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Self Care after Delivery
The postpartum period
is the period of time from delivery to about 6 weeks. During this time you may experience many physical and emotional changes. It is important to understand what is normal and when you need to call your healthcare provider. It is also important to know how to care for yourself during this time.
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:
- You see or hear things that are not there, or have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby.
- You soak through 1 pad in 15 minutes, have blurry vision, clammy or pale skin, and feel faint.
- You faint or lose consciousness.
- You have trouble breathing.
- You cough up blood.
- Your C-section incision comes apart.
Seek care immediately if:
- Your heart is beating faster than usual.
- You have a bad headache or changes in your vision.
- Your episiotomy or C-section incision is red, swollen, bleeding, or draining pus.
- You have severe abdominal pain.
Call your doctor or obstetrician if:
- Your leg is painful, red, and larger than usual.
- You soak through 1 or more pads in an hour, or pass blood clots larger than a quarter from your vagina.
- You have a fever.
- You have new or worsening pain in your abdomen or vagina.
- You continue to have depression 1 to 2 weeks after you deliver.
- You have trouble sleeping.
- You have foul-smelling discharge from your vagina.
- You have pain or burning when you urinate.
- You do not have a bowel movement for 3 days or more.
- You have nausea or are vomiting.
- You have hard lumps or red streaks over your breasts.
- You have cracked nipples or bleed from your nipples.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
The following are normal changes after you give birth:
- Pain in the area between your anus and vagina
- Breast pain
- Constipation or hemorrhoids
- Hot or cold flashes
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Mild to moderate abdominal cramping
- Difficulty controlling bowel movements or urine
A drop in hormone levels after you deliver may cause changes in your emotions. You may feel irritable, sad, or anxious. You may cry easily or for no reason. You may also feel depressed. Depression that continues can be a sign of postpartum depression, a condition that can be treated. Treatment may include talk therapy, medicines, or both. Healthcare providers will ask how you are feeling and if you have any depression. These talks can happen during appointments for your medical care and for your baby's care, such as well child visits. Providers can help you find ways to care for yourself and your baby. Talk to your providers about the following:
- When emotional changes or depression started, and if it is getting worse over time
- Problems you are having with daily activities, sleep, or caring for your baby
- If anything makes you feel worse, or makes you feel better
- Feeling that you are not bonding with your baby the way you want
- Any problems your baby has with sleeping or feeding
- Your baby is fussy or cries a lot
- Support you have from friends, family, or others
Breast care for breastfeeding mothers:
You may have sore breasts for 3 to 6 days after you give birth. This happens as your milk begins to fill your breasts. You may also have sore breasts if you do not breastfeed frequently. Do the following to care for your breasts:
- Apply a moist, warm, compress to your breast as directed. This may help soothe your breasts. Make sure the washcloth is not too hot before you apply it to your breast.
- Nurse your baby or pump your milk frequently. This may prevent clogged milk ducts. Ask your healthcare provider how often to nurse or pump.
- Massage your breasts as directed. This may help increase your milk flow. Gently rub your breasts in a circular motion before you breastfeed. You may need to gently squeeze your breast or nipple to help release milk. You can also use a breast pump to help release milk from your breast.
- Wash your breasts with warm water only. Do not put soap on your nipples. Soap may cause your nipples to become dry.
- Apply lanolin cream to your nipples as directed. Lanolin cream may add moisture to your skin and prevent nipple dryness. Always wash off lanolin cream with warm water before you breastfeed.
- Place pads in your bra. Your nipples may leak milk when you are not breastfeeding. You can place pads inside of your bra to help prevent leaking onto your clothing. Ask your healthcare provider where to purchase bra pads.
- Get breastfeeding support if needed. Healthcare providers can answer questions about breastfeeding and provide you with support. Ask your healthcare provider who you can contact if you need breastfeeding support.
Breast care for non-breastfeeding mothers:
Milk will fill your breasts even if you bottle feed your baby. Do the following to help stop your milk from filling your breasts and causing pain:
- Wear a bra with support at all times. A sports bra or a tight-fitting bra will help stop your milk from coming in.
- Apply ice on each breast for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your breast. Ice helps your milk ducts shrink.
- Keep your breasts away from warm water. Warm water will make it easier for milk to fill your breasts. Stand with your breasts away from warm water in the shower.
- Limit how much you touch your breasts. This will prevent them from filling with milk.
Your perineum is the area between your rectum and vagina. It is normal to have swelling and pain in this area after you give birth. If you had an episiotomy, your healthcare provider may give you special instructions.
- Clean your perineum after you use the bathroom. This may prevent infection and help with healing. Use a spray bottle with warm water to clean your perineum. You may also gently spray warm water against your perineum when you urinate. Always wipe front to back.
- Take a sitz bath as directed. A sitz bath may help relieve swelling and pain. Fill your bath tub or bucket with water up to your hips and sit in the water. Use cold water for 2 days after you deliver. Then use warm water. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about a sitz bath.
