There are many things you can look forward to doing after birth, like sleeping on your stomach again or eating deli meat. However, there are a few crucial things you should avoid after giving birth.
Here are nine things you shouldn’t do after giving birth, as well as some resources for finding help when you need it.
Depending on your birth experience, you may be surprised by the changes to your vagina after delivery, including how much bleeding you have. On the other hand, you may feel back to your old self quickly and wonder when you can resume certain activities, including having sex and using tampons.
No matter how you feel, you should wait until your doctor clears you to put anything into your vagina. This usually occurs around your 6-week postpartum checkup.
Why? Well, the first reason is because of the risk of infection. Your uterus is still physically recovering from birth — and if you had any vaginal repair, those areas will be healing, too. When you use internal period products, like menstrual cups or tampons, bacteria can form and cause infection in these wounds.
The bleeding after birth lasts between 2 and 6 weeks, so use pads during this time or until your doctor tells you it’s safe to do otherwise. Change your pads and wash your hands frequently to avoid infection.
What about sex? There’s no hard guideline, but many doctors may recommend waiting between 4 and 6 weeks after delivery. The reasoning is similar as with tampons, but infection risk does lower after 2 weeks postpartum.
The other risk is with stitches from episiotomies and tears healing correctly. If you had a vaginal delivery, the cervix dilated to allow the baby through and will take some time to go back to its normal size. So, again, you’ll want to ask your doctor.
You may be chuckling a bit being told not to “overdo it” with a newborn in the house. Yes, the days are filled with countless feedings, dizzying diaper changes, and very little sleep.
However, carving out time to rest and take care of yourself is critically important.
You may notice that if you try to do too much while you’re recovering, your bleeding might increase. It’s important to pay attention to your body and listen to cues that you need to slow down. Overdoing it after birth can lead to injury, muscle strain, and feelings of overwhelm or anxiety.
Beyond day-to-day tasks, you may be itching to exercise again.
Gentle walks are generally OK in the early days but be sure to contact your doctor and get cleared before delving into more high-intensity workouts. You should also stop exercising if you experience any pain. Use this time as an excuse to rest as much as you can (or as much as your little one will let you!).
Most people will have some level of pain after delivery, but the type and duration of pain will vary.
For instance, your pain could be different depending on if this was your first baby, how you delivered (vaginally or via C-section), or if you had any complications during or after delivery. Pain may last days to weeks and can vary from person to person and even pregnancy to pregnancy.
The types of pain that can be normal after birth include:
- cramping as your uterus shrinks back to its pre-baby size
- pain in the area between your vagina and anus
- pain in or around your incision and stitches
- discomfort in your neck, back, and joints
- pain from engorgement or swelling of the breasts
On the other hand, these types of pain aren’t typical and should be further evaluated by a doctor:
- severe headache that doesn’t get better with medication or that affects vision
- pain with fever over 100.4°F
- pain when you urinate that gets worse with time
- heavy bleeding (soaking through two pads in an hour for more than 1 to 2 hours)
- pain in one specific area of your breast, especially accompanied by a fever or reddened area
- foul-smelling discharge
- pain with swelling in the legs
- chest pain and difficulty breathing
Speak with your doctor about pain management, like over-the-counter pain relievers and even prescription pain medication, if needed. Your doctor can also determine if your pain may be a sign of a bigger issue.
If you experience pain accompanied by any unusual symptoms or if the pain becomes severe, contact your doctor ASAP.
If you’re having a hard time mentally after birth, you’re not alone.
Beyond the first 2 weeks, however, if you’re still not feeling like yourself, it’s important to get evaluated for postpartum depression. Around
Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- feeling angry
- feeling withdrawn from your family or friends
- not enjoying things that normally bring you joy
- doubting yourself when it comes to the basic care of your baby
- feeling disconnected from your baby
- feeling excessive worry that you may hurt your baby
While postpartum depression can affect anyone who has given birth, you may have experiences that increase your chances. Risk factors include:
- not having much support after birth
- depression before pregnancy
- family history of depression
- having complications at birth
- health issues with your baby
- having multiples
It’s important to understand that although postpartum depression can be very difficult to deal with, it is treatable.
The first step to getting the help you need is to reach out and tell someone how you’re feeling. Talk with your partner, a close friend, or your doctor.
Here’s a hard truth: You can get pregnant again as soon as 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth. If that’s not in your plan, speak with your doctor about your birth control options.
There are some birth control methods, like condoms, that you can start as soon as you resume having sex. If you’d like hormonal birth control, you may need to wait a few weeks to start, depending on if you’re breastfeeding or if you have other health issues.
Birth control options include:
- intrauterine device (IUD)
- birth control implant
- birth control injection
- combined hormonal birth control
- progestin-only birth control
You may also have heard you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding — which is true to an extent. In some cases, breastfeeding can stop ovulation, which is called lactational amenorrhea.
However, for this to work, you have to breastfeed your baby at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours overnight. If your baby misses a feeding or begins sleeping through the night, this method is no longer effective.
Additionally, all people are different, and ovulation may start sooner for some folks — so unless you’re OK with getting pregnant again, you shouldn’t count on this method alone.
With all the demands of newborn life, you may feel isolated and overwhelmed. If you have a partner, they are hopefully playing an equal role in taking care of your baby, but they may not be able to do it all.
Reach out to your family and friends or consider joining a local parent group. If you have the means, you may consider hiring a postpartum doula or another professional for added support.
You don’t need to wait until your baby is born to mobilize a support network. Consider lining up help or thinking about where you can find support in the months before your due date. That way, there’s one fewer thing to worry about when you get home from the hospital.
Although keeping your baby nourished is your main focus after giving birth, nourishing your own body is also very important.
If you’re breastfeeding, your body also needs between 450 and 500 extra calories a day to support milk production. Depending on your weight, this may mean you need to aim to consume 2,500 calories each day.
Some ways to support your nutrition during the postpartum period include:
- eating whole foods, like fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein
- minimizing snack foods high in saturated fats and added sugars
- continuing to take your prenatal vitamin (or switching to a postnatal one)
- staying hydrated
Hydration is especially important. Experts recommend that you drink 16 cups of fluids each day while nursing.
If you or your partner smokes, contact your doctor for support with quitting.
Smoking puts your own health at risk, but secondhand smoke is also a
Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline at 800-662-4357 for referrals and support with drug misuse.
If you’re in need of critical supplies, like diapers and formula, there are programs that can help you and your family get the things you need.
Programs for new parents include:
Your first postpartum appointment with your doctor may be scheduled between 4 and 6 weeks after delivery. But if you have any other questions or concerns before your appointment, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor’s office sooner.
Call your doctor if you have:
- signs of infection, like fever, foul-smelling discharge, or excessive bleeding
- vaginal tears or a C-section incision site that don’t seem to be healing
- trouble with breastfeeding
- signs of mastitis, including swollen breasts, pain in breasts, lumps, or fever
- symptoms of postpartum depression, such as feeling hopeless, angry, or disconnected or having anxiety or excessive worry
- difficulty quitting smoking or misusing drugs
Call a trusted health professional or 911 if you have:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- severe pain in your abdomen
- swelling or discomfort in your legs
- any thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Navigating life with a newborn is tough stuff. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process.
If you have any questions or concerns about your or your baby’s health, your doctor is your best resource for advice. You can also lean into your friends and family for emotional and social support.
Remember, you’re not alone — and if you need help with any aspect of parenting, be sure to talk to someone you trust.