Postpartum Rest and Recovery Tips (From a Mama Who Learned the Hard Way)

Written by Natalie Klejwa, Contributing Writer

The following question came in my e-mail box a couple of months ago:

I am a mother of a one-year-old girl, and I am due with our second in June 2012. :)
After I had my daughter, I was told to rest when I came home from the birthing center. Instead, I was going up and down our stairs, trying to upload pictures of our newborn to email to the grandparents. I was more worried about pleasing other people than getting rest.

What is your wisdom about how to recover during the postpartum weeks? What do you use (certain herbs, pads, etc.) to help recover from the pain of birth? How do you rest with other children who need you?

It brought back a lot of memories (9 postpartum recoveries here so far), so I thought I’d address it since it’s something many of us will still face at some point in the future.

I’m going to come at this from a Type A personality angle…since that is my perspective and experience. If you are not a Type A, you’ll likely wonder what the fuss is all about. Read no further. (Unless, of course, you want to snicker at our expense.)

Being Type A has its pros and cons. We tend to get a lot done. We also tend to get burnt out and turn into emotional basket cases periodically. The good news for our husbands is: we eventually bounce back and turn into our Type A selves again.

When a Type A has a baby, she tends to get off the delivery bed and serve dinner to her family that night. Why? Is she insane? Partly. But also, she has a desire to meet the needs of everyone around her. And since they are all used to that…they tend to let her do it.

This is pretty much how I operated for the first several postpartum experiences. I did take a few meals from friends, but I didn’t have anyone come and stay with us while I “convalesced in bed” for 6 weeks. In fact, I remember reading an article where the writer talked about staying in bed for several weeks following child birth…and I scoffed my eyeballs out at the thought. Why, I was NOT about to lay around doing NOTHING for weeks on end. How boring and depressing!

No…I would come home from the hospital and pretty much jump right back into my regular routine, although at a slower pace.

Here’s where that got me:

  • I struggled with huge emotional swings…one minute being happy and hyper…the next minute weeping in despair over crumbs on the floor. Other times I would be thrilled to finally have the pregnancy over…and then an irrational longing to “go back in time” and be pregnant again would overwhelm me. Weeping again.
  • I was certain my kids would all die. I had such a horrific sense of dread that disaster was just around the corner. I felt very vulnerable and fearful.
  • I had postpartum insomnia. The kind that has nothing to do with a baby waking you up every hour. Oh…the baby was there waking me up…the problem was…I hadn’t fallen asleep yet from the LAST time the baby woke me up. I could not relax. Among other things, I would lay awake trying to remember which side I had nursed the baby on last…so I would be sure to nurse evenly on both sides. This totally stressed me out.
  • I bled and bled and bled. And bled. I thought I was going to bleed to death many times. (Yes, sometimes I was out grocery shopping when I felt like that. Hmmmm….)

You know…I think it took 5-6 babies to get the hang of everything and learn a few lessons. Here’s what I learned the hard way:

Plan to rest for a month

This doesn’t mean sleeping, necessarily, but it means laying/sitting quietly for as much of the day as you possibly can the first couple of weeks to a month. Use this time to catch up on reading, nursing/bonding with your newborn, writing in your journal, catching up on phone calls, blogging or other writing projects, starting your baby book, etc.

If you have a lot of little children and no big helpers yet, try to arrange for a mother/mother-in-law to come over for a couple of weeks OR…see if your husband can take some extra time off. I really wish I had pushed for this with my first few babies. I know my recoveries would have been much smoother and quicker had I asked for the help I needed (or taken it when it was offered to me!)

If you don’t have that luxury, God will sustain you, and you will survive. You can always rest on the couch. The little ones can play around you, you can use educational DVDs to keep them quiet at times, and make due with other creative strategies. The point is to AIM for keeping your feet up and your body quiet.

Now that my older children are, well, older…they pretty much take over for me those first two weeks…and I’ve bled much less and recovered both physically and emotionally much more quickly. One of the benefits of having help is that you can extend your “night” sleep so that you end up with a good 7-8 hours every 24 hours. I hit the sack with my baby early (say, 8:00)…and we go through the night time routine of sleeping/eating every 2-4 hours…and get up late the next morning (around 9:00 or so).

