13 Postpartum Essentials You’ll Need for Recovery
There’s a lot going on in the postpartum period. You of course have a new baby to care for, but you’re also going to need some care yourself. Regardless of how easy or difficult your birth was—or whether you had a vaginal or c-section delivery—you’re bound to feel uncomfortable and sore, and recovery can be a bit, well, messy. Which is why it’s smart to stock up on products that can help ease your postpartum pains and make the transition into new motherhood as seamless as possible.
Not sure where to begin? We’ve done the hard work and compiled a postpartum checklist of all the essential items you’ll need post-labor. And, for expectant parents looking for an all-in-one solution, we’ve selected three of the best postpartum care kits on the market.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of buying newborn gear, but it’s also important to stock up on postpartum essentials as you near the end of your pregnancy. Here’s a checklist of the 13 must-have items you’ll need on hand after giving birth.
Regardless of whether you delivered vaginally or via c-section, it’s normal to have bleeding and discharge, called lochia, for a few weeks after you give birth, says G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. That’s where maxi pads come in—and yes, you’ll need to stick to pads and avoid using tampons during the postpartum period. That’s because the lochia your body is discharging contains bacteria, Ruiz explains, and if you block it with a tampon or menstrual cup, it could push bacteria back up into your uterus and cause an infection. “You want everything to flow out,” he says. And, he adds, if you had a vaginal delivery, your vagina needs time to heal.
Bleeding in the days and weeks after childbirth can be heavy at times. “It’s highly likely that you’ll bleed through your underwear at least once during the postpartum period,” says Michaela Ward, APRN-CNM, a midwife at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. That’s why she recommends getting disposable underwear or at least a few pairs you’re okay throwing out if they get stained. You’ll receive some stretchy, disposable mesh underwear in the hospital, and many women take a free stash of those home. If you find those to be a little too flimsy, some brands are now making absorbent “period panties” and even underwear specifically designed for postpartum moms.
After birth, your vagina will likely swell (after all, the area experienced a huge increase in blood flow and fluid.) Applying ice to the region is an easy, effective way to find relief, especially in the first 24 hours after vaginal birth. There are plenty of ways to go about it—women have used everything from reusable ice packs to ice chips into an adult diaper—but Frida Mom has come up with a genius 2-in-1 absorbent maxi pad and ice pack that’s shaped to cover the entire perineal area.
A peri rinse bottle is a postpartum bathroom essential. “It’s incredible for comfort, especially if you had a vaginal delivery,” Ruiz says, since the bottle “keeps everything clean and decreases your risk of infection.” After the exertions of birth, your vagina will be swollen and tender, and wiping with standard toilet paper can be less than pleasant. To use it, Ward recommends filling the bottle with warm water, aiming it at your vagina and squirting it from front to back while you pee. “This helps dilute the urine so there’s less stinging and also helps keep the area clean,” she says. You can also use it to rinse off the area afterward. Thanks to this clever upside-down peri bottle design, you can squirt down onto your vagina instead of lowering your hand to squirt up.
Witch hazel causes blood vessels to shrink, which can be helpful if you’re struggling with hemorrhoids postpartum, Ruiz says—and with all that pushing and straining you do during birth, hemorrhoids are fairly common. But the pads have other uses too. If you tore during birth (another very common occurrence) and had stitches in your perineal area, witch hazel pads can help soothe things down there. “Witch hazel pads are great for hemorrhoids as well as lining your pad or ice pack to soothe your perineum,” Ward says. “You can also put a little witch hazel in your peri bottle.”
If you had stitches in your perineum after delivery, the area can get uncomfortable and even itchy. Perineal sprays act as a local anesthetic to relieve pain and discomfort. “It just numbs your bottom,” Ruiz explains. A cooling, comforting pain and itch spray like Dermoplast is a traditional go-to, but if you prefer something more natural, Earth Mama Organics has a herbal perineal spray that’s benzocaine- and butane-free and formulated specifically for postpartum care.
Soaking in a sitz bath—a basin that sits over the toilet—helps ease vaginal soreness and swelling of the perineum. It’s also a helpful tool if you have hemorrhoids or are recovering from an episiotomy. The Mayo Clinic recommends sitting in warm water for 5 to 15 minutes (you can also use cool water if you find it more comfortable). Sitz baths are readily available in pharmacies or online.
