Women's Health

Recovering From Birth

You’ve had your baby and now you’re home – what should you expect as you’re recovering from either a vaginal or c-section delivery? Mary Bostock, MD, provides insights.

Oct. 6, 2021 3   min read

While many pregnant people spend time preparing for labor and the arrival of their newborn, it’s also important to know what to expect for your own recovery after birth. You’ll be getting less sleep with a newborn around, but what else can you expect?

The obstetrician and gynecologist team at Rochester Regional Health covers some of the common physical and emotional changes you can expect after birth and when to call your provider.


It is important to understand that bringing home a new addition to our family is a change in your life that will require adjustment and time. It is important to be compassionate with yourself and your family during this time.


If you had a C-section delivery, you may experience pain in your lower abdomen at the incision site. Your wound will take about six weeks to heal and you’ll have a scar that fades over time. You may lose feeling in the area of your incision. This usually comes back at a later time.

“You may need to take pain relief medication for 7-10 days after your C-section, which your provider can prescribe and guide you through dosing on," Dr. Bostock said. Commonly, using a combination of ibuprofen and Tylenol works well for most people, but make sure you check with your provider. It is important to understand that there will be some tenderness. Continuing to move gently will help this go away over time. Holding still and not moving may prolong your pain.

If you had a vaginal birth, you may have experienced some tearing and pressure in your vaginal area. When you’re sent home from the hospital, we’ll give you a peri-bottle, ice pack and other tools to help keep the swelling down, the area clean and the pain minimized. 

The really great news is that women are often really good at healing quickly.

Cramping and your baby belly

You may experience some pain in the first 2-3 days after birth, as your uterus contracts and goes back to its normal size pre-pregnancy. This pain may be very strong with breast feeding during the first week.

New moms still look pregnant after delivery. While you’ll lose some of the weight immediately after delivering your little one, your body needs time to lose the remaining weight. Common wisdom suggests that it takes 18 months to recover from a pregnancy, particularly if you have had a cesarean section. Being willing to take time for this recovery process is important. Eating healthy and finding ways to be physically active, once approved by your provider, are great ways to boost your energy and make you feel better. This may not always be possible in the real world, so thinking in the beginning of the day about one healthy choice you can make that day can be helpful.


Vaginal bleeding after birth is normal – called lochia, your body sheds the tissue and blood that lined the uterus during your pregnancy immediately after and for up to six weeks following the birth.

“Lochia is like a very heavy period, with bleeding being the heaviest during the first three to ten days after birth. The color of the blood will go from dark red to pink to brown to yellow-white. Until the bleeding stops, we recommend using pads rather than tampons, which can cause infection.”

Because you are shedding this lining it is especially important to think about drinking plenty of fluids, eating the most nourishing food you can and continuing your prenatal vitamin.

If you’re losing blood in large clots (larger than a walnut) or need to change out your pads every hour or more, call your provider.


It’s important to try to stay hydrated and avoid getting constipated after birth. Drink as much water as you can and eat food with lots of fiber, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts.

Avoiding constipation can help reduce abdominal pain and softer stools make those first few post-birth poops easier.

Mood changes

Throughout pregnancy and the months following delivery, your body goes through many hormonal changes which can lead to mood swings. These mood swings are natural and common. It is usual to cry over little things or to be more frustrated than usual with the daily chores and interactions of life. However, if you feel that you are functioning less well day by day, please reach out to your provider.

Some women also experience more severe mood changes like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. Postpartum depression affects up to 1 in 4 moms. Common signs include:

  • Trouble focusing
  • Irritability
  • No interest in the baby
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness or extreme fear
  • Lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

This is a biological problem and does not mean that you are not a good parent or person. If you have any of these symptoms, please call your provider right away – they can help you access resources and services, including therapy and medication. It is much easier to treat these when we catch them early.

Breast engorgement and nipple pain

In the first week after birth, your breasts will swell as they fill with milk for your newborn, causing them to feel sore and tender. This discomfort typically improves as your baby breastfeeds more regularly. If you’re formula feeding, the engorgement will only last a few days until your body stops making milk.

If you are breastfeeding, you may experience some nipple pain and cracking during the first few days as you and your baby learn which positions work best and the optimal way to latch. If this pain does not go away, you should meet with a lactation consultant to make sure that your baby is latching correctly and for other breastfeeding tips.

Fluid retention

Once you deliver your baby, there is a significant amount of fluid in your body that used to be shared with the baby during your pregnancy, but now there is no baby to share it with. Because of your hormones, this fluid often goes out into the body and can be seen as increased swelling in the legs and hands. This may be worse if you had a cesarean section, IV fluids and or preeclampsia.

This condition should improve day by day and get better when you put your feet up. This often can take 6 weeks to completely resolve. Please call your provider if you have swelling that is not resolving or is getting worse day by day.

When to call your provider

You should call your provider right away if you:

  • Have a high temperature
  • Have vomiting or difficulty controlling bowel movements
  • Start feeling unwell
  • Have a C-section incision or vaginal tear wound that becomes swollen, painful or has discharge
  • Notice a smell that doesn’t seem right (discharge, blood, etc.)
  • Have pain when you urinate or if you leak urine when you don’t mean to
  • Have pain that is getting worse
  • Have a cough or are short of breath
  • Have a headache and vision problems
  • Have pain or swelling in one leg or pain or swelling in your legs that is getting worse over time
  • Are feeling depressed or anxious
  • Have questions or are thinking, 'Is this normal?'

“Your care team is here for you every step of the way, and that includes during your recovery after birth," Dr. Bostock said. "Make sure to call us if you are feeling unwell, have a temperature or just want to make sure that the changes you’re experiencing are normal. Pregnancy care does not stop with the birth of your child. The year after the birth of your child is also an important time for care and we will be here to continue care for you and your family during this time. Again, congratulations, you are starting on a wonderful journey and we are honored to be a part of that journey with you.”

NEXT STEPS Preparing to have a baby?

Explore the Rochester Regional Health childbirth centers at Unity Hospital, Rochester General Hospital, Newark-Wayne Community Hospital and United Memorial Medical Center. Our website includes virtual tours, links to online classes and easy ways to learn more about our team. 

Tour Our Childbirth Centers
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