Grace Kapin

How To Take Care of Yourself After Giving Birth: A Postpartum Primer

Grace Kapin
How To Take Care of Yourself After Giving Birth: A Postpartum Primer

Because childbirth is nothing to sneeze-pee at. Just kidding, that is exactly what it is.

 

Every birth experience is unique, and this guide is meant to serve as reminder to keep an open mind about what recovery looks like for you.  Maybe it will be an easy birth, maybe not so much. Either way, your body will need time to recover. Your mind will need time to recover. Seek out the space and support you need to feel empowered during this transition. When you carry a baby in your body for 9 months there is a visible reminder of the work you’re putting in on a daily basis to sustain a life. Postpartum bodies don’t always send the same signal out to the world, and it can be easy for everyone (yourself included) to forget that giving birth is a huge event. Taking the best care of yourself during this time is incredibly important. 

MOTTO: One day at a time. First baby, seventh baby, each one is different. Allow yourself the freedom to adjust to an entirely new way of living life.

GOALS: To take it easy. To not forget that you are recovering from a major mental and physical experience. To get some rest, if you can, when you can. To carve out some time for showering and other solo activities.

RULES: Do as much prep as you can, but expect the unexpected (a fun semi-contradictory piece of advice for new parents). Ask for help. Do you need to hand the baby to someone else? Would you like a glass of water (the answer is always yes)? Some time to go for a walk? Ask. Lastly, the internet is your friend but also not really.


MYTHBUSTERS

✘ MYTH: Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing it right.

✔ TRUTH: Ya know, who knows? If you choose to breastfeed our take is that your boobs are probably not accustomed to being used as a spigot so don’t assume experiencing some pain means abject failure. If you’re having latch issues, ask for help.

✘ MYTH: Your body will “snap back” after birth and you can wear your high-waisted jeans again right away.

✔ TRUTH: Lol. Actually. You may still look pregnant for a little while. Every body is different, so temper your expectations on the wardrobe front and don’t ditch your leggings just yet (or ever!).

✘ MYTH: You should sleep when the baby sleeps.

✔ TRUTH: Can you do that? If so, more power to you. Get all the rest you can. But when our babies were sleeping, we used that time to eat, pee, shower, not be holding a baby, have adult conversations, buy more diapers online, etc.

✘ MYTH: Other moms have it figured out. Their babies sleep, their diapers don’t explode, they really seem to have a handle on parenthood.

✔ TRUTH: They most definitely do not. Just because you may not see a person struggling doesn’t mean they have their sh*t together. No matter what a situation looks like from the outside, we are all learning as we float along on this flimsy parenthood raft.

✘ MYTH: Having a newborn is a blissful time. If you are not feeling the bliss, something is wrong with you. 

✔ TRUTH: Some of us do not feel the infinite bliss with a newborn. It can be stressful, painful, exhausting and upsetting. It can be anything and there is nothing wrong with the way you are feeling. And on another note, postpartum depression is real. If you suspect you are experiencing signs of PPD, don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.

 

A SHORT-FORM POSTPARTUM CHECKLIST

1. BATHROOM THINGS
☐ Peri bottle
☐ Sitz bath
☐ Crotch spray
☐ Maxi pads
☐ Witch hazel pads
☐ Dry shampoo
☐ Stool softener

2. GEAR
☐ Mesh undies
☐ Other comfy undies you won’t feel bad ruining
☐ Robe
☐ Pajamas/ loungewear
☐ Nursing pads

3. BREASTFEEDING
☐ Nursing pads
☐ Nipple balm
☐ Nursing bras

4. DAILY ACTIVITIES
☐ Take regular showers
☐ Get out of the house
☐ Eat real meals
☐ Find time to sleep/rest
☐ Avoid sitting or standing
for long periods
☐ Drink any and all water

5. ODDS & ENDS
☐ Stockpile some podcasts
and reading material
☐ Heating pad
☐ Ice packs and/or DIY padsicles

Note: If you plan on breastfeeding and/or pumping, check out our guide for How to Pack A Hospital Bag and our Minimalist Baby Registry for a list of must-haves. If you had a planned or unplanned C-section, you’ll most likely need many of the same items listed above, depending on whether you labored at all beforehand. 


