Your Postpartum Recovery Timeline: What to Expect Week by Week

Postpartum Recovery

mom with new baby
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Having a baby is one of the most amazing, miraculous, and life-altering moments of life. Yet with all the fan-fare focused on your new bundle of joy, it can be easy to forget that your body has just undergone a very intense physical and emotional experience, and that it can take a while to recover and feel “normal” again.

Many new moms are surprised that postpartum recovery can take weeks, and even months. But it makes sense when you think about it. You just spent 9 months growing and gestating new life – it should take at least that long for your body to recover!

Not only are many moms surprised by now intensive and lengthy the postpartum recovery period can be, but they may be confused about what happens during each phase. Let this postpartum recovery guide help you better understand the changes your body is going through, how long each phase will last, and how to tell if what you are experiencing is normal.

1 Week

The first week postpartum is probably the most intensive in terms of recovery. You have just given birth and may have experienced vaginal tearing. If you had a c-section, you are recovering from major surgery. All of your organs need to shift back into place, your hormones are changing rapidly, and your body is preparing to breastfeed.

Postpartum Bleeding

In the first few days, you can expect to experience some heavy postpartum bleeding, including the passage of large clots. This is the case whether you delivered vaginally or by c-section. Your vaginal discharge (called lochia) isn’t just blood: it also consists of the mucous membrane that lined your uterus during pregnancy.

Although heavy vaginal bleeding is normal during the first few days postpartum, if you are soaking more than one pad per hour, or are experiencing acute pain, fever, or feeling disoriented, you should contact your healthcare provider right away.

Uterine Cramping

Afterbirth pains can be very painful (and can get worse the more children you have!). But they actually have a very good purpose: to shrink your uterus back down to its normal size. After giving birth, your uterus weighs about 2 ½ pounds; by six weeks postpartum, it will have shrunk to only 2 ounces. Pretty amazing, huh? You will likely find that your afterbirth pains are more intense during breastfeeding. That’s because the release of oxytocin during breastfeeding causes uterine contractions.

Vaginal and Perineum Healing

Whether or not you experienced vaginal or perineum tearing, things are going to feel stretched out and not quite right for a while. You may also feel sore, stinging sensations if you have any broken skin, as well as general achiness.

You can soothe your vaginal area by taking warm baths, using ice packs and witch hazel, sitting on a donut pillow, and squeezing warm water over your vaginal area after urinating. Speak to your healthcare provider if your pain is worsening or if you develop a fever, as these could be signs of infection.

C-section Recovery

Though common, c-sections are major abdominal surgery, so it’s important you get as much rest as possible after your c-section and follow doctor’s orders in terms of care plans, including staying off your feet and not putting pressure on your incision. After your epidural wears off, you will begin to experience incision pain, which you will be offered pain medication for. The incision site will not be as acutely painful after the first few days, but will remain tender for a while.

To avoid infection, it’s important to clean the incision site according to your doctor’s guidelines.

First Bowel Movement

Oh, the dreaded first bowel movement! Many women fear passing their first stool after giving birth. But it’s worse to hold things in — you risk worsening any hemorrhoids, and making that first bowel movement even more uncomfortable. The truth is that nothing is going to “fall out” when you pass your first stool; you will do just fine. If you are feeling backed up, you may consider taking a stool softener for some extra help.

Breast Changes

At about 3-5 days postpartum, your breasts will begin to fill with milk. This will happen whether you plan to breastfeed or not — initial milk production is based on the decline of the hormone progesterone after your placenta is delivered. For some women, milk “coming in” just produces some extra fullness. Other women experience engorgement, which can become very uncomfortable. In this case, it’s important to release some of the extra milk in your breasts through massage, breastfeeding, or pumping.

Weight Loss

It’s totally normal to still look pregnant after you’ve had a baby. Remember that your uterus is still contracting back to its regular size. Additionally, your skin is stretched out, and you may still be retaining some extra fluids. After your baby is born, you'll likely lost about 10-15 pounds, which included the weight of your baby, the amniotic fluid, and your placenta.

You will continue to lose excess fluids, but shedding extra body weight will be a slower process, as postpartum weight loss happens most healthfully if it's gradual and based on healthy eating habits and exercise.

Mood Changes

There are rapid hormonal shifts right after you give birth, which can make you feel extra weepy, moody, and irritable. You are also adjusting to motherhood, existing on very little sleep, and likely feeling overwhelmed. Make sure to open up about how you are feeling with those you love and trust, stay hydrated and well-nourished, and rest whenever possible. Even a 10-minute catnap can help!

2 Weeks

At this point, you are starting to feel better, but you are definitely still in recovery. Take things slow, and remember to call your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns.

Postpartum Bleeding

You are probably still experiencing some vaginal bleeding, but it shouldn’t be very heavy at this point. You may notice that some of the discharge from your vagina is pinkish-brown or yellowish in color; this is normal. You may experience vaginal bleeding and discharge for up to 4 to 6 weeks postpartum.

