2-6 Weeks Postpartum
Over the next 4 weeks, you may start feeling a little more like yourself. Though you’re likely still exhausted from broken sleep and caring for another human, a schedule may start to emerge. Even though the fog may start to lift, it’s really important to remember everything your body just did for months. As your body continues to heal, it’s key to ease back into activity.* This is not a time to jump back into strenuous workouts you may have been doing before pregnancy.
Some tips for this phase of recovery:
- Increase your activity gradually. For example, add 5-10 minutes of walking each week. See Exercises section for more information.
- Continue to work on tuning in with your body (i.e. how does it feel, what is my posture looking like?)
- Continue deep breathing exercises
- If you notice issues like pelvic pain or leakage, talk to your provider. Also, see our Pelvic Floor section below for more about what is normal and not normal.
- It’s important to have reasonable expectations. Expect to have lost some weight before your first follow-up with your doctor, but it’s normal for weight-loss post-baby to happen over months, not weeks.
Also, even though you’re starting to feel better, it’s not realistic to expect to be back to pre-pregnancy levels of activity or exercise just yet. While it may be hard, especially for us busy-bodies, it’s important to have patience and remember everything your body has been through and continues to recover from. Much of recovery will happen in the first three months, but your body will continue to change and recover for at least 6-12 months after baby.
If you need a reminder, take a moment to appreciate some of the things your body went through during pregnancy:
- Your organs were squished and moved out of place
- Your ribcage and diaphragm were pushed up and spread as baby grew
- Your pelvic floor took on way more pressure than it usually does
- Your abs stretched
- As your belly stretched, your back muscles had to work overtime to help out
- Your posture changed during pregnancy and likely postpartum
- The placenta that nourished your baby in your belly has left a wound inside your womb that is the size of a dinner plate; until your bleeding stops, this wound is still healing
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Your core continues to recover along with the rest of your body at this stage. The uterus will continue to return to normal size and excess fluids will be flushed out of your body. However, this does not mean it’s at all realistic for the core to look like it did pre-pregnancy. If you had a cesarean, your incision will still continue to heal.
Even though many are cleared to return to exercise around 6 weeks, your core and other muscles and tissues continue to heal for at least a year after baby. That’s why it is important to gradually build up a foundation of strength to help you reach your activity goals.
Some things that can impact how your core is healing after baby include:
- Weight gain during pregnancy
- Postpartum posture and body mechanics
During this phase, it’s important to start to “bring things back online.” We’re not looking to set any personal records for sit-ups here but simply remind your core muscles what they’re supposed to be doing.
If you are wondering what core exercises you can do during this phase of recovery, click here to jump to the exercises section.
At this point of recovery, your vaginal area should not be as sore and pain levels should be improving. If this is not the case, see the Red Flags section of our Guidelines page to learn more about reasons to seek care from your provider.
- If you had a c-section, it’s common and normal to have some numbness, tenderness, or tingling around the incision. This will likely continue for the next few weeks or months but should begin to improve over time.
- Postpartum bleeding should be very light now and will end during this phase of recovery. If bleeding returns or you start bleeding heavily, reach out to your healthcare provider. Continue to balance rest with activity to limit heavier bleeding and help you heal faster.
- Pelvic floor exercises are important, but not just Kegels! Most people immediately think of Kegels when they think of the pelvic floor, but it’s important to make sure that your muscles can relax and tighten. If all you work on are Kegels, this can lead to muscle tension that can cause pain and tightness.
Adjusting to Motherhood
After the first 2 weeks, postpartum blues should be behind you. While that doesn’t mean that everything is rainbows and butterflies – taking care of a newborn on broken sleep while you are recovering from birth is no joke – if you feel like your blues are worsening or you just don’t feel like yourself and like something is not right, it is never too early to seek help. See end of this section for additional resources.
If you are looking for practical tips to support your well-being through this season of life, here are a few things you may wish to start incorporating over the next few weeks. As always, take what resonates with you and leave the rest:
Keep expectations realistic and focus on the basics
If your schedule looks like some version of wake, eat, change diaper, sleep, repeat, you are mastering newborn life! Wrestling with unrealistic expectations is a challenge for many mamas, but remember that it is ok to catch up on sleep instead of cleaning the floors. If you are feeling overwhelmed, see the journaling section for some ideas on how I (Alex) simplify my never-ending to-do list.
“What should I feel like?”
This is a common struggle for many new moms. Even with all the information online, it’s hard to really know what you SHOULD feel like at this stage of recovery. First, know that you’re not the only one who is wondering what you should be feeling. While there are red flags to be aware of, the majority of women postpartum continue to feel better as the days and weeks go on.
While everyone’s recovery journey is unique to them, you can learn more from Alex about realistic recovery timelines here:
Sleep when you can
Lack of sleep contributes to mood disorders; others can cook and clean for you, but they can’t sleep for you. If you are having trouble sleeping when you have the opportunity to sleep, try making some small changes or reaching out to your provider for help.
- Initially, I was tempted to reach for my phone when I couldn’t sleep, but I have found meditations for sleep, sleepcasts, and audiobooks to be helpful in addition to supplements and at particularly difficult times, medication. Your doctor may also recommend things like melatonin, magnesium, or a medication depending on your situation. Just be sure to mention if you are breastfeeding as you discuss options with your provider.
- See 0-2 Week Guide for some more great resources.
I know it is hard for some of us to ask for help, but support is key for your mental wellbeing. When possible, arrange help from your partner, family, friends, or trusted babysitter at the very least for self-care: showering, postpartum care, napping, etc.
