Your Postpartum Recovery Timeline (2023)

You’ve finally put 40 (or so) weeks of pregnancy and long hours of childbirth behind you, and you’re officially a mother. Congratulations!

Now comes the transition from pregnancy to postpartum, which brings with it a variety of new symptoms and questions.

Here’s what you need to know about your postpartum body and its recovery from childbirth — ideally before you deliver.

How long does it take to recover after giving birth?

No matter how you gave birth, the first six weeks postpartum are considered a “recovery” period. Even if you sailed through your pregnancy and had the easiest delivery on record (and especially if you didn’t), your body has been stretched and stressed to the max, and it needs a chance to regroup.

Keep in mind that every new mom is different, so every woman will recover at a different rate with different postpartum symptoms.The majority of these ease up within a week, while others (sore nipples,backaches and sometimes perineal pain) may continue for weeks, and still others (like leaky breasts or an achy back) might stick around until your baby is a little older.

If you’ve had a vaginal birth, you’re probably also wondering how long it will take for soreness to go away and your perineum to heal. Recovery can take anywhere from three weeks if you didn’t tear to six weeks or more if you had a perineal tear or an episiotomy.

Wondering if your vagina will ever be the same after birth? Not exactly— though it will likely be very close.

If you delivered by C-section, expect to spend the first three to four days postpartum in the hospital recovering; it will take four to six weeks before you’re feeling back to normal. Depending on whether you pushed and for how long, you can also expect to have some perineal pain.

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How much bleeding is normal after giving birth?

After you give birth, postpartum bleeding— i.e. lochia— can last for up to six weeks. It will be just like a very heavy period made up of leftover blood, tissue from your uterus and mucus. Bleeding is heaviest for the first three to 10 days, then it will taper off— going from red to pink to brown to yellowish-white.

If you spot large clots or you’re bleeding through more than one pad every hour, call your doctor right away to rule out postpartum hemorrhage. During this time, tampons are off-limits, so you’ll have to rely on pads.

How can you speed up the postpartum healing process?

The following tips can help you to speed up your postpartum recovery, so you heal— and feel— better:

  • Help your perineum heal. Ice your perineum every couple of hours for the first 24 hours post-birth. Spray warm water over the area before and after peeing to keep urine from irritating torn skin. Try warm sitz baths for 20 minutes a few times a day to ease pain. Aim to avoid long periods of standing or sitting, and sleep on your side.
  • Care for your C-section scar. Gently clean yourC-section incision with soap and water once a day. Dry with a clean towel, then apply antibiotic ointment. Talk to your doctor about whether it’s better to cover the wound or leave it open to air out. Avoid carrying most things (besides your baby), and hold off on vigorous exercise until you get the OK from your doctor.
  • Ease aches and pains. If you’re achy from pushing, take acetaminophen. Ease overall achiness with hot showers or a heating pad — or even treat yourself to a massage.
  • Stay regular. Your first postpartum bowel movement can take time, but don’t force things. Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods (whole grains, fruits, veggies), go for walks, and use gentle stool softeners to get and stay regular. Avoid straining, which isn’t good for perineal tears or your C-section scar, if you have either.
  • Do your Kegels. There’s no better way to get your vagina back in shape, make sex more enjoyable for you and your partner, and resolve postpartumurinary incontinence — no matter how you delivered. So get started withpostpartum Kegel exercises as soon as you’re comfortably able, and aim for three sets of 20 every day.
  • Be kind to your breasts. For achy breasts, try using a warm compress or ice packs and gentle massage. Also be sure to wear a comfortable nursing bra. If you’re breastfeeding, let your breasts air out after every nursing session and apply a lanolin cream to prevent or treat cracked nipples.
  • Keep your doctor appointments. Checking in with your doctor is essential, since it helps ensure that everything is healing as expected. Your OB/GYN can also check in with you emotionally and, if necessary, suggest how to get help to adjust to being a new mom. If you had a C-section, be sure to make your appointment to remove your stitches, as leaving them in for too long can make scars look worse. And of course definitely let your doctor know if you have any symptoms that concern you, like fever, pain or tenderness around an incision.
  • Eat well to ease fatigue and fight constipation. Just like you did during pregnancy, aim to eat five smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larger ones. Eat a combination of complex carbs and protein for energy, plus plenty of fiber (found in fruits, veggies and whole grains) to help prevent hemorrhoids: Think whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, veggies with hummus, or yogurt with a handful of berries. Drink at least 64 ounces (about eight glasses) of water every day. And try to skip the alcohol and caffeine, which can affect your moods and make it even more challenging to sleep than it already is with a newborn at home.
  • Keep moving. Exercise is likely off limits for at least the first few weeks if you've had a C-section, and you won't be immediately back to hard-core pre-pregnancy workout routines if you had a vaginal birth. But definitely talk to your doctor about when and how you can exercise; you may be able to do more than you think. No matter how you delivered, start by taking walks. Stroll around your house and, eventually, around the neighborhood (stroller in tow!). Walking helps with gas and constipation and speeds recovery by boosting circulation and muscle tone. Plus it boosts your mood andhas been shown to help ease depression-like symptoms. Try thesepostpartum exercise tips to get started.

