By Ali Weatherford
Complete healing after pregnancy and birth is CRITICAL! And for the most part, it’s the same conversation whether you have a vaginal birth or a cesarean birth.
We focus a lot on having a healthy pregnancy. We watch what we eat, we try to rest and exercise, take our vitamins and have lots of visits with our care providers. Most people then take some time to prepare for birth. It’s a big deal.
We may have very important ideas about birth, and want to do whatever we can to help make that happen. We also will probably give a lot of thought to taking care of a baby. We may take a newborn care or breastfeeding class, we prepare a room, and we collect lots of STUFF. We may even set up childcare while we’re still pregnant! Unfortunately, the preparation usually stops here.
Create a Postpartum Self Care Plan
Postpartum is a word that simply means after birth. This is a very special time that should be handled carefully and thoughtfully. You not only need to recover physically from pregnancy and birth and take care of a baby, but it is also the first part of your parenting journey. Becoming a parent for the first time is a rite of passage. You may need to do a lot of shifting and transforming physically, emotionally, personally, professionally, socially, and even spiritually as you start your parenting journey! There is SO much going on at this point.
My favorite two pieces of advice for this POSTPARTUM period are:
- Clear your expectations.
You may get some advice from friends and family about how to handle this transition. They might tell you to breastfeed plenty so you can lose the baby weight faster (not true for everyone). They might tell you not to hold the baby too much or you may spoil them (not true AT ALL). Most of the time, the advice is not very helpful. Consider taking a little time to think about how you want to spend your time in recovery and make a plan of action.
Take Time for Recovery
We live in a country where the postpartum period is not handled with the care and reverence that it deserves. In some cultures, a lot of time and attention are given to a woman in the postpartum period. They receive a lot of support and tenderness from family and their community. Significant time off from work outside the home is encouraged. The general idea is that this is a time to rest and recuperate.
In the United States, unfortunately, the predominant message is that we should “bounce back” as quickly as possible. I’m pretty sure there is an award given for people who can get their pre-pregnancy body right back, go right back to working effectively outside the home, and can go right back to having a vigorous sex life and social life. Well no, there actually isn’t an award for that, but doesn’t it seem like people are competing for one? Listening to other people and the media can give us the mistaken idea that this is the way it’s supposed to be. It is not supposed to be this way!
Because of these unhealthy but widely held beliefs, we might enter the postpartum period with the expectation that we need to hurry up and get back to life as it was. I think you should clear your expectations about this. You DON’T need to rush ‘back’. There is no ‘back’ and there shouldn’t be!
You are supposed to be different. You’re a parent now, and that’s a really big deal. You were a caterpillar, and then your pregnancy was the time you wrapped yourself into a cocoon, a chrysalis. You give birth and emerge a butterfly. A butterfly has to give itself time for its wings to dry before it can fly. Your DNA is the same, but your cells and self get to reform into something new, different, and probably better. I hope that you can embrace this idea because it makes this transition feel very different.
Some Good Evidence that we Need to Do Things Differently
- It is an indisputable fact that breastfeeding is healthy, but breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are low compared to many other countries. Some of the main reasons for this are minimal parental leave policies and lack of social support during pregnancy and postpartum.
- Up to 50% of women will experience pelvic organ prolapse after birth. This is when our bladder, uterus, or rectum end up lower in our pelvis because of soft tissue injury or improper healing. When this happens, you might feel a bulging sensation in the vagina, heaviness, pain with sex, bladder or fecal incontinence, or trouble controlling gas.
- Up to 40% of women will experience diastasis recti after birth. This is when the abdominal muscles don’t heal back together after pregnancy. Everyone’s abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy. They have to in order to make room for the huge uterus! Sometimes, they don’t rejoin and heal properly. This might cause back pain, weakness in the core, and a belly pooch that looks like a small pregnant belly.
- Approximately 20% of people experience postpartum depression after birth. This is a lot, and this can really interfere with your physical and emotional recovery. It can interfere with breastfeeding, parenting, self-confidence, and your ability to go back to work. One major common factor among people with postpartum depression is a lack of support.
The important thing to remember is that these things can be significantly improved if you take the time and rest you need to HEAL COMPLETELY. When employers support you by giving you more time at home, you can do a great job of establishing breastfeeding, and that means you can continue it more easily even after you go back to work. When you have help at home, you can spend more time in bed, allowing your body to heal. There is a lot of evidence that shows decreased rates of pelvic organ prolapse and diastasis recti when people rest for an appropriate amount of time.
When new moms stay in bed more, breastfeeding rates also improve. Spending time with your baby on your body in bed allows you to bond and produce the hormones your body needs to establish a great milk supply and give you protection against postpartum depression.
You can see how it all works better when we can change our expectations and get plenty of rest. The more you do this, the better chance you have of making this an empowering transition, but you can only rest and recover when you have support.
A Few of my Favorite Postpartum Tips
- After a vaginal birth, there will most likely be vaginal swelling and soreness! Ice packs help. You can buy special ice packs for this purpose OR you can make your own by soaking a menstrual pad in water and putting it in the freezer.
- Peeing and pooping might be really intimidating and even painful at first! Wiping is not recommended, and instead, you’re supposed to rinse with water. You might use an irri-bottle provided by the hospital, a peri-bottle that you might like to purchase yourself, or you might like to buy and install a handheld bidet sprayer for your toilet like this one which can make the rinsing much easier!
- Eating well will help you feel better and heal faster. It can also make peeing and pooping less problematic and uncomfortable. This article by registered dietician, Lily Nichols, has some great recipes to help you nourish your body best after birth. The book The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother is another great resource.
- Consider seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist. You can get some good ideas by meeting with someone during pregnancy to help you prepare to have a better birth and recovery, or you might see someone after you give birth if things aren’t feeling or working quite right.
- Many experts agree that staying in bed a lot can help you heal and prevent problems. A general guideline offered by some experts is:
- One week IN THE BED. The first week you are mostly horizontal. Of course, you get up to use the bathroom, have a shower, and get a glass of water, but mostly you are in the bed lying down.
- One week ON THE BED. In the second week, you can be more upright. You’re sitting up more, and maybe getting up for simple things more often. But you’re not doing chores, taking long walks, or staying on your feet for long.
- One week AROUND THE BED. The third week you’re spending more time out of the bed, but you’re not taking big excursions out. You are “around the bed” so you can get in it if you feel a little drained if you start bleeding more, if you feel some heaviness in the pelvis, or if you get a chance for a nap.
- Set up help for yourself now. When you have supportive people helping you with baby care, food, and household duties, you’ll be better able to take the time you need to rest and recover. These might include family, friends, or people you hire! Postpartum doulas can be another great way to get the help you need. They can give the kind of support you need to heal. In my area, postpartum doulas are in short supply, so be sure to schedule someone as soon as possible!
There is a lot more to know about healthy recovery in the postpartum period! To learn more about this topic, consider taking our live-taught online classes called What Happens After Birth? Postpartum Recovery, Healing & Restoration and Take It Easy: The Importance of Self-Care in Pregnancy & Postpartum.
And if you have any issues at all, please contact your medical professional
Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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