Sure, it’s not very exciting and certainly not very “productive” by Type A personality standards, but it sets you up for a quicker recovery, and is, in the long run, really worth it. Lack of sleep and rest are your worst enemies after giving birth. Invest those first few weeks in concentrated rest.

Adjust your expectations

Are you a die hard natural food purist? No cold cereals in your kitchen cabinets? Time to put all that on the back burner (perhaps) and buy some boxes of Cheerios or ready made healthy cold cereal options. Toast is good. Have fast, easy food on hand that your kids can serve up themselves. PB&J sandwiches can be a staple at lunchtime for a couple of weeks. The new diet might be boring, but nobody will perish. 

I do know many moms will make healthy freezer meals several weeks before baby is born.  They can then pop these meals in the oven and still eat the kinds of healthy foods their family is accustomed to eating.  While I’m not quite that ambitious, I do freeze things like fried up hamburger, cooked chicken, rice, etc. to have on hand.  I can still “throw together” a quick spaghetti meal or chicken and rice dish without too much ado.  Anything you can do ahead of time to minimize your responsibilities after baby comes will only help you rest, recover, and heal more quickly.

Image by tofslie

Do you home educate?  Take a month off.

The kids can do all the things they can do on their own…but the things that require your intervention…just quit. When I know we are having a baby, I really push school before the baby is born…maybe even starting a couple weeks earlier in the year…or going a few weeks later at the end. And then I “cash in” on that time investment after the baby’s birth…and take a month off.

The kids are happy to have their work load lightened, and it is a special family time for everyone. A new baby doesn’t come along any old day. It’s a life changing event. Relish that time.

Prepare for nursing

Apply a sterile, medical grade lanolin cream (or some other type of healing nipple cream) to your nipples daily a few weeks prior to giving birth. Then faithfully apply it after each nursing session. You will avoid cracked, bleeding nipples this way, and your breasts will adjust more quickly to nursing. If you find that nursing isn’t working for you or your baby after pursuing professional help, give yourself emotional permission to quit.

While I’m an avid fan of nursing…I know too many women who have honestly done all they can do to make it a reality…and they are unable, medically, to provide the necessary nourishment for their baby. Nursing is not a sign of spiritual health. Let it go if you must, and enjoy the little life God has given to you without the added emotional pressure.

Drink lots of fluids and take a good vitamin supplement

I recommend Life Time Professional Prenatal vitamins along with a dose of 6 pure fish oil/flax seed oil capsules per day. This will help provide the nutrients/vitamins and minerals in the proper percentages/doses your body needs for maximum healing and recovery. It will also give you extra energy and a feeling of well-being. For more information, see my blog article on Fertility in Your 40s (Update— Or, read the new ebook, Three Decades of Fertility!) where I review the book, Fertility, Cycles and Nutrition by Marilyn M. Shannon.

Heal your perineum

The best way to do this is to consistently keep it clean.  I recommend at least one warm bath a day with a few drops of lavender essential oil and some therapeutic bath salts (this brand combines the two).

In addition to this, after you use the bathroom each time, first spray your bottom with warm water (usually the hospital will send you home with a squeeze bottle for this purpose, AND if you put a few drops of lavender essential oil in the water, it will be even more effective), and then gently wipe with a Tucks witch hazel pad (you can make your own too, but these are very convenient) directly on the sore perineum.  This will wipe away any bacteria, blood, etc. as well as provide a cooling relief to that area.  Witch hazel is very healing as well, and if you are consistent, you will find that area healing up very nicely in no time at all.

Dealing with the Baby Blues

Accept the blues when they sweep over you, and remind yourself that they’ll be sweeping away again soon. Normal baby blues are like the ocean tide. They come in and they go out. Daily. If you start noticing that they are not ebbing away in intervals, then you may need to seek the help of a friend, counselor, or health practitioner.

Many (not all) baby blues that persist in hanging around are due largely to unhealthy thought patterns that we so easily fall prey to when we are in the middle of this vulnerable time of healing. Anger, feelings of being unfairly dealt with, resentment when others close to us can’t seem to understand where we are at…all these things can build up into what feels like an insurmountable, overwhelming obstacle of pain.

