11 tips to stay healthy during the 4th trimester
You’ve waited 9 months and finally, your baby has arrived. You are full of emotions but your body is going through a roller coaster of changes. Seriously mama, a live person just came out of your body! Having a postpartum care plan will help you recover faster as you adapt to your new role in the family.
The woman’s body, both physically and mentally, is extremely weak in the weeks after birth. In fact, about 1.4 million women experience some illness that occurs after one hour of delivery of the placenta up to six weeks of childbirth (1). In 2018, there were an estimated 660 maternal deaths in 100,000 pregnancies in the U.S. (2).
Hemorrhage, high blood pressure, blood clots in the lungs, infections, and depression are some of the common illnesses associated with postpartum. Therefore, taking great care during this recovery period is significant to the short-term and long-term health of the mother.
I had postpartum preeclampsia after my second delivery. My blood pressure was a whopping 165 over 95. I was on a 24-hour IV treatment right after birth. When my obstetrician told me I can get a stroke, it felt like the end of the world. I promised myself that after I recover, I will take good care of my health so that I can be there for my baby.
In this article, I share with you the best tips I had followed in my postpartum care plan for both of my pregnancies.
Postpartum recovery timeline
Before we delve into the best tips for a speedy recovery, let’s talk about how our body changes during this “fourth trimester”.
- Week 1: As your uterus contracts back to its pre-pregnancy size, you’ll likely feel uterine contractions, similar to mensural cramps, especially when you breastfeed. Also, you may feel pain from tears or episiotomy so taking Tylenol or Advil at regular intervals helps. Bleeding will be heavy and bright red.
- Week 2: Your bleeding may start to taper off and you may feel itchiness down there as your perineum heals.
- Weeks 3 – 5: Postpartum bleeding should be very light and your vaginal area shouldn’t be very sore. You may resume light exercise and household chores.
- Week 6: This is the time when your uterus returns back to its pre-pregnancy size. A check-in with your obstetrician is recommended. You may be cleared to resume sexual activity and going to the gym. Doing Kegel exercise is also helpful to strengthen your pelvic muscles.
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Postpartum care plan: 11 tips on taking care of yourself at home
Needless to say, resting is the best way to heal from months of carrying a baby, shifting of our internal organs, and cuts or soreness you’ve endured during labor. We often hear the phrase “sleep while baby sleep”, but how much and for how long?
In many cultures, new moms are expected to be off the feet and in bed anywhere from a week to a month. When postpartum moms return to “normal” too quickly they risk a host of complications: heavy bleeding; breast infections; and postpartum depression. Do not lift anything heavier than your baby, no vacuum, and no driving until approved by your doctor.
While you lay in bed and rest, have your significant other, family, and friends help out with meals, chores, and taking care of the baby. I was fortunate to have my mom help with cooking and we also hired a nanny to care for the baby. If you have older children, consider dropping them off at grandparents.
Drinking plenty of liquids will not only help with breast milk supply but also help with constipation. Drink at least 8 glasses fluid per day, especially each time you nurse. I fill my 32 oz tumbler with water and make sure I have 2 of these per day – this will help me meet my daily quota of 8 glasses of water.
If you don’t like the bland taste of water, you can put some fresh fruits to make yourself some fruit-infused water. My favorite combination is pineapple, cucumber, and mint.
Besides water, drink lots of warm soup and bone broth. I literally had either a cup of soup or broth in every meal during the first month. This not only helped with my milk supply but also ensured I consume enough vitamins and minerals.
Eat nutritious foods
Eat a regular, well-balanced, high fiber diet with fresh fruits & vegetables. If you are breastfeeding, you need about 500 extra calories per day.
Limit fatty foods and foods that are high in sugar (cookies, cakes). Be aware that what enters your body may pass into your breastmilk so limit caffeine (coffee, tea, chocolate).
Stock up on essentials
If you did not have your postpartum care kit prior to delivery, it is still not to late to make it.
Here is a must-have list of essentials as a part of your postpartum care plan:
- Peri bottle – You can put cold water, warm water, or witch hazel in these bottles after going to the bathroom.
- Perineum spray -Spray this all-natural perineum spray every time you use the restroom for pain and itch relief.
- Sitz bath (sitz bath seat & teabags) – Doing sitz bath postpartum is so relaxing and provides some comfort when there is little to be found elsewhere.
- Postpartum underwear – These disposable underwears are very comfortable and do a great job making you feel clean down there.
- 3-in-1 postpartum belly band – To help shrink your uterus and your belly back in shape quicker.
- Comfy loungewear – These pajamas are made from bamboo fiber. Super soft and cooling.
- Nursing bras – Have at least 5 nursing bras washed and ready to wear in your postpartum care kit.
- Nipple cream – Apply nipple cream before you breastfeed or pump.
