Postpartum Recovery: Weeks 1 – 6
Reader warning: this blog holds very little back. I am a mother of 3. This is an honest, open blog on what we go through during postpartum recovery and how to best begin on the path to healing.
Postpartum Recovery: What Happens to Our Bodies?
Whether this is your first or fourth baby, those first weeks of postpartum recovery are rough. We are elated with the amazing little one that we have been blessed with, but behind the smiles and the joy our bodies feel like we just fought a war. If you delivered vaginally you likely had a perineal tear, so it feels like your vagina is on fire. If you delivered by C-section, your incision is sore and you worry about harming it while caring for the baby. Your boobs are enormous and yep, they hurt too. Those first weeks nursing you want to dig your fingernails into the couch each time baby latches onto your sore, raw nipples. Your tummy is a disgusting, flabby, mushy representation of its old self, with or without stretch marks. You haven’t slept longer than 1-2 hours at a stretch since baby arrived. Your toddler has gone from a sweet angel to a demon child who gets into everything he/she can get her hands on to keep your attention on them.
Where to Begin
In those first weeks of postpartum recovery, where can women begin to care for their war-torn bodies and start the healing process?
Obviously not all deliveries are a joyous experience. Many women suffer trauma from giving birth that can lead to feelings of shame, depression and anger. This can greatly inhibit our physical ability to heal. If you felt that your experience was traumatic, you have significant depression, or you have feelings that you can’t shake about the experience – a mental health provider who has experience with trauma and childbirth should be first on your list to see.
Ask for Help
You may also feel very overwhelmed by caring for multiple small beings who need you every waking moment during the day. In that case, call in the recruits! A postpartum Doula can be an amazing help. She can come to your house, visit with you, help care for baby and answer questions you may have.
The best thing you can do for your mental health is to take a few minutes daily to meditate or belly breathe. Engaging the diaphragm in belly breathing (Just Breathe Blog) boosts the immune system, calms the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) and boosts the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). It has a reflex connection with the pelvic floor, so helps to calm fussy muscles, as well as to connect again with the abdomen and pelvic floor. It can help stimulate colon motility and with any swelling in the abdomen by boosting the lymphatic system.
The second thing that can really help build resilience and healing during postpartum recovery is positive mindfulness (Don’t worry, Be Happy blog). Take the time to consider what you are grateful for. Note the good things that happened each day and write them down. Then revisit those words on days when it seems the world is weighing you down. This can really boost mood and enhance healing.
Physical Activity During Recovery
In the first weeks during postpartum recovery there are a few simple physical activities to begin with that can jump start healing:
- Begin gentle pelvic floor muscle contractions. Imagine you are bringing your tailbone toward your pubic bone, or picking up a blueberry with your vagina. Relax completely, repeat 10 reps daily. Disclaimer: IF you have significant pelvic pain, or these exercises worsen your pain, stop and come into see a pelvic PT who can best assess your musculoskeletal system.
- Sit with good posture, as much as you can. When nursing, bring baby up to you, use pillows, etc. so you aren’t hunching over each time you nurse. If you sit on the floor with baby or toddlers, find a comfortable leg position that allows your shoulders over your hips and your spine in a comfortable neutral position. Again, Disclaimer: if you feel completely confused by all this and unsure what a neutral spine is, make an appointment to see a provider who can help!
- MOVE! Aerobic activity is so good for us. Get up and walk around the house, just 5-10 minutes will boost the endorphins in our brain calming our nervous system and aiding in healing. If weather permits, take a walk outside. Sunshine and fresh air are also so helpful in the brain/body connection and healing.
- Get help if something is wrong. If you are leaking urine or stool to the point it is limiting your function, don’t wait for that 6 week doctor visit. If you have significant heaviness or pain, call your provider. In Kansas, you can see a Physical Therapist without a doctors’ referral and our specialists in women’s health are trained to screen for things that would warrant a visit with your medical provider. We can absolutely help you with significant prolapse, incontinence severe pain or limitations to mobility.
- Sleep when baby sleeps, get your rest when you can. Sleep is very important for tissue healing and for stress management.
- Don’t start any new exercise, and don’t return to running, boot camps or high level exercises before 6 weeks post-delivery…more to come on that phase of recovery next week!
The battle wounds of labor and delivery can be daunting, but the more you know about what you can do for yourself, the less worried your brain will be about your body and the less pain and limitations you will have to recovery. When we feel good, the rest of the family feels good too!
At Foundational Concepts our specialists will provide a 15-minute free postpartum screen to help guide you in your postpartum journey. They will look at Diastasis, pelvic girdle strength and stability and screen for pelvic floor concerns. We are here to educate, support and guide you to a healthy recovery after baby.