Updated March 2019
Last time, we talked about what really happens postpartum. As a follow-up, there are some personal care items that you’ll want to have on hand to help you heal: a post-delivery survival kit, if you will…
Your Body on the Mend
Your body has seen better days. I talked about the bleeding, right? The gigantic maxi-pad-in-the-mesh-underwear situation is a poorly engineered solution at best. Believe me when I tell you to buy a package of Depend for Women (size S/M, unless you are a big girl). They are so much more comfortable and absorbent — and you don’t have to worry about ruining your underwear.
Keep a separate trash bag in your bathroom for the hazmat trash. The flood o’ blood tapers off in about two weeks (give or take), and hopefully you won’t bleed again for many months (yay!)…until your period returns (boo).
*Note: even C-section mamas will bleed. Just FYI.
Vaginal Delivery Recovery
Enter your new best friend, the “Padsicle.” I know — it sounds gross. Just hear me out. This is a frozen pad with soothing essential oils and aloe vera, and it makes everything feel better down there. Make these ahead of time to have them ready when you get home from the hospital.
How To Make: Take a nice thick wingless maxi pad (read: actual thickness/cushion, not absorbency) and add a mix of witch hazel, essential oils (such as lavender, frankincense, geranium and rosemary) and top with a smear of pure aloe vera. Fold those puppies back up (this is where a “no wings” feature is key), wrap in foil and pop in the freezer. Fill up and freeze a couple of gallon-sized bags or containers. If you need inspiration, a Google search will bring up lots of different recipes.
If you tore or had an episiotomy (due to the use of forceps or a vacuum extractor), your doctor will stitch you up with dissolvable sutures. You can tear anywhere from none to stem-to-stern (Level 4), but the majority of women have a Level 1 or Level 2 tear. Don’t stress about this. It’s out of your hands and you WILL fully heal, BUT you will feel pain and discomfort depending on the severity of the tear.
This pain can go away in a few days, but most mommies I talked with reported that it lasted many, many weeks. This tends to correspond with the size of your baby and the speed of the birth (very quick deliveries can cause bad tearing).
For me, this was definitely one of those “I wish someone would have told me” things. I had pain for about seven weeks and believe me, it was no picnic. Don’t fear though. You WILL heal within about 2-3 months, and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference down there. In the meantime, you can spray Dermoplast on your lady-parts to numb the pain (really? Yes, really).
Cleaning after going to the bathroom: Use a squirt bottle (you can also steal one from the hospital) to irrigate (squirt) the area with warm water after you tinkle. This will also help wash away dried blood. Trust me, you’ll want to wipe as little as possible.
Taking a sitz
When you’re really hurting, especially in those first few days from the hospital, you should soak your stitches in a sitz bath. A sitz bath is just a plastic basin that fits on top of your toilet. You can also use “soaking tea” in your sitz bath instead of regular water. The tea is a worthwhile indulgence, in my opinion. *You can buy the sitz bath at any drug store, but not the tea.
Taking time for yourself to relax and heal is really important for you physically and mentally, even if it’s just for 10 minutes a day. If your partner knocks on the bathroom door during “you time,” you can say, “Don’t come in; I’m taking a sitz!” LOL.
*Note that if you have stitches, you shouldn’t overdo it with the sitz bath because it may cause damage to your stitches. Before you leave the hospital, ask the nurse how long you can be sitz’ing for.
What a pain in the ass hemorrhoids are (I’m hilarious, I know this already). Many women get them as a result of pushing and all of the pressure that’s exerted on your bottom. Heck, some even get them from pregnancy. The severity of hemorrhoids tends to correlate with how long and hard you pushed.
About half of the mommies I talked to got hemorrhoids, so if you get ’em, you’re not alone. They should go away on their own in a couple of weeks but in the meantime, you can use Tucks (witch hazel) to soothe the pain (take note: you can also steal these from the hospital!). This is also where the infamous donut comes in handy. Take your stool softeners religiously so you don’t make the problem worse. Oh, the indignities!
