As a new mom, you’re likely anxious to resume your regular pre-pregnancy activities and show off your newborn. But having a baby is one of the hardest things a woman’s body can do. After 40 weeks of pregnancy and then delivery, your body needs to rest and recover.
Even if you feel great after delivery, it’s vital to slow down and take special care of yourself during your postpartum period. This article provides tips for a successful postpartum recovery, so you can feel your best and take better care of your baby.
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The Postpartum Recovery Period
The postpartum period starts when you deliver your baby and can last for up to one year. This is the time your body needs to heal and recover from the physical stress of pregnancy and childbirth.
Your postpartum recovery period is an important part of your pregnancy. In fact, many health care providers consider the postpartum recovery period “the fourth trimester.” During this time, your body will be working hard to:
- Adapt to changes in your hormone levels.
- Heal incisions from a C-section or episiotomy (a cut at the opening of your vagina).
- Return your uterus and other organs to their pre-pregnancy size.
- Make breastmilk for your newborn and tackle breastfeeding.
A lot is going on inside your body in the weeks after your pregnancy. Your body will heal in time, but getting as much rest as you can will help speed your recovery. Also, there are some things you can do to support your postpartum care.
Recovering Your Pelvic Floor
One crucial part of your body that benefits from postpartum care is your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a hammock-like group of muscles within the pelvis. They stretch from your pubic bone to your tail bone and support the organs above them.
These organs include:
- Your uterus and vagina.
- Your bowel and rectum.
- Your bladder.
The pelvic floor muscles stretch during pregnancy and may weaken or become injured after delivery. That can result in incontinence or leaking urine, especially when you cough, laugh, jump, or run. Weakened pelvic floor muscles may also contribute to bowel incontinence or problems with sexual function.
It’s helpful to begin strengthening your pelvic floor right after having your baby because your stretched muscles will heal faster. Although your doctor may restrict other forms of exercise after delivery, pelvic floor muscle exercises, called Kegel exercises, are usually OK.
Kegel exercises can help:
- Improve circulation to the healing tissues.
- Aid with bladder control.
- Provide support for your pelvic organs and low back during daily tasks, like carrying your baby.
Here’s how to do Kegel exercises:
- Sit comfortably with your legs relaxed.
- Locate your pelvic floor muscles by imagining you are urinating.
- Pretend to stop the urine flow by contracting the muscles around the opening where the urine comes out.
Practice long hold contractions
Contract your pelvic floor muscles for three to five seconds, then relax completely for five seconds. As your muscles get stronger, hold the contraction for 10 seconds and relax for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times. Perform these three times daily.
Practice short contractions
These are known as “quick flick contractions.” Contract your pelvic floor muscles and relax right away, resting for five seconds before contracting again. Do 10 short contractions, three times per day.
Make sure you contact your doctor if you have pelvic floor pain or incontinence. They can refer you to a pelvic floor physical therapist who can help.
Getting Your Abs Back
New moms are always anxious to get their abs back after giving birth, but this takes time. If you had a C-section, it’s essential to let your incision heal, and that can take four to six weeks.
Your abdominal wall may stretch and weaken during your pregnancy, and the muscles can separate. Your muscles need time to recover before advancing your activity and exercise routine.
The medical term for abdominal wall separation is diastasis recti. You can check if you have diastasis recti by:
- Lying on your back and placing your fingers in the center of your belly above your belly button.
- Slowly lift your head until your shoulder blades are off the floor while feeling how many fingers you can fit between the belly muscles.
- Normally, this space is two-finger widths or less. With diastasis recti, the space is larger, but physical therapy can help you heal.
It’s crucial to avoid crunches and sit-ups until the diastasis recti has resolved. Working your abs too soon can contribute to:
- Low back pain.
- Widening of the separation.
- Too much pressure on your pelvic organs and pelvic floor.
Instead, to help tighten your abdominal wall, gently draw in the abdominal muscles like you’re putting on a tight pair of pants. Hold this contraction for three to five seconds but don’t hold your breath. Work up to holding it while standing, walking, and holding your baby.
Lifting and Carrying Your Baby
Taking proper care when lifting and carrying your baby helps prevent back, neck, or shoulder injuries. Try to follow these tips when lifting and carrying your newborn.
- Hold your baby close to your body, keeping their weight balanced on the center of your body.
- When lifting your baby off the floor, stand close by, bend your legs, keep your back straight, and use a squat lift.
- If you carry your baby in a front pack, ensure your baby is centered on your body and snug enough. That keeps your baby’s weight from pulling you forward.
- Avoid carrying your baby on your hip.
- When breastfeeding, hold your baby across your body and cradle their head in your elbow. But instead of leaning over your baby, keep your body upright.
- Try to avoid twisting or bending your back when you lift your baby.
It’s normal to want to be a supermom for your newborn. But caring for yourself during the postpartum period will let you do a better job of caring for your baby.
About UPMC Magee-Womens
Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.
Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.