5 Ways to Make Your Postpartum Recovery Easier
When you hold your newborn at the hospital your brain is on total love overdrive. That delicious skin! Those promise-filled eyes! And you’re likely to be so consumed with this scrumptious baby of yours that you won’t even mind the discomfort that giving birth can bring. Well, mostly, you won’t. Because after labor, being a mom can be a real pain. Thankfully, those aches won’t last for long. “Most women find that their postpartum complaints resolve within two to three months,” says Robert James Gallo, M.D., an ob-gyn at Hackensack University Medical Center, in New Jersey. That may sound like eons, but life with a newborn flies by. We’ve got the scoop on how to solve the top struggles.
Uh-Oh, You Can't Go
First you were terrified you’d poop on the delivery table; now you can’t go at all. After you give birth, it can take two to three days to have a bowel movement. Weakened ab muscles, bowels traumatized from delivery, or use of narcotic pain medication can cause the backup. Many moms fret that they’ll rip their stitches, so they hold it in, which makes matters worse.
What to do: To get things moving, guzzle at least eight glasses of water a day plus eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Try not to worry about the stitches; they might smart, but it’s rare for them to tear, and resisting the urge to go can make constipation worse. Walking will help too. Just limit any strenuous activities, particularly if you’ve had a C-section.
Tell your doctor: If you don’t have a BM within seven days, you may need to take a stool softener or laxative.
The Long "Period" May Be a Shock
You may have heard about the vaginal discharge known as lochia, but you weren’t expecting it to be so, well, bloody. Although it’s certainly not pretty, it’s only benign leftover blood, mucus, and tissue from your uterus. No matter how you deliver, the flow can be as heavy as, if not worse than, your period. Tampons can put you at risk for infection or cause pain or irritation, so use heavy-duty pads instead. “For the first few days after delivery, expect to change your pad every couple of hours,” says Eileen Ehudin Beard, a nurse-midwife and family nurse practitioner in Silver Spring, Maryland. The amount of discharge should decrease from there.
What to do: Stock up on cheap underwear. Breastfeeding can minimize the mess too. “Nursing helps the uterus contract, which, in turn, decreases the blood flow,” says Beard. If the discharge has turned pink or brown but then suddenly becomes bright red again, or if the flow increases, you’re overexerting yourself. Take it easy, Mom!
Tell your doctor: If you go through more than one pad an hour for more than a few hours, or your discharge is bright red after the first week, or if you’re having abdominal pain or swelling after the first few days, contact your healthcare provider. “It’s okay to pass small clots during the first week after delivery, but passing multiple big clots could be a sign of hemorrhaging,” Beard adds.
Sit More Comfortably
The female body may have been designed for childbirth, but you’ll still need to deal with discomfort from all the stretching and pushing, especially if you tear or have an episiotomy—a surgical cut between the anus and the vagina.
What to do: “Ice is your friend,” Beard says. Crush a few cubes in a baggie, lie down, and apply it while you’re resting to ease inflammation and pain. Or buy a bottle of witch hazel at the store, saturate a wet washcloth with some, freeze it, then sit on it. If you have hemorrhoids, try medicated pads such as Tucks to clean the area, and apply a dollop of Preparation H (for healing) mixed with cortisone cream (for itching). You might need to stay off your feet or bottom (a doughnut pillow should help) for long stretches. Finally, take measures to prevent constipation; straining can make ’rhoids worse.
Tell your doctor: If the area becomes red, swollen, or increasingly painful, or has an unpleasant odor, you may have developed an infection.
Strengthen Key Muscles
You might find yourself wondering who needs a diaper more, you or your newborn. It happens to the best of us. Really. Studies show that 21 percent of women will experience urinary-stress incontinence (leakage when laughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects) after they give birth. It’s because of your weakened perineal muscles, an instrument-assisted delivery, or an episiotomy, and it can persist for several months or longer.
What to do: Kegels are key, and they couldn’t be easier to do. “When you urinate, stop and start the stream to gain better control of the muscles that keep the bladder working well,” explains Dr. Gallo. You can do these subtle exercises pretty much anytime and any place and nobody will be the wiser for it. Aim for Kegeling in sets of ten; work up to ten sets a day. Try to go to the bathroom often so your bladder doesn’t get too full. Crossing your legs the moment you feel a laugh, cough, or sneeze coming on can also help prevent leaking.
Tell your doctor: If the leaking lasts more than six weeks, check in.
Treat C-Section Soreness
Join the club: 1 in 3 deliveries today is a C-section, and 80 percent of women who have the procedure will experience discomfort at the incision site.
What to do: Post-op moms may need to take it slower than those who deliver vaginally. Once you can, walk around to prevent swelling and blood clots in your legs. Pain medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen are generally safe, but check with your pediatrician if you’re nursing. To prevent irritating the incision, cover it with a “light day” sanitary napkin, ask your doc for anti-itch ointment, and wear soft clothes.
Tell your doctor: If your incision gapes open, bleeds, becomes inflamed, or oozes discharge, or if you develop a fever, you might need medical treatment. ￼
When Can I...
As soon as you want to. Gently pat yourself dry down there. If you had a C-section, don’t scrub your incision; just let water run over it.
Wait a week after a vaginal birth, or two to three weeks after a C-section, says Robert Atlas, M.D., an ob-gyn at Mercy Medical Center, in Baltimore. “You use your abs to move your foot from the gas to the brake.”
Wait until you get the go-ahead at your six-week checkup. It’s normal to not be ready then too. Remember: “Sex” doesn’t have to be actual intercourse!
Take the Pill?
You’re fertile, so be sure to use birth control. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best pill formulation if you’re breastfeeding.
In theory, after the baby comes out. If you’re nursing, sipping one alcoholic bev two or three hours before you feed Baby won’t hurt, but don’t have any more than that.
Whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section, skip the gym for six weeks to give your body time to finish most of its healing. Start out slowly with power walks and stretches.