Once you’ve given birth to your baby, your body’s work isn’t over. It simultaneously nourishes and cares for your infant, while also nourishing and taking care of you, so you benefit from a full recovery. This optimal level of healing is only possible if you give yourself the time your body needs – and the care it requires – to heal fully from the inside-out.
In addition to this post, I recommend, What to Expect the First Few Weeks After Baby, which addresses some of the most immediate, postpartum experiences and discomforts.
You are the best judge of the “postpartum recovery timeline”
Six weeks is the magic “postpartum recovery” timeline for the majority of the healing that takes place after birth (that’s more like 10 to 12 weeks for women who’ve had a C-section).
It’s true that some women who experienced vaginal birth, without perineal tearing or an episiotomy, and whose labor/delivery went smoothly (more or less), will feel more like themselves after six weeks or so. However, that does not mean you’ll be feeling 100% at six weeks. You may not be ready to have sex with your partner (although you may) or to take up the busy schedule you so proudly upheld before baby arrived. First-time mothers often take longer to recover and adjust.
What I mean to say is that your postpartum healing may take a little (or quite a bit) longer than six weeks - and that’s okay. Be gentle and patient with yourself, and know that by prioritizing yourself and your baby – you’ll eventually heal just fine.
Eat well and prioritize rest
The same foundational tenets of healing in general - eating well (high-quality, nourishing food) and getting as much rest as you can - apply to the postpartum mother. Although, it might be more challenging for you to honor them…
Have plenty of meals on hand
The best way to eat well is to have plenty of meals on hand:
· Cook in bulk ahead of time and freeze meals and/or have friends/family do the same for you so you keep the freezer and fridge stocked with healthy, reheatable meals after the baby comes.
· Have friends sign up for Meal Train or a local meal service so you don’t have to worry about prepping and cooking for at least a few weeks, if not much longer.
· Enlist the services of a chef specializing in postpartum meals (such as my friend, Chef Laura Leff, who loves to pamper new mamas and their families with delicious and nourishing meals).
· Ask for gift certificates to your favorite (healthy) restaurants so you can order takeout when needed.
Get plenty of rest
Let’s face it; the way you think of sleep/rest before baby and after baby are two different planets.
While there are things you can do to help baby establish healthy sleep habits, I also think there are things you can do - or “shift” in terms of your perceptions – so you can rest more often:
· Don’t think in terms of night/day anymore. Think in terms of sleeping/waking time – and it doesn’t matter if you’re doing one when you used to do the other, as long as it all balances out.
· Cat nap when the baby sleeps. Take advantage of others’ offers for help in terms of dishes, laundry and housekeeping so you aren’t pulled to do chores when the baby is napping – this should be your naptime, too!)
· Turn down the baby monitor. Babies fuss and make funny sounds all the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re calling for your direct attention. Turning down the baby monitor can help you sleep in longer spurts– alerting you only if the baby is truly crying.
· Keep your baby close by when sleeping. The less you have to move and think in the middle of the night, the better in terms of getting back to sound sleep ASAP after feedings and diaper changes.
Prioritize breastfeeding, if possible
Breastfeeding isn’t just best for you baby, it’s best for you if you’re able to hang in there and push through the learning curve. In addition to giving you regular doses of oxytocin, when your baby nurses, it causes your uterus to contract and that helps establish uterine and abdominal tone. Nursing also burns tons of calories (between 300 and 600 per day!), so most breastfeeding women lose their pregnancy weight faster than they would if they bottle fed.
Having a hard time with the breastfeeding groove? Visit, 5 Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms. Most of the new moms I work with say it took them at least three, if not six full weeks to really get the hang of breastfeeding and address any latching or other issues causing them pain, discomfort or frustration.
Enjoy a gentle, daily exercise routine
The same gentle, pregnancy-friendly exercises you enjoyed when you were pregnant are wonderful forms of movement when your doctor or midwife gives you the all clear for exercise. I highly recommend focusing on stretches and exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor. In addition to rebuilding pelvic and abdominal tone, these exercises strengthen your pelvic floor – preventing urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.
Sure, doing kegel exercises correctly is a good start, but also try to integrate these 5 Yoga Poses, all of which work pelvic, abdominal and lower back muscles (the core) for more sustainable results.
Honor your instincts
This should be every woman’s mantra – whether she’s in postpartum recovery or not. You should never do anything your gut instincts say, “no, thank you!” to. That includes a visit from friends or family, keeping a long-awaited coffee date, going out of town for the weekend, cleaning the dishes, or whatever else it is you wanted or planned to do, but don’t want to do now.
Listening to your body – and your baby – decreases your stress level and reduced stress accelerates recovery.
I’m Marcela Limon and my passion (and business, Lemonshoots) revolves around taking amazing photographs of women who are pregnant and their newborn babies. I spend the majority of each day encouraging women to nourish themselves, honor their intuition and be gentle with themselves during this most precious and tender postpartum chapter of life.