The first few weeks after having a baby can be intense, to say the least. From post-birth recovery to waves of emotions to an out-of-whack sleep schedule, there’s a lot going on. And in addition to figuring out how to take care of a tiny, fragile human, you need some TLC of your own.
Here’s what to expect in terms of physical changes, mental health, and energy levels your first week postpartum.
What’s going on with your body depends on the type of birth you had, whether you experienced any complications, how quickly you’re healing, and whether you choose to breastfeed. Keep in mind that it can take six or more weeks for your uterus to shrink back to its normal size, so you’ll likely still appear pregnant for the next few months.
If you had a vaginal birth…
You might experience hemorrhoids, after-birth contractions (sometimes severe), constipation, painful bowel movements, or other pelvic floor pressure and discomfort. If you had stitches for a tear, you might feel better when walking around and going to the bathroom if you use compresses, sprays or medication until the stitches dissolve (usually in a week or two). You’ll have bleeding like a period this week, so make sure you have whatever is most comfortable handy, like disposable underwear, pads, or anti-leak underwear (period panties). Don’t use tampons or a menstrual cup. It may be tempting to use a donut shaped pillow, but these can increase swelling and slow down healing.
If you had a C-section…
Following a cesarean delivery, the healing incision might make it difficult or painful to move around for the first few days. This includes getting in and out of bed, going to the bathroom, walking, and potentially holding your baby. Your healthcare provider will likely still recommend light movement to prevent blood clots. Most C-section stitches are dissolvable, so you shouldn’t have to go in to get them removed, and any surgical staples are generally removed before you leave the hospital. Bleeding will be similar to a period this week, and many people find that higher waisted briefs — that don’t touch the healing incision — are the most comfortable.
If you had complications…
Labor and delivery don’t always go as planned, and complications can make it harder to heal, both physically and emotionally. This is a time to lean on the guidance of your healthcare provider and the support of your loved ones. A postpartum doula can often offer a range of support options and education on how to process and cope.
If you’re breastfeeding (or not)…
For the few days after giving birth, your breasts will produce colostrum, a thick, golden-hued milk filled with nutrients for your newborn. Then after two to five days, your mature breast milk will come in.
The engorgement can be surprising! Beyond a major increase in size, your breasts and nipples might be tender and firm/hard for about 24 hours. You may also notice an increase in your body temperature (but it shouldn’t exceed 100.3 F). A few things that can help:
- Applying warmth to your breasts briefly before feeds
- Feeding as frequently as you can based on baby’s cues
- Applying ice to your breasts briefly after feeds
Some people find that hand expression helps to relieve pain from extreme fullness. It can also help baby latch if your breast is very hard, flattening your nipple. Over the counter pain relievers can also help.
Even if you decide not to breastfeed, you’ll still experience engorgement for a few days. Here are a few things that can help:
- Try limiting touch or stimulation to your breasts (things like direct warm water from the shower or skin-to-skin contact)
- Find a good-fitting bra and pack it with ice packs or cabbage
- Try anti-inflammatories and Cabocreme
- Hand express milk for pain from over-fullness — but do keep in mind that any milk removal can stimulate more milk production, so it’s best to limit this to the minimum amount necessary
Check out our guide to postpartum healing for more insight.
Your mental health
Having a baby can be a rollercoaster of emotions. You might experience the relief of no longer being pregnant and the joy of becoming a new parent, but adjusting to the new reality can also be overwhelming.
Additionally, postpartum depression can start in the first week after childbirth. Postpartum depression is different from the “baby blues.” Feelings of sadness should pass, but if you’re feeling extreme bouts of sadness, worry, or hopelessness, or if these feelings persist for more than two weeks, be sure to check in with your healthcare provider.
Your energy levels
Beyond making you feel just plain exhausted, lack of sleep can take a toll on your mental and physical health. While it’s easier said than done, getting enough shut-eye can help prevent postpartum depression and support healing after birth. Typically in the first 1-2 weeks your body is making hormones that help to keep you feeling energized and vigilant. Trying to rest is important, even if you don’t feel the exhaustion yet.
To avoid burnout and keep your energy levels up, take naps or even just rest your body and mind (put down the phone!) when you can and try to eat healthy foods. You can also treat yourself to one or two cups of coffee or tea per day, but too much caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep when you have the chance. If your loved ones offer to provide meals, clean your home, run errands, or hold your baby, accepting help can help you get the rest you need.
A lot’s going on with your body and your family this first week, but try to go easy on yourself and practice self-care when possible. We also recommend tracking your physical and mental symptoms and communicating with your healthcare provider about any concerns.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Breastfeeding and Delayed Milk Production. Health. Web.Office on Women’s Health (OASH).
- Office on Women’s Health (OASH). Postpartum depression. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). 2019. Web.
- Mostaghimi L, et al. Effects of sleep deprivation on wound healing. Journal of sleep research vol. 14,3. 2005. 213-9. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2869.2005.00455.x