Postpartum Healing: Mind, Body and Soul
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In the flurry of activity that follows your baby's birth—the visitors, the hospital stay, those first few sleepless nights at home—some things might suddenly become less important. Those freezer meals you swore you'd make become take-out pizza, and handwritten baby shower thank-you cards turn into quick emails instead. But one thing that you can't skimp on is your postpartum healing process.
In the weeks and months following the birth of your baby, your body is recovering from a serious trauma. Birth isn't easy, whether you had a c-section or delivered vaginally. Without giving your body proper time to heal, you could be doing yourself a disservice—and even making it more difficult to regain your old body back.
It's not just your body you need to bounce back—you need mental and emotional healing as well. With all of the changes, you could be dealing with some serious mental health issues—without even realizing it right away. After you're done healing physically and mentally, you can then turn your attention to becoming the best parent you can be.
When you take a minute to think of what your body just accomplished, it's pretty amazing. You created life and delivered a healthy baby—so a little respect, please! Don't expect your body to bounce back to its former glory right away. "The most important thing to do is rest," urges Dr. Adam Wolfberg, an obstetrician specializing in maternal-fetal medicine at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. "You just had a baby. Do not feel compelled to rush out and exercise. Enjoy your baby, and take time to recover."
The first few days after having baby should be spent in recovery at the hospital or at home. Walk as soon as you feel you're able, but don't rush out to hit the gym. Instead, Dr. Wolfberg suggests waiting for four to six weeks before formal exercise, especially if you're recovering from a c-section. If you begin exercising too soon, you could damage your incision, so relax and take your time.
After six weeks, you'll head in for an OB/GYN appointment. There, your doc will check the healing process and answer questions about birth control. If you notice any problems sooner, be sure to give your doctor a ring. "Be on the lookout for fever, or worsening pain or bleeding. Any of these signs warrant an immediate call to your doctor," Dr. Wolfberg warns. "Worsening pain, fever, or redness on your breasts could be a sign of mastitis (breast infection). In general, you should feel progressively better. If you start to feel worse in any way, call your doctor."
Emotional and Mental Healing
Your body isn't the only part of you that takes a beating over the nine months of pregnancy and your labor and delivery, so expect an emotional rollercoaster after meeting your long-awaited bundle of joy. What your mother affectionately calls the "baby blues" could actually be postpartum depression, or PPD. The CDC reports that anywhere from 11 percent to 20 percent of women suffer from PPD after giving birth. Depression, sadness, a loss of interest and fatigue are the most common side effects, so mention any issues to your OB in order to get help or a referral to a specialist.
When you're already dealing with the emotional toll of having a baby, staying sequestered in your home combined with lack of shut-eye can compound the issues you're having. You may have rolled your eyes when a friend told you to "sleep when the baby sleeps," but it's a smart and simple way to catch up on lost slumber. Skip the guilt from the stacks of dirty laundry and make sure that your sleep is top priority. Tidying up can wait—your baby will be better off without a slumber-deprived zombie to care for her!
To avoid cabin fever, it also helps to get out of the house. If you're wary of germs transferring to your fragile little one, have a friend tend to her while you take a walk around the block. Or, invest in a sling so you can "wear" your baby when you're out and about. It'll limit the amount of interaction strangers have with your infant and you'll get some sanity-restoring time out of your home.
It took your body 40 weeks to create life, so cut yourself a little slack. You can't expect 40 weeks of changes to disappear in a matter of days. Instead, give yourself the patience and time it takes to heal from having a baby and get the help that you need, if necessary. When it comes to getting healthy after pregnancy, slow and steady always wins the race.