What you'll need postpartum
Updated: Mar 18, 2020
After you've given birth, a lot of focus shifts from the mother to the baby. The baby definitely needs this care and attention, but your health needs and recovery process are every bit as important! The postpartum period is an essential time for a mother and baby to bond and adapt to their new lives.
The initial postpartum period is generally considered to be the 6 weeks that follow labor and delivery. These tips will apply to anyone who has ever had a baby, though - once postpartum, always postpartum. This is the time period in which the new mother's body heals from the delivery process and adjusts physically and emotionally to the new changes in her life.
There are a few items and practices that you’ll need in order to give yourself and your baby the best foot forward in this journey.
Food is Fuel
One of the most important things for new mothers to have on hand is good food! The things that you eat contribute to the quality and quantity of your breastmilk and will give you the energy you need to care for a little one.
You can prepare and buy a lot of the food you'll need beforehand, and there are several recipes that are easy to make after you've given birth. However, don't feel embarrassed to reach out to your friends, family and community for food assistance during this time. Consider setting up a meal chain within your community. This can help you feel recognized and loved by your social circle, which is an important emotional support!
One of the most important things to remember about postpartum eating is to not focus on losing weight. Regularly eating a lot of hearty, nourishing food is critical to your health and the health of your baby. Don't be tempted to cut back on your food intake due to weight. For now, focus on eating well and packing in as much delicious nutrition as possible.
Although everyone has different tastes and dietary restrictions, there are some general do's and don'ts when it comes to nutrition for postpartum mothers.
Soups, stews, and broth
Lots of warm or room temperature water
Healthy fats (Avocados, coconut oil, almonds, etc.)
Subtle, warming spices (Cinnamon, black sesame, ginger)
After you give birth, your entire body undergoes a massive change. Your organs and digestive tract are working on recovering and moving back to their pre-pregnancy positions. Because you lost a fair amount of liquids during birth, might be breastfeeding, and are experiencing postpartum bleeding (at least for a short time), keeping hydrated is also massively important.
Soups, stews, and broth are easy and nutritious choices for a postpartum diet and staples for helping your body and mind heal. These can often be prepared ahead of time and frozen, making a quick and easy meal when you need it. A good amount of fats in your diet will help you to rebuild torn tissues within the body, and warm spices can help stimulate your digestion (as well as add some nice flavor!)
Cold food (ice cream, chilled smoothies, etc)
Raw fruits or vegetables
Caffeine (Coffee, soda, energy drinks, etc.)
Overly spicy food
A common thread that connects a lot of postpartum advice is to stay warm! Taking cold food or drinks into your body can slow down your digestion and blood flow. Warmer bodies circulate blood more quickly, leading to a faster recovery. Several Ayurvedic practices encourage new mothers to only drink warm or room temperature drinks.
While we all enjoy a warm drink from time to time, this advice is more than just a good idea. The body is doing a lot of extra work during postpartum and we don’t want it to ALSO have to heat up the food we eat before digesting it. Drinking warm beverages ultimately conserves energy and helps you have a faster recovery.
Uncooked fruits and vegetables are harder for your body to break down during this period, which can lead to stomach pain, indigestion, and constipation. We want lots of vegetables after having a baby, so try to make sure that they've been roasted, boiled, or cooked in some way to make them easier to digest.
For more detailed information on postpartum eating advice (as well as a lot of great recipes) I recommend the book, "The First Forty Days.”
Self Care for the Healing Body
Food isn't the only thing you're going to need after giving birth. Your body has just undergone an intense experience and everything is going to be in flux for a little while. Below are some tips and practices that can speed up your recovery and give you better mental, physical, and emotional grounding.
It's no secret that sleep is often in short supply for new mothers. A baby requires nearly constant contact, feeding, and care. But one way to get in a few extra zzz's during these first few weeks is to try to sleep whenever your baby is asleep.
It can be tempting to catch up on work or do chores while they're napping, but try to resist this as much as possible. You can try putting laptops, phones, and even books out of reach so that you're not tempted to distract yourself in your precious moments of down time. (In some cultures, TV isn’t even allowed the first 40 days postpartum to encourage resting and sleeping!)
Sitz baths are a popular method for new mothers to stay clean, warm, and even boost their healing process. In the first few weeks after childbirth, your vagina and the surrounding area are very tender and sensitive. Strong soaps and toilet paper are not recommended during this time, so a sitz bath can be a good way to take care of yourself.
