Baby blankets are cute and all, but have you heard of the Haakaa?

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When you’re elbow-deep in all things baby, it’s easy to lose sight of the other person who needs nurturing: you. Those first few weeks of healing and dealing are intense, and require lots of extra TLC. Use this small-yet-mighty DIY kit to stock up and ensure you have soothing and self-care on lock.

Baby blankets are great and all, but any friend who shows up with these postpartum care essentials is a friend for life.

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Acetaminophen

To help ease postpartum aches and pain, acetaminophen (Tylenol) gets the greenlight from doctors. It’s not something you want to take for the long-haul, but the National Institute of Health says it’s a “good choice” for breastfeeding moms.

Boppy

The Boppy is the OG breastfeeding pillow, and it’s a favorite for a reason: It makes positioning baby onto your chest easier and reduces friction, which is especially important after a C-section. It can also help you get more comfortable, which is critical when you’re breastfeeding for what feels like hours at a time.

Breast pads

Available in washable or disposable, breast pads help keep wet spots at bay by absorbing excess milk. They’re especially great for those with overactive letdown. However, two things: Change them regularly, and if they chafe you or are uncomfortable, skip ʼem. 

Cabbage leaves

This old-fashioned trick works! It can reduce swelling from engorgement the first few days or weeks postpartum. Grab big, cold cabbage leaves and literally wear them. Drape them on your exposed chest until they warm and wilt, then discard.

Note that continued use of cabbage leaves may decrease milk supply, so only use them until your initial engorgement discomfort subsides. (And then they’re helpful again if you experience engorgement with weaning.)

Gel pads

These help soothe chapped, painful nipples that often come in the early days of breastfeeding. Lansinoh Soothies are reliable, and they can be refrigerated for extra “ahh.”

Haakaa

This little gem looks like a standard manual breast pump, but oh, it’s so much more. It can suction onto the breast that baby isn’t currently feeding on to collect any milk that might be expressed during the letdown. It’s a way to save that liquid gold.

Heat packs

Surprise! Your milk won’t be flowing the minute baby is born. It takes 2 to 4 days to fully come in, and when it does, it can cause engorgement (breasts balloon and can be painful and hard).

Heat works wonders before a feed or pump. You can use a reusable, microwavable heat pack, though for its size and convenience, I love instant hand warmer heat packs. Activate them and stow inside your bra cups until they cool off.

Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen (Advil), when taken as directed, may be an even better choice than acetaminophen for postpartum pain because it’s also an anti-inflammatory.

According to the National Institute of Health, “Because of its extremely low levels in breast milk, short half-life, and safe use in infants in doses much higher than those excreted in breast milk, ibuprofen is a preferred choice as an analgesic or anti-inflammatory agent in nursing mothers.”

Ice packs

Pair this with heat packs, and you’ve got the ying-yang treatment you need for engorgement during your first week postpartum.

After a feed or pump, press a little bag of frozen corn or peas (wrapped in a thin, clean kitchen towel) to your breasts, or use hand-held instant cold packs or reusable, freezable gel packs. Remove when the pack is starting to warm up.

Medela breast shells

When you want the best of both worlds, Medela to the rescue. Their breast shells slip right into your bra to give your nipples a breather from moisture, and once you’re ready to breastfeed again, they act as a milk collector during breastfeeding sessions.

Olive oil

Keep that EVOO on hand for more than cooking. Instead of gel pads, I prefer using olive oil to treat sore, chapped nipples. Simply dab a bit onto each nipple after a feed or pump and let air dry. It can help tremendously, and it’s cheaper and (typically) less allergenic than lanolin-based nipple creams.

One-handed snacks

Unless someone else made it, forget about homemade snacks for awhile. You’re going to get hungry, fast, with full arms and no sense of what time it is. Stave off hangriness with stuff you can eat while still holding baby: Nuts, seeds, fiber-rich protein bars, crackers, and fruit.

Overnight pads

Time to bring in the big guns. You’ll want to buy the most super-absorbent overnight pad you can find. Whether you had a vaginal or C-section birth, you will experience lochia, which is the medical term for post-birth discharge, including blood, mucus, and uterine tissue.

