Postnatal wellbeing is essential for your recovery, but what’s the best way to keep yourself healthy and happy as you adjust to becoming mum to your new baby?
Some mothers find it hard to make sure they eat well, especially if they’re looking after more than one child, but it’s important to ensure that you’re getting in enough nutrition to help you recover. Protein is especially essential for the repair and maintenance of muscles, so try and get enough protein in your diet. If you eat meat, then chicken is often a great source of protein, as well as eggs and dairy products. Healthy snacks like nuts can provide great sources of protein and fibre too. Keeping your bowels healthy is important too, as a change to hormones can upset the balance of your guts. That first bowel movement after birth can be a little worrying for some, so making sure you get enough fibre (roughage) from fruit and vegetables is also important.
What you eat or drink is very unlikely to have an effect on your milk production, but if you do not eat or drink enough you are likely to feel unwell and this will impact on your recovery from birth. Most of the time, there’s no need to avoid eating or drinking anything in particular although in some cases, babies can be intolerant to cow milk protein.
Staying hydrated is important whether you’re breastfeeding or not and some mums find they are extra thirsty if they are breastfeeding. It can be a good idea to have water bottles dotted around the house in the places you might feed. Once your baby has started feeding, you will find it useful to have things within reach.
If you’re finding it hard to get enough rest or time to prepare food, then do ask friends or family for help. Most of the time, people will be pleased to help when there is a new baby in a family. Many families find it helps to prepare batch cooked meals in advance, though this relies on having freezer space. Take the pressure off, something nutritious that’s easy to prepare is fine, and having a few go-to options which you repeat is also fine.
Whether you have had a vaginal birth or a caesarean, it’s important to be careful about what you do in the first six to eight weeks after you’ve had your baby.
As your womb shrinks, you will continue to lose blood (lochia). If you find you are starting to bleed more, this can often be a sign that you are doing too much. Whilst it’s good to keep active in the first few weeks after birth, make sure you are getting as much rest as possible. The hormones that helped your body give birth still affect you in these first few weeks, so it is recommended that you do not undertake any strenuous exercise.
Gentle, low-impact exercise, like walking and pelvic floor exercises (tensing, holding and relaxing your pelvic muscles), is the most exercise that is recommended in these early weeks. The hormone relaxin can mean that your ligaments are more flexible and if you do too much, you can easily strain your joints. Relaxin can remain in your body for up to five months after giving birth, so consult your GP or an experienced postpartum physical therapist if you’d like to take up more strenuous training or exercise.
Walking helps with constipation and may help boost your recovery. Gentle exercise can also provide you with some mental relief. The evidence tells us that walks, especially in nature, can be beneficial for our mental wellbeing.
As long as you and baby are well, probably the biggest challenge facing families with a new baby is sleep. It is very normal for newborns to have wakeful periods at night, and you will probably be woken several times. Lack of sleep can delay your own recovery from the birth, and it is important to prioritise sleep and naps when you can. This could be when your baby is sleeping, or while somebody gives you a ‘baby break’ by taking your baby out for a walk or drive.
There is no right or wrong about when to have sex after birth. Many women will feel more comfortable waiting until after the GP postnatal check-up at 6 to 8 weeks after the birth. Others will have sex sooner. It is important to think about contraception if you are not exclusively breastfeeding, as you can get pregnant as soon as 3 weeks after the birth. It is not good for your body to have two pregnancies close together without time to recover in between.
Scroll down this page to watch an NHS.uk video on when to have sex again after birth.