So much time is spent preparing soon-to-be moms and dads for labor and delivery, that they are left wholely unprepared for the minutes and months that come afterwards. The first few days after childbirth are filled with emotional and physical ups and downs that are often overlooked during prenatal preparations. Whether your baby will be delivered vaginally or via C-section, here's what you need to know about caring for yourself after childbirth.

Head-to-toe

Immediately after childbirth, you may feel contractions similar to menstrual cramps, as your uterus returns to its original size. These contractions may become more intense as your nurse your baby. These after-birth pains are perfectly normal and help you heal more quickly. Talk to your midwife or OBGYN if the pain becomes intense or increases in severity.

Whether you had a vaginal or Cesarean delivery, you will be checked closely by your health care provider for the first few hours following the birth of your baby. As you recover, your urine output may be checked to ensure your kidneys and bladder are working properly. The staff will check any incisions that you had (from an episiotomy or a Cesarean,) to make sure it is healing properly. Your blood pressure and the amount of bleeding will also be monitored as you recover.

If you are hungry, go ahead and eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal to keep you healthy and boost your energy level. Drink lots of fluids. If possible, don't sit in one spot for very long. Get up, stretch your legs, and walk around a little bit (but don’t push it) to improve your circulation and relieve soreness more quickly.

Mind and spirit

Eighty percent of new moms experience a condition called the “baby blues” after their baby is born. Symptoms include exhaustion, sadness, and a feeling of helplessness. The baby blues usually dissipate after a few days. If you continue to experience these symptoms, in combination with mood swings, anxiety and feeling of guilt or hopelessness, you may be experiencing a more serious condition called postpartum depression (PPD).

Postpartum depression usually begins two to three weeks after giving birth, but can start any time during the first few days, weeks or months post-delivery. The condition affects 10 to 20 percent of new moms. It is a serious condition and you should talk to your health care provider about the best ways to alleviate it.

If your labor and delivery were normal, it is likely that you will be discharged within a day or two after your baby's birth. Use the time you have at the hospital or birthing center to rest, heal, and bond with your baby.

(MNN homepage: molka/iStockphoto) 

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