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Postpartum: First 6 Weeks After Childbirth (cont.)

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Recovery At Home

During the days and weeks after the delivery of your baby (postpartum period), your body will change as it returns to its nonpregnant condition. As with pregnancy changes, postpartum changes are different for every woman.

Physical changes after childbirth

The changes in your body may include sore muscles and bleeding.

  • Contractions called afterpains shrink the uterus for several days after childbirth. Shrinking of the uterus to its prepregnancy size may take 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Sore muscles (especially in the arms, neck, or jaw) are common after childbirth. This is because of the hard work of labor. The soreness should go away in a few days.
  • Bleeding and vaginal discharge (lochia) may last for 2 to 4 weeks and can come and go for about 2 months.
  • Vaginal soreness, including pain, discomfort, and numbness, is common after vaginal birth. Soreness may be worse if you had a perineal tear or episiotomy.
  • If you had a cesarean (C-section), you may have pain in your lower belly and may need pain medicine for 1 to 2 weeks.
  • Breast engorgement is common between the third and fourth days after delivery, when the breasts begin to fill with milk. This can cause discomfort and swelling. Placing ice packs on your breasts, taking a hot shower, or using warm compresses may relieve the discomfort. For more information, see the topic Breast Engorgement.

Call your doctor if you are concerned about any of your symptoms. For more information, see When to Call a Doctor.

Care after vaginal birth

Most women need some time after delivery to return to their normal activities. It's important to focus on your healing and on taking care of your body after delivery.

  • Use pads instead of tampons for the bloody flow that may last as long as 2 weeks.
  • Ease cramps or afterpains with ibuprofen (such as Advil). If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
  • If you have swelling or pain around the opening of your vagina, try using ice. You can put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Cleanse yourself with a gentle squeeze of warm water from a bottle instead of wiping with toilet paper.
  • Try sitting in a few inches of warm water (sitz bath) 3 times a day and after bowel movements.
  • Ease the soreness of hemorrhoids and the area between your vagina and rectum with ice compresses or witch hazel pads.
  • Ease constipation by drinking lots of fluid and eating high-fiber foods. Ask your doctor about over-the-counter stool softeners.

What to avoid

Give your body a chance to heal. Wait to start certain activities.

  • Wait until you are healed (about 4 to 6 weeks) before you have sexual intercourse. Your doctor will tell you when it is okay to have sex.
  • Try not to travel with your baby for 5 or 6 weeks. If you take a long car trip, make frequent stops to walk around and stretch.
  • Do not rinse inside your vagina with fluids (douche).

Care after a C-section

If you had a C-section, you will need to take it easy while the incision heals.

  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as bicycle riding, jogging, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise, for 6 weeks or until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Until your doctor says it is okay, don't lift anything heavier than your baby.
  • You may have some vaginal bleeding. Wear pads. Do not use tampons until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Hold a pillow over your incision when you cough or take deep breaths. This will support your belly and decrease your pain.
  • You may shower as usual. Pat the incision dry when you are done.

For more information, see the topic Cesarean Section.

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