Most women are well supported during pregnancy. There’s no shortage of information about how baby is growing, what supplements to take, what to eat, and of course, all that baby gear you’re going to need!
But then, the baby comes. And you’re completely lost. Newborn life is hard, not to mention, it’s incredibly overwhelming to manage breastfeeding struggles, scars and/or stitches, and knowing how to take care of your body postpartum with little to no sleep.
If you’re here because you are struggling through postpartum recovery, know that you aren’t alone. Postpartum with both of my kids were the hardest weeks of my life.
What is the Postpartum Period?
Technically, the postpartum period can be divided into three stages—the initial phase (immediately after childbirth), the subacute postpartum period (from weeks 2-6), and the delayed postpartum period (up to six months).
However, I’d personally describe postpartum as the first year after giving birth. During this time, the body is recovering from the physical stress of a 9+ month pregnancy, and is working to restore all the nutrients depleted during pregnancy.
Despite the fact that labor (and taking care of an infant) is one of the most demanding things a woman’s body will go through, there’s typically a lot of societal pressure to get back to “normal”—whatever that means—within the first three months postpartum. Many parents head back to work by then, and women feel an added sense of pressure to “get their body back”, postpartum rather than taking the much needed rest time to ease the transition.
Simultaneously, newborns are in the fourth trimester. Their sleep is all over the place, they need to be held 24/7, and they’re regularly fussy due to overstimulation, leaps, digestive issues, teething, and emotional processing. For caregivers, this results in complete and utter exhaustion.
So, what can you do to survive and take care of your body postpartum? Here are eight things you need to do for postpartum recovery.
8 Things You Need to Do for Postpartum Recovery
1. Have a support system in place (even if it feels uncomfortable to ask for help!)
You must accept help and support from others, even if it’s uncomfortable to do so. Ask your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, church groups, and/or gym friends if they’d be willing to drop off a meal after the baby comes. Sometimes, people will even offer to set up a meal train without you having to ask. Say yes! Meals are the easiest way people can help, and one of the hardest things to get done postpartum. Your body needs nutrients, and food for you and your spouse should be the priority.
I also recommend having family (other than you spouse) stay at the house early postpartum to help with laundry, cooking, and cleaning. If you have family that you have a good relationship with, see if they’d be willing to help out.
If family isn’t able to help, consider hiring a postpartum doula for a few days or nights in those early weeks. A postpartum doula can help care for other children, cook, clean, and hold the baby so that you can sleep or take a shower.
2. Yes, breastfeeding is challenging, and you need support from a professional
Breastfeeding is hard. In fact, after two unmedicated births, I regularly said “I’d rather be in labor!” in those first few weeks postpartum because breastfeeding was so much more mentally challenging.
The best thing you can do? Have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) you can get in touch with and see on short notice. While still pregnant, ask your care providers if they have a recommendation, or search google or local breastfeeding facebook groups for IBCLCs in your area. I highly recommend calling a few lactation consultants in advance so that when you’re in those early weeks postpartum, you already have the information you need.
Many IBCLCs will answer text messages immediately (even at night!) and do home visits. With both of my children, I saw an IBCLC 3-5 times in first month because I was constantly dealing with issues. Without my lactation consultants, I wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed.
Side note: Your delivering hospital will also have IBCLCs on staff. You’ll likely be visited by one a few times a day in the maternity ward. When you are, ask about follow-up appointments and breastfeeding support groups. Much of the time, follow-up appointments and support groups at the hospital are totally free!
3. Load up on nutrient-dense foods and stay hydrated
During pregnancy, your nutrient supply is depleted. And if you’re breastfeeding, your body continues to take calories and nutrients from you to make milk for your baby. As a result, most women will need a good solid year to sufficiently replenish nutrients. Focus on eating high-quality, nutrient-dense foods like pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed beef, oily fish, fruits, vegetables, and nourishing fats like coconut, olives, and avocados.
Of course, this is much easier said than done when your life has been turned upside down by a newborn (insert: meal train as mentioned above!) When meals aren’t provided, stock up on easy to grab nutrient-dense foods that don’t need any preparation such as fresh fruit (bananas, apples, berries), nut butter or coconut butter packets, dried fruit bars like RXbars, or make your own trail mix with nuts and seeds.
And drink plenty of water, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Each time you breastfeed your baby, you should be rehydrating. Make sure your partner is on hydration duty (filling up your water bottle and making sure you’re drinking) in those first few weeks.