AND NOW IT’S TIME FOR THE BREAKDOWN

1. BATHROOM THINGS

We are not here to scare you about childbirth, but we are here to offer some postpartum realness. There are several things you’ll want to stash in your bathroom to help manage postpartum discomforts.

Step one: get yourself a peri bottle, which is a squirt bottle that you fill with water and use post-toilet experience to relieve stinging. You are sensitive and it is not toilet paper, so that is a win.

Product-wise, you will want things to help provide additional relief and put you on the road to recovery. Those are things like, witch hazel pads to layer on top of your maxi pad to create a nice little barrier, and something you can spray directly onto your crotch and hemorrhoids for instant relief (yes! hemorrhoids!).

Taking regular sitz baths is a good idea, which is a little tub you sit in for 10-20 minutes (you can also do this in a few inches of water in an actual bathtub). The addition of soothing, healing ingredients to that experience is encouraged. Your doctor will likely recommend a stool softener, which is kind of non-negotiable.

Finally, if you’re short on time but need an instantly humanizing refresh because you are expecting visitors, a dry shampoo can be a quick upgrade in between legit showers.

Crop tops get bonus points because they make for magically easy and discreet nursing access later. Photo Credit: Phil Oh for Vogue

2. GEAR

You will be spending a good bit of time in your house. Let’s make that time of soreness and general bewilderment more enjoyable, yes?

The baby sleeps and eats all the time, it’s pretty much either one or the other, so you’ll want gear designed to keep you super comfortable but also feeling like a dignified human while your home is teeming with friends and family.

First thing’s first, you will start with mesh underwear. They feel like wearing nothing, which is about the only sensation you’ll find tolerable in your crotch zone after birth. When you run out of mesh undies or feel otherwise compelled to put on real clothes, find some underwear that are comfy, breathable and can be ruined. You might bleed all over them, k.

Getting dressed is going to be about comfort primarily, but without compromising too much on your postpartum lewk. We prefer to keep the focus on lounge items that feel a bit more elevated, like a quality set of PJs and a chic robe. Nice soft fabrics, simple silhouettes, easy nursing access. This way you don’t really have to get dressed for company, but you can still feel put together.

3. FOOD

Stocking your freezer like a doomsday bunker is simply good sense, because homemade meals are really just the best. You won’t entirely forget to eat, but it won’t be your top priority. You probably won’t feel like grocery shopping or cooking, at least not right away. Maintaining a few familiar and comforting pieces of regular life can help to normalize your postpartum experience and make the transition an easier one. It just feels nice to have home-cooked food rather than take out every night.

If possible, we suggest you stockpile some freezer meals ahead of time. One trick we used to build up a stash was to over-make dinners in the weeks leading up to the due date, always setting aside a few extra servings to freeze. When you’re bleary-eyed, hungry and exhausted, it will feel like a real treat to just defrost and reheat. Friends and family will most likely bring you food as well, but it’s always a good idea to supplement so you can have some of your favorite things to eat at the ready.

Do not forget to drink water. Lots and lots of water. You will never be thirstier than after giving birth and while nursing. If you thought having a child inside your body was dehydrating, try having one on the outside sucking the literal life out of you.

 
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4. BREASTFEEDING

If you’re going the breastfeeding route, we can recommend a few things that will make your life easier. The first is to go easy on yourself. We all have an idea of what things will be like (idyllic, pain-free) and that almost never happens (for anyone). Try to go with the flow, heh. Breastfeeding or not, your breasts may leak so nursing pads are smart to have on hand. You can either go the disposable route or washable, up to you. A nipple balm is a must, because even if things are going swimmingly there will be soreness. Having some nursing bras and/or tanks is also helpful, particularly while you’re getting a feel for the art of casually whipping out a boob every hour or so. If your regular clothes can unbutton or easily pull down to access a bosom, that makes for less stress at feeding time as well.

