7 Things No One Tells You About the Postpartum Recovery Period
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7 Things No One Tells You About the Postpartum Recovery Period

Postpartum recovery comes with physical and emotional challenges. Learn what no one tells you before welcoming a new baby.

Updated March 29, 2024

by Anabelle Kerrigan

Medically reviewed by Kristy Goodman

Obstetrician-Gynecologist Physician Assistant, MS, MPH, PA-C

The postpartum recovery period is a time of great joy and excitement as you welcome your new baby into the world. However, it’s also a time filled with physical and emotional challenges. While it’s natural to focus on the joys of parenthood, it’s also important to be aware of the realities of this period. From physical discomfort to emotional ups and downs, many things can catch new parents off-guard. No matter how many postpartum tips you read, they all focus on the positive side. So, we’ll explore seven things no one tells you about postpartum recovery. Whether you’re a first-time parent or a seasoned pro, understanding what to expect during this time can help prepare and empower you to take care of yourself and your new family.

7 Things to Know About the Postpartum Recovery Period

Women often discuss the ups and downs of pregnancy, from morning sickness to glowing skin. However, we don’t usually discuss the physical changes after giving birth. It’s understandable to feel embarrassed or worried about complaining, but talking about these changes is essential.

Remember, every woman experiences these changes, albeit in a unique way. Knowing what to expect in the first few weeks is essential to have a healthy postpartum recovery period. So here are the things no one tells you about postpartum recovery and how to handle them.

1. Your Body Needs Time to Return to Its Previous State

Your body accommodated your baby for nine months, so it might take a few months to return to its pre-baby state. But don’t worry; your uterus will shrink back down after stretching. You can try mild exercises like walking or modified abdominal exercises to bring your belly back under control. Be careful not to overdo it, and consult your doctor before exercising. A little movement is good, but too much could delay your recovery.1,2

2. You’ll Feel Pain and Discomfort

If you gave birth vaginally, it might take a while for the swelling and bruising to go down. It’s different from recovering from a C-section because, during labor, your muscles, ligaments, and skin stretch a lot. Some women experience vaginal tears, or a doctor may perform an episiotomy to make delivery easier. Either way, the site may feel sore and bruised for a few weeks.4

To soothe and cleanse the area, you can use a sitz bath and a donut-shaped cushion to take the pressure off while sitting. You should also start Kegel exercises within the first few days after delivery. They increase blood circulation, which speeds up healing and helps the tissue stay flexible as it heals.3

3. There Will Be Postpartum Contractions

Labor contractions are often compared to the worst period cramps. But one of the things no one tells you about your postpartum recovery period is you might experience cramping after childbirth. Those cramps are the ones that help expel the placenta and contract the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size.5,6

Breastfeeding women may likely experience these cramps before feeding because breastfeeding stimulates hormones associated with the uterus shrinking back down. A full bladder can even make it worse! The cramps will pass, but you can ease them by emptying your bladder before feeding your newborn and sitting up with your legs folded while breastfeeding. This position brings your uterus forward to relieve pressure on it. If contractions become more intense or seem unusual, contact your doctor.5,6

4. Your Period Can Return Sooner Than You Think

If you’re not breastfeeding, your period will likely return after about 6-8 weeks, and many people assume that breastfeeding prevents the return of menstruation, but this is not always the case. Fertility can return while breastfeeding, and this is because every woman’s body responds differently to the hormones of lactation. Whether or not menstruation returns during breastfeeding, it’s always best to consult your doctor about birth control options or family planning methods that feel right for you.7

5. Your Breasts Will Change

A woman’s breasts undergo many changes during pregnancy and after childbirth, including growth, pain, and leakage. Some women may notice their breasts feel less full a few months after birth. This can be alarming, as it may seem like the milk supply has disappeared overnight. However, this is not the case; your body regulates your supply better to meet your child’s needs.8,9

It takes 4-12 weeks for your postpartum body to regulate milk production and produce the right amount for the baby. As a result, the breasts may feel lighter or even empty, even though you’re still producing milk. It’s important to remember that lactating parents always produce milk, even if it doesn’t seem like it.8

6. Your Hair Will Change, Too

During pregnancy, increased estrogen levels can lead to fuller, thicker hair. However, after pregnancy, these hormone levels drop and return to normal, which causes your hair growth to return to normal. It might even mean you notice some hair loss before it regrows, but once your hormones stabilize, things should return to normal during the postpartum recovery period.10

7. Postpartum Recovery Period Allergies are a Thing

Hormonal shifts after pregnancy can change how our bodies react to the outside world, including causing postpartum allergies. During pregnancy, the body suppresses its immunity to avoid rejecting the growing fetus. Once the body’s defense mechanism reactivates after birth, it may take its job too seriously and attack outside forces previously inconsequential. This can lead to allergies to foods that were once staples in the diet or skin irritations from products that never caused problems before. It’s helpful to know that these allergenic flare-ups are often temporary.11

The postpartum recovery period is a time of significant change and adjustment, both physically and emotionally. From the normalcy of feeling overwhelmed and emotional to the physical discomfort and transitions in your body, preparing for the challenges that can arise is essential. It’s also important to remember you’re not alone, and support is available from your healthcare provider, family, friends, and postpartum support groups. By taking care of yourself and seeking help when needed, you can emerge from the postpartum recovery period feeling stronger, more confident, and better equipped to handle parenthood’s demands.

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Anabelle Kerrigan is a stay-at-home mom of three and a part-time content writer. She is passionate about writing and enjoys sharing her experience and adventures as a mom. In her… Read more

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