Caring for Yourself and Your Newborn Postpartum

Some of the most common questions we have about parenting are really the day-to-day, down and dirty questions. The basic answer to any parenting questions is to listen to your baby and your instincts. Never hesitate to ask someone what worked for them, use what you need and throw away the rest.


Diapering and Cord Care

Newborn diaper and cord clamp on belly button

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Whether you use cloth diapers, disposables, or a combination, your baby will usually need at least 8-12 diapers per day. Some babies will use more diapers than others, some less. You will need to have a few small sized diapers available, knowing your baby will quickly outgrow them. Try buying two packages of newborn sized diapers. Cloth diapers can make it expensive to buy extra sizes. Many cloth families choose to either use disposables or a service for the first few weeks until the baby fits in average size diapers. If people wish to give diapers as gifts, ask for variety small size (not newborn).

Diapering a newborn is not difficult. Always have the clean ones handy and bring everything you need to one spot before removing the old diaper. Ensure baby is on a safe surface and do not leave the baby unattended, even small babies can roll. For beginners, we recommend stripping the baby entirely. This saves you some laundry in the end. Boys and girls can spray you, so beware.

Umbilical Cord Care

Your practitioner should tell you exactly how they want you to care for the cord, but let's go over the basics.

The cord needs to be clean to prevent infection. Signs of infection include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Foul odor

The cord will fall off within a few weeks.


Bathing Your Newborn Baby

Newborn Baby's First Bath

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Bathing baby can be very fun. The key is flexibility.

Babies don't get very dirty. And despite advice to the contrary do not need baths every day. If they enjoy them, however, you are more than welcome to bathe them daily.

As with every baby task, gathering your equipment prior to starting is essential. Once you're ready there are a couple of ways to do it:

  • Bathe baby with you in the tub
  • Use a baby tub for the counter/sink
  • Washcloth and basin bath

While talking about bathing and keeping baby clean it's important to mention that soaps can commonly dry baby's skin. Some babies are very sensitive to chemicals found in even the most gentle of cleanser. Keeping these to a minimum is a good idea, particularly the smaller the baby.


Calming a Crying Baby

Swaddled baby

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Before you can look at how to soothe a crying baby, it's important that you know why babies cry. Here is a partial listing of what could make a baby cry, some might surprise you:

  • Hunger
  • Dirty/Wet diaper
  • Pain
  • Lonely
  • Frustrated
  • Overstimulated
  • Tired
  • Bored

Just like adults our babies can through many emotional situations that leave them unable to cope. While there are cues for most problems prior to crying, crying is the one sure sign that the baby isn't happy or is in need of something.

Figuring out that something isn't always easy. Trying the basics like feeding, holding, changing etc. might work the majority of the time and yet others it won't. Don't take the crying of your baby personally and know that you can't always stop it or prevent it.

Here are some tips for dealing with a crying baby:

  • Hold baby
  • Bundle baby in a blanket
  • Feed baby
  • Change baby
  • The infamous car ride
  • Rock baby
  • Take a walk with baby in a sling or other carrier
  • Use white noise (vacuum, shower, hairdryer, tape)
  • Music
  • Motion (hold baby while washer is spinning or on dryer, do not leave baby alone, even in a car seat)
  • Whatever works!

Knowing your baby's cues and knowing your limits can be very helpful. There will be days where the crying might get to you. Do not be afraid to let someone else take care of the baby while you take a walk or a shower.

If you're feeling really frustrated and you're alone, try to sit the baby in a safe place (car seat strapped in on the floor, crib, etc.) while you take a quick shower or turn up music in another room for a few minutes. Call a friend, ask for help. Don't be afraid, we all have these days, and it does not mean that you're a bad parent. It means that you are human.


Physical Changes in Mom After Birth

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While you may dream of wearing your old clothes as soon as the baby is born, it's generally not going to happen that way for many women.

It took your body nine months to build itself up for the baby, and it will take time to return to your "normal" self, though the size may always be slightly altered.

