Physical and Emotional Recovery After Having a Baby

Taking Care of Your Postpartum Body and Mind

A new parent holding their baby

Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images 

When you have a baby, you may feel like all of your focus and energy should be dedicated to your newborn. After all, your baby is entirely dependent on you for food, comfort, shelter, and so much more.

But putting all your attention on your baby and not taking care of your own postpartum health and wellness can be detrimental to both of you. A rested and nurtured parent is better able to provide the loving care a baby needs.

After you give birth, you're recovering physically while experiencing the exhaustion that comes with caring for an infant. You may have aches and pains from labor and delivery. You may have perineum stitches or a cesarean birth to heal from.

Because your body has spent the past nine months providing your baby with nutrients, you’re also recovering from pregnancy. If you’re breastfeeding, your body is further taxed by producing and giving breast milk.

You’ll be recovering emotionally, too, as having a baby is a huge life changer. Even if this is your second or third or sixth baby, you have an additional person to care for. Roles change and routines evolve. Your daily life will be affected and your emotions may feel like a whirlwind.

Paying attention to both your physical and emotional health is essential. Your physical wellness will impact your emotions and vice versa. Both affect your ability to care for and interact with your baby.

Early Postpartum Recovery

There’s a lot happening during those first postpartum days as you adjust to life as a new parent and your body adjusts to a post-pregnancy state. Step one to taking care of your complete self is to understand what’s going on with your body and mind.

Physical Recovery

Your physical symptoms will be unique to you and your pregnancy and childbirth experience. Some people may feel a bit sore but relatively normal, while others may feel like they've been hit by a truck.

In the early days of the postpartum period, your physical recovery typically includes general aches and pains from the immense toll of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Additionally, if you had a cesarean section, you may have incision pain.

Many people experience afterpains, which are uterine contractions that occur in the first few days after birth while the uterus shrinks down to normal size. Afterpains can range from mild cramping to a more intense tightening of the abdomen and are often triggered during breastfeeding.

For the first few weeks, you will have lochia or vaginal postpartum bleeding. While this isn't painful, it's messy, and wearing post-pregnancy menstrual pads, which are larger than normal pads, can be uncomfortable.

If you have an episiotomy or vaginal tear, the area can be sore and sting, making sitting and urinating painful. Hemorrhoids and/or constipation are also common, especially if you had a vaginal delivery, making having a bowel movement more difficult and uncomfortable.

If you're breastfeeding, you may experience nipple sensitivity and pain, especially if you're struggling with getting your newborn to latch properly. Breast engorgement is also common, especially as your milk first comes in or if you’re not breastfeeding.

Fatigue or exhaustion is pretty universal for new parents, from both the physical and emotional work of childbirth and the new challenge of taking care of a newborn day and night.

Emotional Recovery

In the early postpartum days, your emotional recovery and challenges may include worry that you’re not bonding with your baby the way you should or about your ability to care for your newborn, even if it’s not your first baby. Some parents experience the "baby blues," a colloquial term for the mood swings, sadness, or anxiety you may feel just after having a baby.

You may also feel uncertainty about your new daily routines and how you’re going to do it all. You might feel disappointment or shame if the birth didn’t go the way you hoped. You may feel stress or uncertainty about adjusting to this new role as a parent.

You might feel guilty for missing the freedom of your old life or for sometimes wishing you could put the baby back in—if only so you could get a good night's sleep.

Your feelings might change on a dime, too, going from elated to teary at top speed. This emotional upheaval is common and a normal reaction to the huge life transition you're experiencing as well as the big hormonal shifts taking place in your body.

However, if you are feeling emotional extremes that scare you or make functioning in your daily life a challenge, get help from your doctor or a therapist. Postpartum depression (PPD) is also common and there are effective treatments available. Signs of PPD include depressed mood, loss of energy and enjoyment in life, thoughts of self-harm or harming your baby, and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and anger.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Postpartum Recovery in the First Months

You may be surprised to know that recovery from childbirth can last for months, not days. You'll continue to heal both physically and emotionally long after baby is born. This is why the postpartum period is often called the fourth trimester, as your body may require three months or more to fully adjust.

Physical Recovery

Many of the initial physical challenges or discomforts you experienced in the first few days postpartum may linger for weeks, although typically, their severity will wane with time. These symptoms include all-over body aches that will vary from person to person and recovery from any stitches or tearing from childbirth.

You'll also have continued fatigue or exhaustion from disrupted sleep patterns, which may actually increase over time depending on how your baby sleeps and how much support you are getting. Tiredness can be made worse by postpartum anemia or vitamin deficiencies.

You may have continued postpartum vaginal bleeding and spotting, which can last for a month or a little longer (though it should slow down after the first week or so). Back pain and other body aches may occur due to holding and caring for your baby. Adjustments to your posture and/or using a baby carrier can help ease this discomfort.

