6 Things You Shouldn’t Rush Postpartum
After your little one arrives, you may be anxious about when to resume certain activities—like workouts and intimacy with a partner. Or you may wonder when it’s safe to begin new practices, like using your breast pump for the first time. We talked to TLN IBCLC Chrisie Rosenthal about which activities you should wait to partake in and when you can safely start them.
When Can I Have Sex Postpartum?
During the postpartum period, it’s natural to question when (or if!) sex and your body will ever feel ‘normal’ again. Rest assured; you can get there. But in the meantime, you have some healing to do.
Postpartum intimacy can help you and your partner reconnect after your baby is born, but don’t rush into anything. Your OB/GYN will give you the okay when it’s physically safe to resume sex. This is typically after four to six weeks for vaginal births, sometimes longer for Cesarean deliveries.
Hormones from breastfeeding can also complicate your sex life, decreasing your sex drive and leading to vaginal dryness. According to a 2018 study, nearly 43 percent of lactating parents reported vaginal dryness six months postpartum. So, if you want to have sex but struggle with vaginal lubrication, you can talk to your doctor and use a lubricant.
There are other things to be mindful of, such as exhaustion. You may find that you don’t have the energy for sex, and that’s okay. Rosenthal explains, “The first few weeks postpartum are often marked by long, sleepless nights, and you may find that you don’t have the energy to focus on that part of your relationship with your partner. It’s important to know that for most couples, this stage typically passes with time.”
Additional factors, like body image, painful breasts, sore nipples, leaking breast milk, and stress, can all affect your desire to have sex. Rosenthal encourages you to talk to your OB/GYN if postpartum symptoms are impeding your sex life. In the meantime, there are plenty of other meaningful ways for you and your partner to connect.
When Can I Fly Postpartum?
After giving birth, you might have travel on your mind so that your family and friends can meet your new baby. While it could be tempting to jump on the next possible plane, there are a few things to consider first.
Recommendations for travel vary greatly depending on the time of year, vaccinations, and your baby’s health. If you need or want to travel, check in with your doctor and your pediatrician first.
Once you’re cleared for flying, you can start to plan for your trip. If you are breastfeeding and plan to pump or bring breast milk with you through security, be prepared. Read up on the TSA guidelines for traveling with breast milk and print out a copy in case your agent is unclear about the rules. Learn more about how to navigate flying as a lactating parent here.
When you do get on a plane, Rosenthal recommends bringing a hand pump onboard. Even if you’re traveling with your child, babies often sleep through flights, which might mean your breasts become uncomfortably full during the flight.
When Can I Work Out Postpartum?
Once you have your baby, it’s natural to want to return to your pre-pregnancy routines, including exercise. Remember that everyone is different, so when and how you start to work out again will depend on you.
For uncomplicated vaginal births, you can usually begin doing postpartum exercises just a few days after giving birth. If you had a Cesarean delivery, extensive vaginal repair, or a complicated birth, you might need to wait a little longer. Talk to your doctor about when you can begin exercising again, and don’t plan on an intense workout too soon. The Mayo Clinic recommends starting with a simple, low-impact postpartum workout, such as daily walks, pelvic tilts, and kegel exercises. Wrist and upper back strengthening and stretching are also particularly helpful for breastfeeding parents.
If you are breastfeeding, fear not; moderate postpartum exercise in and of itself does not impact breast milk production. But it is important to pay attention to your rate of weight loss while working out. Rosenthal says, “If a breastfeeding parent loses more than one and a half to two pounds a week, it may affect their milk supply. If you suspect your breast milk supply is decreasing, reach out to your IBCLC to discuss how to evaluate your supply and how to increase it, if needed.”
While moderate exercise shouldn’t impact milk production, it may change the taste. Studies show that strenuous exercise increases the amount of lactic acid in breast milk, affecting your milk’s composition. But additional research has found that this does not impede infant acceptance of breast milk.
Sweating can also cause your breast to taste salty. While some babies don’t mind, it may cause others to not want to feed shortly after your workouts. “If your baby does not like the taste of your breast milk after a very strenuous workout, try expressing a little milk before feeding, waiting a little longer to feed, or taking a shower to wash off the salt left behind from sweating,” says Rosenthal.