The first few days you may notice that you are very warm all the time, perhaps even sweating profusely. This is generally due to hormonal changes and it's helping your body to rid itself of the fluids that have built up to sustain the baby and the placenta. This is generally not painful, just annoying.

After Pains

After pains are the contractions that help your uterus return to its normal size. They begin after the birth of the baby and are normal and natural, bringing the placenta out. For nursing moms, the oxytocin released while nursing may cause you to notice some cramping right after the birth and during the first few days of nursing. This is a good sign that your body is working.

If you have trouble expelling the placenta or are bleeding too much, try nursing the baby. If that doesn't work, uterine massage will usually be initiated, and then a medication will be given to help you contract to prevent bleeding if all else fails.


Postpartum Bleeding

Postpartum mother and abdomen

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Bleeding probably comes as the biggest surprise for most women. The bloodshed after the vaginal or cesarean birth of your baby is called lochia. The lochia will start out bright red and contain clots for the first few days. It is coming from the healing of the placental site as your uterus shrinks back (involutes) to its pre-pregnancy size, which takes about six weeks. The bleeding will generally become light in flow and lighter in color until it stops completely. This signals that the location where the placenta was located has healed over.

Let your lochia be your guide. If you're doing too much you will generally notice a heavier or darker flow than from the day before. The lochia should smell much like a menstrual period. Any other odors or problems should be reported to your practitioners.

Since your body is healing you will want to use pads to catch the flow rather than tampons. This will also help protect you from infection. Since the first few days are the heaviest, wear older underwear or the mesh panties from the birth to avoid ruining your good clothes. Consider incontinence pads, or even small baby diapers for these first few days. After that, any type of menstrual pad will generally work.


Perineal Care After Birth

Yungatart Sitz Bath

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Whether you had an episiotomy or not, and regardless of whether you had stitches or not your perineum will be sore.

As your perineum begins to heal you can help it along by doing the kegel exercises we've been doing throughout pregnancy. These will help return the flow of blood to the area, helping it heal more quickly, even if you had stitches.

If you did need to have stitches, your doctor or midwife will discuss how to care for them and what your recovery will be like. They may even prescribe some medications to assist in pain relief. The stitches are generally going to dissolve on their own, though you may see bits of the threads come off on the toilet paper.

Ask your practitioner to show you the sutures and explain what you are looking for as far as infection goes (odor, extreme redness, swelling).

For all bottoms the following measures will feel good and promote healing:

  • Kegeling: Again to promote healing and blood flow return.
  • Sitz bath: Warm bath with or without medications/herbs, sometimes portable as in over the toilet.
  • Air out: Try sitting on a pad without underwear at least once a day.
  • Warmth: Some practitioners recommend a heat lamp or a hair dryer on a warm but slow setting for pain relief.
  • Cold: You can use ice packs or special pads with cold packs built in. These are especially great the first few days when you may be swollen.
  • Medications: You can use prescription medications, but many doctors and midwives will tell you that the use of witch hazel pads (like Tucks) work just as well to help with itching and soreness.

Postpartum Emotions

A new mother with postpartum depression.

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Postpartum is a time of great change, both physically and emotionally. The changes in your body and its chemistry are great in number and your life has had a major upheaval, even if a planned upheaval. Unfortunately, the emotion that you may hear about most often will be postpartum depression (PPD) and it's various counterparts. However, it is also equally as possible to feel completely elated and totally joyful, if not a bit frustrated at times.

Baby Blues

These are generally hormonal in nature and strike between 48 and 72 hours after you give birth lasting up to two weeks postpartum. This is characterized by crying, irritability, anger, exhaustion, tension, restlessness, anxiety, and possibly insomnia. This can strike anyone.

Postpartum Depression

A fewer percentage of the women will have true postpartum depression. This is generally characterized by a worsening of the normal symptoms, possibly postpartum panic or mania, even obsessive-compulsive disorders (including repetitive thoughts that might be repulsive). Some women will even experience post-traumatic stress disorders, particularly after a traumatic birth (individually defined).

Postpartum Psychosis

Very few women will go to the far extreme, postpartum psychosis. This is generally seen with most of the previous symptoms, plus hallucinations, confusion or delusions. This is very serious and requires immediate attention for the safety of the mother and the baby.

