As a mom of three, if there’s one “rule” about postpartum recovery that I can tell you is true, there are no rules but plenty of postpartum myths. No magic formula makes your baby bump disappear into thin air. There is no guarantee your milk will come in on day two, day three, or at all. And there is no way to ensure you’ll have a vaginal birth — even if you write a super-detailed birth plan. As a new mom, you’ll hear a long list of things that “should” happen or things you “should do” as you recover from the life-changing milestone of bringing a human into the world. But most of them are just postpartum myths to ignore.
Here’s the truth: As an exhausted mother doing her best on very little sleep, you should listen to your body and intuition first and foremost, blocking out the rest. And we’ve compiled a list of 15 postpartum myths every mother should ignore.
6 Postpartum Myths on Recovery
Here are six postpartum myths on mental and physical recovery new moms should forget about.
Myth 1: Your bump will disappear, and you’ll leave the hospital in pre-pregnancy jeans.
It doesn’t help when we see selfies from flat-tummy celebrities hours after giving birth and expect that of ourselves. Newsflash — that’s not the norm for most women! You should expect to still look pregnant for days and possibly weeks after giving birth. And plan on going home in loose, comfy pants.
I was at the hospital with my sister when she gave birth to her first child, and I was six months pregnant with my first. We looked a lot alike, and several times, the nurses and doctors confused us when entering the room because we both looked six months pregnant even though her child was already born.
Also, I went home in maternity pants after giving birth to all my babies (and lived in them for weeks after!)
Myth 2: Incontinence, pelvic floor issues, pain with sex, and prolapse are all normal and to be expected after having a baby.
We must be careful with the word “normal.” Yes, these things happen to many women, and they don’t necessarily mean something is “wrong” with your body. However, they are issues you should talk to your doctor about and should not ignore. You can take steps to help your body heal and recover so that leaking, pain, and other symptoms go away. While no specific timeline for recovery applies to all women, after a few weeks postpartum, you should start to feel some relief.
My body struggled to recover after my first vaginal birth. My labor was over 24 hours (more than two hours of which were pushing), and my baby was over nine pounds. Over a week after his birth, I still couldn’t walk more than five minutes without extreme pain. However, I had two more huge nine-plus-pound babies and recovered quickly, proving that I needed to listen to my body each time and tend to it as much as I was tending to the babies.
Some expert tips for women recovering and trying to heal their pelvic floor after birth include using ice and compression, starting gentle pelvic floor contractions on Day 1, resting, and knowing the details of your labor and all the ins and outs of your entire pelvic region. Your doctor is the first person you should consult when taking steps toward recovery.1
If you have pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms (like urinary or rectal incontinence) that are not getting better, you could be a candidate for prolapse surgery and should contact your doctor.2
Myth 3: Your stomach will never be the same after pregnancy, and you can do nothing about it.
No one can predict how pregnancy will affect their body, but we should all expect some change because birthing a human is a big deal. That doesn’t mean, however, that symptoms like Diastasis recti (the separation of the vertical abdominal muscle that runs down the front of the torso) have to be permanent. Diastasis recti and many other physical changes are pretty common after birth, but many women can fully heal and see their body return to their pre-pregnancy form.3
On the other hand, some women do not, and the miracle of birth permanently alters their bodies. Their stomachs may never again look like they did before their baby arrived. Same for their breasts, legs, or even face. Many postpartum moms have permanent stretch marks, while others notice their stretch marks disappear. And some women never get them. All these scenarios are normal and common.
Myth 4: After six weeks, you should be 100% recovered and ready for anything, including sex.
Each of our bodies is unique, meaning we all recover on different timelines. Your healing process will have much to do with the type of pregnancy and birth you had and other things like your general physical health and pre-existing conditions. Some moms are back to the gym full force at six weeks. Others are just starting to take the baby for a five-minute walk around the block. Some women are comfortable having sex again at this point, while others need more time.
