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How To Identify The 3 Stages Of The Postpartum Period So You Can Track Your Recovery

It’s different for everybody.

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When you’re in those first few dreamy, albeit bleary-eyed, weeks after having a baby, you’re in survival mode. All of a sudden you’re attempting to heal your body while being a full-time caregiver to a helpless human. This fourth trimester, as it’s often called, is the postpartum phase of pregnancy. This period is when a person is returning to their pre-pregnancy body, but as it turns out it’s not really one simple phase.

That postpartum time can be divided into three distinct phases itself, Dr. Otis Stitt, an OB-GYN and Director of Minimally Invasive Gynecological Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, tells Romper. And how long postpartum lasts will vary from individual to individual.

How long does the postpartum phase last?

The answer to this question all depends on how you navigate the various phases within postpartum, says Dr. Stitt. This will vary from person to person depending on how their body recovers following delivery. Some people will be out of phase one in a matter of hours, others it could take a day or two and the same with phases two and three.

What are the postpartum phases?

How long postpartum lasts is wrapped up in the phases of postpartum.

Phase 1

“There are three phases of postpartum,” says Stitt. “First is the 6-12 hours after delivery, then the 2-4 weeks after giving birth, and finally 6 months after giving birth.”

In terms of medical care, Stitt says those first few postpartum hours are what’s most critical to doctors. This is when patients can hemorrhage or have excessive bleeding. This is also when the risks of hypertension and pre-eclampsia disorders are of greatest concern.

Phase 2

Once a postpartum patient has navigated this period, Stitt says they enter phase two.

“This is usually when mom gets a second wind,” explains Stitt. “Swelling goes away, the pelvis and pelvic floor contract, and their metabolism changes. While breastfeeding moms will need to continue to take in more calories than pre-pregnancy, the demands on the metabolism will reduce a bit.

But in the second phase of postpartum there are also emotional changes taking place and this is why new parents and their care providers need to keep an eye on their feelings. “There are two different things, baby blues and postpartum depression,” says Stitt. “The baby blues usually go away after four to six weeks.” Postpartum depression, however, may continue and often requires medical and mental health intervention.

Phase 3

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Stitt says the third phase of postpartum is the “fun” phase. “This is when a person starts going back to their pre-pregnancy stage. Meaning their body may feel like it’s fully returning to its pre-pregnancy feel. Now this might not be the case for everyone — some one’s bodies may change permanently. But ultimately Stitt says this is when postpartum people will see muscle tone return in the 5-6 month window following delivery.

Stitt adds that as the female body starts responding to the delivery of a new born the emotional and physical states begin to return to normal. But the risk of postpartum depression remains.

“Phase 3, however, is a crucial time as some new mothers can be at risk for postpartum depression,” says Stitt. “They need to be evaluated periodically during this time. Most moms recover from this increased responsibility of caring for a newborn quite easily as their emotions and hormones calm down.”

When does the postpartum phase end?

But does that mean that six months after giving birth a person should assume postpartum is over? Not necessarily. Stitt says every patient is different and depending on the type of delivery, be it vaginal or c-section, a body will heal differently. This will also change the recovery timeline.

The most important thing to note, Stitt says, is that postpartum is a period of recovery and care taking, both for your new baby and yourself and that patients should not overlook either one.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.


Dr. Otis Stitt, OB-GYN at University of Maryland Capital Region Health, in addition to being a University of Maryland School of Medicine faculty member

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