How Long Is the Postpartum Period?

Reviewed on 6/4/2021

Women with stress
The time taken to recover after childbirth can vary with each woman. It can take longer for a first-time mother to recover. A woman may usually take longer to recover after cesarean delivery compared to vaginal delivery.

The first six weeks after giving birth is called the postpartum period. During the postpartum period, the mother experiences several changes including physical and emotional changes. 

This can be a difficult time for the woman, especially if it is her first child. There can be additional stress for the mother, such as tackling breastfeeding, lack of sleep because of the baby’s nighttime waking, as well as the demands of caring for her new baby. 

At this time, the mother needs support from her partner, family, and friends. The mother’s physical and mental health will need attention, and her doctor can help ease some of the pain, discomfort, and other physical and mental changes during the postpartum period. 

The time taken to recover after childbirth can vary with each woman. It can take longer for a first-time mother to recover. A woman may usually take longer to recover after cesarean delivery compared to vaginal delivery. Complete recovery after childbirth can take six months to a year, sometimes even longer.

The first week of the postpartum period

During this time, the mother is usually in the hospital. The mother has significant pain in the perineal region after vaginal delivery. Women who had a cesarean delivery would have significant lower abdominal pain and a bladder catheter put in for a day or two. 

There would also be bleeding in the first week, which appears bright red like the bleeding during a period. In a week, the bleeding would reduce and turn brownish. 

The uterus is still enlarged like it was during pregnancy. The uterus slowly contracts to its pre-pregnancy size over the next six weeks. 

During the first week, there are significant hormonal changes, leading to mood swings. Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. Prolactin and oxytocin levels increase and decrease throughout the day while the baby feeds.

Week two to five of the postpartum period

During the second week, bleeding may stop for some women. For others, it can last up to six weeks, which is also normal. However, the bleeding is not heavy after the first week. There might be some vaginal itching due to the process of healing. 

The sutures may swell and cause discomfort. Pain may reduce, and it becomes easier to move around. 

From the second week onward, it is common to face the “baby blues” or postpartum depression (PPD). The mother may feel sad, anxious, and have difficulty eating and sleeping. The mother needs care and attention during this time, including medical help, since some women can have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting others.

Week six of the postpartum period

By the end of six weeks, the uterus goes back to pre-pregnancy size, and the bleeding stops. Occasionally some women may have bright red bleeding that starts around six to eight weeks after it stopped many days ago. This is because the uterus sheds off the remnants of the placental scabs. 

Women may begin exercise and sexual activity after consulting with the doctor and if they feel comfortable. Many women do not feel ready for a much longer time, and it is completely normal. They should not pressure themselves or be pressured by their partner or others. This recovery process is generally the same for women who had a vaginal delivery or cesarean delivery. 

The mother’s mental and emotional status begins to improve. It’s normal to feel exhausted and worried. However, deeper feelings of depression or anxiety require medical attention.

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References
Romano M, Cacciatore A, Giordano R, La Rosa B. Postpartum period: three distinct but continuous phases. J Prenat Med. 2010;4(2):22-25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3279173/

Kansky C. Normal and Abnormal Puerperium, Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/260187-overview

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