- Postpartum refers to the first six weeks after childbirth.
- As much as this time is about the baby, postpartum care for the person who gave birth should also be a priority.
- Postpartum care includes taking care of both the mental and physical health of the person who gave birth.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Navigating life after pregnancy can be tough on a new parent. The initial aftermath of having a baby requires both a physical and mental recovery period. But just as a person who gives birth must learn how to take care of their newborn, they’re simultaneously figuring out how to take care of their body postpartum.
Healthline defines postpartum as the first six weeks after childbirth. As much as this is the time to celebrate the baby, it’s also a critical time for the parent who gave birth’s overall health. If you or someone you know has recently given birth, there are a lot of questions that still need to be answered.
Here are 12 of the most commonly asked questions about postpartum care to help you through the process.
Is it normal to experience spotting/bleeding postpartum?
After giving birth, your vagina goes through a readjusting period. The vaginal muscles are recovering, shrinking, and the lining is renewing itself. Amidst all these changes, you may see some spots of blood in your underwear, on the toilet paper, and though it can be alarming, Dr. Paul Parker, a renowned plastic surgeon based in Paramus, New Jersey, and author of “What To Expect After You’re Done Expecting,” told INSIDER it’s completely normal.
“[Spotting or bleeding postpartum] is a natural response called ‘lochia’- and it is a common occurrence until your vaginal lining is renewed,” said Parker. Essentially, lochia is a vaginal discharge comprised of blood and uterine tissue, and, according to the Cleveland Clinic, the mixture emits a “stale, musty odor” similar to a menstrual discharge.
Typically Parker said that lochia starts out brighter red, but over the course of 10 to 14 days, becomes increasingly lighter. It’s a natural occurrence, but “if you are still spotting after four weeks,” Parker told INSIDER that’s a sign you should be scheduling a checkup with your OBGYN.
When will my period become regular again?
Just as every body is different, so is every menstrual cycle, which is exactly why period regularity depends on the person, Dr. Brooke Vandermolen, an obstetrics and gynecology doctor, medical writer, and blogger told INSIDER.
In addition to your hormones trying to navigate their new “normal,” Vandermolen also said that your breastfeeding status can play a role in this, too. This is because when someone breastfeeds, the hormones in breast milk suppress their body’s natural cycles. Therefore, if you exclusively breastfeed, your period might not be back on track for six months or longer, she said. If you mix feed (breastfeed and bottle feed), you might start ovulating sooner rather than later.
“For many women, it may take a few months for your cycles to regulate again, and if you are mixed feeding then you may find your periods are irregular and may be more like spotting than usual flow,” Vandermolen said. “Once you stop breastfeeding, or if your baby has formula from birth, you may find your period returns after around four to eight weeks.”
Where is postpartum pain most common, and how can I treat it?
Though a person’s body is designed to carry children, pregnancy is a very physical strain, and it isn’t uncommon for that strain to linger postpartum. That being said where, and how severe, the pain will be depends on what type of birth you had.
For example, if you underwent a c-section, Vandermolen told INSIDER it would be normal to experience pain around the incision, and “general soreness in your muscles and abdomen.” This is common for up to six weeks, so to reduce the pain, Vandermolen suggested talking to your doctor about which painkillers to take that will suppress the soreness without making you constipated.
On the other side of that is if you had a vaginal birth, you’ll likely experience pain if you have a tear or episiotomy (a surgical cut made at the entrance of the vagina during a difficult delivery) wound. To ease this pain, Vandermolen told INSIDER regular painkillers can help, as well as natural remedies such as sitting on a ring cushion, applying a pack of ice to the area, and/or pouring a cup of warm water over your vulva to reduce burning when you pee.
When can I start exercising postpartum?
Depending on how smooth of a delivery you had, you might feel amazing postpartum, or slow and sluggish. Everyone is different, but even if you feel like a new person after going through labour, Dr. Patrice Harold, director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology at Detroit Medical Center‘s Hutzel Women’s Hospital told INSIDER that doctors recommend people who give birth wait six to eight weeks before picking back up in the gym.
This is an especially important rule to adhere to if you experienced bleeding during delivery, had lacerations and needed stitches, or endured a cesarean section. But even if eight weeks comes and goes, and your still not feeling up to resuming your fitness routine, Harold said the best thing you can do is listen to your body.
“Women usually know what their baseline is,” she told INSIDER. “I might [suggest patients] start off with 5-10 minutes a day and gradually increase the time spent exercising [when they’re ready].”