Vaginal and Perineum Healing

By now, you are less likely to experience accurate pain or stinging, though you may experience some residual soreness. If you had a vaginal tear or episiotomy, you may be experience itching as your skin heals.

C-section Recovery

Although you may still be experiencing tenderness at your incision, and still may be under doctor’s orders to take things easy, you are past the most painful and uncomfortable stage of recovery and should be feeling better. As your incision site continues to heal, make sure to properly clean it. You may experience itchy skins as healing happens.

Night Sweats

About a third of all women experience night sweats or hot flashes in the first month postpartum. This is due to hormonal shifts as well as your body’s need to shed excess pregnancy fluids. Hot flashes and night sweats can be very uncomfortable, but they are normal, and usually pass within a few days.

3–6 Weeks

You may be starting to feel more and more like yourself at this point, which is awesome. But remember that you are still recovering and you likely haven’t gotten the “OK” from your healthcare provider for more strenuous activities yet.

Postpartum Bleeding

Postpartum bleeding should be very light now. Your postpartum bleeding should end by about 4-6 weeks postpartum. If it comes back or if you are bleeding heavily, you should contact your healthcare provider. Making sure to rest and not exert yourself too heavily will keep the bleeding to a minimum and help you heal faster.

General Body Recovery

By now your vaginal area shouldn’t be very sore. Your c-section scar may be somewhat tender or even numb, but it should be on the milder side. You still might look somewhat pregnant, but your uterus is gradually shrinking back to its normal size.

Mood Changes and Postpartum Depression

The Baby Blues” are experienced by most moms in the first two weeks postpartum. It’s common to cry over the littlest things and go from feeling elated one minute to sad the next. Things usually level out by about two weeks.

If you are still experiencing moodiness after two weeks, especially if it feels extreme or unmanageable, you should consider speaking to your healthcare provider about postpartum depression.

6 Weeks–6 Months

At about 6 weeks, you will likely have your postpartum check-up with your healthcare provider. They will verify that any vaginal tears or c-section scars are healing properly. They will ensure that your uterus has shrunk down to its pre-pregnancy size, and they will do an overall health assessment. If all is well, you will be given the green-light for exercise and sex (though we understand if you want to take things slow in both departments!).

Postpartum Hair Loss

During the first few months postpartum, you will likely notice some strange things happening in the hair department — namely that your hair has thinned or has even started to fall out. It might seem strange, but it’s totally normal. Here’s why: The hormones of pregnancy caused your hair to be thicker and fuller. Once those hormones leveled out, your body naturally sheds the excess hair.

Return of Your Period

If you aren’t breastfeeding, you will get your first postpartum period within the first 6-12 weeks postpartum, though this varies from woman to woman. Most breastfeeding women will find that their postpartum period is delayed. Every woman is different, but if you are exclusively breastfeeding (no supplements, and feeding on demand), it is unlikely that you will get your period back before your baby starts eating solids or breastfeeding decreases.

You should discuss birth control options with your healthcare provider because breastfeeding alone usually doesn’t protect you from an unexpected pregnancy.

Return To Sexual Activity

Although most women are cleared for sexual activity by 6 weeks postpartum, not everyone feels “in the mood” at that point. This is perfectly normal — after all, you are probably exhausted, covered in milk and spit-up, and just generally not feeling like your old self yet. Give it time, and concentrate on other ways of connecting with your partner until you are ready for sex. If vaginal discomfort is persistent at this point, it’s worth bringing it up with your healthcare provider.

Return To Exercise

If you were an avid exerciser before having kids, you may be itching to get back into your old routine. Even once you are cleared for exercise, remember to take things slow. Pushing yourself too hard in the first six months or a year postpartum can lead to injuries. If you are starting exercise for the first time, considering something like gentle yoga or walking, slowly building up to more high-intensity workouts.

A Word from Verywell

There isn’t a clear consensus among experts when your postpartum recovery is truly “done.” But doctors do recommend that you wait at least 18 months before trying for another baby to give your body optimal time to recover and regain strength. Many mothers concur, reporting that they didn’t feel totally normal or that everything truly shifted back into place until they were a year or more postpartum.

Remember that we all have our own postpartum journeys, and its best not to compare yourself to others. Keep in mind, too, that you likely aren’t going to ever feel exactly like your pre-pregnancy self again — and that’s ok. Sagging skin and stretch marks are hallmarks of motherhood, and ultimately something to be celebrated.

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Article Sources

  • Center for Disease Control (CDC). Interpregnancy Intervals in the United States: Data From the Birth Certificate and the National Survey of Family Growth. Updated April 2015.

  • Labor and delivery, postpartum care. Mayo Clinic. Updated May 2018.

  • R Thurston. Prospective evaluation of hot flashes during pregnancy and postpartum. Fertility and Sterility. 2013 Dec; 100(6): 1667–1672. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2013.08.020

  • Your body after baby: the first 6 weeks. March of Dimes website. Updated July 2018.