- Painkillers (Tylenol, Motrin, Advil, etc.) – You will feel pain, there’s no way around it. Also, these OTC painkillers are safe to take while breastfeeding.
- Colace – Colace softens stools and is safe for breastfeeding moms. Start taking it the day you gave birth (even if you don’t feel like pooping). You will be thankful by the time you actually need to go.
- Postnatal vitamin – Taking a high-quality postnatal vitamin will support your overall wellness, immunity, milk production, energy levels, and more.
Dealing with breast engorgement
Breast engorgement is identified by swollen hard, heavy, and/or tender breasts – and can make breastfeeding a challenge. Clogged milk ducts and mastitis are common causes of breast engorgement.
Cold packs can be placed on the breasts before and after feeding, and hand-express or pumping can soften the areola prior to feeding.
I leave these breast therapy packs in the freezer and stick them onto my breasts whenever I needed relief. Although I’ve never tried it, applying chilled cabbage leaves to swollen breasts has shown to provide relief from breast engorgement pain as well (3).
Prepare for breastfeeding and pumping
Your mature breast milk typically comes in on the third or fourth day after your baby is born. But start doing skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care with your baby from Day 1. Having skin-to-skin contact with your baby will help stimulate your hormones that help increase milk supply (4). It is also recommended to do at least 1 hours of kangaroo care daily.
It is very important that you take good care of your breasts during this time while your prepare of breastfeeding and pumping. Breast care includes:
- Wear a well-fitted support bra, with no underwire.
- Discomfort of engorged breasts usually lasts about 48 to 72 hours. Tylenol helps relieve this discomfort.
- Cold compress for 20 minutes every hour. A bag of frozen peas or corn works well. I personally find this cold/warm compress helpful.
- Avoid exposing your nipples to heat or stimulation, except when breastfeeding.
- Keep your breasts clean and free from infection and skin problems.
Keeping your perineum area clean and comfortable will help the healing process. Washing with mild soap and water at least once a day and wiping from front to back is recommended.
Wash your hands before and after changing a sanitary pad. You should change your pad after each time you urinate or have a bowel movement. Be sure to check the amount and color of your bloody discharge to make sure the color and consistency are normal.
An episiotomy, or cut/tore in your perineal, can take up to four weeks to heal. The stitches will dissolve, so they will not need to be removed.
Hand-held showers, squeeze bottles, or sitz baths should be used to clean the area. If you experience discomfort, antiseptic spray (I love this all-natural version) or analgesic cream can be used. Pat the area dry using a moist antiseptic towelette (I use Tucks cooling pads) or toilet paper.
Your first bowel movement may not happen for 2 to 3 days after giving birth, which may be uncomfortable. Eating more fiber and drinking plenty of water can help.
I dreaded having my first bowel movement as I had tears and episiotomy. My doctor told me to take Colace twice a day to help soften my stool. Colace is not a laxative, which will make you want to go, it only softens whatever you already have and is completely safe for breastfeeding.
Besides drinking plenty of water, I also took Benefiber, a prebiotic fiber supplement that aids digestive health.
Bonding with your newborn
While some new moms fall in love the instant they set eyes on their newborn, some may not establish that special bond until later. Sometimes, it takes weeks or even months to feel that attachment. Bonding with your newborn is very important as it gives your baby a sense of security and self-esteem.
There are many ways to bond with your newborn. The easiest and natural way is simply to look at your newborn, touch their skin, feed them, and care for them. Rock them to sleep, sing songs and breastfeeding will also enhance the mom-baby bond.
Doing the Kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin is an amazing way to maintain that unique closeness you and your baby shared when he was in your womb. This close-holding bond between baby and mother also helps to regulate a mother’s hormones, increase her levels of maternal oxytocin, and ultimately helps increase her milk supply.
It’s very normal to have “baby blues”, which is a brief period after your baby is born when you feel more sensitive, tearful, or overwhelmed. You may experience this for about two weeks after your delivery.
The baby blue is a normal period of adjustment that typically gets better on its own; however, about 15% of new moms may experience a more serious and prolonged form of the blues called postpartum depression (5).
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms:
- Loss of interest or pleasure in life
- less energy and motivation
- Increased crying
- Feelings of not being a good mother
- Feelings of disinterest toward the baby
- Having thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby
- Trouble relaxing
- Restlessness that makes it hard to sit still
It is very important that you pay attention to your own emotional well-being. When I had my bouts of baby blues, I turn to my husband (who is a great listener). I found out that just talking my emotions out loud really helped.
Throughout the healing process, it’s important to get rest, sleep as much as you can, maintain a healthy diet, and get appropriate exercise and take time to step away for a break, if needed. Taking care of yourself will help you be able to take care of your baby.
Have I missed any tips in my postpartum care plan? Let me know by leaving a reply below.
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