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The New Mother: Taking Care of Yourself After Birth

The postpartum period begins after the delivery of your baby and ends when your body has nearly returned to its pre-pregnant state. This period often lasts 6 to 8 weeks.

The postpartum period involves your moving through many changes, both emotionally and physically. You are also learning how to deal with all the changes needed with becoming a new mother. The postpartum period also involves you and your partner learning how to care for your newborn and learning how to function as a changed family unit.

You need to take good care of yourself to rebuild your strength. You will need plenty of rest, good nutrition, and help during the first few weeks.

Rest

Every new parent soon learns that babies have different time clocks than adults. A typical newborn wakes up about every 3 hours and needs to be fed, changed, and comforted. Especially if this is your first baby, you and your partner can become overwhelmed by exhaustion. You may not get a solid 8 hours of sleep for several months. Here are ideas to help you get more rest:

  • In the first few weeks, you need to let someone else take care of all responsibilities other than feeding your baby and taking care of yourself.

  • Sleep when the baby sleeps. This may be only a few minutes of rest several times a day, but these minutes can add up.

  • Save steps and time. Have your baby's bed near yours for feedings at night.

  • It’s nice to have visits from friends and family, but don’t feel that you need to entertain guests. Feel free to excuse yourself for a nap or to feed your baby.

  • Get outside for a few minutes each day. You can start walking and doing postpartum exercises, as advised by your healthcare provider.

Nutrition

Your body has undergone many changes during pregnancy and birth. You need time to recover. In addition to rest, you need to eat a healthy diet to help you do that.

The weight gained in pregnancy helps build stores for your recovery and for breastfeeding. After delivery, you need to eat a healthy and balanced diet so you can be active and able to care for your baby.

Most lactation experts recommend that you eat when you are hungry. But many mothers may be so tired or busy that food gets forgotten. So it is important to plan simple, healthy meals that include choices from all of the recommended groups from MyPlate.

MyPlate is a guideline to help you eat a healthy diet. MyPlate can help you eat a variety of foods and also get the right amount of calories and fat. The USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have prepared the following guide to help.

MyPlate is divided into 5 food group categories:

  • Grains. Foods that are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal grain are grain products. Examples include whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal.

  • Vegetables. Vary your vegetables. Choose a variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, and orange vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), and starchy vegetables.

  • Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed.

  • Dairy. Milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Focus on fat-free or low-fat products, as well as those that are high in calcium.

  • Protein. Go lean on protein. Choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Vary your protein routine. Choose more fish, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans.

Oils are not a food group, but some oils such as nut oils have important nutrients. Include these in your diet. Others oils such as animal fats are solid. Don't include these in your diet.

You should include exercise and everyday physical activity in your dietary plan.

Visit MyPlate to find more information about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015. The site can also give you the right dietary recommendations for your age, sex, and physical activity level.

Most mothers want to lose their pregnancy weight, but extreme dieting and rapid weight loss can harm you and your baby if you are breastfeeding. It can take several months for you to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. You can reach this goal by cutting out high-fat snacks. Focus on a diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, balanced with proteins and carbohydrates. Exercise also helps burn calories and tone muscles and limbs.

Along with balanced meals, you should drink more fluids if you are breastfeeding. You may find that you become very thirsty while the baby is nursing. Water and milk are good choices. Try keeping a pitcher of water and even some healthy snacks beside your bed or breastfeeding chair.

Talk with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if you want to learn more about postpartum nutrition. Certified lactation consultants can also help with advice about nutrition while breastfeeding.

Help for new parents

New as well as experienced parents soon realize that babies need a lot of work. Meeting the constant needs of a newborn involves time and energy. It often takes you away from other responsibilities in the home.

You and your partner probably will do fine on your own, but having someone else helping with the household responsibilities usually makes the adjustment to a new baby easier. You and your partner can focus on your needs and the needs of your baby, rather than on the laundry or dirty dishes.

Helpers can be family, friends, or a paid home care provider. A family member such as the new baby's grandmother or aunt may be able to come for a few days or longer. Home care providers offer a variety of services. These include nursing care of the new mother and baby and housekeeping and care of other children.

Whoever you decide to have as helpers, make clear all the things you expect them to do. Communication is important in preventing hurt feelings or misunderstandings when emotions are fragile these first few weeks. Have your helpers take over chores such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping. This will help you take care of yourself, and keep you from limiting time with your baby.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Freeborn, Donna, PhD, CNM, FNP
  • Sacks, Daniel, MD, FACOG