You may feel extra hungry or thirsty, especially when breastfeeding. You may also be more susceptible to colds and illnesses and possibly take longer to recover when you do get sick. It's also common for intercourse to be painful, whenever you’re cleared to have sex again.

Emotional Recovery

Emotional challenges you may experience in the postpartum period include feeling overwhelmed by caring for your baby, yourself, the rest of your family, and your life in general. If you still have the baby blues (longer than a couple of weeks postpartum), talk to your doctor. You may be experiencing postpartum depression, which affects 1 in 9 mothers.

Feeling isolated and alone is also common, especially after the first couple of weeks when fewer friends and family are checking on you. You may feel abandoned or even angry if there are people who you think should be helping you that aren’t stepping up.

You may be questioning whether you’ve made the right decision, whether it was to return to work or stay at home with your baby. It's also normal to worry about financial challenges and the expenses newborns can bring, especially if you’re missing income due to missed work.

Relationship tensions may develop between you and your partner, and even between you and your other children. You may worry that you’re “not a good enough parent" or you don't "love parenthood." You may fear you’re making mistakes, that you will make a mistake, or that you won't bond with your baby.

You will have your own unique feelings, but know that it's normal to have doubts, fears, and other conflicted feelings along with the joys. Parenthood is a big adventure, and sometimes the road will be bumpy as you get your footing—that's all a part of the journey.

The Link Between Physical and Emotional Health

Your emotional well-being has a direct effect on your physical health. And your physical health has a direct effect on your emotional health.

If you’re sleep-deprived, this is a physical health issue. Lack of sleep increases your odds of catching an illness, for example. But lack of sleep is a mental health issue, too. People who are sleep-deprived may have difficulty concentrating and are more prone to feeling sad, anxious, or irritable.

Your emotional health can also affect your physical health. For example, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, you may have difficulty getting everyday things done or you may lack the stamina for self-care. You may not have the energy to cook healthy meals for yourself or drink as much water as you need. This will, in turn, impact your physical health.

How to Take Care of Your Complete Self

Taking care of yourself in addition to your baby can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. There are several steps you can take that will enable you to care for both your physical and emotional wellbeing at the same time.  

Take Things One Day at a Time

Yes, there is a lot to do, both for you and your baby. Thinking about all of it will likely cause you to feel overwhelmed. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

For the sake of your mental health, try to take things one day at a time. Or, better yet, one hour at a time. Even one moment at a time. 

Instead of thinking about your entire day’s schedule and to-dos, consider what is the one thing you need or should do right now. Maybe it’s getting yourself a glass of water. Perhaps, it’s changing a diaper. Maybe it’s merely taking a few deep breaths.

Considering only what you need to do at this moment is a form of mindfulness. It’s easier said than done, but with practice, mindfulness can bring more peace into your day. This will ease both your physical and emotional stress.

Do Whatever You Can to Get Some Sleep

Everyone tells new parents to get more sleep. But how can you sleep when your baby is crying in the night? Or you’re feeding your newborn every few hours? Or you have so many other things to do? Often, you can't get as much rest as you need, but likely, you can get a bit more than you are.

Getting sleep is hard when you’re a new parent. It’s also one of the most important things you can do for your emotional and physical health.

First off, really do try to sleep when your baby sleeps. Another good way to get more sleep requires the help of someone else. That may be your partner, a relative, or a friend. A babysitter or a postpartum doula are also options.

If possible, choose a set of hours where you will prioritize getting rest and sleep. At least four hours in a row is ideal. If you can do this every day, that's great. But less than four hours is better than none, and a few times a week (or even once a week) is better than neve.

Ideally, ask your helper to take complete care of your newborn, to whatever extent is possible. This helper can change diapers, listen for cries, rock the baby, play with the baby, and feed and burp the baby.

If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, they can bring the baby to you, help with latch, stay in the room while you're breastfeeding, and then take the baby as soon as they finish nursing. Then, they can do the diaper change, burping, and rocking, so you can go back to sleep.

These dedicated-sleep hours don’t need to be at nighttime, either. If the only time your partner or sister or babysitter is available is between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., take it. You’ll still be tired, of course. But you’ll have a few hours every day (or every week) when you can rest. Even if you can’t fall asleep, you can at least lie down with your eyes closed and not worry (as much) about whether your baby is okay or needs you.  

Pamper Your Body

New parents experience a variety of feelings towards their postpartum bodies, including wonder, pride, anger, disappointment, shame, or frustration, maybe all at once. But just as you lovingly care for your newborn, lovingly take care of the body that carried and birthed that baby.

Remind yourself that this body of yours made a little human being. That’s amazing. And hard work. Your body deserves some babying, too. 

Nourish Yourself

Be sure you are giving yourself healthy snacks, like fresh veggies or fruits. Drink water when you’re thirsty. Drop a slice of lemon or orange in there to make it a little more special.