Journal & Reflect
Journaling doesn’t have to be hard! Do it on your phone or in a pretty notebook. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:
- Journaling for Mental Health – great intro to journaling with simple tips, special topics (depression, anxiety, and stress), and prompts
- Simple Postpartum Prompts
- Feeling pressure to “bounce back” already? Check out Dina’s tips for self-awareness and reframing your thinking
Journaling to Simplify Your To-Do List
- Brain Dump all of the things you feel like you “need” to do.
- Optional: Write down your top 3-5 priorities are in your life this week.
- Examples of priorities: See Changes Experienced by New Parents List from 0-2 Week Guide
- Family, Relationship with Your Partner, Spiritual Health, Physical Health, Emotional/Mental Health, Financial Health, Career, Social, Leisure Time
- Examples of priorities: See Changes Experienced by New Parents List from 0-2 Week Guide
- Mark the items that need your attention this week.
- If everything feels urgent, consider: Which items would result in an emergency if not addressed? Which things would make your life harder if not addressed?
- Still not sure, talk it out with a loved one. Sometimes it can be helpful to get perspective from a veteran mom or your partner.
- Which activities would bring you joy and give you a boost of energy to tackle other things in your day? Mark these with a different symbol of your choosing. Let your priorities guide you.
- Number your items by order of importance. Be sure to include some joyful activities between your important activities. When I have free time, I refer to my list and tackle them in order. This takes some of the thinking out of the equation. This could also be a list to refer to when someone offers help.
We are not experts in mental health,* although we strongly believe that it is just as important to your wellbeing. Here are some amazing resources to check out if you are looking for more support or just want to learn more on this topic:
While this is not an exhaustive list of potential struggles postpartum. The following are common struggles for new moms around 2-6 weeks. You may start to become more active at this stage and notice some issues that weren’t present before.
It’s common to have some discomfort if you choose to return to sex after you are cleared by your provider (often around the 4-6 week mark). However, it’s not something that you should put up with after the first few times. Go slow and be gentle. A water-based lubricant can go a long way in improving comfort. Positions that were fine before may have to be adjusted. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s possible that you’re not as lubricated. Breastfeeding limits estrogen production, and estrogen is part of what helps the vagina stay lubricated.
- Pro Tip: Lubrication is your friend. Communicate with your partner.
- Bonus Tip: Consider non-penetrative forms of intimacy if you’re not feeling comfortable or finding that sex is too painful.
Upper Back Pain
- Upper back pain is one of the most common complaints seen postpartum that isn’t directly related to the core or pelvic floor. It’s likely that you’ll spend hours holding and feeding your baby. This along with changing and carrying a baby puts us in a very forward posture most of the day. This constant forward posture can really affect the upper back muscles causing them to be tight and painful.
- Pro Tip: Practice doing 10 shoulder blade squeezes every hour to help strengthen the upper back and serve as a reminder for posture.
Low Back Pain
Low back pain is also common for similar reasons to upper back pain. The constant sitting, holding, and carrying with posture that isn’t always the best can lead to more stress on the low back. In addition, the core muscles and pelvic floor are likely weaker than normal after 9 months of carrying your baby and are not supporting the low back in the best way.
- Pro Tip: Use a lumbar roll or rolled up towel at the small of your back while you’re sitting to help minimize pain and improve posture.
Neck pain can also be a source of discomfort postpartum. Again, weaker muscles and hours spent in a forward position put a lot of strain on your neck. While we all want to spend hours looking down at our new baby, it’s important to limit long periods of looking down without breaks! Find yourself spending hours looking at your phone while breastfeeding or feeding baby? This can affect your neck too.
- Pro Tip: Do 10 chin tucks every hour to help strengthen the neck muscles and to serve as a reminder for posture or after looking at your phone for an extended period of time.
Fatigue is a very, very common complaint for obvious reasons. Even if you’re getting any stretches of uninterrupted sleep at night, taking care of a baby and learning to navigate a new life serve as their own source of fatigue. Even though most of your energy should be put into your own recovery and baby’s well-being at this point, it can be hard to find the energy to do the basics.
- Pro Tip: Try to get even a 5-10 minute walk 2-3 times per day (outside if able!) to help boost energy levels. Also- stay hydrated!
Exercises for 2-6 Weeks Postpartum
The main goal during this phase of recovery is to establish a base of strength. This is the time to really start to focus on your core and pelvic floor because they’ve been through a lot!
While we want to encourage movement and activity, there are some things that are best left for later stages of recovery. Activities to save for further down the recovery road include:
- Hard plyometric exercises: jumping jacks, burpees, running
- Hard biking/ hard swimming
- Front ab exercises that create a bulge in your abdomen: sit-ups, v-sits, leg lifts
For more general guidance on exercise postpartum, see our Guidelines for Postpartum Exercise.
- Start with 5-10 minute walks first
- Keep your intensity around 25-50% of what would feel really hard
- Light elliptical, biking, and walking are all great options when you are cleared to return to exercise
- Start with 10 minutes and gradually increase this amount each week working up to 30 minutes
Considerations during Exercise:
- Pay attention to signs of overdoing it: heaviness in the abdomen or pelvis, worsening diastasis (belly muscle separation) during or after exercise, soreness that lasts more than 24-48 hours
- Focus on breathing and posture. If you have to hold your breath or compromise posture during exercise, then you may not be ready for that one just yet.
- Do not pull in your belly button or clench your pelvic floor during exercise. Try an exhale during the challenging part of the exercise instead.
Instead of generic “just increase exercise gradually,” focusing on purposeful, mindful exercise is our recommendation for this phase of recovery. Please remember, these guidelines can vary greatly and C-section (especially an emergent one) will change what you’re able to do.*
You may want to start with 1-2 of these exercises per day and add a couple as you’re able and as you can tolerate. The exercises are not in any particular order. All of these exercises are beneficial during this phase of recovery.