The postpartum timeline

You’ve had the baby … now what? Here’s what to expect during the six weeks following delivery.
By Sarah Granger

After nine months of wild emotions, massive body changes and strange pregnancy symptoms, you might be looking forward to things returning to normal once baby finally decides to make his entrance into the world. However, the first six weeks postpartum can be as crazy as the gestation period. Get ready for it with our postpregnancy timeline.

Week 1:

Physically: Congratulations—you did it! You are probably exhausted (some equate the efforts of labor with running a marathon, just without all that helpful training beforehand) and sore, although the source of your pain will vary depending on whether you delivered vaginally or via C-section. Your breasts will produce colostrum for the first 72 hours, which is all the nourishment your baby needs. And whether you breastfeed or not, your milk will likely come in within three to five days and cause your breasts to become painfully engorged. Ice helps with the discomfort, and nursing “on demand” is the quickest route to draining the excess fluid.

Emotionally: All those hormones that invaded your body while you were expecting are at it again, making you an emotional wreck for a few days after baby’s birth. Expect lots of unexplained tears and conflicting emotions, from elation to sheer terror and everything in between. As the hormones settle, so too will the fears and tears. Hang in there!

Week 2:

Physically: Soreness should lessen by the second week, although you still might not be up to your typical level of comfort. Your uterus is continuing to shrink and is now about the size it was when you were three months pregnant. Exhaustion is par for the course. Waking every two hours to feed your baby takes its toll on your body, so remember the oft-repeated adage: Sleep when baby sleeps!

Emotionally: Although you’re probably feeling more rational than you were last week, some strong emotions are still normal during this time. Many moms feel overwhelmed with responsibility, which is normal and will pass as you become more settled into your role as a parent.

Week 3:

Physically
: Welcome back behind the wheel! You’ll probably be feeling much better this week and may even be up to driving yourself or your baby to any scheduled checkups or appointments. (Be sure to get the OK from your doctor first, especially if you’re recovering from a C-section.) Healing comes at a different pace for everyone though, so if you’re still not feeling 100 percent, it’s no cause for concern. Lochia, the bloody discharge that follows childbirth, has usually tapered off to a more yellowish, less bloody show than in previous weeks, and your breasts should be free from pain. Nursing moms might be impressed with their new bra sizes.

Emotionally: Those pesky baby blues should have passed by now. If they’re still hanging on though, it might be time to look for the more serious signs of postpartum depression. (See box above for tips.) Sleep is probably still pretty scarce, so forgetfulness and tiredness are to be expected.

Week 4:

Physically: The majority of new moms have happily retired their sanitary napkins by this point, as lochia has all but disappeared, but they might be pulling them back out sooner than expected. Yep, things are getting back to normal—and if you are bottle-feeding your babe, it might show in the form of a menstrual cycle, the first you’ve had in many months. Nursing moms often don’t see their periods return until they’ve weaned their little ones. (Some are cycle-free for up to three years!)

Emotionally: You’re likely a little more at ease as a mom and are beginning to enjoy your baby more, perhaps even relishing the first sweet smiles.

Week 5:

Physically: If you had a natural, uncomplicated delivery, you’re over the aches and pains by now. When you look in the mirror, things might not be what they were before your belly began expanding to house your little one, but the majority of the weight that will “fall off” has most likely done so. Many moms reintroduce an exercise routine around this time, though you should hold off for another week if you had a C-section unless your doctor has given you his OK.

Emotionally: You might be itching to stretch your legs after spending the past month tending to your newborn, and venturing out of the house can make you feel like a new woman (which you sort of are!). Dad needs practice with the home-alone experience too, so feel free to head out on your own for a few hours if you’re craving some “me time.” (Considering the amount of energy you’ve devoted to your newest family member over the past five weeks, you deserve some.)

Week 6:

Physically: Your uterus is back to its pre-pregnancy size and your vagina and cervix have also tightened back up. Sex, exercise (even for C-section mamas) and regular life activities are all on the A-OK list by now. Your postpartum period is officially over!

Emotionally: Many babies sleep five to six hours by the sixth week, meaning you can as well, and the extra rest does you good. Parenting is less scary now and more second nature. Enjoy your new mom status—it only gets better from here.

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