By Elizabeth Helen Spencer
While pregnant, you're mostly concerned with optimizing your prenatal wellness and the health of your growing baby. There are also plenty of pregnancy-specific aches and pains to deal with. But sooner than you think, your baby will be born and you'll enter the wonderful world of postpartum healing. If you're anything like me, you have a vague sense of the heavy bleeding, aching muscles, and weak pelvic floor waiting for you on the other side of childbirth — not to mention breastfeeding (if you choose) and caring for your newborn. So here is how to heal faster after giving birth by starting during pregnancy.
From keeping up with your vitamins to drinking lots of water and staying active, many self-care behaviors translate naturally from before you are pregnant to the prenatal and postpartum periods. It can be tempting to skip or neglect self-care, especially when you're tired or feeling overwhelmed from juggling too many things, but the sooner you internalize the importance of self-care, the better. Taking care of yourself really is essential and it enables you to take care of your newborn. The postpartum recovery period is "officially" six weeks long, but one of the midwives I saw for prenatal care told me that it takes your body as long to heal as to make the baby — in other words, about nine months or so. Develop these good habits now to make your recovery speedier and easier.
1. Take Your Vitamins
You know you need to take prenatal vitamins during your pregnancy, but did you know it helps to continue taking them after birth? OB-GYN Yen Tran, of Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, recommends supplementing with calcium, vitamin D, and omega 3. Talk to your doctor about the best regiment for you, but overall taking vitamins during your pregnancy and in the postpartum period will help you keep your body stocked with important nutrients. Many new moms say they feel as though their baby is "sucking the life out of them" and they may well be if you have vitamin deficiencies. Nature always prioritizes the new life when it comes to distributing nutrients, so give yourself a faster recovery by staying healthy now.
2. Stay Active
Tran encourages her patients to stay active during pregnancy. Some exercise routines, such as yoga, may need to be modified and you should talk to your doctor before starting something new. Physical activity is good for your mental health as well as physical well being. The stronger in mind and body you are going into childbirth, the easier time you'll have recovering.
Of course, you'll need to take a break from strenuous activity for at least six weeks after delivery. "Many times patients are anxious to resume exercise, and I advise that they have a lifetime to exercise and run around," Mary O'Toole, OB-GYN at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, tells Romper over email. O'Toole also gives her patients the slogan of "breast and rest," meaning they should focus only on breastfeeding and resting. The same advice applies to bottle feeding mothers — try to stay in bed as much as possible for the first one to two weeks and continue to rest, abstaining from intercourse, exercise, and heavy lifting until you get clearance from your doctor to resume normal activities.
3. Maintain A Positive Outlook
As a practitioner of osteopathic medicine, Tran believes in its core principals, including "that a person is a unit and that the body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and its own maintenance." She tells her patients that staying positive during pregnancy will help them have a better postpartum recovery. There are many scientifically-validated benefits to meditation, including its ability to increase positive emotions and decrease stress and anxiety. Pregnant women can try hypno-birthing guided meditations to ease fears of childbirth and feel mentally prepared.
4. Eat Plenty Of Protein
O'Toole emphasizes the importance of protein in a healthy prenatal and postpartum diet because it's important for recovery from surgery or delivery. It also provides essential nutrients for your body as well as your developing fetus. Whether you are a meat eater or a vegetarian/vegan, talk to your doctor about your diet to make sure you're getting enough protein.
5. Build Your Community
"It takes a village" isn't just the title of Hillary Clinton's first book — it's a truth most people recognize most clearly after they become parents. You may already live near extended family and friends, or you could be on your own some place far from where you grew up. Either way, work on building and strengthening your community while you're pregnant so you'll have people to support and help you during postpartum recovery and beyond. From dropping off dinner to holding the baby so you can shower, we all need a lot of help during the intense early years of parenting.
You can take one small action to reach out every day to existing friends or make new ones by joining online groups or attending local in-person support groups for pregnant women and new moms, such as La Leche League. In addition to being a place for advice, these groups are also a great source of new friendships with women in the same stage of life as you.