Women who have a family history of depression or anxiety, or who have a lack of support, or who haven’t adequately planned for postpartum are at a much higher risk of having a mood disorder after birth. So I am glad you are here, planning and prepping to take care of yourself!!

How To Help With Mood Swings

There are a lot of factors that go into managing mood. Nutrition plays a huge role in regulating the body. Support plays a huge role. As does adequate sleep and rest. But sometimes it feels like if one of these are off, its difficult to manage the others. For example, a mom who is not rested, won’t have energy to eat well. Also a mom who is nutritionally depleted, might not sleep well.

A great resource to tackle the multiple causes of postpartum depletion is the PostPartum Depletion Cure. You will learn which foods and supplements can help support your full health and recovery.

Because there are so many changes after birth, it is also a good idea for every mom to check in with a therapist a few times before and after birth. My wellbeing is a platform that connects people to therapists in their area digitally. Which is. a great way to get support after giving birth.

What To Expect: To Still Look Pregnant For A Few Weeks

Many moms are surprised that even though they had their baby, they still look pregnant for a while after birth. It is okay and totally normal to keep wearing your maternity clothes the first 6 weeks or more after birth.

It will take 6-8 weeks for your uterus to go back to it’s normal size. Stretch marks begin to fade 6-12 months after delivery. And your skin should slowly lose the extra fluids in the cells and return to how they looked before.

Diastasis recti – which is when your abdominal wall is a bit more separated than normal affects most moms postpartum. 60% of moms will still have a separation 6 weeks postpartum, 45% at 6 months postpartum and 33% will still have a separation a year later.

How To Help With Restoring Your Body

Your first job postpartum is to rest. There is nothing more important than letting your body rest after such intense work as creating a baby and birthing that baby. Then, as you. are ready to return to movement, consider working with a physical therapist. A PT can help you re-engage your muscles properly and resolve separations.

Common complaints about lingering postpartum body aches such as backaches and pelvic floor pressure are often symptoms. of diastasis recti. In addition to working with a physical therapist, there are also exercise programs that can help you heal your diastasis. My favorite of which is Every Mother.

You can see a full review of Every Mother and when it should be used here.

During the immediate postpartum, there is a lot to learn and do. Some moms work exercise in as early as a few days or a few weeks after giving birth. Many moms wait months to years to find a exercise habit again. Making a choice that is right for you is the most important.

Rest assured, that diastasis recti can be healed even years later. You won’t miss your opportunity to heal if you wait until you are ready to have consistent physcial exercises as part of your routine.

Additional Postpartum Recovery Symptoms:

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

These are the most common and more significant changes you should expect after birth. But they aren’t everything.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 6 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

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. 

Postpartum Recovery Kit Checklist: 

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!


Having a couple packs of depends is much easier than fumbling with the giant hospital pads and pads at the house after giving birth. I would recommend getting two packs of depends in you correct size.

Donut Pillow

A donut pillow provides a soft place to sit the first several weeks after birth. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Organic Bath Soak

Certain herbs like comfrey, lavender and chamomile can promote healing and help reduce aches and pains. A good bath soak can help ease that all over aching feeling.

Lansinoh Postpartum Essentials Recovery Bundle

This recovery kit has three amazing things for your beautiful lady area. A peri bottle that is shaped in a way that makes it easier to use than the hospital version. Hot and Cold pack for your perineum, and a healing soothing spray. This is a great kit to have on hand for the first weeks after birth.

Nipple Shields

This piece of plastic goes over your nipples as you are learning to feed. Though some people don’t like them, I do. You and baby are learning how to get a good latch. This helps protect your nipples from bites and shallow latches as they get everything figured out. If you don’t purchase one, you can likely just ask for one at the hospital.

Silver Nipple Covers

Silver nipple covers provide relief and protection to your breasts as you learn to feed your little one. It is recommended to start using 10 days prior to giving birth and 10 days continuously from the day breast feeding starts, in order to gain maximum benefit. Avoid using any cream / lotion type of product as it risks the benefit of the medication prescribed.

Milk Tea

Herbal teas can be an amazing way to get vitamins and minerals into your system that can help you recover and produce milk. I love the Oat Mama Lactation Tea. Herbs like nettle and red raspberry leaf provide  vitamins A, C, K, and some B vitamins, as well as antioxidants and minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. This tea is well balanced with other herbs that quite frankly, tate much better and aren’t difficult to drink.

Postpartum Belly Wrap

A postpartum belly band helps reduce swelling, support core abdominal muscles and helps to return your uterus to its original size sooner. It really helps with that feeling of instability as you regain your core strength.

Compression Socks

You can help reduce swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs with a pair of compression socks. These ones are cute and good quality.

6 Weeks Of Meals

Since nutrition and rest are both essential to healing, it can make sense to order hearty healthy meals for the first serveral weeks after giving birth.

A Checkin With A Therapist and Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist

Having the right support after birth goes beyond the doctor. For a more holistic approach to recovery, check in with both a therapist and a pelvic floor physical therapist after birth.

Your OTC Medicine Cabinet

Make sure you double check with your doctor before taking anything, but in general, it is okay to take over the counter stool softener and over the counter pain relievers such as advil or tylenol. But, as always confirm what is okay for you in your specific postpartum journey.

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!