With that in mind, we’ve put together a month-by-month guide to that very first year of “new normal” — meant to help parents protect their self-esteem, manage expectations and understand the realities involved in letting themselves heal while also caring for a new baby. Keep in mind that while this guide is focused on parents, a lot of what we experience during postpartum recovery is directly tied to what’s happening with our quickly developing baby as they reach their month-by-month milestones.
Month 1: Time warp
Some first-month things to note:
- Lochia can last up to six to eight weeks. It will be like a heavy period at first and then taper off/get lighter over time. Use pads, not tampons.
- If you had a vaginal birth, Epsom salts for sitz baths are great for recovery, especially if you have stitches.
- If you had a C-section, it will hurt when you cough or laugh or sit up or walk for a while. Hold a pillow to your belly for support. And take it easy; you just had major surgery.
- It might be about a week after giving birth before you feel like you can poop quasi-normally. You can take stool softeners to help keep things painless, and if you end up with hemorrhoids (or even if you don’t) witch hazel pads, lidocaine spray and suppositories can be helpful.
- You’ll want to use the peri-bottle the hospital gives you to spray your perineum when you go to the bathroom for the first couple of weeks.
- Your breasts will likely be engorged and uncomfortable when your milk comes in, and it will take a few weeks to regulate your milk supply. If you’re planning to breastfeed, you may want to pump after feedings to relieve some pressure — and freeze some milk for later.
- Breastfeeding truly runs the gamut; it can be easy, difficult, pleasant, painful or all of the above. And it can take quite a while to get the hang of it, so be patient — and don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out. Remember: Fed is best.
- Make sure you eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies and drink lots of water. This is important to help your body heal (and is essential if you’re breastfeeding), so keep lots of nutritious snacks and a big bottle of water nearby. If you have friends or family who can cook or bring you meals, let them.
Month 2: Overcoming exhaustion
- You should have your postpartum checkup at six weeks, but don’t be afraid to call your provider before then if you have any questions or concerns.
- You’ve probably heard the advice to “sleep when your baby sleeps” — and yes, it’s easier said than done, but still important. More advice: Seek help from friends, family or professionals.
- And speaking of friends and family, don’t feel like you need to welcome them all. Say no to visitors if you need to.
- If you’re feeling down, don’t brush it off. It could be the “baby blues,” or it could be more serious postpartum depression. Talk to your doctor right away.
- You will most likely still be sore and/or weak — in your vagina or C-section scar as well as your back, neck, arms, abs and joints. But don’t try to jump back into exercise too soon. When you get the OK from your doctor, make sure you start slow. Start with Kegels and deep-core exercises before moving to something low-impact, like walking or swimming.
- If you’re not breastfeeding, your period could return at six to eight weeks. Some women get cleared for sex at six to eight weeks, but you may not be ready yet. Listen to your body, and communicate with your partner.
- You should’ve received all of your medical bills by now. Try not to stress out about finances — and ask about payment plans if you can’t pay the balance all at once.
Month 3: Taking care of you
- If you’re breastfeeding but are now away from your baby most of the day, pump often to avoid plugged ducts and mastitis.
- Don’t just commute home and pass out; brush and floss those teeth. They might feel extra-sensitive these days since pregnant and postpartum moms are at high risk for gum disease and tooth decay. Also, get your dentist appointment in the books.
- You may notice you’re losing a lot of hair. Don’t worry; you’re not going bald. It’s just hormones.
- Take time for yourself to help boost your mood, even if it’s just taking a quick trip to the store or taking a nap or a shower. Try to meet up with friends or other parents when possible to commiserate.
Month 4: Surviving on baby smiles
- If your baby experiences 4-month sleep regression, nights can be rough. If you can nap during the day or go to bed early, do so — you’re going to need it. And don’t overbook yourself.
- Increased stress can lower breast milk production — as can introducing pumping or formula if you haven’t already — so just be mindful to keep pumping to maintain supply if you’re not planning to wean quite yet; make sure to pump at least twice during an eight-hour workday if you want to keep it up.
- If you had a C-section, your scar should be healed by now — but it could still be reddish-purple, itchy and/or numb for up to a year or more after birth.
Month 5: R&R&R
- Relaxation: Take time for yourself to do something chill, like getting a massage or going to see a movie, for your emotional well-being.
- Rest: Make sure you continue to prioritize sleep as much as possible.
- Reflection: Your sense of identity changes when you become a parent. It’s important to take time to reflect. Journaling, collaging or talking to a therapist can help process unconscious emotions and acknowledge some of the life changes you experience throughout parenting.
Month 6: Ch-ch-ch-changes
- Your baby will likely continue teething and start eating solid foods about this time, which means you’ll be spending more time feeding them — and cleaning up lots of messes.
- If you don’t feel 100 percent physically recovered yet, don’t worry. You’re not alone; according to a study by Healthcare Women International, 25 percent of the women interviewed didn’t feel physically recovered from childbirth by six months postpartum.
Month 7: Help! (it’s still OK to ask for help)
Postpartum depression can still happen for up to 12 months after birth, and physical post-birth issues such as exhaustion, back pain, incontinence, sexual problems and perineal pain can all increase your risk of depression, so check in with yourself often — and get help if needed.
Month 8: Let it go
Time management can be a challenge these days — and we hate to break it to you, but it might not become easy for years. You likely won’t be able to do everything you hope to do, and that’s completely normal. Prioritize the most important things, and let the other things go for now. Don’t feel guilty for having a messy house or not being a social butterfly; you’re doing the important work of baby-raising.
Month 9: Mo’ movement, mo’ problems
Once your baby starts crawling, it takes a lot more attention and vigilance to keep them safe — including keeping tiny objects from entering their tiny mouths. And this means (you guessed it!) more time spent cleaning, organizing and chasing them across the floor.
Month 10: Some more self-care
If you had melasma during pregnancy, it should be getting lighter now. But make sure to continue using sunscreen to protect your skin.
Month 11: Light at the end of the tunnel
With consistent nutrition and movement, you may well be starting to feel like your old self again — and ready for some more vigorous forms of exercise. Or maybe not, and that’s fine too as long as you’re feeling slowly better over time.
Month 12: A new normal
What I wish I’d known: It takes at least a year, if not longer, to start feeling like yourself again. That doesn’t mean you’ll feel or look exactly the same as you did prepregnancy, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s great.