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Overview of the Postpartum Period


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2022 | Modified Jun 2023
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What is the postpartum period?

Postpartum refers to the time period after you have a baby. It's usually considered the first 6 weeks after delivery.

The following are what you can expect your body to be like after delivering your baby:

For the first 3 or 4 days the discharge from your vagina is bloody, sometimes with blood clots. Then the discharge becomes pale brown, then yellow or white.

You'll usually see your doctor 6 weeks after giving birth unless you're having problems and need to see your doctor earlier.

The most common problems during the postdelivery period are:

What happens right after I deliver?

To keep you from bleeding too much, doctors may:

  • Press on your belly to help your womb (uterus) shrink

  • Give you a medicine (oxytocin) as a shot or in your veins to help your uterus shrink

If you lose a lot of blood, doctors will give you IV fluids and sometimes a blood transfusion.

You can start eating normally shortly after delivery.

Immediately after delivery you may not feel the need to pee even though your bladder is full, so:

  • You'll be asked to pee regularly

  • Nurses may press on your belly to help empty your bladder

  • If you can’t pee and your bladder is full, a nurse may put a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) into your bladder for a minute to drain your urine

You may be constipated after delivery, especially if you got an opioid pain medicine. Your doctor may suggest laxatives or stool softeners.

You may also need certain vaccines after delivery:

When can I go home?

How soon can I exercise?

After delivery, you should get up and walk around as soon as you can.

  • If you had a vaginal delivery, you can start gentle exercise when you feel up to it, but don't do your full pre-pregnancy exercise routines until your doctor says it's okay

  • If you have a c-section, it takes about 6 weeks to fully recover and heal, and you shouldn't exercise at all until your doctor says it's okay

What should I expect as my body heals from delivery?

If you had a vaginal delivery, it's normal for your vaginal area to feel sore. Passing urine may sting. Try the following:

  • Apply ice or cold packs for the first 24 hours after delivery

  • Use numbing creams or sprays

  • Wash the area with warm water a few times a day

  • Sit in a warm shallow bath (sitz bath)

  • Sit on a donut-shaped pillow

If you had a c-section:

  • Call your doctor if your wound becomes red or starts to drain fluid

  • You can shower after about a day but don't take a bath until the stitches are removed

  • Be careful with your stitches—don't scrub over them in the shower

  • Don't put anything (including tampons) in your vagina for at least 2 weeks

  • Avoid heavy lifting and hard activity for about 6 weeks

  • Avoid sex for about 6 weeks

With either type of delivery, you'll have discharge (fluid) from your vagina for several weeks:

  • Bloody fluid for 3 to 4 days

  • Pale brown fluid for about 2 weeks

  • Yellowish white fluid for up to about 6 weeks after delivery

Vaginal bleeding may actually increase for a few days about a week or two after delivery. That bleeding is normal. It comes when the scab where the placenta was attached in your uterus falls off. You can use sanitary pads.


Pushing during delivery can cause or worsen hemorrhoids. Pain from hemorrhoids can be relieved by:

  • Warm sitz baths

  • Applying a gel with pain medicine in it


If you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, your breasts will be very sore and swollen for a few days until they stop making milk. Put ice packs on them, wear a snug bra that has good support, and take pain medicine such as ibuprofen.

If you choose to breastfeed, doctors recommend you feed your baby only breast milk for the first 6 months, then breast milk and food for the next 6 months. After a year, you can continue breastfeeding until you or your baby is ready to stop.

To help with nipple soreness and cracking:

  • Help your baby latch onto your nipple so the baby's bottom lip isn't sucked in while feeding

  • To reposition your baby, gently ease your baby’s lip out with your thumb or slide a finger into the baby’s mouth to break suction and then try latching again

  • Use cotton pads, if needed, to absorb leaking milk

  • Apply lanolin cream to your nipples to protect them

Take good care of yourself while breastfeeding:

  • Take a vitamin containing at least 500 micrograms of folic acid

  • Drink plenty of fluids

  • Eat about 500 extra calories each day (make sure the extra calories are from fruits, vegetables, and a good source of protein)

  • If you're on a special diet, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, talk with your doctor about how to have a healthy diet while breastfeeding

When is it okay to have sex?

You can resume intercourse when you feel ready and any lacerations or surgical incisions have healed.

Most women delay intercourse for 6 weeks after giving birth until they're fully healed. This may take longer if:

  • You have a c-section

  • Your delivery caused tearing

  • You had an episiotomy (a small cut in the vaginal area made by your doctor to widen the opening)

Birth control

It's possible to get pregnant again soon after giving birth. Women who breastfeed are less likely to get pregnant right away. But some women can get pregnant in just a few weeks even when they breastfeed.

It takes a year or two for your body to fully recover from pregnancy. Doctors recommend you wait at least 6 months, but preferably 18 months, before getting pregnant again.

What are warning signs of problems after delivery?

If you have any of the following symptoms, call your doctor right away:

  • Heavy bleeding (soaking through a pad every hour for more than 2 hours)

  • Passing blood clots larger than a golf ball

  • Bad-smelling discharge

  • Fever

  • Belly or chest pain

  • Pain while peeing, trouble emptying your bladder, or needing to pee very often

  • A hard lump in your breast

  • Breast pain, redness, and swelling

  • Pain or discharge around your c-section incision

  • Shortness of breath

  • Leg pain

  • Extreme sadness, tiredness, or trouble caring for yourself or your baby

These could be the sign of a postpartum infection or other serious problem.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
Advil, Advil Children's, Advil Children's Fever, Advil Infants', Advil Junior Strength, Advil Migraine, Caldolor, Children's Ibuprofen, ElixSure IB, Genpril , Ibren , IBU, Ibupak, Midol, Midol Cramps and Body Aches, Motrin, Motrin Children's, Motrin IB, Motrin Infants', Motrin Junior Strength, Motrin Migraine Pain, PediaCare Children's Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, PediaCare Infants' Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, Samson-8, Toxicology Saliva Collection
LanaShield, Soothe & Cool
Folacin , Folicet, Q-TABS
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