A sitz bath is a bath where you sit in the base of a bathtub or shower and submerge in warm water up to your hips, or use a plastic insert for your toilet. Herbs or oils like epsom salts can be added to this shallow water to boost the healing and cleansing process (A postpartum doula or a postpartum nurse can guide you in what herbs or oils to add.)
In addition to the physical health benefits, taking a few minutes a day to be alone and just take care of your body can do wonders for your mental and emotional health.
Daily massages are a popular postpartum practice in many cultures around the world. Daily massages might not be possible for every new mother, but the occasional rubdown can go a long way. This can improve your circulation, relax your muscles, and alleviate stress.
Intensive postpartum massages should only be performed by those who have been specifically trained. Doulas and specialist masseuses are great resources to turn to. Lighter massages can be performed by friends, partners, or even by yourself! This video gives a nice step-by-step process for giving yourself a postpartum massage.
Postpartum belly wrapping is a traditional practice in many cultures. It's a way for a new mother to feel secure and supported, both physically and emotionally. By compressing your lower torso, you can encourage your body to shift all the organs back to where they should be, which ultimately speeds up your recovery.
Belly wrapping is usually done by wrapping a long, wide piece of cotton cloth around your stomach and hips, compressing them securely, but not tightly. This can also give you better posture, alleviate back pain, warm your core, and support your abdomen. Ask your doctor if belly wrapping would be a good idea for you and make sure that you stop if you feel stifled, uncomfortable, or have difficulty breathing. A postpartum doula can be helpful for getting you started in belly wrapping.
Adjustment Items for the New Mother
In addition to eating well and caring for your body, there are a few items that will help you get through the postpartum period more easily. Chances are that you've prepared a lot of items for your new baby, but don't forget to pick up a few things for yourself as well!
After you've given birth, you’re going to experience some postpartum bleeding. This is completely normal, and maxi pads are an easy way to deal with it. Tampons are going to be a no-go for a while, so stock up on large, comfortable pads - or better yet, adult diapers. A lot of mothers I know like to use multiple pads at once, completely lining their underwear.
Your vagina is going to feel pretty irritated, painful, and itchy during the postpartum period. A small ice pack will do wonders for alleviating pain! If you're already feeling chilled however, try not to use an ice pack too often. Sitz baths or heating pads are other options for treating vaginal pain.
For a couple of weeks after birth, toilet paper is going to be off limits. You don't want to rub or irritate any stitches you might have, so a peri bottle (aka squirt bottle) is the best way to stay clean. These are simple plastic squirt bottles that you fill with water and spray along your perineum after using the bathroom.
Comfortable and supportive nursing bras are a great investment for new mothers! Your breasts are going to be under a lot of strain after pregnancy and birth (especially if you breastfeed) so comfortable nursing bras are a huge blessing. You may need to get a larger bra after your milk starts coming. Feel free to call or visit your local maternity store so they can fit you for a nursing bra if you feel you aren’t getting the right support.
As we mentioned in the food section, heat is an important part of the healing process. A heating pad will help you feel more relaxed, soothe sore muscles, increase your blood circulation, and ultimately speed up your recovery!
Doctor approved medication
For many people, medication is going to be an important part of the healing process in addition to any natural remedies. Consult with your doctor and make sure that you have all the necessary prescriptions for dealing with pain. Ask a professional before taking any extra medication to make sure it won't affect your baby.
Sesame oil for massage (or a similar soothing lotion)
Your body's natural oil production may be in flux during postpartum, so soothing lotions and natural oils can be a way to balance this out. Take special care of the areas that feel dry or chapped, such as your lips, face, or nipples. (Make sure that your chosen oil or lotion is safe for your baby to make contact with!)
Your digestion is going to be a bit out of balance in the weeks following birth. Constipation and indigestion can be very painful to deal with, especially if you've experienced tearing. Stool softeners can make going to the bathroom easier and will help prevent further pain.
Most of these items are available for reasonable prices and some of them can even be made at home (such as a homemade ice pack or heating pad). Consider putting some of these items on your baby registry so that you have everything you need for a quick postpartum recovery!
For more motherhood information and support, join us for prenatal (or postpartum) yoga! Visit our website for time and location.