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Home > Learn > Postpartum > >How Long Does it Take to Recover From Childbirth?

How Long Does it Take to Recover From Childbirth?

Aug 24, 23 6 min

By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton, OBGYN

The weeks following birth are extremely important for supporting long-term health and well-being for both mom and baby. We give so much attention and care to preparing the body for pregnancy, but often leave postpartum recovery out of the conversation. To best support health and wellness, it’s vital that those who recently gave birth see a healthcare provider to assess the healing process and discuss any ongoing care needs. [1] Let’s talk a bit more about what to expect for postpartum recovery. 

What Should I Expect While Recovering From Childbirth?

There are a lot of physical and emotional changes that come with childbirth. It’s important to be prepared for potential symptoms you may experience after delivery. 

Cramping

Your healing process will begin the first few days after giving birth. It’s common to experience some contractions or cramping after giving birth, which is actually your uterus beginning to shrink down to its pre-pregnancy size. [2] It’s also normal to feel cramping for a while when you first start breastfeeding. [3] This is a result of the hormone oxytocin being released when nursing, which is also helpful for shrinking your uterus. [3] Learn more about cramping during pregnancy. 

Bleeding and Discharge

After giving birth, it’s expected that you will experience some bleeding and discharge for a few weeks. [3]This discharge is called lochia and contains blood, mucus, and uterine tissue. [4] This will start on the heavier side, but should begin to get a bit lighter as the days go on. It’s not recommended to use tampons after giving birth, so stick to pads, period panties, or whatever you’re comfortable wearing, so long as you avoid inserting anything into the vagina. [5]

Difficulty Sleeping

Many new parents struggle to get adequate sleep after bringing home a newborn. It can be difficult to tend to responsibilities when battling fatigue. Some parents will struggle with postpartum insomnia, or will feel extremely fatigued or unable to sleep as a result of postpartum depression and anxiety. [1,5] Some research suggests that magnesium can help support relaxation- learn more about taking magnesium postpartum. If you are having a hard time adjusting and need help managing rest, speak to your healthcare provider. 

Pain

Although childbirth is a very natural process, it can still cause a great deal of pain. Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean section, your body has completed a huge feat and is bound to feel a bit sore. [2,5] Some people will also tear during delivery or need an episiotomy, which can take about a month or longer to heal. [6] Use ice packs, wear comfortable clothing, take any recommended pain medications, and use lots of pillows or an inflatable ring when sitting down to ease some of your pain. [2,6] 

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Mental Health 

Mental health is just as important as physical health and should always be a part of the conversation when discussing birth and postpartum recovery. [1,5] Not only do some people develop postpartum depression, anxiety, or other conditions, but hormones during pregnancy and postpartum can be somewhat of a rollercoaster. [2] It’s normal for this to cause rather extreme emotions. Some people will experience what is known as the “baby blues” which is a temporary rush of sadness or emotion the first few weeks after birth. [2,5] If you are experiencing any difficult emotions or are concerned about your mental health, be sure to speak to a healthcare provider. 

Physical Activity and Sex

Depending on your pre-pregnancy body and how your delivery went, you may slowly begin to regain some strength after about three weeks. [2] If you’re hoping to exercise, start slowly with a walk, and gradually increase your activity level as you feel comfortable. [5] Most healthcare providers recommend waiting at least six weeks after birth for sexual activity, but you should wait as long as you need to feel comfortable. [7]

While I do want to make sure you’re prepared for some of the not-so-fun parts of postpartum recovery, keep in mind that there are also many wonderful parts to look forward to! Returning to doing and eating all of the things you love and bonding with your baby are some of the sweetest moments of postpartum life. 

How Long Does It Take to Recover After Giving Birth?

Truthfully there isn’t one easy answer to this question- everyone has different experiences when giving birth and may have a different timeline for healing. If you’re wanting a general timeline of what to expect, many healthcare providers agree that it takes about six weeks to heal from giving birth. [1,2,7] That being said, some researchers have argued that there are multiple phases of postpartum recovery, and the third phase may actually last up to six months. [8] There are many internal changes still occurring months after giving birth, including the restoration of muscle tone connective tissue, changes to the reproductive and urinary system, etc.  [8]

The bottom line is that you should start to feel more like yourself after a few weeks, and may be cleared for physical activity, sex, or other activities six weeks postpartum. Speaking to your healthcare provider directly is the best way to ensure you are recovering properly. [1] 

What Can Help With Postpartum Recovery?

Depending on your needs during recovery, your healthcare provider may recommend various products to aid in your healing journey. If you are hoping to support your nutritional needs, be sure that you’re eating the recommended amount and drinking plenty of fluids. [1,5] You may want to look into a postnatal vitamin to encourage adequate nutrient intake. Products such as Natalist Nip & Lip Balm can also be helpful for healing cracked or sore nipples. If approved by your healthcare provider, you may find comfort in pain medications, ice packs, heating pads, or other products intended to provide comfort. [1,2,5] Browse some postpartum products here, or continue reading about postpartum life. 


References:

  1. Optimizing postpartum care. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 736. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2018;131:e140–50.
  2. Beach, E. What To Expect While Healing After Giving Birth. Cleveland Clinic. October 2022. URL
  3. Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK148970/
  4. Lochia. Cleveland Clinic. March 2022. URL. Accessed August 2023. 
  5. Caring for Your Health After Delivery. Cleveland Clinic. February 2022. URL. Accessed August 2023. 
  6. Episiotomy. Cleveland Clinic. May 2022. URL. Accessed August 2023. 
  7. A Partner's Guide to Pregnancy. FAQ032. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. January 2023. URL
  8. Romano M, Cacciatore A, Giordano R, La Rosa B. Postpartum period: three distinct but continuous phases. J Prenat Med. 2010;4(2):22-25.
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