What you’re wearing while you exercise matters, too! Rosenthal explains, “Make sure you wear a supportive bra, but not one with an underwire or one that’s very constrictive. Wearing a bra that’s too tight and performing exercises with repetitive motions (like running and weight lifting) can lead to plugged ducts in some breastfeeding parents.”
Above all else, make sure you take things slow. Ease yourself back into your routines, make sure you’re staying hydrated, and get plenty of rest.
When Can I Start Taking Birth Control Postpartum?
Even if you aren’t ready to be physically intimate quite yet, it’s important to think about birth control. When choosing your preferred birth control, you’ll want to consider when and if you want more children, if you plan to breastfeed, what makes sense for your lifestyle, and your health history. When exactly you can start taking it depends on which method you decide to use.
Birth control methods are highly individualized and should be decided on in consultation with your doctor or OB/GYN. Generally, if you want to use a hormonal form of birth control, progestin-only contraceptives are preferred. Popular choices are the progestin-only pill (POP, AKA the mini-pill), the Depo-Provera injection, Mirena (IUD), or Implanon (implant). On hormonal birth control—even progestin-only methods—some breastfeeding parents may experience a decrease in their milk supply. In order to see how your body reacts, start with the mini-pill before committing to a long-acting option.
When Can I Pump Postpartum?
If you plan to breastfeed, you’ll also want to think about pumping. There is no right answer about when you ‘should’ start to pump–it varies for every family and their circumstances. Talk to your IBCLC to discuss when you should begin and how often you should pump.
For some parents, you may begin pumping as soon as you’ve had your baby; particularly if your baby is preterm, has special needs, or is otherwise unable to latch. If you have to be separated from your baby for medical reasons, you may start to pump and store breast milk for future use.
If your baby is healthy and gaining weight appropriately, you may decide to introduce a bottle between four and six weeks. And if you are exclusively breastfeeding, you’ll also need to start pumping when you introduce a bottle in order to store expressed milk for bottle feedings, maintain your milk supply, and avoid plugged ducts and mastitis.
You may also introduce a bottle earlier because of medical reasons or simply by choice. In either case, your IBCLC will work with you to create a pumping plan that works best for you and your baby. They can also guide you through bottle-feeding, pump usage, and breast milk storage.
When returning to work, you may need to do a little extra pumping to build a small stash of breast milk for your baby prior to your first day. Inserting an extra daily pump session two to four weeks before returning to work typically gives you time to prepare and adjust.
When Can I Take a Shower or Bath or Go Swimming Postpartum?
After giving birth, nothing might sound better than a long soak in a warm tub. Or if swimming is your preferred method of exercise, you might be itching to jump into a pool. But before you do, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.
You can shower any time after giving birth. If you are breastfeeding, Rosenthal says, “Some parents find the direct stream of water from a showerhead to be uncomfortable on sore nipples in the early weeks. You may want to invest in an adjustable shower head, which will make it easier to avoid a direct stream of water making contact with your breasts and nipples.” You may also notice that your breasts ‘let down’ while taking a shower, which is common and nothing to worry about. Rosenthal also recommends avoiding soaps and shower gels with strong fragrances–some babies simply don’t like the scent of certain products.
Although you can generally shower as soon as you are safe to stand, you may want to hold off a little longer before hopping into a bath. Factors that will impact timing for baths include what type of delivery you had, and whether you had an episiotomy. Rosenthal advises, “Check with your provider to find out when you are cleared to take baths.”
There are similar rules for swimming. Though swimming is a great, low-impact activity to help you ease back into movement postpartum, most doctors say to wait four to six weeks before going for a swim. This allows your lochia, the vaginal discharge after birth, to completely taper off so you can avoid infection. This process usually begins around a week after childbirth. And if you’ve had a C-section, it may take closer to around three weeks before it’s recommended to swim again.
We know that the postpartum period can be challenging, but you’re not alone. You may not feel like yourself yet, but in time, you’ll get there. As always, remember to take things at your own pace. You know your body best, and when in doubt, you can consult your IBCLC and doctor with any questions.