When can I start having sex again?
Like exercise, sex is a very physical activity. Because your body needs time to heal, Vandermolen told INSIDER it’s advised to wait at least four to six weeks before having sex postpartum for a number of reasons.
“Your entire life has changed, and your body has been through a major experience or operation,” Vandermolen explained. Between having to make sure your wounds are fully healed, the fact that your cervix needs time to return to its fully closed, high position, and the likely chance that you will experience vaginal bleeding, physical intimacy should be approached with caution even after that six-week mark.
What’s more, Vandermolen points out that you might not be well adjusted mentally or emotionally postpartum. “Your partner may mean well, but they aren’t experiencing all the physical changes so don’t do anything until you are fully ready,” she said.
Why am I constipated?
Pregnancy is a full-body experience, and if you endure a c-section, you may not realise that your bowels could be handled during the procedure. Under those circumstances, constipation is “extremely common,” Vandermolen said, so it’s important to “stay active,” and “eat small, light meals” until your bowels become regular again.
Should I go back on birth control after having my baby?
Yes, but there’s a catch.
Vandermolen told INSIDER you can get pregnant as early as three weeks after delivery. However, what birth control you should be on postpartum depends on whether or not you’re breastfeeding.
“If you are planning to breastfeed, then the only birth control that is not advised is oestrogen-containing pills (i.e. the combined contraceptive pill),” Vandermolen explained. “Otherwise, long-acting contraceptives are a great idea, such as a coil (copper or Mirena) which can be inserted at your six-week check and don’t require you to remember to take anything in those hectic days with your newborn!”
What does it mean if my breasts are lumpy and/or are sore?
According to the Journal of Clinical Nursing, more than 75% of women experience breast tenderness during pregnancy. Postpartum is more of the same as your breasts are producing milk for your newborn.
Vandermolen told INSIDER that not only is it possible for the milk ducts in the breasts to become clogged postpartum, they can also become infected and form lumps. “You can try breast massage to relieve the blockage,” she said, “but if you are worried you have an infection or you have a lump that is not going away, then it is time to get yourself down to see your doctor!”
How can I beat postpartum fatigue?
According to a recent study published the journal Sleep and performed by a team of researchers from the UK’s University of Warwick, the German Institute for Economic Research, and West Virginia University, parents struggle to get back to a regular sleep cycle for a whopping six years postpartum. That being said, there are ways to cope through the sleepless nights.
“This comes down to the old mantra ‘sleep when the baby sleeps,’ but of course this is very rarely possible, as nap-time is often the only chance you get to shower/ change clothes/ eat, etc.,” Vandermolen told INSIDER. “Having a supportive partner really helps, and trying to avoid filling your days with too many activities so that you can rest when you get a chance as well.”
Will my hair ever grow back?
People can experience some hair loss due to hormonal shifts postpartum, but the good news is it does grow back. To speed things along, Harold told INSIDER taking prenatal vitamins, avoiding chemicals in the hair, and steering clear of styles that might strain the follicles, can help hair restore its strength and prevent fallout.
What’s the difference between ‘baby blues’ and postpartum depression?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, “70-80% of all new mothers experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child.” This typically happens three to five days postpartum, Vandermolen told INSIDER, and the most common symptoms are mood swings and becoming tearful.
If these sort of negative emotions don’t improve, and you continue to feel anxious or depressed, Vandermolen said you might be suffering from postpartum depression, and should seek help immediately.
“Postnatal depression and anxiety are incredibly common and it is so important that it is identified early to help you receive the support and treatment that you may need,” she explained. “Communicating your feelings can really help so others around you know how you are feeling. If you have a supportive partner or family it can be useful to allow them to take the baby for a walk and give you a break for an hour or two per day.”
How long should I wait to get pregnant again?
Just because you can get pregnant quickly after delivery, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s recommended.
“If you have had a vaginal birth, then there aren’t any particular rules against getting pregnant quickly, apart from giving yourself 4-6 weeks to heal physically before having intercourse again,” Vandermolen told INSIDER. “If you have had a C section then we generally advise 1 year between pregnancies, from the time you deliver to the time you conceive again.”
Every body, however, is different, and giving birth is a full body experience that can take a toll on your entire body. To ensure your body is ready to and that you’re mentally and physically well equipped to handle a second delivery so soon, it’s best to talk to your doctor for more personalised advice.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.