- Apply ice packs for the first 24 hours or as directed. Use a plastic glove filled with ice or buy an ice pack. Wrap the ice pack or plastic glove in a small towel or wash cloth. Place the ice pack on your perineum for 20 minutes at a time.
- Sit on a donut-shaped pillow. This may relieve pressure on your perineum when you sit.
- Use wipes that contain medicine or take pills as directed. Your healthcare provider may tell you to use witch hazel pads. You can place witch hazel pads in the refrigerator before you apply them to your perineum. Your provider may also tell you to take NSAIDs. Ask him or her how often to take pills or use the wipes.
- Do not go swimming or take tub baths for 4 to 6 weeks or as directed. This will help prevent an infection in your vagina or uterus.
Bowel and bladder care:
It may take 3 to 5 days to have a bowel movement after you deliver your baby. You can do the following to prevent or manage constipation, and get control of your bowel or bladder:
- Take stool softeners as directed. A stool softener is medicine that will make your bowel movements softer. This may prevent or relieve constipation. A stool softener may also make bowel movements less painful.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Liquids may help prevent constipation.
- Eat foods high in fiber. Examples include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and lentils. Ask your healthcare provider how much fiber you need each day. Fiber may prevent constipation.
- Do Kegel exercises as directed. Kegel exercises will help strengthen the muscles that control bowel movements and urination. Ask your healthcare provider for more information on Kegel exercises.
- Apply cold compresses or medicine to hemorrhoids as directed. This may relieve swelling and pain. Your healthcare provider may tell you to apply ice or wipes that contain medicine to your hemorrhoids. He or she may also tell you to use a sitz bath. Ask your provider for more information on how to manage hemorrhoids.
Good nutrition is important in the postpartum period. It will help you return to a healthy weight, increase your energy levels, and prevent constipation. It will also help you get enough nutrients and calories if you are going to breastfeed your baby.
- Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. You may need 500 to 700 extra calories each day if you breastfeed your baby. You may also need extra protein.
- Limit foods with added sugar and high amounts of fat. These foods are high in calories and low in healthy nutrients. Read food labels so you know how much sugar and fat is in the food you want to eat.
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water per day. Water will help you make plenty of milk for your baby. It will also help prevent constipation. Drink a glass of water every time you breastfeed your baby.
- Take vitamins as directed. Ask your healthcare provider what vitamins you need.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol if you are breastfeeding. Caffeine and alcohol can get into your breast milk. Caffeine and alcohol can make your baby fussy. They can also interfere with your baby's sleep. Ask your healthcare provider if you can drink alcohol or caffeine.
Rest and sleep:
You may feel very tired in the postpartum period. Enough sleep will help you heal and give you energy to care for your baby. The following may help you get sleep and rest:
- Nap when your baby naps. Your baby may nap several times during the day. Get rest during this time.
- Limit visitors. Many people may want to see you and your baby. Ask friends or family to visit on different days. This will give you time to rest.
- Do not plan too much for one day. Put off household chores so that you have time to rest. Gradually do more each day.
- Ask for help from family, friends, or neighbors. Ask them to help you with laundry, cleaning, or errands. Also ask someone to watch the baby while you take a nap or relax. Ask your partner to help with the care of your baby. Pump some of your breast milk so your partner can feed your baby during the night.
Exercise after delivery:
Wait until your healthcare provider says it is okay to exercise. Exercise can help you lose weight, increase your energy levels, and manage your mood. It can also prevent constipation and blood clots. Start with gentle exercises such as walking. Do more as you have more energy. You may need to avoid abdominal exercises for 1 to 2 weeks after you deliver. Talk to your healthcare provider about an exercise plan that is right for you.
Sexual activity after delivery:
- Do not have sex until your healthcare provider says it is okay. You may need to wait 4 to 6 weeks before you have sex. This may prevent infection and allow time to heal.
- Your menstrual cycle may begin as soon as 3 weeks after you deliver. Your period may be delayed if you breastfeed your baby. You can become pregnant before you get your first postpartum period. Talk to your healthcare provider about birth control that is right for you. Some types of birth control are not safe during breastfeeding.
For support and more information:
Join a support group for new mothers. Ask for help from family and friends with chores, errands, and care of your baby.
- Office of Women's Health, US Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW Room 712E
Washington , DC 20201
200 Independence Avenue, SW Room 712E
Washington , DC 20201
Phone: 1- 800 - 994-9662
Web Address: www.womenshealth.gov
- March of Dimes Postpartum Care
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains , NY 10605
1275 Mamaroneck Avenue
White Plains , NY 10605
Web Address: http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/postpartum-care.aspx
Follow up with your doctor or obstetrician as directed:
You will need to follow up within 2 to 6 weeks of delivery. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them at your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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