There are many elements to your recovery from birth. It is the uncertain nature of the process which means that each woman’s experience post birth will be somewhat different.
Your birth may be easier or harder, vaginal or caesarean, a first child or a fourth. You may be breastfeeding or bottle, your baby may be a good sleeper or not so settled, you might have a lot of backup at home or little in the way of support. That said there are certain key themes that emerge and need attention to regardless of your circumstances.
Sleep. In my mind the most important aspect of coping with a new baby and recovery from birth in the early phase of motherhood is ensuring adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation has a cumulative effect. Left unchecked this drains a person both physically and emotionally. Chronic lack of sleep is a major risk for postnatal depression. All babies will wake at night to feed. This is normal. All babies will also sleep for periods of time during the day. Use at least one of those day time sleeps to have a nap yourself. Turn off the phone and the TV, lie down for 1-2 hours. At first you might just doze, but if you do it every day soon your body will be accustomed to a day time snooze. This will help with the night-time ahead.
Nutrition. Make time to eat well and healthily after the birth of your baby. If you are breastfeeding you will need extra fluids every day to help your supply and to avoid mild dehydration and the lethargy this brings. Be flexible until you have a routine with your baby, then try to set regular meal times. Healthy snacks and avoiding too much in the way of processed food (treats, confection, sauces, take-away foods) and keeping in check the serving size of simple carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, pasta, rice, potato) will assist gradual return to pre-pregnancy weight levels.
Exercise. Return to exercise will vary according to the nature of your birth and any complications that may or may not occur. However, within a few days you should be largely self caring and able to walk on the flat for short distances, gradually increasing what you can do. Walking and getting outside in fresh air is great exercise and good for your mental health. Walking the pram daily is a great way to settle a crying babe as well. Use the walk as a chance to visit someone, or go for a coffee at the shops. This avoids feelings of isolation which staying inside all the time can bring. If the birth has been complex discuss appropriate exercise types and schedule with your health professional. In routine circumstances I suggest return to active physical exercise at six weeks eg: gym, cycling, pilates etc. Running is probably best left till around 10-12 weeks to allow full recovery of pelvic joints and the ligaments supporting the vagina and uterus.
Debriefing. After your birth there should be an open discussion of what the process was like for you, and to ensure you understand what happened. This is particularly important if interventions were required during labour to ensure your and your baby’s safety. At the time it can all seem a bit of a blur. Regular open discussion afterwards can fill in the gaps and assist planning for next time. Not understanding the events surrounding your birth and stay in hospital leads to anxiety, worry and sometimes resentment, all of which are negatives for your mental health and can be avoided if you have all the information about what happened during your labour and answers to any questions about your baby’s birth.
Make an appointment to discuss your gynaecological concerns or your recovery from birth.
This article has been written by Dr Peter England – Expert Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Read more about Dr Peter England