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After the Baby is Born

Caring for a new baby is one of the most joyous and challenging times in a woman's life. At the same time, new mothers must take special care of their bodies after giving birth and while breastfeeding. Read on for tips on caring for you newborn and yourself when you get home from the hospital.

The first few days at home after having your baby are a time for rest and recuperation, physically and emotionally. You need to focus your energy on yourself and on getting to know your new baby. Even though you may be very excited and have requests for lots of visits from family and friends, try to get as much rest as possible. Don't expect to keep your house perfect. You may find that all you can do is eat, sleep and care for your baby. And that is perfectly okay. Learn to pace yourself from the first day that you arrive back home. Try to lie down or nap while the baby naps. Don't try to do too much around the house. Allow others to help you and don't be afraid to ask for help with cleaning, laundry, meals, or with caring for the baby.

Physical Changes
After the birth of your baby your doctor will talk with you about things you will experience as your body starts to recover.

  • You will have spotting or bleeding, like a menstrual period off and on for up to six weeks.
  • You might also have swelling in your legs and feet. You can reduce swelling by keeping your feet elevated when possible.
  • You might feel constipated. Try to drink plenty of water and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Menstrual like cramping is common, especially if you are breastfeeding. Your breast milk will come in within three to six days after your delivery. Even if you are not breastfeeding, you can have milk leaking from your nipples, and your breasts might feel full, tender or uncomfortable.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions on how much activity, like climbing stairs or walking, you can do for the next few weeks.
  • Doctors usually recommend that you abstain from sexual intercourse for four to six weeks after birth. Before resuming sexual intercourse, talk with your doctor about your plan for birth control since you can become pregnant again. Breastfeeding alone does not protect you from getting pregnant again.

Regaining a Healthy Weight and Shape
Both pregnancy and labor can affect a woman's body. If you are trying to lose some additional pregnancy weight, make sure you do it in a healthy way and consult your doctor before you start any type of diet or exercise plan. If you want to diet and are breastfeeding, it is best to wait until your baby is at least two months old. During those first two months, your body needs to recover from childbirth and establish a good milk supply. Then when you start to lose weight, try not to lose too much too quickly. This can be harmful to the baby because environmental toxins that are stored in your body fat can be released into your breast milk. Losing about one pound per week (no more than four pounds per month) has been found to be a safe amount and will not affect your milk supply or the baby's growth.

You can safely lose weight by consuming at least 1800 calories per day with a well* balanced, nutritious diet that includes foods rich in calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and folate. Diets in which you consume less than 1500 calories per day are not recommended at any point during breastfeeding. This can put you at risk for a nutritional deficiency, lower your energy level, and lower your resistance to illness.

Feeling Blue
In addition to the physical changes, you may feel sad or have the "baby blues." This is normal following childbirth. Fifty to 75 percent of new mothers feel a little sad or depressed after giving birth. Your hormone changes, anxiety about caring for the baby, and lack of sleep all affect your emotions.

Be patient with yourself. These feelings are normal and should get better over time. Be aware of your feelings and talk with your family, friends, and your doctor. If you are extremely sad or are unable to care for yourself or your baby, call your doctor right away. You might have a serious condition called postpartum depression.

Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • feeling restless or irritable
  • feeling sad, depressed or crying a lot
  • having no energy
  • having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations (the heart being fast and feeling like it is skipping beats), numbness, or hyperventilation (fast and shallow breathing)
  • not being able to sleep, being very tired, or both
  • not being able to eat and weight loss
  • overeating and weight gain
  • trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • being overly worried about the baby
  • not having any interest in the baby
  • feeling worthless and guilty
  • being afraid of hurting the baby or yourself
  • having no interest or getting no pleasure from activities like sex and socializing

This condition can be successfully treated with medicine and/or therapy. Your doctor can help you feel better and get back to enjoying your new baby. Get more details on postpartum depression.

Infant Safety
Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that infants be placed to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also called crib death. SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby under 1 year of age. Even though there is no way to know which babies might die of SIDS, there are some things that you can do to make your baby safer:

  • Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep, even for naps. This is the safest sleep position for a healthy baby to reduce the risk of SIDS.
  • Place your baby on a firm mattress, such as in a safety-approved crib. For more information on crib safety, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772 or visit their web site at www.cpsc.gov. Research has shown that placing a baby to sleep on soft mattresses, sofas, sofa cushions, waterbeds, sheepskins, or other soft surfaces raises the risk of SIDS.
  • Remove soft, fluffy, and loose bedding and stuffed toys from your baby's sleep area. Make sure you keep all pillows, quilts, stuffed toys, and other soft items away from your baby's sleep area.
  • Make sure everyone who cares for your baby knows to place your baby on his or her back to sleep and about the dangers of soft bedding. Talk to child care providers, grandparents, babysitters, and all caregivers about SIDS risk. Remember, every sleep time counts.
  • Make sure your baby's face and head stay uncovered during sleep. Keep blankets and other coverings away from your baby's mouth and nose. The best way to do this is to dress the baby in sleep clothing so you will not have to use any other covering over the baby. If you do use a blanket or another covering, make sure that the baby's feet are at the bottom of the crib, the blanket is no higher than the baby's chest, and the blanket is tucked in around the bottom of the crib mattress.
  • Do not allow smoking around your baby. Don't smoke before or after the birth of your baby and make sure no one smokes around your baby.
  • Don't let your baby get too warm during sleep. Keep your baby warm during sleep, but not too warm. Your baby's room should be at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult. Too many layers of clothing or blankets can overheat your baby.

Some mothers worry if the baby rolls over during the night. However, when your baby is able to roll over by herself, the risk for SIDS is reduced. During the time of greatest risk, 2 to 4 months of age, most babies are not able to turn over from their backs to their stomachs.

Source: The National Women's Health Information Center U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health



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Last Updated: Jun 2nd, 2009

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