Taking Care of Yourself After Birth

When you become a new parent, it seems like there is never enough time to get anything done. Just getting dressed before noon becomes a challenge. But you deserve to take some time to focus on yourself, so you can recover your strength.

Rest. If you're feeling tired, it's no wonder. Your body has just given birth, you're getting to know your baby, and your mind is dealing with the challenges that come with being a parent. Make sure to get enough rest, eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of fluids, especially if you are breastfeeding. Try to nap when the baby does, and stay in your nightgown for the first week or two. It'll remind you to take it easy.

Simplify. Try letting the baby sleep in bed with you (or at least in the same room), so you don't have to get up for feedings. Limit stair climbing to once a day. Keep supplies close at hand (next to your bed, in the family room, or wherever you spend the most time) so diaper and clothing changes are easier. Fight the urge to do too much too soon. Forget about the housework. Focus on your needs and the baby's, and let others help you with the rest.

Stay fit. The postpartum period is a good time to continue a gentle fitness routine. Just start slowly and work up to your pre-pregnancy level. Your health care provider can give you the best advice on the types of activities for you to do, and those to avoid.

Understand your mood changes.
The first few days following birth are a time when your hormones adjust to new levels. This can result in mood swings, which in combination with the normal stresses of parenting, can take their toll. For most women, these feelings of sadness or depression will pass. For others, they can worsen to the point of requiring professional help.

  • Following birth, up to 80 percent of all women experience “baby blues”. Baby blues have a definite beginning (around the third day after birth), a time when they get worse (around day five), and a definite end (around day ten).
  • Baby blues can sometimes worsen, and turn into a condition called postpartum depression. This condition affects about 20 percent of women after birth, and occurs more often in those women who have a history of depression or other psychological disorders. Usually postpartum depression begins in the second week after birth, with more intense symptoms occurring about week six. Studies have shown that breastfeeding can actually delay symptoms.
  • A rare disorder called postpartum psychosis affects 1 in 1,000 to 2,000 women (according to Postpartum Support International). This illness is very serious and requires medical treatment. It is very important for you to understand that postpartum depression is limited to the postpartum period and is not a sign of mental illness. However, if at any time in the postpartum period you cannot eat, sleep, or take care of yourself or your baby, you must get help. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby, or have any concerns about your feelings, you or your partner should contact your health care provider immediately.

Feel comfortable about sexual intimacy. Your interest in sex can be affected by many factors after birth. The fact that you are tired, along with hormonal changes, can lower your desire. Physical healing can also take several weeks. And there is a chance that you can become pregnant if you have unprotected intercourse. So if you don't feel like making love, find other ways that you and your partner can show you still love each other. The most important thing to remember is that these feelings are all very normal and pass over time. Be sure to talk to your health care provider about when you can resume sexual relations, and don't forget to discuss birth control.

Communicate with your partner.
If you and your partner attended childbirth education classes together, it is likely that you each have a better sense of how the other is feeling. Even so, you may still be surprised to learn about some of your partner's concerns. There may be issues about your life, about parenting, about social relationships, and about your relationship with each other, that need discussing. Open communication is extremely important. And so is taking time out to be alone together, as a couple, on a regular basis.

Continue to "Baby Blues or Postpartum Depression?" journey to parenthood

Most recent page update: 9/9/2010

© 2016 National Partnership for Women & Families. All rights reserved.

Founded in 1918, Childbirth Connection has joined forces with and become a core program of the National Partnership for Women & Families. Together, these two women's health powerhouses are transforming maternity care in the United States.
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