Epsom salts are thought to help soothe aches and pains, Ward says, making them a popular item in women’s postpartum recovery kits. You can use a cup or so of Epsom salts in a sitz bath to help relieve pain around your perineum and rectum. If you don’t have a sitz bath handy—Ruiz recommends putting two tablespoons in four inches of bath water and sitting in it for 15 minutes. Lansinoh bath salts, made with a blend of minerals and herbal ingredients, are specifically formulated for postpartum recovery.
If you’ve had a c-section, your doctor may recommend a prescription-strength painkiller to help ease your pain during the first few days after you give birth. But if you had an uncomplicated vaginal delivery and want something to help with soreness, Ward recommends alternating acetaminophen (Tylenol) every six hours with ibuprofen (Advil). If you happen to be breastfeeding, acetaminophen and ibuprofen are generally considered safe, but talk to your doctor before taking any medication.
Having made it through the pain of childbirth, get ready to face a whole new challenge—the first post-birth poop. (Yikes!) Yes, it may hurt a little, but you’ll get through it! In preparation, drink plenty of water, load up on fiber-rich foods and do some gentle stretches. And, if needed, talk to your doctor and ask if it’s safe to take a stool softener like Colace.
After birth, your body undergoes a hormonal process, where your milk comes in. Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, this can be an uncomfortable physical experience. As your breasts fill with milk, they may feel warm, tingly and hard to the touch. Cooling nursing pads protect your clothing from leakage, while also offering relief to sore nipples.
Comfortable clothing—like a super-soft nursing bra—will serve you well in the initial postpartum period. Your breasts may be engorged, leaky or tender in the first few days, so a comfy bra is a must-have. Our top pick? The milk bra from the Best of Pregnancy award-winning brand, Cake Maternity. Made from sustainable bamboo, this moisture-wicking bra is silky soft and supportive. It’s also easy to nurse in, thanks to pull-aside cups and it even has hidden pockets for breast pads.
Staying hydrated is key. Dehydration can lead to urinary tract infections and constipation, which will only aggravate a sore, swollen perineum and vagina. Having a large water bottle on hand makes all the difference, as you can sip away without having to constantly get up for refills. The Stanley Adventure Quencher Travel Tumbler holds 40 ounces of water and keeps it cold for up to 11 hours. And the nifty straw and handle make it easy to hold with one hand while you nurse or care for your newborn. Is it any wonder it won a Best of Pregnancy award in 2022?
You won’t know exactly what will bring you the most comfort until you’re experiencing the postpartum stage personally. But take it from us—you definitely don’t want to be scrambling for supplies last-minute when you arrive home with a newborn and a very sore vagina. While you can buy all of these things piecemeal, many brands now offer postpartum care kits that contain everything you need to heal and recover after birth. Genius!
Frida Mom’s Best of Pregnancy award-winning kit contains all the items you’ll need for labor, delivery and the postpartum period, including an upside-down perineal rinse bottle, disposable microfiber postpartum underwear and witch hazel pad liners that are long enough to cover your entire maxi pad with a single liner. You’re welcome.
Don’t have the time (or the inclination) to buy every item on your hospital checklist separately? Check out this next level after-birth box by Bodily. The bonanza of postpartum essentials is organized into separate bundles for your hospital bag and at home for your convenience. From soft socks and mesh undies to stool softeners and nipple gel pads, this kit checks every box. Better yet, it includes two recovery guidebooks (for you and your “supporter”), that explains how to use each item.
Despite an in-depth birth plan, life can throw some curveballs, meaning your labor may not go entirely to plan. And the supplies needed for a c-section postpartum recovery differ slightly from those required for a vaginal delivery. Luckily, the Fourth Phase Every Birth Box has you covered. The care kit includes staples like a nipple salve, postpartum underwear, pads and a hot-cold compress—plus, a belly wrap and a specially formulated balm to aid surgical recovery. The best part? The Fourth Phase team recognizes that having a baby takes an emotional toll too. With this in mind, the kit also includes daily affirmations, a journal and self-care goodies to support new parents.
About the experts:
G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, is the lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. He earned his medical degree from UC Irvine School of Medicine and has been practicing medicine in Orange County since 1993.
Michaela Ward, APRN-CNM, is a midwife at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She earned her nursing degree from Columbia University School of Nursing in 2011.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.