As your due date draws closer, most mamas are learning as much as they can about labor and delivery – and for good reason! This is definitely one of the biggest milestones of your life.
But today I actually want to focus on the time frame just beyond birth so that you’re totally prepared for your hospital stay after birth too! The first 48 hours after birth are a critical time of recovery for you, and there’s a lot you can do during your hospital stay to make your transition home with baby a bit easier.
In this article, I am focusing on the hospital stay after an uncomplicated vaginal birth. If you know you’re having a planned C-section, then this is the guide for you!
Read on to learn what happens right after you have your baby, what to expect once you’re in your postpartum recovery room, and detailed tips for what you can do to make the most of your hospital stay after birth. Let’s dive in!
- What happens immediately after you birth your baby?
- Moving to your postpartum recovery room
- What to expect during your hospital stay after birth
- How long do you stay in the hospital after giving birth?
- 8 tips to make the most out of your hospital stay after birth
- Feeling like you have a better sense of what to expect?
What happens immediately after you birth your baby?
So, it makes sense to start an article about your hospital stay after birth with the moment baby comes out. I’m going to give a brief overview here, but for ALL the details on the first two hours after birth check out this article, What Happens Immediately after Giving Birth?
Basically, once baby comes out you will stay in your labor and delivery room for around two hours. These two hours are pretty busy, but as long as you and baby are stable, your main focus will be on practicing skin-to-skin with babe and initiating the first feeding.
But while you’re doing that, here’s some of what will be going on around you:
- Immediately after baby comes out they will be dried and given any necessary suctioning and stimulation, as needed. If baby is stable after delivery this might be done directly on your chest (immediate skin-to-skin), but sometimes they need to be briefly taken to the warmer for more vigorous suctioning and stimulation
- A newborn specialist will be present to assign an APGAR score to baby at 1 minute after birth and again at 5 minutes after birth. APGARs are a standardized scoring system that evaluates baby’s appearance, pulse, grimace, activity, and respiration. It’s a way of determining if any immediate assistance or interventions are needed to help them adapt to life on the outside
- As long as you and baby are stable, baby can do skin-to-skin on your chest for the next 1 hour or so, and most other newborn procedures can be delayed
- But before you leave the labor and delivery room, we will get baby’s measurements, frequently check vital signs, and administer a vitamin K shot and antibiotic eye ointment (these are optional, and/or can be delayed until later in your stay in you wish)
And a lot is going on with YOU too!
- You will deliver your placenta and then your uterus will begin contracting back down to it’s pre-pregnancy size
- If you had any tearing during birth, you will likely get stitched up during this time. In the event of severe tearing (this is very rare!) you may have to go into the OR for more extensive repair
- Your nurse will be assessing your uterus to make sure it’s doing it’s job in the form of fundal rubs. This is essential for spotting extra bleeding and postpartum hemorrhage, so we take it very seriously! If there’s any sign that things aren’t contracting properly or postpartum hemorrhage is occurring, we have a number of interventions (many that are done directly at the bedside) to help things along
Once we feel like your bleeding is under control and we’ve done all of these other immediate post-birth things, visitors can come into the room (at your discretion) and you can usually have something to eat and drink.
Like I said, all of this takes about 2 hours, and then we will transfer you and baby to a postpartum recovery room for the rest of your stay!
Note: Some hospitals do have LDRP rooms (labor, delivery, recovery, and postpartum), so if that’s the case you won’t move!
Moving to your postpartum recovery room
Postpartum recovery rooms are typically a bit smaller than the labor and delivery rooms, and in most parts of the country private postpartum rooms seem to be the norm. The big exception here that I’ve discovered is in NYC, and at some other very densely populated urban hospitals.
You should definitely confirm the details of your postpartum room before you go into labor so that you can mentally prepare for the experience.
What are postpartum recovery rooms like?
I can mostly speak to the rooms at my hospital, but in chatting with other L&D nurses from around the country what we have seem to be the norm. You won’t get anything super fancy, but you will most likely have a private room with a bathroom.
