Pregnancy and birth are a wonderful and joyful time, being able to celebrate your changing body and the new addition to your family. There are a lot of expectations for a new baby, which can leave you feeling a little odd in the postpartum period. Thanks to fluctuating hormones, a lack of sleep, and a whole lot of new things to get used to, recovery can be a tricky time both mentally and physically.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves, but there is also immense external pressure to get back to how you were before pregnancy. Women are expected to quickly snap back after giving birth, and the media as well as social media don’t help with this, showcasing articles, photos and videos of celebs and influencers who are back in the same shape as pre-pregnancy seemingly instantly.

Recovery after birth varies for every woman though, and nobody can claim that it’s an easy time to go through. The first few months after birth is often known as the “fourth trimester” as it’s just as important for families to continue to be able to access the same level of support that they have had throughout the pregnancy. Your body still continues to change. For example, on a physical level, you will still have a “bump” after giving birth, and as your body induces lactation, your hormones will cause massive spikes and dips in your mood.

This is why we have spoken to two women who have shared their experiences and advice on postpartum recovery, to show both a realistic view of the pressures of society after birth as well as physically and mentally how long recovery can be expected to take.

Ayshen Webbe, mum of one and wife of boy band Blue member Simon Webbe, stored her daughter’s cord blood with us. She confessed that after giving birth, she felt “lost” and “down”. As someone in the public eye, she explains how she felt so much pressure to be a certain way during her postpartum recovery:

“I felt as though I had so much pressure to be a certain way. So many mums were looking and feeling great, having bounced back straight after giving birth or having a c-section. Then, I was comparing to myself who could hardly walk. I felt so down.

“All I heard during my pregnancy was, “your age isn’t on your side” or “it’s going to take you longer to get back to normal”. I guess it made me panic! A new Mum has so much to learn and think about. The last thing we should worry about is our weight that early on.

“It took me around 3 months to feel healed; I felt as though the day would never come as the healing process took so long for me.”

To give more context into the realistic expectations of how long recovery after giving birth can take, we spoke to Zoe Watson who is the Expert Midwife for MAM:

What is normal in terms of hormone changes and fluctuations for postpartum women? How can this impact mood and baby blues?

The postpartum period is crucial when looking at the numerous physical and emotional changes relating to pregnancy and life as a new mother. Hormone fluctuations play a significant role during this period, influencing a woman’s emotional and mental wellbeing. During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant hormonal changes to support the development and growth of the baby. After childbirth, these hormonal changes reverse, leading to a new hormonal balance. Postnatally, the two primary hormones that undergo substantial changes are oestrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones rise during pregnancy, then rapidly fall following birth. This sudden decline can contribute to mood swings and emotional instability. In addition, there is also a surge of oxytocin (the love hormone), which causes a strong parenting instinct. If there weren’t enough hormonal changes to contend with, prolactin levels also increase to encourage breast milk production.

Hormonal fluctuations during the postpartum period can profoundly impact a woman’s mood and increase susceptibility to experiencing baby blues. The baby blues, or postpartum blues, is common and affects up to 80% of new mothers. Symptoms typically appear within the first week after childbirth and may include mood swings, sadness, tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty sleeping. As well as the sudden withdrawal of hormones, the physical exhaustion and demands of caring for a newborn can compound the emotional challenges postpartum women face. While baby blues are considered a normal and temporary emotional response, monitoring the intensity and duration of these symptoms is crucial. If the symptoms persist beyond two weeks or intensify, it may indicate a more severe condition, such as postnatal depression or anxiety, requiring professional intervention and support.

Women often only recognise that they have been through postpartum depression or anxiety after the fog of the fourth trimester has lifted. How can new mums access help when they need it but may not realise it?

Talking to your partner, friends and family during pregnancy is a great place to start. An open conversation will allow you to discuss your realistic expectations following the birth and how you’d like to be supported if you or someone close to you notices concerning changes to your mental health. You can also prepare during pregnancy to support yourself postnatally when it comes to self-care. For example, batch cooking healthy meals and freezing them or checking out baby-friendly places to walk if you need fresh air to reset your mind. Finally, familiarising yourself with trusted online resources and local parenting groups and talking to your midwife about any pre-existing mental health concerns or worries you have will also go a long way in helping you to feel prepared if you start to struggle later down the line.   

What support would you suggest for mothers who are struggling with postnatal depression/anxiety?

As each person’s experience of postnatal depression/anxiety is different, I would advise anyone suffering to reach out for professional support; this may be their midwife, health visitor or GP. They can support you and refer you to more specialist care if needed. It’s always worth tackling these issues as early as possible.

How long, from a medical perspective, does it take to fully recover physically from birth? C-section and vaginal?

A new mother needs to allow herself time to recover from birth. The recovery duration varies depending on the type of birth, whether vaginal or caesarean.

For women who have given birth vaginally, the recovery time is generally shorter than those who have had a caesarean section. Typically, vaginal birth recovery takes about four to six weeks. During this time, the body gradually heals and returns to pre-pregnancy. New mothers should take it easy during this period and allow their bodies to rest and recover. They may experience discomfort, such as soreness, swelling, or perineal pain, which can be managed with pain medication, cooling compress, and warm baths. Engaging in light physical activity, such as walking, can also aid in the healing process. However, she should take this at her own pace.

On the other hand, recovering from a caesarean birth generally takes longer. It can take up to six to eight weeks, or more, for a woman to fully recover from a caesarean section. This is because the body needs time to heal the incision site and regain strength. In addition to the physical healing, mothers who have had a caesarean birth may face additional challenges, such as limited mobility and discomfort while caring for their newborn. These new mothers should be encouraged to take care of their wound healing, pain management, and routine postnatal self-care advice. They may need assistance with daily activities during the initial stages of recovery. It is important to note that every woman’s recovery journey is unique, and the time it takes to recover fully may vary. Factors such as overall health, complications during birth, and individual healing abilities can influence recovery. New mothers should contact their midwife or GP if they have any concerns or questions about their postnatal recovery.

What help would you suggest for dads who are struggling?

My advice to the new Dads is exactly the same as it is for the new Mums: to reach out for professional support! Maternity care is not just about the mother and baby; it’s about supporting the new family as a whole. Healthcare professionals can offer one-to-one clinical support to the new Dad and signpost him to helpful resources and parenting groups.    

Do you have any top tips to aid recovery and support mental wellbeing?

My three top tips would be:

  1.   Keep chatting to the people around you – your partner, the midwife, family and friends. Openly talk about your highs and lows so they can be there to share the happy times and help you navigate the more challenging moments.  
  2.   As difficult as it may be to find the time during the early days with a newborn, try to prioritise some self-care to aid the healing process. Start with the basic things like eating well, resting and getting fresh air. As you recover and adapt, you may feel up to doing slightly more time-intensive things like gentle exercise or meeting a friend for coffee and a chat.
  3.   When you’re exhausted, a shower and a good breakfast can turn your day around.