5. DAILY ACTIVITIES

Aka reminders to do the totally regular everyday things that can be strangely elusive once there is a tiny child sharing your space.

Take showering. You may be thinking that you are already well aware that you should be showering. Or maybe you are thinking that you know you won’t have time to shower. Either way, make time, you will be glad you did. Having a hot shower can and should be a much-needed reset when you’re in the newborn bubble.

Getting out of the house is important. It doesn’t have to be for a solo walk, but solo walks are great. Fresh air, daylight, these are essential things that refuel you for the topsy-turviness of life with a newborn.

Move around. Standing or sitting in one place for long periods doesn’t feel the best for sore bodies, and moving around can help to speed recovery. You’ll probably be doing plenty of rocking, swaying and bouncing, which is perfect, so keep up the good work.

Let’s talk about sleeping, because this one is hard. You want to do it, but you may not be able to, at least not for long stretches. Just do your best to remember to rest, and even though it won’t approximate your sleep habits pre-child, it is better than nothing. Eventually, your body will mostly likely learn to function on less sleep. But in the meantime, all sleep is good sleep so get it whenever you can, however you can.

One possibly unexpected aspect of the postpartum experience is that you may experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. With all the visitors and the outpouring of attention from friends and family, it sounds counterintuitive, but they may not be able to offer the peer-to-peer emotional support you’ll need during this time. They also tend not to stick around past the first few weeks. Meanwhile, you are adjusting to caring for a tiny person who communicates only through tearless cries, it’s a unique and specific circumstance and you may find it helpful to find people who are going through something similar, even just for non-baby related chats. Online groups are a great way to meet other parents and make connections you can carry offline. These relationships are lifelines during an intense time and can make a huge positive impact on your general well-being.

6. C-SECTION RECOVERY

For those who delivered via c-section, you’ll find much of the same gear and things useful as you heal as well. You, too, will bleed, and an extra heads up that you will bleed longer if you’re more active post-delivery. Again, we recommend stocking up on mesh underwear and maxi pads, as well as not-too-precious underwear that will likely stain at some point in the recovery process.

Avoiding things like emptying the dishwasher will make a big difference. A few other things in this wheelhouse might feel uncomfortable/painful for a while: picking things up off the floor, walking the dog, reaching for high things. It can be tempting to prove you can do it all while healing, but listen to your body and remember it’s not worth the pain. Focus on taking care of your baby, and tap into your support group for help with the other (high, low) stuff.

You’ll be reaching for your maternity standbys longer than you may have expected, avoiding anything that hits at your hips because of the incision. Embrace the opportunity to extend the lifespan of your go-to pairs of maternity leggings, high waisted undies, and loose-fitting dresses—all the soft things that sit high or avoid your waist.

7. ODDS & ENDS

Amid all the chaos, there is also the interminable boredom. Babies don’t do much aside from sleeping and eating. They don’t talk or move or sing songs. Plan to have a few activities for yourself while feeding or in the in-between moments. Find some new podcasts you’ve been eager to explore, gather books you’ve been meaning to read. There’s a chance you might not have the time, but you’ll be grateful to have some things to look forward to if you do.

PS are you still sore from growing a child and then birthing it? Heating pads feel very good to relieve aching muscles. And frozen padsicles and ice packs do the same thing but for your sore crotch.

// IN SUMMARY //

What you have done (or are about to do) is a truly supernatural, but also very real and difficult thing. You are strong and you are powerful. And that is why you deserve the very best care possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. We bow down to you.

// A PARTING NOTE ABOUT JUDGEMENT //

Let’s do our best to break the cycle of passing judgment on other parents and families. There are a lot of different ways to approach childbirth. As a default, it’s better to assume that we’re all just doing our very best out there ✌️