I was as prepared as I could be for the physical pain of giving birth (which is to say, I didn’t know what the hell to expect, exactly, but I knew to expect pain). But the aftermath? Not so much. I mean, it’s not like I thought I was going to push out a baby and go to SoulCycle the next day, but in all the preparing for the actual birth and then, you know, caring for a baby, I just didn’t think as much about postpartum care — the actual physical recovery part.
And it hurt. I had a relatively quick labor, but I pushed for a long time, and I tore pretty badly. Stitches were — surprise! — no fun. I joked to my mom that I felt like a broken plate that had been glued back together — functional, but not the same.
Chrissy Teigen knows what I’m talking about. Luna and Miles’ mama has tweeted to the world about how much better postpartum recovery is (90 percent, actually) when “you don’t rip to your butthole” — and about the wonders of the peri bottle.
The fact is, “recovering from childbirth takes time and care. There are so many parts of the body that have to recover from birth, whether it’s vaginal or C-section,” says Dr. Jessica Shepherd MD, an OB-GYN and women's health expert. “Vaginal deliveries typically heal within six weeks, and C-section healing can take up to 12 weeks if uncomplicated, but it’s also important to remember that total body healing can take up to one year — so be kind to yourself.”
So on that note, we asked a group of experts — Shepherd, the DTI doula community and other moms — for the items that helped them heal, recover and just plain feel better after giving birth.
Anything-but-thong underwear: You saw that pic of Chrissy Teigen in her mesh underwear, right? Ask for extras if you’re in the hospital, because those things are lifesavers. Adult diapers (yes, really) are a legit option for the at-home aftermath too. Because trust me: There will be blood, and you don’t want to be that person who discovers she has nothing but thongs in her underwear drawer. (Not up to the job and… ouch.) So buy some adult diapers and/or a multipack of granny panties or boy shorts (mom Nicole Hansel loved super-comfy Pact boy shorts) that will actually hold a padsicle. Which brings us to…
Pads, padsicle supplies and panty liners: Do you know about padsicles? No? Let me enlighten you: A padsicle is a big old Maxi Pad that’s doused with something soothing, like witch hazel, and then frozen. It’s a magic treat for your postpartum parts. You can actually buy a ready-made padsicle kit or just make your own. You’ll want the thick, overnight pads for this, plus a bottle of witch hazel. Shepherd recommends panty liners because you can use them to handle spotting, of course, but also as a genius way to keep a C-section incision dry and protected. Just put the absorbent part along your incision, and the sticky part to your (not thong) underwear.
A Fridet or peri bottle: You’ll probably be given a peri bottle in the hospital, but go ahead and get a Fridet too. You’ll use it after you pee instead of wiping, and you’ll want one in every bathroom. Tara Brooke, cofounder of Doula Trainings International (and, full disclosure, my doula), recommends filling it with room-temperature chamomile tea to reduce stinging and promote healing.
OTC pain reliever: Meds — you’re going to want them. “Pain that is uncontrolled decreases your ability to mobilize and also increases recovery time,” Shepherd says. In other words, trying to tough it out is actually bad for you. “Pain medication is a big help in postpartum recovery, and it can be either narcotic or nonnarcotic,” she adds. “Most times, NSAIDs are helpful for pain control and should be taken as prescribed. And if pain still persists, consult your doctor or health care provider.”
Witch hazel pads: Whether Tucks or another brand, witch hazel pads will be another pee-relief product to have in your postpartum care kit. “For both of my vaginal births but especially after my first, with lots of tearing, Tucks and an OTC pain reliever were necessary,” doula Betsy Finchum says. But having the Tucks doesn't mean you still don't need that bottle of witch hazel to make those soothing padsicles.
Hemorrhoid creams and suppositories: This isn’t pretty, folks, but here you go: Those hemorrhoids you may develop during pregnancy don’t always just magically disappear, and you’re probably going to want something to make them feel better/go away. Shepherd recommends Epifoam, and doula Simone Toomer used Mother Love hemorrhoid balm and Preparation H suppositories, but you can always ask your health care provider for a recommendation. I’ve also found relief using Balneol cleansing lotion.
An air ring or chair doughnut: I never had one of these, but one mom I talked to got an inflatable doughnut from her hospital after giving birth and swears she couldn’t have lived without it. And doula Ashton Swaringen recommends them “especially when you’re nursing for what feels like hours on end.”
Of course, there are plenty of other things (things you can’t physically put in a postpartum care kit) that will help you feel better, among them a list of friends and family you can call on, a lactation consultant if you’re planning to breastfeed and the support of a postpartum doula — who will likely have plenty of other postpartum recovery tips and product recommendations to help you heal.
So, people who are about to give birth, here’s the deal: You may be planning to pack a hospital bag — but go ahead and prepare a postpartum recovery kit too. Prepare to be kind to yourself and help your physical healing along.