Preparing for postpartum is a monumental task, but one that often gets overlooked. As a labor and delivery nurse, I am ALL about getting you prepared for birth. But in my opinion, preparing for birth ALSO means preparing for postpartum.
Because when it’s all said and done, you’re going to have a newborn to take care of, and YOU are going to be an entirely new person as well.
In this article, we’re going to unpack what you can do during pregnancy to prepare for postpartum including education, supplies, mindset tips, and more.
Getting educated for birth is so, so important, but truly, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make sure you were ready for postpartum too.
- Why are there so few resources out there for postpartum and recovery?
- Why is preparing for postpartum and its potential realities important?
- What's normal and what's not during your postpartum recovery
- Tried and true tips for your physical postpartum recovery
- What other things can you do to prepare for postpartum?
- Some final words of advice as you're preparing for postpartum
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Why are there so few resources out there for postpartum and recovery?
To kind of set the stage for the information in this article, I want to talk about this for a second. When you’re pregnant, you are no doubt getting TONS of ads and info about pregnancy, birth, and baby products on the internet.
Have you noticed a lack of resources and info related to postpartum? It’s definitely something I’ve noticed.
And while there are excellent resources out there, I think they are more often found by the mama who’s already in the throes of postpartum life as opposed to the pregnant mama who could equip herself with information.
So, why is this?
The candy wrapper analogy for pregnancy and birth
This is not a Liesel original, but this is one of the best analogies I’ve heard!
Basically, during pregnancy mom is like a wrapper around a piece of candy. So during that time, everyone is taking care of her, educating her, and making sure the candy [baby] gets out of the wrapper [mama] without issues.
Then, birth is kind of a big culminating moment that gets all the attention. But as soon as the candy is out of the wrapper, the wrapper [mom] gets cast aside and everyone only cares about the candy [baby].
Think about it. Once you give birth, there are lots of check-ins and appointments for baby, but only one appointment for mom at 6 weeks postpartum. And unless she seeks out support, mothers here in the U.S. are essentially left to fend for themselves.
In the U.S., the system is failing moms when it comes to education, support, and resources to both prepare for AND navigate postpartum recovery.
Where’s my village?
How did we let this happen? I don’t think anyone knows for sure, but I can’t help but take a look back at history. When you think about it, historically women weren’t managing postpartum and newborn life alone.
There was much more of a literal “village” surrounding you and women took care of each other during the fragile postpartum time. In other countries, this still happens, but somewhere along the way it got lost in the U.S. and there is a giant gap in care.
Because in our modern society, most women face postpartum and newborn life in total isolation. Our western approach to prenatal care and birth does nothing for postpartum women.
Why is preparing for postpartum and its potential realities important?
Quite simply, postpartum recovery is a part of the whole birth process! I said it in the introduction and I’ll say it again…I believe I haven’t done my job in educating you for birth if I haven’t educated you for postpartum.
To leave women to navigate that alone after a 3-day hospital stay and check-in at 6 weeks is kind of insane when you think about it
You don’t know what you don’t know, so learning about postpartum ahead of time, and having a resource and support system to turn to while you’re in it will help you spot red flags and get the care you need.
Be it your mental health, your pelvic floor, your core, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, bleeding, you name it – there’s just so much.
All while you are meeting this brand-new version of yourself.
What’s normal and what’s not during your postpartum recovery
Here, I want to provide you with a high-level overview of some things to be aware of during your physical postpartum recovery.
- Postpartum vaginal bleeding is expected but should taper off in several days to weeks following delivery. If you do not notice your bleeding progressively getting lighter in color and slowing in amount, notify your provider
- You might pass a few small clots in the beginning but continuing to pass blood clots past the first two weeks or passing blood clots that are large in size is a cause for concern
- Look at your incision site frequently and be aware of what normal and abnormal looks like. If you notice significant redness, swelling, or tenderness at your site you should notify your provider
- You should not have drainage coming from your site. Yellow, green, or brown drainage, especially if it is accompanied by a foul odor is definitely a reason to promptly contact your provider
- If you notice that your incision appears to be opening up let your provider know ASAP!
- Other signs of infection including temperature greater than 100.4 F, pain with urination, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, or severe abdominal pain
Related Reading: How to Prevent Tearing during Birth
- Usually, you don’t need to notify your provider regarding baby blues, but if you have any concern that your baby blues might be transitioning into postpartum depression, notify your provider promptly
- Temporary moodiness, sadness, difficulty sleeping, crying, and feeling overwhelmed can be normal. However, if these feelings last longer than a week or two, or if you ever have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, seek help immediately!
Signs of preeclampsia
- Usually, postpartum preeclampsia occurs in the first 48 hours following delivery, but it can develop as late as six weeks after birth
- If you notice changes in your vision, blurriness, light sensitivity, severe and unrelieved headaches, right sided upper abdominal pain, decreased urination, or rapid weight gain, call your provider
- Some swelling is normal after delivery but if you notice swelling in addition to any of the previously mentioned symptoms, notify your provider
Signs of a blood clot
- Women who have recently given birth are at an increased risk for blood clots
- Deep vein thrombosis is a condition in which blood clots form in the deep veins of your body, most often in your legs but can occur in your arms as well
- Symptoms of a DVT of the leg include pain or tenderness in your leg, swelling or warmth in your leg, and red or discolored skin on your leg
- A pulmonary embolism occurs when an existing blood clot breaks free and travels through the heart to block the arteries of the lungs
- Symptoms of a PE include shortness of breath, sudden chest pain, difficulty or painful breathing, and coughing up blood
Where to find more:
If you’re looking for more details about this, check out these other articles:
- Got Postpartum Chills? 9 Strange Symptoms You May Have After Baby
- The Hospital Stay after Birth: Everything You Need to Know!
