Recovering from delivery: What’s common and how to ease it

Learn what to expect when recovering from childbirth

woman holding baby after delivery

So the baby is here, and it’s thrilling time. But, in all the excitement surrounding the new baby, no one told you about what happens next right? Many new moms are caught off guard with the transition after baby arrives, and are not well prepared for what they can expect their body to go through.


With any kind of birth, you can expect some degree of discomfort. For some women, this is mild and for some it can be very uncomfortable the first few days. Women might experience everything from generalize all-over-your-body soreness to a more localized discomfort such as the perineum (area between vagina and rectum) or at the incision site if you had a cesarean delivery. Discomfort after having a baby can last anywhere from a day or two to even a few weeks for some women.

What can help?

  • Ice: Apply ice/cold to the area after you get home. Use a gel ice pack that is reusable if you have one, or you can make a pack at home by filling a zip lock baggie with a small amount of ice (crushed ice works best).
  • Heat: Some women might find that heat feels better than cold. Try a nice warm bath (wonderful after vaginal delivery) or gently apply a heating pad to your abdomen for cramping or incision pain. Be careful not to fall asleep with a heating pad applied.
  • Medications: If you had a cesarean delivery, you most likely will be sent home with a prescription medication for pain. For vaginal births, Tylenol and ibuprofen (Motrin) are commonly used. Take medications only as directed.

Vaginal bleeding

After having a baby, women will experience anywhere from seven to 10 days of postpartum bleeding (lochia) up to six to eight weeks of spotting. There is a great variation in how long this lasts. The flow is generally heavier like a heavy period in the first two to three days and lightens gradually as the days pass. This flow can change from bright red initially to pink to tan to yellowish.

Bowel movements and hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids happen. Yes, it’s true. Some women develop hemorrhoids during pregnancy and others might have them pop up all of a sudden after a vaginal delivery. Even if you don’t have hemorrhoids, that first bowel movement after having a vaginal birth can be intimidating to say the least. Don’t be afraid; it really will be OK. The key is to avoid constipation and make sure you are having daily soft bowel movements.

What can help hemorrhoids and bowel movements after delivery a little easier:

  • Drinking water: Your care provider most likely talked with you on the importance of hydration in pregnancy and it doesn’t stop now. You continue to need to be well hydrated after giving birth and especially if you are breast-feeding. I would advise 80 to 100 ounces of water daily. If you are dehydrated, you WILL get constipated after giving birth.
  • Stool softeners: Over-the-counter stool softeners like Colace are a great idea for the first couple of weeks after giving birth. This medication helps keep more water in the bowel to keep the stool softer.
  • Healthy foods: Help your tummy out by eating well. Good nutrition is key to normal digestion. Consider a daily cup of yogurt, plenty of fruits and veggies (broccoli and spinach), and beans (kidney, garbanzo, etc.). There are also some high-fiber cereals and granola bars as well. When looking at packaging, try to find fiber at least 5 grams per serving.
  • Witch hazel pads can provide some cool relief to hemorrhoids.

Sore breasts

New moms (breastfeeding or not) will generally experience at least some period of breast soreness. Some fullness or engorgement is normal as your milk comes in after giving birth. Breastfeeding moms may experience redness and discomfort of the nipples at well.

What you can do to help:

  • Non-breastfeeding moms should wear a firm and very supportive bra. Cold/ice helps immensely for discomfort. Try placing a bag of frozen veggies (corn or peas work best) on top of your bra for some cool relief. Another trick is to use cabbage leaves. Peel a couple of large leaves off the cabbage head, place them in the freezer for an hour or two and then place the cold leaf directly on your skin. Tylenol and ibuprofen can also help lessen the discomfort.
  • Breastfeeding moms: Your baby’s good latch is so important. The better a baby latches, the less pain you will have. Pure lanolin creams work well to help protect your skin. Simply apply a small amount to the nipple and areola after baby feeds. Cooled gel pads can also feel great. If your nipples are cracked and/or bleeding, see a lactation consultant or your care provider for an assessment.

Mood changes

Many women experience mood changes after baby is born. “Postpartum blues” as this is frequently called, can include anxiety, sadness, easy to cry, mild mood swings, irritability, changes in appetite and trouble sleeping. This generally will fade in the first two weeks after having a baby.

For a smaller number of women, postpartum blues progresses into postpartum depression. This can start in the few first weeks after baby is born to even a few months after. The symptoms of postpartum depression are more severe than postpartum blues. These can include severe mood swings, withdrawal from family or friends, trouble bonding with baby, excessive crying, inability to sleep or sleeping way too much, loss of interest in things you love to do, severe anxiety, irritability or anger, thoughts of hurting yourself or others, feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of death or suicide.

If you ever have concerns about your emotional well-being, contact your care provider immediately.

Warning signs for which you should call your care provider:

  • Fever greater than 100.4
  • Soaking a sanitary pad with blood in less than an hour for more than two hours in a row
  • Very foul smelling vaginal bleeding/lochia
  • Signs of infection at incision site: Increasing redness, puss coming from area, worsening pain
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or others

When thinking about postpartum recovery in general, remember everything should get better – not worse. Every day after having baby should bring less pain, discomfort, bleeding, etc. If you find your symptoms are worsening, that should be an indicator to be in touch with your care provider immediately.

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Posted In Health Information, Pregnancy, Women's