Postnatal Care (Puerperium)
The birth of your baby is an exciting and challenging time for you. The postpartum period begins after the delivery of the baby and ends when the mother’s body has nearly returned to its pre-pregnant state. This period usually lasts six to eight weeks.
The postpartum period involves the mother progressing through many changes, both emotionally and physically, while learning how to deal with all the changes and adjustments required with becoming a new mother. The postpartum period also involves the parents learning how to care for their newborn and learning how to function as a changed family unit.
A mother needs to take good care of herself to rebuild her strength. You will need plenty of rest, good nutrition, and help during the first few weeks.
Every new parent soon learns that babies have different time clocks than adults. A typical newborn awakens about every three hours and needs to be fed, changed, and comforted. Especially if this is their first baby, parents–in particular the mother–can become overwhelmed by exhaustion. Although a solid eight hours of sleep for you may not happen again for several months, the following suggestions may be helpful in finding ways to get more rest now.
- In the first few weeks, a mother needs to be relieved of all responsibilities other than feeding the baby and taking care of herself.
- 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.
- Many new parents enjoy visits from friends and family, but new mothers should not feel obligated to entertain. Feel free to excuse yourself for a nap or to feed your baby.
- Get outside for a few minutes each day. You can begin walking and doing postpartum exercises, as advised by your health care provider.
- After the first two to three weeks, introduce a bottle to breastfed babies for an occasional nighttime feeding. This way, someone else can feed the baby, and you can have a longer period of uninterrupted sleep.
A mother’s body has undergone many changes during pregnancy, as well as with the birth of her baby. She needs to heal and recover from pregnancy and childbirth. In addition to rest, all mothers need to maintain a healthy diet to promote healing and recovery.
The weight gained in pregnancy helps build stores for your recovery and for breastfeeding. After delivery, all mothers need to eat well so that they can be healthy and active and able to care for their baby.
Whether they breastfeed or formula feed, all mothers need to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Most lactation experts recommend that breastfeeding mothers should eat when they are hungry. But many mothers may be so tired or busy that food gets forgotten.
We emphasize the nutritional intake of the following:
- 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 percent 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.
New as well as experienced parents soon realize that babies require a lot of work. Meeting the constant needs of a newborn involves time and energy and often takes parents away from other responsibilities in the home.
Although many parents do fine on their own, having someone else helping with the household responsibilities usually makes the adjustment to a new baby easier. Parents can concentrate on the needs of mother and baby, rather than 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, from nursing care of the new mother and baby to housekeeping and care of other children.
Whoever you decide to have as helpers, be sure to 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. It is generally best for the new mother to be relieved of all responsibilities except the feeding and care of herself and her baby. This is especially important if she is breastfeeding. Others should assume the chores in the home such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping. This will help the new mother take care of herself, and keep her from limiting her time with her baby.
New mothers should make vaginal care an essential part of their postpartum care. You may experience:
- vaginal soreness f you had a tear during delivery
- urination problems like pain or a frequent urge to urinate
- discharge, including small blood clots
- contractions during the first few days after delivery