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Recovery from labor and delivery

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Recovery from labor and delivery

To adequately recover from the hard work of labor and delivery, new mothers need plenty of sleep and nourishment. Recovery is different for everyone, and depends in part on the length and strength of your labor and whether you had an episiotomy or cesarean birth. However, most new mothers will experience:

  • Postdelivery contractions
  • Bleeding that is similar to a heavy menstrual flow
  • Perineal discomfort or pain
  • Sweating
  • Breast discomfort or pain
  • Sore or cracked nipples

What is the best way to care for perineal discomfort or pain?

Some pain is normal (especially when healing from an episiotomy or tear). To prevent infection, it is important to:

  • Squirt warm water over the perineum to clean
  • Use a fresh sanitary pad every 4-6 hours

To ease discomfort, you can:

  • Take warm sitz baths
  • Use an ice-pack or gauze pad with chilled witch hazel
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time
  • Use natural laxatives (such as prune juice, fruits, and fluids)

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Warning signs during recovery

During recovery, a number of complications can occur. You should call your health care provider immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Chills and fever
  • Severe vaginal bleeding (more than one pad per hour)
  • Bleeding with a foul odor
  • Very large blood clots in the lochia
  • Lower abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Painful, red, warm lump in breast

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Why is nutrition important?

Nutrition is extremely important during recovery from labor and delivery. In addition, mothers who breastfeed their babies need extra calories, protein, calcium and plenty of fluids. Nursing mothers need about 500 extra calories each day in addition to their pre-pregnancy consumption. Meals should be well-balanced and nutritious, including servings from the range of food groups. These include:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grain breads and cereals
  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • High protein foods like fish, beans, meat, and poultry

Nursing mothers should avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs, since harmful substances can pass into the breast milk.

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Physical Activity and Sex after Delivery

How soon after delivery can physical activity begin?

For women with uncomplicated vaginal deliveries, moderate exercise can begin soon after delivery. Safe exercises include kegel exercises, deep breathing, and pelvic tilts. Depending on your recovery, you may be able to begin a regular exercise program after your initial postpartum visit. You should discuss this with your health care provider.

When can sex begin?

Some health care providers advise postpartum women to wait for six weeks before beginning sexual activity, whereas others advise women to begin sexual activity when they feel ready. Comfortable sexual activity can begin after the woman's body has completely healed--which often takes up to six weeks or more. Recovery from childbirth depends on many factors, including:

  • Length and strength of labor and delivery
  • Whether one has had an episiotomy
  • Whether one has had a cesarean section
  • Individual factors affecting speed of healing and recovery

Despite the specific amount of time before resuming sexual activity, sexual intercourse should not cause any discomfort in the perineal area.

Return to the Pregnancy and Related Care page.


[ || Pregnancy || Informed Choice || Infections and Diseases || Quality of Care || Emerging Issues ]
[ Home | About AVSC | Site index | Publications ] [ Version Française | Versión Español ]
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