Having a child is undeniably one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting experiences in life, and yet every parent will agree that giving birth is also one of their most rewarding and transformative accomplishments. And while every new parent may not realize it at the time, postpartum care is as equally as important as navigating through a world of diaper changes (and blowouts), frequent feedings (on little or no sleep), and having to make time to shower.
Beyond a rocky start to breastfeeding, I consider myself lucky that I didn't experience any severe postpartum health issues after giving birth to my son—but I know some of my fellow first-time parent friends didn't enjoy the same easy transition into parenthood. One struggled with postpartum depression (a condition that's thankfully gaining more awareness, thanks to parents in the spotlight like Chrissy Teigen), while a close friend revealed how thankful she was to give birth in a country where women survive after postpartum bleeding.
To help guide new parents through the most important things they need to know after having a baby, I reached out to Los Angeles–based doula, pre/post natal yoga expert, and pelvic floor specialist Karly Treacy to explain why self-care is so key for parents after pregnancy and birth.
"The elation of having a newborn and the physical demands of the new parent causes nearly everyone to experience a bit of blues that are related to fatigue, sleep deprivation, and challenges with nursing," to name a few, the mother of three tells MyDomaine. Getting ready to give birth or just had a baby? Relax—you've got this—and read on for the top postpartum care tips that every new parent needs to know.
Postpartum Bleeding & Hemorrhaging
"All women lose some blood during and after birthing a child [as] a result of the delivery process when the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus leaving blood vessels opened," says Treacy. "Lochia, or postpartum bleeding, generally lasts for a few days after delivery and is likened to a very heavy period."
The uterus usually starts to contract after the placenta is delivered and through breastfeeding, causing the blood vessels to close and the bleeding to stop, she explains. "In rare cases, postpartum hemorrhage can occur immediately after delivery most often due to an underlying blood clotting disorder, a tear within the uterus, the placenta not being entirely separated from the uterus, or because of too little contraction of the uterus."
According to Baby Center, the issue can occur in up to 6% of births, so you may require medication to help your uterus contract and stop the postpartum bleeding. Alternatively, the doctor may need to insert one hand into your vagina and place the other hand on your belly and compress your uterus between both hands.
If the bleeding continues, your doctor may also check to make sure there are no other sources bleeding, like lacerations or a remaining placenta fragment. As Baby Center notes, the latter may require a procedure to remove the excess placenta. In rare cases, a blood transfusion or surgery might also be needed if the bleeding is extensive.
Signs of Postpartum Depression
As Chrissy Teigen revealed in her open letter in Glamour last year, "what basically everyone around me—but me—knew up until December was this: I have postpartum depression." In fact, up to one in seven experience postpartum depression (PPD), according to the American Psychological Association, and it can begin during pregnancy. Treacy explains that the signs of PPD can include:
- Mood swings that include anger and excessive irritability
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that you typically enjoy, including sex
- Lack of interest in your baby
- Avoiding family and friends
- Uncontrollable crying or sadness for extended periods of time
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
- Thoughts of self-harm or of hurting your baby
If you're experiencing any of these symptoms for two weeks, pay close attention: It's incredibly important to seek out help from friends and family. If you feel uncomfortable reaching out to loved ones, the American Psychological Association recommends contacting the following organizations:
Postpartum Health Alliance: (619) 254-0023. For immediate help, the nonprofit organization's 24-hour support and crisis line is available toll-free at (888) 724-7240.
Postpartum Support International: (800) 944-4PPD or (800) 944-4773
Postpartum Hair Loss
If you enjoyed an abundant mane during your pregnancy, we're sorry to break it to you, but those thick locks are only temporary, and you should expect some postpartum hair loss between three to six months after birth. "Many [may] notice [losing] just a few strands per day," says Treacy. "For others, myself included, we end up with bald spots or what looks like a receding hairline."
During pregnancy, "increased levels of estrogen in your body freezes hair in the growing (or 'resting') phase of the cycle," according to Parents. Treacy explains that most noticeable amount of hair loss occurs around three months postpartum, and normal hair growth patterns usually return around six to 12 months after birth. In most cases, she says any baldness usually resolves within two years.
Hitting the gym may be the last thing on your sleep-deprived mind—however, even moderate exercises can be key when it comes to postpartum care. However, Treacy explains that "returning to exercise depends greatly on the method of delivery and how much trauma the body endured. Always consult your midwife or your physician [first]."
The pelvic floor specialist recommends starting with "simple breath work" about six to eight weeks postpartum. She suggests doing the following routines:
Breathwork: "Lying on the back with the knees bent and the feet planted flat, place one hand over your heart and one hand over your belly. Follow the breath, as your breathe all the way down into your pelvis, filling the entire torso with your breath, and then exhale completely, feeling the entire body come together to press the air from the lungs. Focus on the lateral expansion of the breath. Minimize the rising and the falling of the hand over the belly so that the breath travels into the spaces that were more restricted during pregnancy.
Repeat for 12 to 15 breaths."
Bridge pose: "Lifting one leg up to the ceiling, breathe steadily, and hold it for 30 to 60 seconds, and then switch sides. This wakes up and strengthens the hamstrings and glutes that often go sleepy during pregnancy. When done well, it brings the pelvis back to a neutral position and helps flatten the low belly."
In addition to helping your abdominal muscles regain strength, regular physical activity can hep you sleep better, relieve stress, and help you lose weight, explains the Mayo Clinic. The medical resource website also recommends doing kegel exercises and getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, starting with low-impact daily walks.
Up next—a first-time parent gets real about postpartum depression and why it's time to ditch the guilt.