The process of birth does a number on your pelvic floor muscles. Most women experience a period of incontinence after childbirth, especially in the first week. All I can say is: kegels, kegels, kegels! Nursing your baby is a great time to do kegels (may as well do something with all that “down time” — HA!). Seriously, they help SO much to get those muscles back in shape, although, sadly, some women do experience long-term incontinence as a result of childbirth. Did I mention you should do your kegels?
Yup, it’s true. Either way you delivered, you will probably be very constipated. This can last for what feels like an eternity (read: 2-3 MONTHS). The best thing you can do is to take your stool softeners religiously and drink LOTS of water. A lot. Of water. Much of the water in your body is being diverted to your milk supply, which leaves little left to aid in digestion (bastards!).
Your first poop may be a little painful, so bring a bullet to bite. A teething ring works well too.
Hips, knees, and back
Ouch, ouch, and ouch, especially if you are an old geezer like me.
After you deliver your baby, your breasts won’t really feel very different at first. You will be feeding your baby with your supply of colostrum, which comes in as early as 20 weeks. Your real milk supply will “come in” anywhere from 2-4 days postpartum. There is no mistaking when this occurs because your breasts will become absolutely enormous – cartoon-like, in fact. This event is not very pleasant, but it doesn’t last very long (about 24 hours). Enjoy looking like Dolly Parton while it lasts.
*This topic warrants its own issue, so next week you’ll receive an email specifically on breast care = Preparing For Nursing.
Recovering From a C-Section
If you had a C-section, you will have a little more mending to do. You will have had major abdominal surgery, which takes 6-8 weeks to fully recover from.
The following was written by a fellow subscriber (thanks, Angie!):
“So, you had to have a C-section for one reason or another. Maybe you are heartbroken because of it, maybe you wanted it, or maybe you fall somewhere in between. At least you get to skip all that horrific bleeding, right? Right?! Eh, not exactly, although c/s moms tend to bleed a little less than their vaj-delivery counterparts.
Because you’ve just had surgery, you may be gassy (more gassy than your normal pregnant self) and bloated, even uncomfortably so. Ask for Simethicone in the hospital (or at home) if it gets really bad and remember, walking around will help get your bowels moving again.
For the first 3-4 days, walking is a difficult task. You will probably need help. You might need help showering. Or, you might just not shower (if you are me). Either way, it is pretty hard to do much more than exist for the first few days. It’s okay, just go with it.
Back to the bleeding – like with a vaginal delivery, you will be bleeding anywhere from 4 – 6 weeks. Still no tampons, just the enormous pillows they send you home with to use as pads. Some advice? Take as much of those mesh undies home as you can, because you best just throw away anything you are wearing for the first two weeks. After that, it should start to taper off.
Unfortunately, constipation, incontinence (ever hear of snissing?), and hip/knee/back pain are also prevalent even with a “section.”
Your incision will be painful at first. It also looks terrible, but it will get better very soon. Your doc will remove your sutures or staples in the hospital after a few days, although they may opt to do it later at their office after you’ve been discharged. Don’t worry, the removal is not very painful. They may also use glue on your incision, which will slough off on its own.
A 6-day-old C-section incision
Don’t pick at your scar. Let soapy water run over it (once you are able to bathe) and pat it dry. You can put a little triple antibiotic on it after the first week. Don’t worry, the incision is very low, so it’s not going to show in your underwear or in a bikini. After time, it fades very nicely.
Be careful about what you wear. You don’t want much pressure on your abdomen, so maternity pants or sweats it is! You might have some trouble with stairs at first, you shouldn’t drive for about two weeks, and no lifting anything heavier than the baby. Really, just take it easy.”
“Even though you will be up and at it soon enough, it will be a very long time until you are 100% healed. At 4 months postpartum, I STILL get some pain around my incision.
Some women say they are running again two weeks after a C-section. I call them liars. Two-week recoveries after labor are like unicorns; everyone would like to believe in them, but they don’t exist. They say it takes a woman’s body 18 months to recover after a pregnancy. So don’t balk at an eight-week span before you start to feel a bit like your old self.”
*Read more about C-section recovery here.
See also: The Lowdown on Grocery Delivery Services… you might need this after birth 😉