Caring for Your Postpartum Body

Your baby isn't the only one who needs regular checkups.

Your Changing Body

For the better part of a year you looked after your health for the sake of your developing baby. But now that baby's here and you spend every waking (and not-so-awake) moment devoted to her care, what happens to you? It's all too common for new moms to pick up bad habits, such as skipping dental appointments and depending on junk food.

Avoid corner-cutting by rethinking your health choices. Here's how:

You think: "I'm having postpartum pain, but I'm sure it's normal."

Think instead: "It will only take a minute to ask my doctor if this is okay. I've got to take care of myself so I can take care of my baby."

The postpartum package comes with plenty of uncomfortable symptoms, but hemorrhoids, vaginal bleeding, and soreness from episiotomy or cesarean incisions should lessen as time goes by, says Elizabeth Mandell, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. If the pain does not go away or seems to get worse, call your doctor. New moms can suffer from uterine and urinary tract infections, reopening of incisions, and blood clots, and the sooner such problems are treated, the better. For less extreme postpartum pain, your doctor will suggest simple remedies. Keep your six-week postpartum checkup, even if you're feeling great, just to make sure you're healing correctly and so you can decide on a method of birth control.

You think: I've been seeing my ob-gyn so often -- farewell to my primary care physician for now."

Think instead: "I've been focused on gynecological health, so now's the time to get everything else checked."

If you have a chronic condition, such as diabetes, asthma, allergies, or hypertension, you're probably aware that you need to keep seeing your regular doctor. But even if you feel healthy, it's still important to get a physical that includes screenings for cholesterol, red blood cell count, and thyroid function, says Redonda Miller, MD, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Comprehensive Women's Health Program at Johns Hopkins University. Your primary care physician can also check any moles that may have grown during pregnancy, offer nutrition advice, talk about depression, and readjust any prescriptions. In addition, autumn is a good time for a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccine is safe for nursing moms and their babies, as well as for any woman more than three months pregnant.

You think: "I'm nursing and haven't had my period, so I can't possibly get pregnant right now."

Think instead: "Better to be safe if I'm not ready to have another baby."

While you may not menstruate for seven to nine weeks, your ovaries can function soon after delivery, even if you're breastfeeding. Back-to-back pregnancy is a shock and does have risks. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a baby conceived fewer than six months after a sibling is born is more likely to be born preterm, have a low birth weight, and be small for his gestational age, perhaps because his mother hasn't fully recovered and might even be anemic.

If an immediate pregnancy isn't in your plans, use contraception. Birth control pills can often be resumed six weeks after delivery, when the risk for blood clots has passed. (Back up birth control pills with condoms for added safety.) If you're nursing, consider switching to a progestin-only pill, which won't interfere with milk production. And of course there are plenty of other options, from natural family planning to condoms, IUDs, and even permanent birth control. Talk to your doctor.

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