Expert advice on taking care of yourself and your new baby
Although everyone is fussing over your new baby, you need special care during the first six weeks postpartum, too. Here’s advice from Paul Gluck, M.D., an obstetrician- gynecologist and chairman of the Baptist/South Miami Hospital Foundation in Miami, on how to care for yourself after delivery.
Episiotomy During the first week or so, spritz the area with warm water mixed with a diluted iodine solution (no more than 50 percent iodine) in a squirt bottle whenever you use the toilet. Or sit in a warm Epsom salt bath several times a day. Use toilet paper gingerly — wipe from front to back to avoid fecal contamination. If constipation or bowel movements cause pain, ask your obstetrician about using an over-the-counter stool softener.
Lochia For three to four weeks after delivery — either vaginal or Cesarean — you’ll experience a discharge called lochia. It starts out bloody but turns yellowish in about two weeks. Use pads rather than tampons; the latter can irritate the area and increase your risk of infection. And although you might be tempted to douche, don’t — douching can introduce bacteria and lead to infection.
Bleeding If you notice a significant increase in vaginal bleeding or if it’s more profuse than a heavy period, you may be doing too much too soon. When bleeding increases, Gluck says, “The first thing I tell a patient is to get off her feet and rest.” Keep in mind, however, that your bleeding may increase slightly after breastfeeding, which releases hormones that cause the uterus to contract. Rest will often help here, too.
Cesarean section incision Avoid strenuous activity for a month. “I recommend that the mother lift nothing heavier than her baby during that time,” Gluck says. Slow walks are fine if you feel comfortable (see “How Soon Can I ... ?”), but avoid driving or running errands for two weeks. As your incision heals, it may itch or feel numb. This is normal.
Breasts Wash your breasts and nipples with a mild soap. If your nipples crack or bleed, see your doctor or a lactation consultant. Don’t use any creams or lotions not recommended by a health professional. Painful breasts can be caused by infections or clogged milk ducts; see your doctor if you have pain or fever.
Nutritional needs Finding time for healthful cooking can be difficult when you have a newborn, but eating well is crucial, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Elizabeth M. Ward, R.D., author of Pregnancy Nutrition: Good Health for You and Your Baby (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 1998), recommends filling your kitchen with healthful food that’s easy to grab and requires little preparation: low-fat yogurt and cheese slices, pre-cut fresh fruits and vegetables, salads, peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, water-packed tuna, single-serving bottles of vegetable and fruit juice, and whole-grain breads, cereals and rolls.
Relationships For many couples, the stresses and demands of pregnancy, childbirth and caring for a newborn can strain a relationship. You and your husband may be too tired for sex. Set aside time for each other at least once a week to go on a date, even if it takes place at the dining room table while the baby sleeps. Hugs, kisses and other expressions of affection are never off limits, but intercourse is verboten for four to six weeks because it takes about that long for the cervix to close fully and block contaminants that could cause infection. Ask your doctor about this before you leave the hospital.