Don’t let anyone tell you your timeline for resuming normal activity, including sex. Even the Mayo Clinic says it’s all up to you, and there’s no required waiting period before you can have sex again. However, some providers recommend waiting until four to six weeks after delivery, regardless of the delivery method. Waiting gives your body time to heal.4
Listen to your body, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “If you had a healthy pregnancy and a normal vaginal delivery, you should be able to start exercising again soon after the baby is born. Usually, it is safe to begin exercising a few days after giving birth—or as soon as you feel ready. If you had a cesarean birth or complications, ask your ob-gyn when it is safe to begin exercising again.”5
If you feel pain, however, or had a complicated birth, or you just don’t feel ready to get out there and run five miles, give yourself more time. Go for a short walk first and work your way back up. Again, your body basically just ran a marathon, so it’s okay to take some time off.
Myth 5: You’ll get your body back after X weeks or X months.
First, what does this vague and often toxic statement even mean? Your body never left. It was always there, and it was busy doing something incredible. But if this statement means “return to the exact form, look, weight, measurement, etc., it was before pregnancy,” there are a few essential things to remember. For one, there is no one-timeline-fits-all for this. Some women notice their bodies are different after birth — and always will be. Others return to their pre-pregnancy look, but even for them, that can take weeks, months, or years.
But most importantly, mothers should remember that it’s normal never to see a complete return to the way your body was before. You carried a whole human inside of you for months. Remember that, cherish the amazing body you have today, and remind yourself that you already “have your body back” because you never lost it, to begin with.
Myth 6: Feeling the “baby blues” is normal, and you don’t need to talk to anyone about it.
Yes, it’s 100% normal to feel exhausted, overwhelmed, and emotional after bringing a new baby into the world and then having to immediately care for it while you, yourself, are recovering. However, the reason it’s so important to communicate your symptoms to your doctor is so they can help determine if it is just those very common “baby blues” or if you’re showing signs of postpartum depression.
According to Henry Ford Health, an in-depth discussion of your symptoms is crucial for your well-being and your child’s. “Some of the symptoms of baby blues are irritability, fatigue, and sadness. PPD symptoms are often more severe and include aggression, extreme stress, and potential feelings of detachment from the baby,” Henry Ford Health explains.6
And knowing that you are as overwhelmed as you are (as many postpartum moms are), it shouldn’t be up to you to determine if you are showing signs of PPD —that’s your doctor’s job. So, talk to them about how you are doing because a healthy mom must be the top priority.
4 Postpartum Myths on Breastfeeding
Here are four postpartum myths about breastfeeding that every new mom should ignore.
Myth 1: Breastfeeding will come naturally.
This is one of the most damaging myths told to new moms, as it can impact their psyche if it doesn’t turn out to be true for them. Many women who want to breastfeed cannot or struggle as they try to figure it out. From insufficient milk supply to their baby having latch issues to health complications in either mom or baby, there are several reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t often “come naturally.” And if that sounds like your journey, please know that there is nothing wrong with you, and you are not a bad mother if you desire to feed your child in this way and simply cannot.7
There are several reasons for low milk supply, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), high blood pressure, and if you received steroids to help the baby’s lungs develop. Also, latch issues related to a baby having a tongue tie, a mom having flat nipples, or abrupt changes in a feeding pattern can affect milk supply and feeding efficiency.7
Breastfeeding doesn’t “come naturally,” and no mother should be judged for not breastfeeding. Your motherhood journey is a success if your baby is fed and loved.
Myth 2: If breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong.
This was one of the most harmful myths I believed. I, too, thought breastfeeding would be easy and come naturally, and if it hurt, I was doing something wrong. But it was the hardest part of postpartum recovery for me. It took my baby and me six weeks to figure it out. Six weeks of me crying in pain, him crying in frustration and hunger, and six weeks of me, a new mom, feeling like a huge failure.
