8 ways to help new moms recover after giving birth
When new mothers receive help from a partner or loved one, they recover faster and with fewer complications. Here’s how you can show you care in those critical early days.
The birth of a baby can be a joyous experience. Nothing in life compares to holding your baby for the first time.
But for many new moms, the joy can be hard to sustain during the weeks and months that follow birth. The process of recovery may stir up physical pain, stress and complicated emotions.
“Like many mothers, I found myself blindsided by the symptoms I experienced after giving birth,” says Jane Baecher. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Anya, a postpartum recovery plan company. “I was suddenly this broken vessel that was leaking from every part of my body. I needed to heal and also feed a human.”
Fortunately, there’s a proven way to help new moms. They just need the support of an attentive partner.
To examine the impact of partner support, Stanford University researchers recently looked at data from Sweden’s “flexible dads” law, which took effect in 2012. Before the law, parents had an impressive 16 months of paid leave to split however they’d like. The catch was that only 1 parent could use the leave at a time, so 1 parent was always working.
The 2012 law solved the problem by providing a 30-day gap in which both parents could be home at the same time. That allowed dads to act as caregivers by helping new moms through the hardest days.
As the researchers found, the effect was huge. Moms with help from dads were:
- 14% less likely to need care for postpartum complications
- 11% less likely to require an antibiotic
- 26% less likely to need anti-anxiety medication
Unfortunately, in the U.S., new parents aren’t guaranteed paid leave. But if you’re a partner to a new mom, you should take whatever time off you can. When you do, here are 8 things you can do to help the mother of your child recover faster.
(If medication is part of your recovery plan, Optum Perks might be able to help you save money. Download our prescription coupon mobile app to find discounts and compare costs at local pharmacies.)
Bring mom whatever she needs
Side effects from pregnancy can linger long after giving birth, says Samantha DuFlo, DPT. She’s a pelvic floor physiotherapist and the owner of Indigo Physiotherapy in Baltimore.
As examples, she points to vaginal tears and incontinence. Moms who undergo cesarean sections (C-sections) may also have scarring and lingering pain. All of these can make it hard to do simple things such as walking or sitting, DuFlo says.
So how can dads help? Make sure mom has everything she needs right in reach so that she doesn’t have to get up to fetch them herself.
“Bring water, ice packs, support pillows and meals to mom in that first week or more,” DuFlo says. You do all the running around so that she doesn’t have to. This will help her rest and heal her body while also giving her time to bond with and nurse the new baby.
Stay on top of household tasks
Even without a baby, it can be tough to keep up with chores. But with a newborn feeding every 1 to 3 hours, bottles, breast pump pieces, dirty clothes and burp cloths can easily pile up. It’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“A new mother’s No. 1 priority should be resting, recovering and taking care of her baby,” says Ariana Saunders. She’s the co-founder and president of Anya. “She will be tempted to get to work when the baby is napping, but encourage her to get some shut-eye, too. It’s the best thing she can do for herself.”
By staying on top of the cleaning and chores, you’re giving mom the freedom to rest when the baby does. And that’s important: During those first few weeks, sleep is critical for new moms, says Saunders. “If you’re introducing bottle feeding, taking the shift for a night is another wonderful way to help her get more rest in.”
Recommended reading: 4 ways to make your breast milk even healthier.
Cook nourishing food for her
Ever heard a pregnant person say they’re eating for 2? Well, that also applies to postpartum recovery. If a new mom is breastfeeding, she will need to eat 330 to 400 additional calories per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unfortunately, many new moms get these extra calories from foods with low nutritional value — this, according to a study from the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. During breastfeeding, new moms tend to eat more low-nutrient foods such as pastries, ice cream and crackers. Why? Well, new moms generally don’t have time to prepare meals, the researchers argue.
This is where dad can step in to help encourage a healthier diet for mom. “She needs nourishing foods with plenty of healthy fats, protein and easy-to-digest vegetables,” Saunders says. “Keep a store of easy-to-grab snacks on hand such as nuts, popcorn, seeded crackers, frozen soups and broths.”
Dads can also help with meal prep on weekends, making both parents’ lives easier during the week. Saunders suggests doubling the ingredients and freezing the leftovers.
Set up water stations
“Staying hydrated is critical for new moms,” Baecher says. She suggests placing water bottles at key spots around the house and making sure they’re always full.
“Something this simple goes such a long way,” Baecher says. “It’s recommended that new moms drink about 4 additional cups [per day] of water than normal to support healing, recovery and breastfeeding.” (These 8 products can help take the frustration out of breastfeeding.)
Keep water by mom’s nightstand, nursing station and wherever she spends a lot of time, Baecher suggests.
Take part in the physical healing process
This may mean helping your partner with C-section scar massages. Or it could be studying up on postpartum vaginal changes. It’s important to learn about her struggles and take an active role in her recovery.
“This benefits the birthing parent in making her feel like she's not entirely alone, allows accountability to be shared by both parents, and speeds the healing process,” DuFlo says.
Turn down visitor requests
Everyone wants to visit a newborn. But in those first few weeks, entertaining guests might feel more like work than fun.
Get good at the “graceful pass,” and do it proactively. This goes for phone calls, too. “People mean well. But it’s stressful to have people over, and it’s also stressful to have to turn them away,” Saunders says. “Allow her to rest whenever she can without the pressure and expectations of having guests over.”
If for some reason you absolutely can’t say no to company, find a way to make the visit work for you. “If they are good friends, dads can ask them to bring some food, offer to hold the baby for 30 minutes or take your partner out for a brief walk without baby,” Baecher says.
Create time for mom to exercise
A new mom probably won’t be ready to hit the gym right away. But when she’s feeling up to it, exercise can offer incredible mental health benefits. A 2019 review published in Medicina suggests that physical activity improves the quality of life and reduces tiredness in young moms.
“Physical movement and exercise, once appropriate, can help women regain physical autonomy, control and confidence,” DuFlo says. She recommends postpartum yoga and walking, which are gentle on a new mom’s body as she heals. (Check out the 7 stretches that make you feel better in 7 minutes.)
Remember: It’s okay if you can’t do it all alone
As hard as dads try, nobody can be an expert in every subject. But even when you can’t help directly, you can help find someone who can.
If your partner is struggling, help her out by reaching out to a professional who understands her problem. You’ll find lactation consultants, pelvic physical therapists, acupuncturists, postpartum doulas and more. If you or mom need to speak to a therapist, the Optum Store can put you in touch virtually.
“Having the appropriate resources at hand and calling on those specialties when needed can give mom what she needs and prioritize her well-being,” DuFlo says.
And if mom is prescribed medication to help with recovery, we want to help. Download the free Optum Perks discount card to see if you can get it for a lower price at the pharmacy. For some prescription medications, you’ll find discounts of up to 80%.
Parental flexibility benefits: National Bureau of Economic Research (2019). “When dad can stay home: Fathers’ workplace flexibility and maternal health”
Breastfeeding guidelines: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Maternal diet guidelines: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Post-pregnancy diet habits: BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth (2021). “Changes in diet from pregnancy to one year after birth: a longitudinal study”
Maternal diet for breastfeeding: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Exercise as a tool to fight postpartum depression: Medicina (2019). “Physical activity and the occurrence of postnatal depression—a systematic review”