The key to breaking out of this negative cycle is accepting the fact that most people around you cannot understand or meet your deepest needs at this time, but that your Heavenly Father can completely understand where you are at, and promises to sustain and restore you if you will turn to Him for your ultimate comfort and satisfaction.

This is not a time to put your relationship with Jesus on hold, but quite the opposite. It is a time for reaching out to Him more fully, embracing His plan, finding joy in His presence, and focusing on purposeful thanksgiving for the blessing of a new life and all that it means for eternity.

May God give every one of you a precious peace and rest when it comes time to enter a postpartum season!  (I’ll be entering another one myself, Lord willing, in just three weeks!)

P.S. Check out Three Decades of Fertility, a book written by ten older women who had babies into their 40s. It’s packed with practical wisdom for young moms, and it points to God’s faithfulness in these busy mama years.

These postpartum rest and recovery tips are very invaluable – they're from a mom who unfortunately had to learn the hard way! Read this and take note so you can enjoy the first few weeks with your new baby – to the fullest!

How do you ensure that you get the postpartum rest that you need?

About Natalie Klejwa

Natalie is a mother of nine, homemaker, business owner (Apple Valley Natural Soap), and most importantly, a Wemmick loved by the Woodcarver.

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  1. YES! Yes, your article is right on target! I was so so fortunate to learn all of this through my mom, as she birthed and healed after birth several times when I was old enough to learn from her (and also to help her!) After my births, EVERYTHING is off the table short of going to the bathroom, eating and breastfeeding the baby. Anything you WANT to do, you only do while sitting or lying somewhere comfy. It continues to amaze me how understated and underestimated the post-partum time is for Americans. STOP everything. Find a way to stop. You WILL pay later if you interfere with this vital time!

  2. Excellent advice! Well written and I agree with it all. Plan to put into practice! Thanks :)

  3. Brooke Whitley says:

    Thank you so very much for your wisdom. Such a blessing!

  4. I just had a baby three days ago, you have no idea how much this post means to me right now. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words of advice. It is incredibly helpful.

  5. Great article! I just had my second child six weeks ago and right at this very moment I needed yours words of encouragement with the Lord. I thank him for using you to speak to me. Bless you.

  6. What a great article! You described me perfectly! I will be 37 next year and we are hoping to add a chick to our nest, my kids will be 5 and 4 when this one hopefully comes. So I am a little rusty on the postpartum thing. Thank you for sharing, especially about the school, I haven’t thought of that.

  7. My baby boy is two months this week! I, too, am a “Type-A” personality. The biggest thing that surprised me with the recovery process were all of the postpartum emotions. Boy, have I cried. Seriously, I have cried more during the past two months than I have ever as an adult. But each week, I have felt more and more mobile and have been able to get out more. I’ve visited friends, have had many visitors, have gone to church since week 3, and have joined a women’s Bible study. I am thankful that I am fully healed (physically) and the blues have been less and less the past couple of weeks. :)

  8. What a great article; wish I read/found this before I had my daughter. I am very type A and the beginning of this article described me and my behavior after deliver to a T. I am relieved to know that I’m not the only one who went through that. Next time around (if there is), I will certainly take your advice!

  9. GREAT article! I am blessed with a mom who comes to stay with the bonus of my 20 years younger than me super entertaining to my kids brother. For a month. And her rule is not out of jammies for two weeks unless baby blues are hitting. Then it is time to go someplace enjoyable. But she drives :)
    I should also credit my dad who gives her up for a month and the rest of my family who pick up the slack to care for my special needs bro

    • Great article! I also love the idea of staying in your PJs for one week. I did this with my four and it really helps. No temptation to go out. Just stay home and rest. Of course, shower and bathe each day then change into a clean nursing gown.

  10. I wish I would’ve had this when I had my first baby! The second was much easier to relax. I’m sending this to my sister in law who is having her first next month. Awesome article.

  11. Thank you so much for this article! Baby 4 is on the way and type A me will definitely be doing things differently this time around!