Breastfeeding hurt because he had a horrible latch and fought me for weeks. It also hurt because all his feedings were insufficient, so he was never truly full, and therefore I had to keep trying every hour all day, never giving my breasts a break or time to heal. Being told I must be “doing it wrong” was the last thing I needed to hear in my desperate state. What I really needed (and eventually got) was a patient lactation consultant offering tricks and tips like breast shields, calming breathing techniques for me to try, better nipple cream, and most of all, the permission to supplement with formula to fill his belly so he’d be calmer next time we tried nursing.
Myth 3: If you breastfeed, the baby weight will fall off.
Breastfeeding indeed burns calories, so for many moms, there seems to be a link between breastfeeding and postpartum weight loss. But as we all know, we are unique, and our bodies break down fat and calories differently.8
La Leche League International says postpartum moms shouldn’t necessarily assume they’ll lose weight if they breastfeed. “While breastfeeding burns about 500-700 calories extra per day to fuel milk making, this may not always contribute to weight loss postpartum – many factors like pre-pregnancy weight, diet, physical activity level, etc., will impact weight loss after birth.” This article adds that although there are no guarantees of weight loss, “On average, exclusively breastfeeding mothers may see a loss of 1-2 pounds a month, and over time, breastfeeding moms tend to lose more weight than mothers who do not breastfeed.” 8,9,10,11
Myth 4: Breastfeeding mothers cannot get pregnant.
Breastfeeding is not effective birth control! Far too many women believe this myth. They use no form of pregnancy preventative and find themselves quickly on the road to another baby before they are ready.
This myth stems from the fact that often, breastfeeding moms don’t see their periods return for months after their baby is born, so they assume they are not ovulating and don’t use birth control. Then, surprise! They’re pregnant—again.12
As Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health explains, “The biggest reason is simply not knowing exactly when your menstrual cycle may come back. The amount of time from childbirth to your cycle returning varies widely for every woman, whether breastfeeding or not. Because of this, ovulation can happen unknowingly.” So, if you are trying to prevent a pregnancy, don’t assume breastfeeding works as a form of birth control or you could be in for a big shock.12
5 Postpartum Myths on All the ‘Shoulds’
Here are five postpartum myths about the “shoulds” a new mother may hear.
Myth 1: Your baby should be sleeping through the night by six weeks.
If only this postpartum myth were a guarantee. But I can attest to this one as a big myth first-hand. My first child had many tummy issues and struggled to breastfeed. He didn’t sleep through the night until he was nearly a year old, and I was beyond exhausted. The last thing in the world I needed to hear (and oh, boy, did I hear it) was that “he should be sleeping through the night by now” — as if I wasn’t desperate for that to happen and doing everything in my power to make it happen.
But the truth is, for many reasons, a baby’s sleep schedule cannot be predicted and, in many cases, cannot be controlled. Please know there is absolutely nothing you’re doing wrong. (But I encourage you to accept help if it’s available so you can rest!)13
Myth 2: You shouldn’t hold your baby so much, or you’ll spoil them.
First, who doesn’t want to spoil a baby with snuggles? But more importantly, it is a postpartum myth that excessively holding a baby harms its development. As Healthline reports, even in the 1980s, studies were already coming out to report that holding a crying baby helps, not harms, their ability to self-regulate and self-soothe. “In 1986, the journal Pediatrics published a study about a randomized controlled trial that found that new babies who were carried more tended to cry and fuss less,” the article reads. “We conclude that supplemental carrying modifies ‘normal’ crying by reducing the duration and altering the typical pattern of crying and fussing in the first 3 months of life.”14
Also, Healthline adds that you can’t “spoil” a newborn because “A newborn baby’s brain isn’t really finished developing yet. In fact, their brain won’t be mature for some time. So, your proximity to the baby helps them respond to all these new stimuli in their environment and begin to self-regulate.”14
So go ahead and hold that baby all you want, mama! And let grandma hold the baby too. All the snuggles are welcome.
Myth 3: Baby’s needs should come first, above all else.
This postpartum myth is a biggie and often shocks people. But think about it. Everyone is already doting on a baby. Everyone wants to meet the baby, hold the baby, and snuggle the baby. The doctors inspect the baby, top to bottom, at every appointment (and it seems like there’s one every other day, right?) Baby’s needs are already being met 100 times over.