Take a vitamin, possibly your prenatal vitamins, to help restore your nutrient levels post-pregnancy. Remember to speak with your health care provider before beginning any new vitamin regimen.

Help Yourself Heal

Follow proper wound care practices to help any incisions or areas of discomfort heal. A sitz bath often provides great comfort to a sore bottom, perineum, or vaginal area. (You likely received one, with instructions, when you left the hospital. If not, you can buy them at a pharmacy. You can also just use your bathtub, filling it up with only a few inches of warm water.)

Additionally, you'll likely find relief using a peri-bottle after using the bathroom to care for your perineum. You can also purchase a pain relief spray for this area.

Take doctor-approved pain relievers. Even if you are breastfeeding, you can likely take acetaminophen or ibuprofen on a short-term basis. Don’t wait until the pain is really bad before you take something, as this actually makes the medication less effective. Talk to your care provider about what dosages are safe for you.

Move Your Body—Gently

You shouldn’t be “your old self” a few weeks post-childbirth. Recovery takes time. In the first six weeks after giving birth, postpartum parents are at risk for blood clots forming in the legs or lungs. Your risk is even higher if you had a cesarean section.

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of forming a blood clot is to get up and move around, whether it’s walking around the hospital hallways, your living room, or around the block. Put your baby in a carrier or stroller and take a little walk.

Moving your body won’t only help reduce your risk of this postpartum complication. Staying active—even with an easy walk around the block—can boost your mental health. This is even better if you can walk outside and see some trees and sky. 

Ask for Help and Support

One of the most harmful myths of new parenthood is that you should be able to do everything on your own. This is not true.

Think about it: Conceiving your baby took more than one person. We don't have to raise children alone, either.

Consider who might you call on for practical support or questions, even if you just talk to them on the phone or via video chat: a friend, family member, partner/co-parent, your pediatrician’s office, or your OB/GYN’s office, a health helpline (some insurance companies have a number you can call to ask health questions for free).

You can also consider reaching out to a professional counselor, support group (for new moms, for breastfeeding, for postpartum depression, etc.), certified lactation consultant, babysitter or daycare, cleaning service or private housecleaner, or delivery service for groceries.

You’ll notice that the list above includes all sorts of support resources. Because when you’re trying to take care of a baby and your postpartum body, you will need support in any way you can get it. This list is just a start.

Make Time for Social Connection

New parents often feel isolated, especially after the first few weeks postpartum. In the early days, you may find yourself overwhelmed by visitors, or you may even tell people not to visit so you can have space with your new family.

But after this burst of visitor activity disappears, you may find yourself on the opposite end—feeling lonely. This is a common emotional challenge for parents of newborns.

Making time for social connection—whether it means texting someone, calling them on the phone, video chatting, joining a new parent social group, or walking over to your neighbor's house and talking over the fence—is vital for your emotional and physical support.

Research has found that people who report feeling lonely or isolated are at higher risk for illnesses and postpartum depression. Making time for social connection is essential for your physical and emotional health. 

Prioritize Yourself Along With Your Child

Do you know why they tell you on the airplane to put your oxygen mask on first? Because if you don’t, you may pass out before you can help your child.

In the context of postpartum life, putting your oxygen mask on first might mean buying the less expensive crib so you can put money towards a postpartum doula or a grocery delivery. This might mean returning baby gifts you don’t want or need and using that money for things you need for your own physical or emotional health.

Taking care of you is a priority because your baby needs you to be healthy in both mind and body.

Give Yourself Grace

You’re going to make mistakes. You’ll push your body too hard, too soon. You’ll forget the pacifier at home. You’ll let your baby cry a few minutes longer than you think is “acceptable.”

Striving to be the “perfect parent” won’t make you perfect. Instead, it might make you stressed out and physically exhausted.

When you find yourself judging yourself harshly, think about what you'd say to a friend in the same situation. You'd likely judge your friend with much more compassion than you are judging yourself. Offer yourself some forgiveness and love.

A Word From Verywell

Taking care of a baby is hard work! But taking care of a new parent is also hard work, and the one taking care of the new parent is usually also the one taking care of the new baby. (Hint: It’s you!) You won’t be able to do it all, but the good news is you don’t have to. You need to do just enough. Remember that the time invested in caring for your physical and mental wellbeing will help you care for your baby.

If you’re struggling to care for you or your baby, reach out for help. Consider talking to your healthcare provider, your pediatrician, a social worker, or a loved one. You don’t need to do this alone.

3 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.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. After pregnancy.

  2. Center for Disease Control. Depression among women.

  3. Yesilcinar I, Yavan T, Karasahin KE, Yenen MC. The identification of the relationship between the perceived social support, fatigue levels and maternal attachment during the postpartum period. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2017;30(10):1213-1220. doi:10.1080/14767058.2016.1209649

By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.