the road to recovery
How to help your mind and body heal after childbirth
Pregnancy was an amazing physical, psychological and emotional journey. Now, after those 40 long weeks, then labor and childbirth, your body—and psyche—must start to recuperate from that journey. Prepare yourself: It may take longer than you think. “You went through nine months of pregnancy, so you can’t expect your body to be back to normal after nine hours or even nine days,” says Richard H. Schwarz, M.D., chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at New York Methodist Hospital and past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
So what can you expect mentally and physically during the first few postpartum weeks? Here’s a rundown, along with tips on how to cope.
Mood swings>You’re a mom! You have a new baby! So why do you feel so blue? Because you’re human. “It’s normal for new moms to experience some sadness, tears and irritability during the first few days and weeks after giving birth,” Schwarz says. In fact, by some estimates, 80 percent of mothers experience postpartum “blues” for up to two weeks after delivery. Is it any wonder? Your hormones are dipping and surging, you’re exhausted, and motherhood may be a bigger adjustment than you expected.
What you can do It can’t be said enough: You need sleep. Try to nap when the baby does, once a day at a minimum. If you’re breastfeeding, consider sleeping with the baby; doing so will leave you less sleep-deprived since you won’t need to get out of bed for feedings.
To keep from feeling overwhelmed, accept all offers of help—and don’t be shy about asking for it, either. Make every effort to devote a little time to yourself each day; just taking a 15-minute walk may give you the recharge you need.
If you feel depressed, if your mood swings last longer than about two weeks, or if you have feelings of intense guilt or anxiety, call your doctor. True postpartum depression is relatively rare—occurring in about 10 percent of new mothers—but if you’re suffering from it, you’ll need treatment. This may include care by a psychiatrist and the temporary use of antidepressants.
Down-under soreness>If you had an episiotomy during labor or if your perineum tore and had to be stitched, you may find it uncomfortable to sit, walk, urinate or move your bowels for at least a week after giving birth. “Even if you don’t have stitches, your perineum may sting and be bruised or swollen as a result of pushing the baby out,” says Sharon Phelan, M.D., an obstetrics and gynecology professor at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and an ACOG spokeswoman.