  12. Hi Natalie,
    I was teary eyed while reading your blog. I remember all the postpartum craziness i went through on my first pregnancy. And now, I am expecting again, I just can’t help but to feel the emotions come rushing to me once again. It was such a blessing that I came across to your blog, and reminded me that I am not a superwoman and I have limitations. I have to accept all the mistakes that will come along with the babies. I have to remind myself that above everything, the baby, the feeding time, the managing of family, God should go first, because he is my source of strength. Thank you so much! your blog uplifted my spirit. May you touch many moms out there. God bless you

  13. Thank you for this article, I wish I had read it after my second son was born. The first time around I gave myself permission to ‘go with the flow’ and took my time with recovery. For whatever reason, the second time around I expected to jump right back into my routine the minute we were back from the hospital. I cooked, I cleaned, I took my older son to museums, I hosted dinner parties, I hosted relatives – I basically wore myself out. All seemed fine until weeks later I crashed and fell into some mild postpartum depression. When I spoke to my doctor she ordered me to scale it back, get take out, hire a cleaning lady, enlist relatives/friends to take my older son on outings etc… It was what I needed to recover from labour. If were to do it again, I’d really listen to the advice in your article and plan to keep things low-key for the first little while.

  14. What do you know about flax seed oil and breast feeding. A google search said its not recommended. Would you say to just take fish oil capsules if breast feeding?

    • There are differing opinions, but I can’t find anything that gives a solid reason WHY other than potential rancidity. Others say go ahead and give babies flaxseed oil from 6 months on. I take both fish oil and flaxseed oil when I’m pregnant and nursing, and I have to take responsibility for my own choice and the potential good or bad consequences of that choice. But as with anything, everyone needs to do their own research and make their own informed decision. Cheers! :)

  15. What a wonderful article! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for including the nursing issue! I have four under five and it seems like we were thrown a curve after the birth of each one of them! My oldest was in the nicu for two weeks and the hospital had no room for me so I walked from our hotel room to the hospital for each feeding. This effected my milk supply so much that I could not nurse, the nicu nurses tried their best to assure me that my son would be just as healthy with formula but I still received judgment and condemnation from most other moms for giving in. When my second was born we were in the process of moving cross country (we are military) and again I could not produce, but because of what had happened the first time I tried to force it and went into a depression. Five days after my third was born my husband went to Afghanistan for seven months and again I could not nurse and went into a depression. This time around however my parents lived close by and for the first time I accepted the help of others and it really made such an amazing difference. With my last one, who was born this year, my husband was home for two weeks before deploying with a ship and i flew cross country to stay with my parents for three months. Again I could not nurse but I did not go through a depression because I had finally realized that I was just not made to nurse. I have had the amazing support of my husband, family and friends and it has made a gigantic difference in my postpartum recovery to just let go. One thing that I would like to add (my last three were csections because of the complications that made vaginal birth dangerous for my health) is that if you need a cesection walk within your first 24 hr period. Do not spend all your time moving about when you get home but while under the care of the nurses make it a priority to walk often before you leave the hospital. It will greatly aid your recovery time. I was immobile for 7 weeks with my first csection and the doctors blamed it on the vertigo that occurred after surgery which kept me laying down and in bed for almost 48 hours after birth. I was walking and climbing stairs the day after I left the hospital (I wouldn’t recommend it but there was no way I was not going to see my husband off) without pain when I had followed the nurses instructions and walked the same day of my next csection. I know this is anecdotal but I know of several others who had very similar results after their surgeries.

  16. Very accurate and helpful article! We are expecting our 3rd and definitely fell victim to my
    Type A personality. I had very hard recoveries and PPD that seemed to never end. I need to remember these things this time around!
    To the women who will be staying with your in-laws, I have been there and will be again this time. I find that I put more pressure on myself because I feel like I am being observed and judged. Not true! But it certainly feels that way, especially with the first. Try to keep perspective!

  17. Great points and an important reminder to give ourselves permission to relax and not feel guilty about it. At the same time, if you feel up like your body can do and you want to, also feel free to be active. I started walking at 2 wks and it felt AMAZING. I was so excited to start exercising again. At the same time, my friend who gave birth at the same time wouldn’t dream of leaving the house and I wouldn’t ever undermine her choices. So make sure that you surround yourself with people who give you space or help if you need it and support you if you want to stay home forever or get out of the house right away.

  18. Reading this made me want to cry…how awesome. My daughter is a year old now but how I wish I had this when my daughter was born. I dealt with every thing mentioned and your advice was like balm for my heart. I will save this and read it again when it’s time for #2.


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