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After having a baby, you may feel so wiped out that you’ll wonder, Will I ever recover? You will, of course, but it may take longer than expected. By six weeks postpartum, a woman’s perineum probably has healed and bleeding stopped. “But true recovery from childbirth is longer and broader than that,” says Dwenda Gjerdingen, M.D., a family-practice professor at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. “Knowing that you might not feel normal for even a year can give you a measure of peace and patience that can help you make it through.” Here’s what you need to know about your road to recovery.
Your hair> You may notice your hair falling out, or actually coming out in clumps, when you brush. Hair follicles respond to the stress of childbirth by entering a period of dormancy. Hair loss peaks at six months postpartum and then declines.
Your period> Every woman’s body is different, but in general you can expect your period to return one to four months after delivery if you aren’t nursing, and three to six months after weaning if you are.
Your moods> Wild mood swings are normal for new mothers, but be on the lookout for signs of postpartum depression: feeling low for more than two consecutive weeks; loss of sleep above the normal sleep deprivation from caring for a newborn; change in appetite; fatigue; feelings of worthlessness and/or inappropriate guilt; or suicidal thoughts. Ten percent to 20 percent of women have postpartum depression, which can be managed with medication or psychotherapy. Untreated, though, it lasts longer and can affect your relationship with your baby, as well as your baby’s development. “Partner support is strongly linked to a new mother’s mental health,” says Gjerdingen. “Communicate with your family about how they can best support you.”
Your work life> Rent or buy a breast pump about a month before you return to work so you’ll have plenty of milk on hand for your baby during the hours you’ll be on the job. And stock up on nursing pads to protect your clothes from leaky breasts.
The only thing that returns to normal at six weeks postpartum is the ability to start working out. You might squeeze back into your pants at six or seven months if you take working out and dieting to the extreme, but that’s not good for you or your family. Work out regularly, don’t panic and you’ll get your body back in a year.
president of Strollercize, a pre- and postnatal
exercise program in New York
Getting out of the house to walk with your baby in a front carrier can relieve stress. Begin by walking for at least 10 to 15 minutes daily. Progress to a 20- to 45-minute walk, three to five days per week. Before your walk, stretch your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and hip flexors. While walking, keep your abs tight by consciously pulling your bellybutton in. When you finish walking, slowly do some alternating knee lifts and kicks. March in place to bring your heart rate down and end with some stretches.
Do 1 set of 10–12 repetitions for each exercise shown here, in the order listed. Begin with 5-pound dumbbells, and increase the weight by 10 percent as you get stronger. Check with your doctor before beginning any routine.
1 Lunge Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand, palms facing thighs [A]. Contract abs and step forward with your left foot, bending both knees [B]. Return to starting position. Do reps, then repeat with other leg. Strengthens thighs, buttocks and calves.
2 One-arm dumbbell row Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell in your left hand. Lean forward, left arm hanging straight down [A]. Bend left elbow up [B]. Straighten arm and repeat for reps before switching arms. Strengthens back, rear shoulders and biceps.
3 Bent-knee push-up Kneel on the floor and walk your hands forward until your wrists are under your shoulders. Keep your abs pulled in tight [A]. Lower your chest toward the floor [B]. Slowly push up to starting position and repeat. Strengthens chest, shoulders and triceps.
4 Ab crunch Lie faceup, knees bent and feet flat on floor. Place fingertips behind head, elbows open [A]. Contract abs to bring spine in contact with the floor, then lift head, neck and shoulder blades up off floor, bringing ribs toward hips [B]. Lower and repeat. Strengthens abs.