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You’ve gone through months of pregnancy, then labor and, at last, the birth of your baby. Your body has done the most important job of all, so it can take time to recover — physically and emotionally.
The first six weeks following birth are known as the postpartum period (or the “fourth trimester”). It’s a critical time for you and your baby, as new moms are at risk of serious health complications in the days and weeks after giving birth. Postpartum check-ups with your doctor are essential to make sure you’re recovering well.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends seeing your doctor for a checkup within three weeks of giving birth and a complete checkup no later than 12 weeks after, along with ongoing care as needed.
At your checkups, your doctor will monitor your recovery and help you manage any pain, health conditions or pregnancy complications. You will likely be screened frequently for postpartum depression through a questionnaire. This is when you should talk about how you’re feeling and ask questions. Even if you’re feeling fine, don’t miss your postpartum checkups.
Your body will go through a number of changes after giving birth, all while you are trying to care for your newborn and adjust to motherhood. What can you expect during the postpartum period? Your recovery partly depends on what type of delivery you had.
Vaginal delivery is generally easier on a woman’s body, and recovery is usually shorter and less painful. Recovery from a vaginal delivery may be 2-4 weeks. Some drawbacks of vaginal delivery are tears (which usually heal easily) and weakened pelvic muscles. The entire perineal area will likely be swollen and sore (especially if you had an episiotomy), so ice packs or frozen pads can help, as well as sitting on a pillow and soaking in a warm bath. Your doctor may also suggest over-the-counter pain medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help reduce the pain.
Cesarean section (c-section) takes at least 4-6 weeks to recover from, and recovery is often more difficult. Like all surgeries, c-section poses risks of infection, blood loss and other complications. Your incision may be painful and movement can be difficult. Your doctor may advise you to avoid any strenuous lifting or exercise for a period of time.
While every woman’s recovery is unique, some common changes to expect during the postpartum period include:
Although the postpartum period ends after a few months, many women may not feel like themselves for a full year. You need to give your body time to heal. It took over nine months to grow your baby and may require many more for your body to recover.
Continue to have regular check-ups with your doctor. Any problems you had during pregnancy, labor and birth (e.g., preterm birth, gestational diabetes, gestational high blood pressure) may affect your health in the future, so find out how you can reduce your risks.
Take care of yourself physically. Drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods. Limit sweets and fatty foods. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol or use harmful drugs. Increase activity slowly over time. Be on the lookout if you develop a fever, which could indicate an infection.
Also, take care of yourself mentally. Many doctors recommend that all expectant and new mothers be screened for PMADs. Be honest about how you’re feeling. If you experienced a pregnancy loss of any kind, it’s essential to get support.
Call the Mom’s Line at 630-527-7294, or connect with other moms in the Nurturing Mom support group.
Explore behavioral health resources, or call 630-305-5027 for a free behavioral health assessment.
Learn what to expect after your baby is born at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
What nobody tells you about giving birth
Postpartum depression can happen to anyone (even you)
What nobody tells you about breastfeeding
Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago:
Tips to stay healthy during pregnancy
Getting help for perinatal mood and anxiety disorders
Is there a right way to give birth?
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