Learn how to stay healthy and plan for delivery.Learn more »
Learn how your body changes and your baby develops.Learn more »
Labor and Delivery
Learn what to expect during labor and delivery.Learn more »
Learn about recovering from childbirth and your newborn care.
The postpartum period begins after the delivery of your baby and ends when your body has returned as closely as possible to its pre-pregnant state. This period usually lasts six to eight weeks.
During the postpartum period you will progress through many changes, both emotionally and physically, while learning how to deal with all of the changes and adjustments required in becoming a new mother. The postpartum period also involves the parents learning how to care for the newborn and learning how to function as a changed family unit.
Learn what to expect after your baby's birth, including how to take care of yourself and your newborn, in the following educational videos from A New Beginning.
Your New Beginning (7:14)
Caring for Yourself (12:14)
Caring for Your Baby (17:27)
Feeding Your Newborn (12:50)
Baby's Health and Safety (7:10)
After delivering your baby, you will continue to be monitored and receive pain relief, if needed. You and your baby usually remain at the hospital for a couple of days to recover.
As you recover, the following symptoms are not uncommon:
- Bloody vaginal discharge that changes to brown, then whitish over the next few weeks after delivery
- A tender vaginal area
- Painful contractions that may continue after delivery (as your uterus returns to its original size)
- Breast engorgement (as milk production begins)
- Fatigue and soreness are common in the first few weeks.
It generally is recommended that all new mothers schedule an appointment with their physicians/midwives four to six weeks after delivery to ensure proper healing.
During the first few weeks, you need to take good care of yourself to rebuild your strength. Taking the following steps can help:
- Take naps when the baby naps, to compensate for lost sleep at night from getting up to feed the baby.
- Wear a supportive bra. Cold packs may help relieve breast engorgement and swelling. Warm compresses can be used to help stimulate the letdown of milk (a reflex that triggers the release of breast milk). If you choose not to breastfeed, ice packs and binding your breasts will help alleviate engorgement in a couple of days.
- If stitches were necessary during a vaginal delivery, taking warm, shallow baths (sitz baths) twice a day may relieve soreness and speed healing.
- After a Cesarean birth, you should keep the incision clean and dry.
It’s normal to feel let down after the baby is born. A combination of stress, lack of sleep and hormonal fluctuations make new mothers vulnerable to anxiety, baby blues and depression. The time period following the birth of a new baby involves a major adjustment for families, even if you already have children.
Symptoms of baby blues
It is normal to feel overwhelmed, exhausted and anxious about many things. The “baby blues” should last only a few days.
- Crying for no reason
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite
- Trouble sleeping, eating and making choices
- Feelings of not being able to care for yourself and baby
- Have little interest or pleasure in your baby
- Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control
- Feel like you are a burden to your family
Managing baby blues
- Try to get as much rest as possible, even if you don’t sleep.
- Accept help when family or friends offer to clean your house, make meals or do laundry.
- Take a walk to get fresh air.
- Shower, wash your hair and put on clean clothes every day.
- Remind yourself that you will not always feel like this.
Symptoms of postpartum depression
If you are having the feelings listed below for longer than a week, you may have postpartum depression and need to seek help.
- Feelings of sadness, doubt, guilt, anger or helplessness that increase each week and get in the way of your normal function
- Feeling nervous, trembling, breathless, panicky or restless
- Trouble doing tasks at home or at work
- Things that used to bring you pleasure no longer do.
- Intense concern or lack of interest in your baby
- Upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind
- Worrying that you might hurt your new baby or yourself
- Feelings of loneliness
- Staying in bed and sleeping all day
Managing postpartum depression
Call your doctor/health care provider as soon as possible for help. Counseling, support, and in some cases, medication can help you feel better if you have postpartum depression.
We encourage you to attend Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Postpartum Support: Understanding Emotions After Delivery Group. Our group consists of women sharing stories of joy, sadness and feeling alone days after delivery. Registration is preferred by calling 610-402-CARE (2273). Walk-ins are welcome.
- 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. first Monday and third Thursday of each month at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest, Kasych Pavilion, ECC 3
- 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. second Wednesday of each month at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg, ECC A
In case of severe symptoms or an emergency, community resources are available.
While the exact cause for postpartum depression is unknown, it is likely that a number of different factors, such as the following, are involved:
- The changing of roles (as a spouse and new parent)
- Hormonal changes during and after delivery
- Personal or family history of mental illness, particularly postpartum depression
- Marital strife
In addition to a complete medical history, physical examination and/or psychiatric evaluation, postpartum depression diagnosis may include a thyroid screening to detect any hormonal or metabolic abnormalities or conditions that may serve as an underlying cause.
Most women who experience the "baby blues," postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and/or postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder have never experienced these types of symptoms before, especially with such intensity. In any case, it is important for women to seek proper treatment early, not only to ensure that the newborn remains safe and properly cared for, but also so that the mother can resolve these symptoms and experience all of the joys of motherhood.
Postpartum depression treatment may include:
- Medication (i.e., hormonal treatments and/or antidepressants)
- Psychological treatment (may include the new mother and/or the family or spouse)
- Peer support (i.e., support groups, educational classes)
- Stress management and relaxation training
- Assertiveness training (Some women need to learn how to set limits with family members, so they do not become overwhelmed and overworked.)
Specific treatment for postpartum depression will be determined by your physician based on:
- Your age, overall health and medical history
- Severity and duration of your symptoms
- Whether or not you are breastfeeding
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
- Your opinion or preference