4. Keep taking supplements
Because your body has been depleted of many resources throughout pregnancy and birth, it’s important you continue to provide as many nutrients as possible through healthy, whole food and supplements.
If you’re breastfeeding, stay on your prenatal vitamin. Make sure you’re also taking a high-quality vitamin D + K2 supplement (read this for more information about what dosage is appropriate so that your baby gets enough through breast milk), magnesium, and a high-quality multi-strain probiotic and feminine probiotic for vaginal health.
If you had a c-section or were given antibiotics for any reason during labor, repopulate your gut by increasing your probiotic supplementation, and eating plenty of probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
5. Get plenty of pain-relieving care for “down there”
For perineal healing, I recommend Earth Mama Organics Perineal Balm, Moverlove Sitz Bath Spray, and Moverlove Rhoid Balm. You can also use the Earth Mama Organics Herbal Sitz Bath in the sitz bath the hospital provides. If you had a c-section, try the Earth Mama Organics Scar Balm.
Going to the bathroom after baby can be challenging, especially if you have stitches. The Fridababy MomWasher Bottle is a super easy way to spray and soothe before you go.
While there are many natural products that help promote healing and provide pain relief, do not feel guilty about taking any conventional medications to get through those first few weeks. I personally chose to take the hospital provided stool softer after my births, and took ibuprofen around the clock while dealing with afterbirth pains and breastfeeding nipple damage. If that’s what helps you get through it, don’t feel shame about it.
6. Ask your care provider for mental health resources
With research indicating that as many as 15-25 percent of women in the U.S. develop postpartum depression, it’s incredibly important to ask your care provider for mental health resources. If you think you have postpartum depression or anxiety, what do you do? Who do you talk to? Can you get a referral to a therapist? These questions should be asked before you have the baby so you can easily shift to getting the care you need when in the thick of it. I personally love postpartum.net. And if you’re already in the thick of it, call your care provider immediately.
7. Set boundaries with visitors
Let me just put it out there. You are not a host to postpartum visitors. If you don’t feel comfortable being without a shower, wearing bagging sweatpants, or breastfeeding in front of the people who want to visit, they shouldn’t be in your home. And if they aren’t OK not holding the baby (because the baby is finally sleeping after 3 hours of screaming), they also should wait to visit.
Furthermore, if people want to visit from out of town, they shouldn’t be staying in your home unless they plan to cook, clean, and hold your baby for you while you poop. Be honest with the people who want to visit or bring meals. You must protect your mental health.
8. Schedule a visit with a pelvic floor physical therapist
Whether you delivered vaginally or via c-section, every woman who has given birth should see a pelvic floor physical therapist six weeks postpartum. Pregnancy and birth completely changing your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles, and before you get back into any sort of exercise, these muscles need to be appropriately rehabbed. (Because no, you shouldn’t be leaking when you cough or sneeze.)
A pelvic floor physical therapist can assess diastasis recti, pelvic floor weaknesses, and can even help you improve severe conditions like pelvic organ prolapse. You’ll be given exercises to do to improve your pelvic floor and core function, and your physical therapist will show you how to do exercises properly so you don’t exacerbate the problem. Early intervention is key and can set you up for success long-term.
When you go to your six week postpartum visit with your care provider, ask for a referral to a pelvic floor physical therapist. It is often covered by insurance, so there is no reason not to go.
For additional info on how to support your body postpartum, check out these episodes of the Well Fed Women Podcast:
- Well Fed Women Podcast #188: Thyroid Disorders: Taking Shame Out of Prenatal and Postpartum Health (Part 1) with Alaena Haber
- Well Fed Women Podcast #190: Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: Taking Shame Out of Prenatal and Postpartum Health (Part 2) with Anita Lambert
- Well Fed Women Podcast #192: Breastfeeding Challenges: Taking Shame Out of Prenatal and Postpartum Health (Part 3) with Beth Martin
- Well Fed Women Podcast #194: Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: Taking Shame Out of Prenatal and Postpartum Health (Part 4) with Claire Koch
- Well Fed Women Podcast #196: An Unplanned C-section: Taking Shame Out of Prenatal and Postpartum Health (Part 5) with Liz Wolfe
What things did you find helpful through postpartum recovery? How did you take care of your body postpartum? Share below!