While people love to read about what to expect when you’re expecting, knowing what to expect when you’re postpartum is equally as important. After all, a healthy parent can make all the difference in their baby’s health. On the other hand, if you’re not taking care of your physical and mental health, you’ll likely have a difficult time caring for your baby too. “Everyone’s postpartum healing timeline will look different,” Ovia Health Coach, Lilly Schott, says. Since everyone’s birth story is unique, we can expect their postpartum stories to be unique, too. But there are some general rules of thumb.
Postpartum healing timeline
Typically, after a week, you will be able to get out of bed on your own and eat a proper meal. Whether you’ve experienced pain from a C-section or vaginal/perineal pain from a vaginal birth, that immediate discomfort normally subsides after a week or so.
While that first week can be very challenging, most people will be feeling much better quickly. But what happens after week one? And what if your pain doesn’t improve over time?
Here’s the typical postpartum healing timeline.
The first six weeks
By week two, postpartum moms are typically able to get up, get dressed, and even go for a light walk. However, your doctor will discourage you from doing anything that causes pain. So, if movement doesn’t feel good just yet, skip it. “For some people, taking a short walk might need to wait until 4-6 weeks postpartum,” Schott says. You should have an in-person or virtual appointment around the 2 week mark. It may include a wound check and should definitely include a discussion of your mental health.
Your next routine appointment, and generally the last with your OB provider, will be around week 6 postpartum. Unfortunately, we have an expectation in our society that by week six, women will be able to exercise, have sex, and generally get back to many of their pre-pre pregnancy routines. But that’s not always the case. Your physical and mental recovery will be different from the next person’s — even if you gave birth on the same day.
If you’re still experiencing pain or leaking urine by six weeks, that might mean you need more support or intervention. “You could look for that support before the six-week mark, too,” Schott says.
Three months postpartum
“Your body is going through a tremendous amount of upheaval for the first three months and needs a lot more time to heal. People should just be really gentle and generous with themselves,” Schott says.
Your progesterone and estrogen levels continue to adjust after pregnancy for about three months. As this evens out, you may notice hair loss from the change in estrogen levels.
While the area may remain tender or even numb, the skin around your cesarean incision should be healed completely. Similarly, any perineal stitches will be long gone by this point, though some mild, deep tenderness may still be improving.For many, sleep is still very disrupted and daytime fatigue is still very challenging. This exhaustion can contribute to mood changes and feeling down. Continue to watch for signs of postpartum depression as it is still a risk now and down the road.
Six months postpartum
By this point, your hair may stop falling out, if you’re breastfeeding you’re probably in a groove, and your period may have returned no matter how you are feeding. If you are exclusively breastfeeding, it may be past the year mark that your period returns.
Ask your provider about next steps if you’re experiencing any lasting perineal pain or tenderness, as you should feel completely healed by this point. There are people who still experience perineal pain at six months and treatment is available.
Continue to monitor your moods as postpartum depression can still show up six months postpartum and beyond.
One year postpartum
If sex, exercise, or anything else feels painful at this point, it’s important to speak to your doctor about your treatment options. You may need pelvic floor therapy or even reconstruction surgery, although surgery is very rare.
For anyone considering adding to their family again, it’s important to consider birth spacing. Most experts recommend waiting 18 months before getting pregnant again to reduce the risks of complications like preterm birth. But every family is unique, and it’s a great idea to talk about the risks and benefits with your provider.
Ultimately, your postpartum recovery is uniquely yours and you are most aware of what you’re experiencing in your body. Don’t hesitate to speak up at your healthcare visits and check in about options to treat any symptoms you’re experiencing.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team