- C-Section Recovery Timeline at Home
Tried and true tips for your physical postpartum recovery
I want to put some things on your radar that will help you feel better during the postpartum period. Knowing these tips ahead will allow you to stock up on the personal care items that will support you during this time.
Now, onto the tips!
1. Numbing spray, Tucks Pads, and a peri bottle = Your new best friend!
If you’ve experienced a vaginal tear, this little combo should be in your bathroom, next to the toilet.
Every time you use the bathroom in the first few weeks, make sure you squirt your peri bottle as you urinate (this helps decrease stinging) and pat dry.
Then, apply some numbing spray, stick a Tucks pad on your bottom, and change your pad.
2. Sitz baths are life
Do you know what a sitz bath is? It’s basically a way to cleanse and heal ONLY your lady parts, and it feels AMAZING. A popular and easy way to perform a sitz bath is to purchase a little cover that sits neatly on top of your toilet (as opposed to filling your entire tub up with water and squatting in the tub).
Fill the basin up with warm water, and you can even add a drop or two of your favorite essential oils! Make sure you ask your provider before doing sitz baths, but most providers are completely fine with them and encourage their use.
3. Take your stool softeners and drink lots of warm water
Regardless of whether you’ve had a C-section or a vaginal delivery, that first postpartum poop is not going to be fun. Take it from a girl who MISSED a few doses of her stool softeners and make sure you are on them!
Being constipated 5 days after you have a baby is pretty terrible. Drinking lots of warm water for the first few weeks makes a huge difference in moving your bowels as well!
4. A postpartum compression garment can be really helpful
The main purpose of a postpartum compression garment is to support and align your abdomen until your abdominal organs and muscles can do their normal jobs again.
Many women think they are purely for weight loss, but they play much more into healing than most realize. These wraps may also help reduce pain, increase your mobility more quickly, stabilize your pelvic floor, and even help heal diastasis recti.
If you’ve had a C-section, a compression garment can also take the pressure off your incision while it heals.
Related Reading: What’s the Deal with Your Pelvic Floor
5. Finally, take time for yourself
I know, easier said than done, but make sure you are taking a few minutes a day to focus on JUST yourself. Having a baby is a huge change to your routine and it’s very easy to lose yourself in the process.
Whether it’s reading, meditating, taking a walk outside, or exercising, make sure you carve out a little time for mama each day! Some days it may only be five extra minutes in the shower, and that’s ok! Your mental health is just as important to consider as you transition into this new role.
What other things can you do to prepare for postpartum?
Prepare your relationship
So one thing I want to talk about explicitly is the recommendation to prepare your relationship for a new baby. This is actually a video lesson I include in the Mommy Labor Nurse Online Birth Classes, because it’s just so important!
- Anticipate the realities: Yes, parenthood brings joy! But also anticipate the changes you will have as a couple, as a family, and as an individual. Discuss this with your partner before baby arrives
- Anticipate the stressors and brainstorm: Is there something that already harbors a lot of stress in your relationship? How can we do a better job to prepare for this?
- Think about roles: Who does what? Who is better at doing one task versus another? Do we need to change anything once baby arrives? If so, how can we?
- Think about childcare: What do you feel comfortable with? Keep in mind that things may change after baby is here
Education, education, education!
So, while support and resources for the postpartum days aren’t provided in your standard care, I want you to know that there are a lot of things out there for you.
By getting educated about caring for your newborn and common obstacles you may face before you give birth, you’re transition into motherhood will definitely be smoother.
Furthermore, getting educated about birth will actually help you in the postpartum days as well. Birth education is associated with a more positive birth experience, less birth trauma, and lowers your risk of PPD and PPA.
Here are some areas to get educated in:
- Breastfeeding your baby if that is your plan (love Milkology’s class for this – and it’s under $30!)
- Setting up a healthy foundation for sleep (note, this is not sleep training!)
- How to take care of your newborn (all of my birth classes include 2.5 hours of newborn care education too!)
Set up support systems
Again, we know that your “village” might not just come knocking, but with some digging and intention, you can set up supprot systems! Get your Google on and find out about new mother support groups in your area, lacation support groups, and baby and me events.
I also recommend preparing your home to streamline things and make them as easy as possible! Some ways to do this are:
- Stocking your freezer (either by cooking or using frozen foods)
- Stocking up on postpartum essentials to care for yourself
- Asking someone to set up a meal train to support you during the first few weeks postpartum
Lastly, you might consider connecting with a therapist now if you don’t already see someone, and think about scheduling some extra check-ins for after birth!
Some final words of advice as you’re preparing for postpartum
I want to wrap up this article with some words that I wish someone had said to me. I want you to have realistic expectations about this time, and know that it doesn’t last forever.
- Know that you may feel a huge change in your identity as a parent and you may not welcome this change as easily as you thought you would.
- Be aware that you may not feel as comfortable as you thought you would be. Please know that if you experience this, it is okay and it’s actually really normal!
- You may struggle with finding how to balance everything. New roles, the lack of sleep, an increase in stress, and the emotions of unmet expectations of parenthood
- The reality of becoming a parent can be a huge disappointment if you were picturing one thing and you got another
- Remember to go easy on yourself. This is a learning experience. At the end of the day, you are doing your absolute best!
- Give yourself a LOT of grace and celebrate your wins. Give yourself a pat on the back for the amazing things you DID do that day!