Your postpartum recovery checklist

Here are a few things you’ll want to stash away while you’re still pregnant to make your postpartum recovery go as smoothly as possible:

  • Acetaminophen. It can help with perineal pain and overall aches.
  • Maxi pads. You’ll probably need these for at least a couple of weeks, until postpartum bleeding lets up.
  • Ice packs. There are lots of ways to ice your perineal area— from frozen padsicles to your standard lunchbox ice blocks (wrapped in paper towels, of course, to avoid frostbite).
  • Witch hazel pads. This is often used in combination with ice packs to ease vaginal pain and help with postpartum hemorrhoids.
  • Sitz bath. This little tub is designed for you to just sit and soak away postpartum pain.
  • Peri or squirt bottle. You’ll use this to rinse off your perineal area before/after peeing as the area heals.
  • Cotton underpants. Go for the “granny” or hospital gauze underwear— comfort is much more important for now than looking sexy.
  • Nursing bras. Invest ina few comfy ones that fit you well.
  • Lanolin. The cream works wonders to prevent and treat cracked nipples.
  • Nursing pads. If you’re planning to breastfeed, these will help keep leaky nipples under wraps.
  • Lidocaine spray. It helps ease the pain of postpartum hemorrhoids.
  • Stool softener. In case you get stopped up, this can gently help get things going.
  • Postpartum recovery belt. If you think you might want one,the Belly Bandit or other similar belt can help keep things in place as your belly shrinks back to size.
  • Heating pad. This can help ease aches and pains in your breasts.

What you need to know about postpartum depression

There’s no doubt that having a baby is a life-changing experience. Almost every mom faces a bout of the baby blues due to a roller coaster of hormones, lack of sleep and the struggle to adjust to that tiny new human at home. That said, if you havesymptoms of postpartum depression — including feeling persistently hopeless, sad, isolated, irritable, worthless or anxious— for more than two weeks postpartum, talk to your doctor.

Don’t feel ashamed or alone: Postpartum depression is not your fault, and it affects up to an estimated 1 in 4 new moms. The only way to feel better so you can care for yourself and your baby is to talk to a professional who can help.

The postpartum period is exciting and overwhelming at the same time. But by following these tips, doing your best to take care of yourself while you're taking care of your baby, and being patient, you'll get through it and recover fully. And while you're at it, don't forget to enjoy this special stage with your new baby. It will go faster than you think!

From the What to Expect editorial team andHeidi Murkoff,author ofWhat to Expect When You're Expecting. What to Expect follows strict reporting guidelines and uses only credible sources, such as peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and highly respected health organizations. Learn how we keep our content accurate and up-to-date by reading ourmedical review and editorial policy.

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