Postpartum Timeline: What You Can Do When After Giving Birth

Postpartum Timeline: What You Can Do When After Giving Birth

While no two delivery stories are the same, the postpartum timeline is usually a bit more predictable. It's always advised to avoid housework, heavy lifting, and other strenuous physical activity immediately after giving birth and those first days and weeks postpartum. You'll be sore, tired, and recovering right after the birth, so aim to ease into your new routine after delivery with help from family and friends. Prepare to limit trips up and down the stairs, hold off on doing household chores, and wait to exercise until you've gotten the go-ahead from your doctor.

woman in wheelchair with new baby leaving hospital
woman in wheelchair with new baby leaving hospital

Getty Images

"You need sufficient rest for the muscles and ligaments that hold your uterus in place to regain their strength," says Coralie Macqueen, a certified nurse-midwife in private practice in New York City. And in the case of a C-section, a longer period of rest is required for your body to heal from major abdominal surgery.

As for the specifics? After your baby's born, here's when you can expect to get the green light for nursing, showering, driving, doing household work, and more during your postpartum recovery.

Immediately after birth, you can...

Hold your baby

As long as you've had an uncomplicated birth and you're feeling up to it, you'll be able to hold the baby you've waited so long for immediately after giving birth. If you've had a C-section birth, your partner might actually be the one holding baby, but you'll still get a chance to steal some snuggles while you get stitched up and prepped for the recovery room.

Nurse your baby

While you're enjoying those first sweet snuggles with baby—and your partner's had a chance to hold her, too, of course—it's time to try breastfeeding for the first time. Your first milk will be colostrum, also known as first milk; this nutrient-dense milk is packed with antioxidants and antibodies designed to support your newborn and build up their immune system. The first hours after birth is a critical time for establishing a breastfeeding bond.


Are you wondering how soon you can walk after giving birth? If so, know that the answer varies greatly depending on the type of pain medication you opted for. If you deliver without the use of an epidural, you'll be able to walk immediately. If you've used an epidural, it generally takes an hour or so before you'll be able to feel your legs, says Dr. Martine Tesone, a Certified Nurse Midwife specialist in Loveland, Colorado.

If you've had a C-section, however, you will not be encouraged to get out of bed until the day following your surgery. Walking—at least to the bathroom and back, and possibly farther—shortly after a C-section is encouraged as it helps circulation, improves bowel function, and will speed recovery.

Hours after birth, you can...

Take a shower

Once your epidural wears off and the baby's been checked over thoroughly, you'll be transported together from the delivery room to the postpartum recovery room. This is often on a different floor of the maternity ward, and the nursery is typically on this floor as well. Here, you'll finally be able to enjoy your first postpartum shower. Dr. Nandini Raghuraman, MD, MS, at The Women & Infants Center, Washington University School of Medicine, says, "This can even be done the day of your delivery if you feel okay standing independently without dizziness or lightheadedness." Just gently pat yourself dry down there.

If you had a C-section, you can typically shower within a day of your surgery; doing so helps reduce the risk of infection. Don't scrub your incision; just let the water run over it.

Use the bathroom on your own

Your first trip to the restroom after giving birth may be a bit more awkward than you expected. That's because you'll be accompanied by your attending nurse, who will ensure you're steady on your feet, help navigate cords, wires, and your hospital gown, and help you get set up with your first postpartum pad and ice pack. This typically happens as soon as your epidural wears off if you had one, or about one to two hours after giving birth.

Following a C-section, however, your first bathroom trip will generally be the morning after your surgery when doctors remove your catheter.

Drink alcohol (yes, really)

Hoping to toast your new arrival with a sip of bubbly at the hospital? Go for it, but it's a good idea to wait until after you and your baby have been checked over, and you've tried breastfeeding for the first time. Even then, it's recommended you keep the celebration to one small glass. Dr. Heather Bartos, the founder of Badass Women, Badass Health, and Board Certified OBGYN, reminds us that if you're taking narcotics for pain relief, you shouldn't use alcohol at all.

One day after birth, you can...

Take a bath (with the doctor's okay)

If you've had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery, there's a good chance you'll get the all-clear to take a warm bath just one day postpartum. But if you're a c-section mom, this luxury will, unfortunately, be off-limits for several weeks to come. "After a cesarean section, you may be advised to wait until after your six-week postpartum visit before taking a full bath," Dr. Tesone says.

Leave the hospital

Unless you've had a C-section, you should be able to leave the hospital 24 hours after giving birth, assuming both you and your baby have been cleared by your individual doctors. The C-section recovery timeline has you staying for approximately four days.

One week postpartum, you can...

Drive a car

Wait a week to drive a car after a vaginal birth, says Robert Atlas, M.D., an OB-GYN at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "You use your abs to move your foot from the gas to the brake." If you've had a C-section, expect to wait two to three weeks before getting behind the wheel. "After a C-section, you won't be able to lift anything more than your baby's weight, so lifting a car seat is not feasible," says Dr. Tesone. In addition, you won't have the abdominal muscles to press down on the brake pedal in an emergency."

Care for other children

If you can swing it, it's best to wait until about one week postpartum before resuming full-time childcare duties for your other kids. This allows you time to heal, establish a feeding routine, and promote bonding time with your new baby.

Two weeks postpartum, you can...

Resume light exercise and household chores

If you haven't already and you're feeling up for it, you should be able to resume a light workout schedule—think walks and stretches—about two weeks postpartum. Just remember to take it slow and avoid trying new things right now.

Similarly, you should be able to resume day-to-day tasks around the house without much trouble around two weeks after delivery. "But always listen to your body," notes Dr. Raghuraman. "If there is any discomfort, immediately stop and rest."

However, if you've had a C-section, the 2-week mark will be the time you'll go back to the doctor for a wound check to make sure your incision is healing well. Only after this will you be cleared for any increased activity by your doctor.

Three weeks postpartum, you can...

Expect less bleeding

Wondering if you'll ever stop bleeding? Dr. Bartos says most people start to see a much lighter flow by the end of the third week. However, it's not abnormal to go a bit longer than that or even for the flow to trickle off and start up again a few times.

Six weeks postpartum, you can...

Resume sexual activity

At your 6-week postpartum doctor's visit, you'll likely be cleared to resume sexual activity. But don't sweat—you're in control here, and just because you've reached this milestone doesn't mean you need to feel pressured to be intimate again. Everyone's situation is different, so your partner will need to let you decide when you feel truly ready. And remember: "Sex" doesn't have to be actual intercourse!

Start taking birth control again

You're fertile even with a newborn in your arms, so be sure to use birth control. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best pill formulation if you're breastfeeding. Since your breastfeeding routine is likely well established by now, it's safe to start taking a mini-pill at six weeks postpartum, which is a progesterone-only form of birth control. The mini pill is effective at preventing pregnancy without causing your milk supply to suffer.

Do kegel exercises

We know there are surely many other priorities on your to-do list as a new parent, but there's no time like the present to start working on those pelvic floor muscles. But it's advisable to wait until the 6-week mark to ensure that any vaginal tears/repairs have fully healed, says Dr. Raghuraman.

Going to the gym

Whether you delivered vaginally or by C-section, skip the gym for six weeks to give your body time to finish most of its healing. While it may not seem like it right now, you will get back to your pre-baby and pre-pregnancy exercise routines—and it probably won't take as long as you think—so there is no need to rush things. Take it slow.

Listen to Parents "That New Mom Life" podcast for expert advice on breastfeeding, the emotional highs and lows of motherhood, sleepless nights, and more!