An OB-GYN and mom of three tells all on postpartum recovery, from the first month to the first year after giving birth.
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Hispanic mother holding newborn in hospital
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I gave birth to my third child this year and am experiencing my "fourth trimester" as a mom and board-certified OB-GYN. Like most pregnant people, I gained so much natural insight from my first pregnancy, but as a doctor and mom, I now realize there's so much more we can do to help people prepare for postpartum.

While I'm a mom three times over and work with moms every day, I was surprised that 89 percent of new moms feel what happens after giving birth isn't discussed enough! It's important to understand the healing process before you face the aftermath of delivery day—including tips for your recovery.

Phase 1: Delivery Day to 1-Month Postpartum

Your body has undergone 30-plus weeks of rapid transformation to develop a human. Now it's time to give your body time to recuperate. These following tips can optimize your healing.

Get the right postpartum products

Regardless of whether you pack your hospital bag weeks ahead or throw things together while in labor, add this trio of postpartum items to your checklist:

  • Peri bottle: The aptly named peri bottle is a must for cleansing your perineal region (part of your pelvis between your thighs) after delivery. Hospitals often provide these immediately after birth. Perineal cold packs can significantly ease discomfort after vaginal delivery, too.
  • Breastfeeding pads: If you are breastfeeding and experience sore nipples from it, hydrocolloid pads can provide immense relief.
  • Choose the right postpartum pads: It's common to experience bleeding and bladder leaks after childbirth, so prepare with pads designed to absorb both flows and quickly manage wetness to keep you clean, fresh, and dry.

Take it easy

Though you may be tempted to want to start exercising or taking on your pre-pregnancy tasks, you still need to rest your body at this stage, as too much physical activity can increase the risk of injury or pelvic floor dysfunction. Try light aerobic exercise, like walking, for the first six weeks. This isn't the time to be an overachiever, so extend your stroller walks gradually, step by step.

Don't overexert your abdominal muscles

After giving birth, it may be helpful to get assessed for diastasis rectus abdominis. Wait, what? That is a fancy way of saying a separation in the abdominal wall. Having adequate midline and pelvic floor support is essential for daily activities, including keeping up with your new baby. To build up strength, try simple activities like regularly lifting your baby while contracting your pelvic floor, drawing your belly button toward your spine.

Remember posture matters

Maintaining quality posture is probably far from your mind postpartum, but it's a big deal. Good posture helps maintain continence, support pelvic organs, and reduce back pain. Maintaining good posture can be particularly challenging if you are breastfeeding so be sure to pay attention to how you are sitting.

Know your cycle may return

Though many people's periods start six to eight weeks after giving birth if they aren't breastfeeding, some new moms see their cycle return one month following delivery. Keep in mind that if your cycle returns, you typically ovulate two weeks before that first period so remember to use appropriate birth control if needed.

Phase 2: 6 Weeks to 6 Months Postpartum

Babies aren't the only ones who make tremendous leaps from 6 weeks to 6 months—your postpartum body does, too. By 6 weeks, postpartum bleeding typically stops, and your uterus should be back to pre-pregnancy size. You may notice "surprise" bladder leaks from a weakened pelvic floor. You aren't alone: 1 in 3 women experience bladder leaks, especially after childbirth. Period pads are designed for slow-moving flows, so look for pads like Poise Ultra Thin Pads with Wings, which are specifically designed to absorb dribbles, bursts, and gushes.

Since it's likely that you'll have a six-week postpartum checkup, be prepared to talk about both your physical and mental health. It is completely normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, so take advantage of naps (remember to sleep when baby sleeps!) and talk to your doctor if you are feeling deeper symptoms of hopelessness or unmanageable stress. Depending on your recovery progress, there's a good chance you will be cleared for exercise and sexual activity—but you will still need to slowly ease back into your normal activities.

Phase 3: 6 Months to 1 Year Postpartum

At 6 months, you are likely feeling much closer to your pre-pregnancy self. During the 6 months to one-year window, exercise and a well-balanced healthy diet can flip a switch on both your physical and mental health. If you are breastfeeding, be sure to maintain enough calories in your diet. I know the pressure to get your pre-baby body back is real, but always remember your body just did something amazing, and give yourself grace. But if any prolonged issues—such as painful intercourse or urinary incontinence—have not cleared up by one year, talk with your doctor. Again, pelvic floor exercises and therapy can be truly transformative.