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 by the six-week checkup?
Here’s the typical postpartum healing timeline.
The six-week check up
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.
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-prepregnnacy 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 at three months postpartum.
Six months postpartum
By this point, your hair will typically stop falling out, if you’re not breastfeeding anymore, your milk might be drying up and your period might come back around this time. If you continue to breastfeed, it may be several months before your period returns.
Ask your provider about next steps if you’re experiencing any lasting perineal pain or tenderness, as it should be completely healed by this point. There are a small number of 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.
One year postpartum
Those who’ve had C-sections will typically be told to have another C-section if they plan on having a baby 18 months apart, due to the risk of uterine rupture.
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 vaginal reconstruction surgery which repairs and tightens the vaginal muscles and tissues.
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