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Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Recovery

While preparing for their first pregnancy, many women have an insatiable thirst for information. They read self-help books, check the newest dietary recommendations and follow the growth of their belly through each trimester, all while peppering their doctor or midwife with questions.

But when labor is over and the baby has safely arrived, a woman’s body has a new set of changes to navigate, all with a new family member demanding her attention.

In many cases, new moms might think they can “bounce back,” but recovery takes longer than you might expect. According to experts, this is normal, and moms need to know when it’s time to ask for help.

Recovery Time

“Postpartum recovery is different for everybody, and often depends on the type of delivery,” said Sandra M. Rappe, MD, a physician specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Abington - Jefferson Health.

For example, some women deliver quickly and recover quickly, while others can be in labor or induced for two or three days and take longer to recover. Women also recover differently from a Cesarean section versus a vaginal birth.

Generally, women can expect to take six to eight weeks to recover following delivery.

“Although people heal at different rates, most people will feel better within the first week or two after delivery,” said Dr. Rappe. “C-section patients will have restrictions on activities such as driving, stairs and lifting.”

Dr. Rappe recommends that women take at least six to eight weeks before returning to work, if possible, though postpartum leave can vary widely among employers. The United States has a federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), guaranteeing unpaid maternity leave for 12 weeks annually in companies with 50 or more employees.

On the other hand, if your delivery came with complications, you should turn to your doctor for guidance on recovery time.

The Healing Process

During the healing process, many women experience bleeding for four to six weeks. However, if that bleeding suddenly becomes heavier, you should speak to your doctor. You should also seek your doctor’s guidance if you have a fever with a temperature over 100.4 degrees.

“Some women will experience night sweats due to the hormonal changes following delivery but these should improve after a week or two,” said Dr. Rappe.

It is also normal to notice some swelling in the lower extremities as the body’s fluid shifts following delivery. Dr. Rappe says this is nothing to be afraid of as long as the extremities are symmetrical and you don’t have a history of high blood pressure. If one leg is bigger than the other or you have pain in your calf, you should call your doctor.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask the Embarrassing Questions

Dr. Rappe reminds patients that no question is off limits. For starters, she recommends that patients wait six weeks before resuming sexual intercourse.

“At your six-week follow-up, we will discuss your birth control wishes and options,” she said. These options include condoms, pills, depo-provera, nexplanon, IUDs or sterilization.

It’s also common for new mothers to experience issues with bladder or bowel function. You may notice less bladder control, but this should improve with time and Kegel exercises. Women may also be afraid to have a bowel movement for fear of tearing or injuring their stitches, but this rarely happens.

Asking for Help

One of the biggest changes new mothers should prepare for isn’t physical.

“It’s normal to experience what is known as the ‘baby blues,’” said Dr. Rappe. “Don’t be surprised to find yourself crying unexpectedly over the first one or two weeks.” But beyond the first month, unexplained mood swings, despondency or emotional detachment could be a sign of postpartum depression and should be discussed with your doctor.

In all, Dr. Rappe encourages new mothers to take care of themselves as well as they take care of their new addition. “Everyone focuses on the baby, but if you’re not taking care of yourself by getting rest, getting outside and getting active, you’re not in the best shape to take care of the baby,” she said.

While everyone is coming to visit, don’t be afraid to ask them for a favor, a diaper change or time for a quick nap.

“Moms try to do everything,” Dr. Rappe continued. “But if you can delegate a little, that will go a long way.”

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