It is different for every person, and every birth, but in general expect the bleeding to last up to 4 to 6 weeks for vaginal birth and 3 to 6 weeks for C-section, tapering in heaviness as you go. Tampons and menstrual cups are not suitable after birth. 

Padsicles

You can purchase “perineal ice packs” but it’s simple enough to make them yourself. (And by “make them yourself,” I mean task a loved one to handle this job!)

Take your store-bought overnight pad, unwrap it, and then pour witch hazel, aloe vera gel, and a couple drops of lavender essential oil onto the pad.

Spread the mixture on the pad, refold in aluminum foil, and pop it into a freezer. When ready to use, take it out, let it defrost for a minute, and then place in your underwear. Wear until it’s warmed up and then toss. Note: Soggy bottom will be in effect! Choose your seat wisely.

Peri bottle

Most hospitals will give this to you, and by all means, take it home. It’s basically a condiment squeezy bottle for your vulva. Some, like Frida Mom’s, come with an angled tip and can be used upside down. Amazing!

You’ll fill it with warm water and spray it downtown while urinating to relieve discomfort and clean the area. Air-dry or blot — never wipe — yourself dry after.

Perineal spray

Similar to the padsicles, this is a cooling spray which can provide relief. (Though its effects are not long lasting.) Some postpartum moms love this, others don’t find much use for it. Up to you.

Just look for a spray without artificial ingredients or perfumes. Some, like Earth Mama, come with a sprayer that can be used upside down — that’s key!

Postpartum underwear

Postpartum underwear is the best. They’re stretchier than normal granny panties, are super-absorbent, can be disposable if that’s how you roll, and are more breathable and comfortable overall. If you had a C-section, you’ll definitely want these to avoid the pressure of an elastic waistband on your incision.

Brief Transitions makes a great like-the-hospital-but-better version which can be washed or tossed. Always Discreet and Depend Silhouette are nice disposable options which can be found at most drugstores.

If you want to go a little fancier, and add your own pad, Pretty Pushers has a cute drawstring panty that contains a pocket for padsicles, and Kindred Bravely has a lacy high-waisted option if you’re feeling ooh la la.

Preparation H

If you didn’t have hemorrhoids during pregnancy, surprise! It’s that time. Pushing, pressure, straining — it’s a lot on your bod. Preparation H ointment is an over-the-counter option to temporarily shrink hemorrhoids and ease pain and itching. However, check with your provider to get the go-ahead on this.

Sitz bath

The hospital may give you one to use. If they didn’t offer one, ask! The shallow basin fits within your toilet so you can soak your perineal area in warm water (and perhaps Epsom salt if your provider says that’s OK) to soothe and speed up healing.

Make sure the bath is clean and disinfected before use, and absolutely do not add bubble bath or scented soaps.

Small pillow

If you had a C-section you’ll want to place this on your abdomen and hold on to it whenever you cough or sneeze. Alternatively, if you have stitches, you may find sitting on a pillow helpful for hard surfaces like wood or plastic chairs. 

Stool softener

Of everything listed here, this ranks as a top priority. Take it for all of the reasons listed here. The hospital or birth center will most likely give you a dose or two during your stay, and most likely it will be Colace. It’s a gentle formula which is not contraindicated for breastfeeding mothers.

Once home, you can continue to take the recommended dosage of up to three capsules a day, for 1 week unless otherwise directed by your doctor. Do not take laxatives. They contain different ingredients and force your body to expel a bowel movement.

Tucks Medicated Cooling Pads

These convenient round pads help ease the burning and itching of hemorrhoids, and can be used freely as needed after birth. If you somehow avoid postpartum hemorrhoids (you lucky unicorn, you) Tucks pads are still a smart, soft way to blot yourself clean after going number two.

Water bottle

Hydration is as important as ever during postpartum. That said, you don’t need to chug like crazy. A simple rule of thumb: Drink 8 ounces of water each time baby feeds or you pump. You’ll know you’re hydrated if your pee is light colored. Dark urine is a sign that you need to drink more throughout the day.


Mandy Major is a mama, journalist, certified postpartum doula PCD(DONA), and the founder of Motherbaby Network, an online community for postpartum support. Follow her at @motherbabynetwork.com.