Postpartum Rest Guidelines

by Kate Saumweber Hogan, CPM, LM

Many cultures around the world have traditions supporting mothers and newborns during their first postpartum weeks or months. Unfortunately, in mainstream American culture, new mama support is quite lacking. There is a general idea that rest is important, but we lack the cultural traditions to make that happen. Whereas in other cultures it may be the norm for other female relatives or neighbors to come and take care of the new family, and there may be guidelines for how much a new mom rests, or what she eats, here in American culture many new moms feel alone. Most often partners here in America get a couple days off work, or 2-3 weeks if they are lucky. But even that time goes quickly and there is a lot of basic housework and meal prep they feel they have to do just to get through the day. It is common that I hear stories of moms running to Target or doing other errands just a few days after birth because they needed something, and partly because no one told them not to do so.

Below are the minimum guidelines I share with my clients. You can absolutely rest more, or extended these longer, but I would say this is the bare minimum. And compared to the 30, 45, or 60 day lying-in periods some other cultures support, these guidelines are really pretty skimpy! I like to discuss these guidelines around mid pregnancy so that families can have some time to envision how they will make this work, and to put together a greater postpartum support plan in preparation for that time.

Why rest? I’ve seen it shorten the length of bleeding, decrease the likelihood of uterine and breast infections, support breastfeeding, and encourage bonding between mom, partner, and baby. It also creates a smoother transition for mom, rather than her feeling like she needs to jump into “normal” routines right away. Because let’s be honest, there are no “normal” routines in those first few weeks!

What is reasonable for the first week after birth:

  • Hang out in bed with your baby. Lots of skin to skin time.
  • If you are breastfeeding, you will be nursing every 1-3 hours around the clock.
  • At least 2 naps a day. Considering how often you will be up to nurse at night, try to get a morning and afternoon nap every day. If you can’t nap, at least try to have quiet rest time. If possible, sleep when baby sleeps!
  • No stairs. Yes, that means you may be on a different level that your kitchen. Even if you are on the same level, you shouldn’t be walking to your kitchen or preparing food. You should be on the same level as a bathroom. If your bedroom isn’t accessible to a bathroom without taking some stairs, you may need to consider moving to a different bedroom in your home during this rest time. You could also consider getting a portable bedside commode, as long as your partner is willing to take care of emptying and cleaning it for you.
  • Try for 2 baths a day, at least 10 minutes each. These could be shallow baths, or deep baths, whatever is comfortable for you. Soaking your bottom helps with the healing, and also offers you a peaceful escape.
  • Eat atleast 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. Did you know that nursing moms need more calories a day than pregnant mamas? So keep up with your good pregnancy diet as a minimum. Sometimes nursing mom’s appetites are ravenous and it is easy to remember to eat, but sometimes newborn days go by so fast, taken up with napping, nursing, changing diapers, and eating is forgotten. Ask your partner to help remind you to eat. Have them bring you a snack whenever they bring you a meal, so that it is just sitting on your bedside ready for you to eat in a couple hours. You can also prepare a basket of snacks for your bedside table so that you don’t have to ask every time it is time for a snack. It is also great to have snacks close by for middle of the night nursing sessions.
  • Limit visitors to a “visiting hour.” Instead of having people come and go throughout the day, set a time for visitors to stop by. Often people may think you want visitors all the time, or that you are bored, but visitors can disrupt your ability to nap, nurse, or take a bath. You can also choose to limit visitors to just immediate family for the first week or two if you’d like some time to rest and recover in private. Remember that any visitors in the first week will be greeting you in your bed, as you won’t be hanging out in the living room in that first week.

What is reasonable for the second week after birth:

  • One set of stairs a day. If you have a bathroom on your main floor, then you may be able to spend most of the day during your second week on the couch. However, if you only have a bathroom on the level of your bedroom, then you will just make a trip to your main floor for a shorter time (as long as your bladder doesn’t need to be emptied, then back to bathroom and bed). Even though now you will be able to walk to your kitchen, this does not mean you should be preparing meals or snacks yet.
  • One outing a day. Often the first outing is to see your pediatrician around 1 week, another common outing is to visit the chiropractor for mom and baby. You may run a quick errand, stop to see a friend, or see a care provider, but not all three. Just one reasonable outing, for a reasonable amount of time. So no long trips to Target or the grocery store (you could order online and do in-store pick up, or better yet, just have someone else do that errand for you). If it is beautiful out, you may be tempted to walk to the park for your one outing, but instead, drive to the park and sit on a bench, enjoying the sun with your baby. Wait until 4 weeks postpartum for a 10 minute walk to the park.
  • If this isn’t your first baby, ideally have someone else in charge of caring for your older children for the first two weeks. Your job for these first two weeks is to rest and to care for your newborn.
  • The mindset of still resting and relaxing, either hanging out in bed or on the couch most of the day. Not back to normal life routines yet.

What is reasonable for two weeks postpartum and beyond?

  • Ideally by 14 days after birth, if you have been resting well, your bleeding is tapering off (maybe even stopping), and you are feeling good energy. We want you to feel like you could be doing more in those first two weeks, but resist the urge so that you will still be feeling good at this point! By now you should be able to slowly ease into multiple sets of stairs a day and maybe even doing two outings on some days. Still welcome help with meals and sibling care if it is available.
  • By 4 weeks postpartum your bleeding should be completely done and you can go for short (10 minute) walks.
  • By 6 weeks after birth you should be feeling well healed and ready to ease into longer walks and exercise. If you have been able to rest well up until this point, then you ideally will start to feel like you can take over some of the routines of your life, in terms of household tasks. You ideally want to wait until this point (6 weeks) to be lifting and carrying laundry baskets (so let someone else help with laundry prior to 6 weeks).

Talk these guidelines over with your partner and anyone else who will be close by providing help for those first few weeks, such as a mom or sister. Figure out how you can make a plan to really support new mama healing, as well as rest and support for your partner too.

Thoughts or things to add? Post them in the comments below! Happy resting!

4 thoughts on “Postpartum Rest Guidelines

  1. I hear a lot from my mother in law about “in the old days” and she is referring to it negatively- like we know so much more now & we don’t need to lay around & rest so much. It makes me feel awkward for needing my downtime, but I have never been one to bounce back & feel like going to Target when going home form the hospital like so many of my friends! I’m thankful for articles like this that reassure me in the long run, rest is worth it!

    • Mary, good job listening to your body and not wanting to go to Target right away! It is a lot of work to grow and birth a baby, and your body need that down time to heal and rejuvenate. Even with all of the advances of technology, our bodies still need rest!!!

  2. Pingback: Postpartum Supplies for Moms | Twin Cities Midwifery Blog

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