Getting Help

Getting help for any form of depression is very important. Calling on your friends, family and your birth team for support is essential in dealing with this. Some women simply need time and support, while others will require counseling and medications. Getting help can mean the difference in your life. Neither of you should hesitate to call for help.


Baby Feeding

Woman breastfeeding

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The decision on how to best go about baby feeding is usually made in pregnancy. You have the choice to breast, bottle or combination feed, which is a personal choice. However, it is important to note what all the major health organizations say: breastfeeding is the best baby feeding method for mom and baby.


Breastfeeding should begin within one hour after birth. To begin simply put the baby belly to belly and help them open their mouth wide and place the nipple in their mouth. (That's the short, easy version.) We highly recommend reading everything you can get your hands on about nursing, and to attend classes specifically designed for teaching moms to breastfeed. Many hospitals and birth centers will offer lactation consultants for your assistance.

Bottle Feeding

If you decide to bottle feed, it is important to check with your baby's doctor for the selection of a formula (artificial breast milk) to help ensure adequate nutrition.

Making your own formula can be very dangerous to the health of your baby.

The equipment you need will depend on what type of bottles you choose and whether you are using bottled water, well water or tap water. Discuss this with your baby's doctor and consider getting a report from your local water company if in doubt about your water supply.

How soon you feed your baby after birth will usually depend on the hospital schedule. if you have a preference for formula or bottles, it's best to incorporate that into your birth plans. Classes are also offered by most hospitals. After the birth, you will not be given medication to dry up your milk. Usually, you will be counseled to wear a tight-fitting bra, avoid breast stimulation and to take medications to deal with the discomfort. This can last up to 2 weeks.


Sex After Baby

Couple with new baby

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Yes, there is a sex life after baby. Due to hormonal and familial changes, your sex life will seemingly be on hold. Wait until your practitioner has given the go-ahead for sexual relations (they are looking for the healing of the uterus and the perineum), and this can be up to six weeks after the birth.

Once that has occurred, keep an open mind and go slowly. Talk about how you are each feeling physically and emotionally. Rushing back into sex when one or the other partner isn't ready can only make things worse. Also remember that being sexual doesn't have to mean simply intercourse, but it can involve a variety of activities, including cuddling, masturbation (mutual or alone), intercourse, etc.

Fear of hurting your partner can be a hindrance to romance. So can a baby screaming just as you're finally ready to act. Keep a sense of humor handy.

If you find that sex is painful, remember to go slowly and ensure that the woman is well lubricated; sometimes you will need to use a personal lubricant, like KY Jelly or Replens. If going slowly and a bit of time doesn't seem to help never hesitate to ask your doctor or midwife about potential causes.

You may also notice that your breasts may leak during sex. This is not a problem and will not waste breast milk for your baby. It is not harmful to you or your partner. If it bothers you, you can wear a bra with nursing pads to stop the leaking. Most moms who experience this only notice this the first two months after a new baby.

There are further considerations for sex after a C-section.


Your Six Week Check Up

New dad holding a baby

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This marks the official end of your typical prenatal/postpartum care with your practitioner. Unless you've had surgery, you've probably not seen your doctor or midwife since 24-48 hours after the birth. Be sure to bring all of your questions with you about the birth, future pregnancies, birth control, health etc.

Birth control is also an important topic to discuss. It is possible to get pregnant. There are many methods of reliable birth control (hormonal and otherwise) for the new mother (including breastfeeding moms). Don't hesitate to ask.

In addition to discussing birth control and the birth, you will probably have your annual exam, including a breast exam and pap smear. This means that you will not have to see your practitioner for a year unless you have questions.

When Will It Be Normal?

One of the most common topics couples want to discuss the postpartum period is when will life return to normal?

It will likely take you about nine months to a year to redefine normal. Slowly but surely your relationship will grow and your new baby will be incorporated into your family.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  7. Cleveland Clinic. Pregnancy: physical changes after delivery. Updated January 2018.

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