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Everything Moms Need to Know About The Postpartum Recovery Timeline

Everything Moms Need to Know About The Postpartum Recovery Timeline

Guest Post by Katy Fleming, MA, LPC, BSN, RN

Whether you had a c-section or natural birth, postpartum recovery is ongoing. You brought new life into this world– how exciting! The next big question is…what’s next? 

Although every woman is different, there are common experiences and challenges throughout the post-birth timeframe. We’ll break down the physical and mental expectations during postpartum recovery.

Postpartum Recovery Timeline

The Postpartum Recovery Timeline

Often referred to as the “fourth trimester,” the first 12 weeks after childbirth is a transitioning period for all mothers. Even if your pregnancy and delivery were smooth sailing, your body and mind require time to adjust.  

Several factors affect the healing process after childbirth including your age, fitness, the type of delivery, and genetics. Whether you underwent a c-section, vaginal birth, or home birth plays a huge part in your healing process, as well. 

New experiences such as breastfeeding and sleep deprivation add to the physical and emotional stress, as well. This postpartum recovery timeline will provide an ultimate guide to your postnatal healing milestones.

The First Few Days 

The first week after birth is joyous as you celebrate your newest addition mixed with soreness, bleeding, and a variety of emotions. 

After a vaginal birth, hospital staff will typically continue to monitor you and the baby for another day or two in the hospital. 

Initially, many mommas continue to experience contractions or cramping as the uterus works towards shrinking back to its typical size. Thanks to the hormone oxytocin, it’s often more intense while breastfeeding. 

Vaginal pain is expected especially if tearing occurred during the delivery. Over-the-counter pain medication may help relieve some of the cramping and pain. 
Anticipate some heavy bleeding in the first few days. Referred to as lochia, this discharge is a combination of mucus, blood, and tissue. It’s common to soak a maxi pad every 2-3 hours at this point. Inform your doctor immediately if your pad needs changed every hour or if you pass a golf ball-sized clot or larger.

For c-sections, keep in mind that you’ve gone through a major surgery. On average, you’ll spend 3-4 days recovering in the hospital. Soreness will occur at the incision site and movement is often difficult initially.  

Your pain may increase as your anesthesia wears off. It’s encouraged to move around to avoid developing blood clots. The medical staff will provide assistance and pain medication while you recover in the hospital. 

4 out of 5 moms report experiencing the “baby blues” within the first two weeks after delivery. These symptoms include unexplained bouts of crying, sadness, restlessness, not feeling like yourself, and mood changes. 

For many mothers, day 3 postpartum is often a challenge with the buildup of sleep deprivation and rapidly changing hormones. 

Your breast milk will come in around 3-4 days after delivery. If you don’t plan to breastfeed, you’ll milk will naturally dry out, but a sports bra will help the process.

Postpartum Recovery Timeline

Week 1

By this point, most moms are home from the hospital and adjusting to a new world. Feelings of exhaustion are common as your little one keeps you awake throughout the night. 

It’s normal to continue experiencing baby blues symptoms at this point, so it’s important to accept help from your support system. Ask your partner, family, or friends to stay with the baby while you get some rest and engage in some much-deserved self-care

Lochia should transition from a deep red to a pinkish-brown color. In those first few days, you may pass small blood clots, but your lochia will thin out into a more watery substance by the end of the week.

For c-section moms, the stitches may start to dissolve at this point. Continue to keep your incision clean and dry while trying to move periodically.

Consider making an appointment with the lactation consultant especially if you’re having any difficulty with breastfeeding. 

If you’re continuing to experience vaginal pain, try using an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a pad soaked in witch hazel. Take it slow and show yourself some grace as your body continues to heal.

Week 2 

The bleeding should lighten up significantly by this point and may taper off for some. If you had a vaginal delivery, you may experience some vaginal itchiness. 

Those after a c-section may experience itchiness at the incision site by this point, which is a positive sign of healing. Try to continue slowly increasing your movement and activity throughout the day. 

Self-care is vital through these postpartum weeks from your nutrition to naps to stay energized and rejuvenated. Whereas baby blues symptoms are normal for many women, it’s important to recognize signs of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Here are some common signs of Postpartum Depression: 

  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Thoughts about suicide or wishing you were no longer alive
  • Hopelessness and sadness
  • Thoughts of hurting your baby or no interest in your baby
  • Lack of energy and motivation

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. 

Week 6 

By this point, your bleeding should completely stop. The lochia transitions from a pinkish-brown to a yellowish-white discharge. Some women stop earlier and may even continue bleeding for a few days after it previously stopped. 

The uterus is back to its pre-pregnancy size. You’ll continue to lose weight through this process, but it greatly differs from person to person. Many moms have lost about half of their pregnancy weight by 6 weeks postpartum.

Everything Moms Need to Know About The Postpartum Recovery Timeline

Most are cleared for exercise and sexual activity by 6 weeks. Slowly return to these activities and listen to your body. As you battle exhaustion with a newborn at home, it’s common to need more time for rest and recovery. 

Continue to monitor for postpartum depression and anxiety. These symptoms may begin at any point in the first year. Consider connecting with a support group or a therapist for additional care.

Want more parent-approved tips? You’ll love these: 

As you transition into motherhood, remember to focus on your physical and mental well-being, too. Listen to your body’s signals as you continue through the postpartum recovery process and seek help when you’re struggling. 

If you have any questions or concerns, contact your healthcare provider and discuss your recovery timeline.

As a licensed counselor and registered nurse, Katy approaches freelance writing with years of experience and a unique perspective. Alongside her partner, Katy loves to travel the world and embrace other cultures from volcanoes in Iceland to villages in India. 

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