Some recovery rooms have a double or queen-sized bed for partners. Others have a pull-out sofa bed for partners to use. As for mama, you will likely have a single, standard hospital-style bed that has motorized adjustment capabilities.
For baby, there is usually some sort of safe, mobile bassinet/cart that they will use for sleep when they are rooming-in, and to be safely transported around the floor as needed. Most (probably all) hospitals have a policy that baby can only be transported out of the room while in their little cart. This cart is often where baby supplies are stashed (diapers, burp cloths, creams, etc.).
Some other things that postpartum rooms often have are rocking chairs, mini fridges, a small table with two chairs for eating, and a TV.
Family-centered postpartum care
Most facilities across the country are adopting a family-centered approach to postpartum care. This means that postpartum rooms include comfortable accommodations for partners, and encourage new parents to do rooming-in with baby (for at least most of the stay!). This doesn’t mean you can’t utilize the nursery a bit to get some much-needed sleep, but it does encourage you to have baby in the room as much as possible.
The main goal behind the family-centered postpartum care model is so that partners are learning how to care for their newborn as a team, and you both are using your hospital stay after birth as a time to get to know baby’s cues and become more comfortable with newborn care while there are experts there to help you!
What to expect during your hospital stay after birth
Once you are moved to your postpartum room we will start to bother you a little less, but we will still be coming in every 2-4 hours to check you and baby’s vitals. It may be more frequent if anything abnormal comes up.
When your postpartum nurse comes in to check vitals, they will also be assessing your pain, checking in about feeding, and are available to answer questions as needed. She will do some educating around things like swaddling, diaper changes, and cord stump care, as well how to make yourself more comfortable! Like teaching you how to apply an ice pack, and other postpartum care things.
Throughout your stay, you can expect the pediatrician to come in to visit baby at least twice (maybe more depending on any risk factors or concerns). Baby will receive a heel-stick blood test to screen for a number of disorders, and in most states, a hearing test as well.
You’ll have an exam done by your OB or midwife before you can be discharged too. There is also a ton of paperwork that you’ll need to fill out, including the all-important info for the birth certificate!
How long do you stay in the hospital after giving birth?
For vaginal deliveries, most insurance companies cover a 48-hour hospital stay, and that seems to be a general policy in most hospitals. However, there are a number of factors that determine your and baby’s readiness for discharge. And in 2015 the American Academy of Pediatrics put out an official policy statement suggesting that the length of stay should be based on a set of criteria instead of a length of time.
Some of the factors include:
- Health of the mother
- Health and stability of the newborn
- Ability and confidence of the mother to care for herself and her newborn
- Adequacy of support systems at home
- Access to appropriate follow-up care
- Input from mom, the provider, and pediatrician should be considered
You can read more specifics on how health and stability are defined as well as more details on all of these factors in the official statement.
Even with all of that in mind, it still seems to be that the average hospital stay is right around 48 hours (maybe a bit shorter or longer depending on the time of day you give birth), but it typically includes two overnights.
What if I want an especially short hospital stay?
If you have an uncomplicated delivery and are interested in a briefer hospital stay this may be possible. I usually recommend that mamas ask about this ahead of time to understand their hospital’s unique policies surrounding early discharge.
I have certainly seen mamas leave sooner than 24 hours, or at right around the 24-hour mark. Often these are second (+) time moms who’ve had uncomplicated vaginal births. They feel confident in their newborn care ability, and mama and baby are stable.
Leaving after only 24 hours will take some advocacy on your part. There are a lot of hoops to jump through to get discharged, so definitely speak up early on if you are hoping for this and it’s feeling possible based on you and baby’s postpartum adjustment.
8 tips to make the most out of your hospital stay after birth
Okay, now that I’ve gone through a kind of “what to expect” during your stay, I wanted to share some advice on how to make the most of it! Remember that above all this is a time to rest and recover, and learn as much as you can in real-time about caring for your baby so that you feel confident to bring them home.
