Why It’s Harmful to Compare Your Postpartum Recovery to Other Moms

Photo of a young mother holding her newborn baby, while sitting in a rocking chair

AleksandarNakic / E+ / Getty Images

You’re four weeks postpartum, staring down an ever-growing pile of dirty clothes, and feeling guilty about not having the time, energy, or desire to keep up with the laundry. Are you lazy? Is there something wrong with you?

No! You just had a baby. And just because your favorite mom blogger is filling her postpartum Instagram feed with photos of clean hardwood floors, pristine baby blankets, and sun-soaked newborn snuggles, that doesn’t mean you’re falling short, lagging behind, or slacking off.

The postpartum period is rough: you’re physically and emotionally drained, adjusting to a new way of life, constantly covered in baby spit up and breast milk, and—of course—physically recovering from giving birth.

The experience is different for everyone, which means your postpartum period won’t look the same or take the same length of time as anyone else’s.

Maybe you’re feeling mentally creative, taking photographs of your baby or keeping up with journal entries in their baby book, but you have zero physical energy to clean your house.

Or maybe you’re handling the day-to-day chores just fine, but finding you can’t even string together a coherent text message to your friends. Worst case scenario, you feel like you're struggling with everything—but even that doesn’t mean you’re failing. You’re recovering—it’s an important distinction.

The Recovery Process

Whatever kind of delivery you had, your body just went through the ringer. It followed up nine grueling months of pregnancy with the birth of an entire human being and, of course, it needs time to heal. You’ll bleed for a few weeks postpartum and may have uterine cramping for some time, too.

It might be super uncomfortable to walk around the block or go up and down stairs. Your mood will likely be up and down as well, leaving you alternatively joyful and weepy. 

This is all totally normal. Remember that you’ll also be coping with sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, and possibly other children. Self-care and—more importantly—self-kindness are essential to a healthy postpartum recovery. 

Reasons for a Longer Recovery

If you’re wondering why you feel like you just can’t get back to normal while your sister-in-law is out at the farmer’s market with her newborn in a baby carrier three weeks postpartum, here are some reasons why your recovery may be taking longer than others.

A Difficult Birth

Some vaginal deliveries go smoothly, but others result in interventions and complications; cesarean sections are literally major abdominal surgery. And on top of the physical demands of giving birth, there can be emotional ones as well.

If you were mistreated during labor, if you or your baby were in distress, or if you simply didn’t have the kind of birth you were expecting, there can be an emotional cost. In some cases, depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorders can occur as a result.

Medical Needs

Caring for c-section sutures, managing prior health conditions, battling engorgement, low milk supply, or mastitis, and coping with hemorrhoids and constipation are all time-consuming and draining. If you’re devoting a lot of time to them in between caring for your newborn, your recovery could take longer.

Not Your First Time

First-time moms who were in good shape pre-pregnancy may find their bodies regaining strength and form more quickly. If you’re a second- or third-time mom, however, it could take longer to feel yourself again. Plus, subsequent pregnancies often happen when you’re older, which means your body just isn’t quite as capable of snapping back into shape as it was when you were 25.

Lack of Support

Parenting is tough, but even more so when you’re doing it mostly alone. Lacking a support system of caring friends and family can prolong your postpartum recovery period since you’ll be handling everything yourself (from cooking to cleaning to errands) and running on empty more often than not.

Other Children at Home

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is only good advice if your newborn doesn’t have any siblings. It can take longer to feel better after birth if you’re spending all of the baby’s nap times caring for older children. 

How to Cope

Ready to tackle your postpartum woes? Try one of these solutions.

  • Ask for help: Accept the frozen dinners, the offers to run errands, and the chance to kick back while someone else empties the dishwasher. Don’t be afraid to make a specific request for help to a friend or family member who said “Let me know if you need anything!” Every little bit of assistance helps.
  • Do something you love: Your baby is taking up all your free time and brain cells, but doing literally anything you enjoy, whether it’s painting a portrait or just painting your toenails, can help you feel better.
  • Get outside: If you’re feeling sluggish and low-energy, grab some fresh air. Taking a short walk can be great if you’re up for it, but if you’re not, just sitting in the backyard for a breastfeeding session can lift your spirits and help you reset.
  • Keep up with your doctor’s appointments: Most likely, the way you’re feeling is totally normal. But just in case it’s not, it’s important to see your doctor. The six-week postpartum checkup is an important opportunity for your provider to make sure you’re making physical and mental progress after birth—and if you’re not, it gives them a chance to help you figure out what’s up.
  • Prioritize sleep and rest: Resist the temptation to fill every free minute checking boxes on your to-do list. Being productive is great, but it’s not the priority—make sure you’re asking yourself if you need a break instead of jumping to complete a task. 
  • Tune out social media: When all else fails, close your apps and read a book. Sometimes scrolling through someone else’s carefully-curated life makes us feel unnecessarily inadequate.
  • Consider contacting a mental health professional. Don't hesitate to seek the help of a mental health professional right away if you're experiencing signs of depression or thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby. It is important to seek help if you are feeling extreme sadness, indifference, or anxiety. You also should talk to someone if you're having difficulty completely daily tasks or taking care of your baby, as well as changes in energy, sleep, and appetite.

A Word From Verywell

The most important thing to remember during the postpartum period is that your experience is unique. Your new baby is one-of-a-kind, so was their birth, and so is your recovery. Don't get caught up in the comparison game with others if it feels like their recovery is on a different timeline.

It might be! But you also don't know what challenges they might also be facing behind the scenes. Be patient with yourself, be proud of what you've accomplished, and stay focused on taking case of yourself and your baby.

By Sarah Bradley
Sarah Bradley is a freelance health and parenting writer who has been published in Parents, the Washington Post, and more.