So, who is far too often neglected during this challenging time? The truth is, mom’s needs should be prioritized, just as the baby’s, because we all know that no one will forget to take care of the baby. But lots of times, everyone forgets to take care of Mom. Mom just birthed a human and is healing. Mom is getting up all night to feed the baby. Mom’s body just got stretched and torn, and now her breasts are engorged, and she’s still wearing mesh underpants and thick pads due to bleeding. Mom needs love, care, help, and being told she’s doing well.
Because remember: Everyone needs mom to be okay, or else it all falls apart. So, make sure mom is okay. That is the No. 1 priority.
Myth 4: Motherhood and your bond with your baby should come naturally.
For many mothers, their bond with their babies isn’t instant, and motherhood doesn’t feel “natural” but is a work in progress. And you know what? They are still amazing moms.
I remember laboring for 24 hours, pushing for two, finally getting my giant nine-pound baby out, being stitched up, and begging for food. I hadn’t eaten anything besides ice chips, and my first thought was a pizza, not bonding with my baby. My husband was already doting on him. The doctors and nurses were already doting on him. My focus was filling my belly and napping; then, I’d work on our mother-son bond. That child is about to go to high school next year, and we have an unbreakable bond that we’ve nurtured for 14 years.
And I have zero regrets about prioritizing ordering a pizza as soon as he was born.
Also, mothers suffering from postpartum depression or who had traumatizing deliveries need to focus on their recovery and not feel guilty if they don’t feel an instant connection to motherhood. What they just did, what they are still doing, it’s hard work. Getting up daily and caring for the baby, themselves, and possibly other children can all be overwhelming, leaving little time or space to connect emotionally to their newborn.
It will come. Mom’s body will heal. Baby will start sleeping longer. The clouds will part, the sun will shine, and you’ll soon look at that beautiful baby and whisper, “We’ve got this. We’re doing this, you and me. And look what a good job we’re doing.”
Myth 5: You should love every minute.
No. As a mother of three (a teen, a tween, and a 10-year-old), I loathe this postpartum myth. I knew my entire life that I wanted to be a mother, and it is the single greatest thing I have and will ever do in my life. And I know I’m a good mom. But holy cannoli, are there minutes I didn’t love. Minutes I hated. Hours I hated. Days I cried and felt like a failure and said four-letter words as I rewashed pee-soaked sheets and carried screaming toddlers out of Target while judgy eyes and pursed lips made me feel like a bad mom.
Why didn’t I love every minute? What was wrong with me? Was I a bad mom? NO. The truth is much of parenting is mundane and boring. Much of it is frustrating beyond measure. And much of it is thankless, exhausting work that makes you question your life choices.
A Mother’s Thankless Job is Worth It
Of course, it is worth it. I realize now, as I see my kids growing up into who they want to be—one in theater, an animal lover, and a hockey player. Two are joiners, always involved in multiple activities, while one is more introverted and likes staying home. I look back at their early years and wonder how we got through some of those days—back when I was home with them all day every day, week after week, month after month, breastfeeding, potty-training, trying to get them to eat green vegetables and pick up their toys. But I realize now that I was doing the work to help them develop into the beautiful and kind humans they are today.
But no, I didn’t enjoy every minute, and no mother should expect herself to.
Mothers are told so many lies and stories of how they “should” do this or feel this. How their children “should” be at this milestone by that age, or they’ll never “get their body back,” or how they “should get their body back.” How good mothers do it one way and bad mothers do it another.
None of these postpartum myths are true because there is no manual for motherhood. There is no one-size-fits-all model for bringing a child into this world and raising them to be a good person. Good moms breastfeed, and good moms don’t, and good moms hold their babies a lot, and good moms put their babies down. Some good moms instantly bond with their children, and some good moms take some time to connect. Remember that no matter what, if you love your baby, you’re already doing a good job.