1. Rest as much as possible
This might seem obvious, but it can actually be kind of hard to do if you’re not intentional about it! After you give birth, your body needs to HEAL. And in order for that to happen you need rest and sleep.
Between all of the professionals coming in to check on you and baby, plus a newborn to care for, it’s already kinda hard to sleep. Don’t over-schedule visitors or feel like you have to make a ton of phone calls and Facetime during these first days. You need to rest mama!
2. Limit visitors
And kind of piggybacking on that last point, I REALLY challenge you to limit visitors as much as possible during your hospital stay, maybe even going as far as to say no visitors! As an L&D nurse, I see the way that visitors take away much-needed rest and learning time from brand new moms.
The moms that don’t have a ton of visitors often are able to sleep more and spend more time focusing on learning breastfeeding and other newborn care techniques from the professionals at their fingertips.
Actually, one of the silver linings of COVID from my perspective as a nurse was that visitors weren’t allowed. Mom could take their 48-hour hospital stay to truly rest and focus on baby without the guilt of “hosting” visitors. I know not all will agree, but I just want to be candid about my perspective when visitors simply weren’t allowed.
3. Learn about newborn care
Hah – it’s funny how these all are so interrelated. But yes! It is such a gift during your hospital stay that you have access to expert newborn care specialists, postpartum nurses, and one-on-one time with the hospital pediatrician.
Ask lots of questions and write things down that come up between when they check in with you that you want to know! I remember asking my nurse if she could review swaddling with me and burping, and it was so helpful!
4. Utilize the lactation consultants
And if you plan to breastfeed, this is a must! I want you to become best friends with the lactation consultant on staff. Most big hospitals will have at least one there every day. They usually are only scheduled to drop in once or twice during your visit, but if you’re a squeaky wheel and show a willingness and want to learn, you can see them a lot more often.
Even if you don’t *think* there’s a problem going on, have them come in to just watch you feed baby. I guarantee they will have some pointers and advice. If your hospital doesn’t have readily available LCs, your postpartum care nurse is probably also very well-versed in breastfeeding basics. So utilize her!
5. Advocate for yourself
This is so important. Speak up about ANYTHING that you’re unsure of, concerned about, or don’t understand during your hospital stay. Don’t let lingering pain be discounted, and make sure you get the support you need to thrive when you leave the hospital.
I recommend you go check out our article Ways to Advocate For Yourself During Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond for more specific examples and things you can do.
6. Make a connection with your nurses and other staff
This is a little insider tip if you will 😊 But if you can make a connection with the nurses and staff your whole experience will be that much better. On the whole, MOST new mamas do this anyway, and your nurses want to make that connection, but as the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
So even if things feel frustrating, or you’re getting rubbed the wrong way, definitely be assertive and advocate for yourself, but try to do it in a way that’s dignified and friendly, and I assure you the experience will be better!
7. Have a plan for social media
If you don’t want your birth announced on social media (especially before YOU get a chance to do it), make sure you are SUPER explicit with loved ones! Tell them to please not share the news or any pictures, etc.
I have definitely seen some family drama surrounding this, and I don’t want you to have to deal with this! If you don’t mind if other people share your news and post freely, then that is fine too. This is a very personal preference.
8. Use the supplies the hospital provides
The hospital has pretty much EVERYTHING you are going to need for your own postpartum comfort and for your newborn. Definitely use what they have and don’t be shy about taking consumables home. Most nurses will automatically load you up before you go, but if they don’t, don’t be afraid to ask!
Feeling like you have a better sense of what to expect?
LIke I mentioned in the introduction, I think this is a part of birth that often gets glossed over, but there is really so much to learn and benefit from during your hospital stay after birth! With this knowledge you’re going to leave the hospital feeling ready to rock the newborn days.
Don’t miss some of other resources that will help you erase the unknowns of birth for an easier transition into motherhood:
- Online Birth Classes for Every Type of Birth
- Hospital Bag Checklist for Mom, Partner, and Baby
- Guide to Write a Birth Plan with FREE Template