Caring for a new baby is one of the most joyous and challenging times in a woman's life. At the same time, new mothers must take special care of their bodies after giving birth and while breastfeeding. Read on for tips on caring for you newborn and yourself when you get home from the hospital.

Getting Rest

The first few days at home after having your baby are especially important for recuperation, physically and emotionally. You need to focus your energy on yourself and your new baby. Even though you may be very excited and will be asked for visits from family and friends, try to get as much rest as you can. Don't expect to keep your house perfect, you need to eat properly, get enough sleep and take care of your baby.  Rest when the baby rests, and do not try to do too much around the house. Allow others to help you with cleaning, laundry, meals, or with caring for the baby.

Physical Changes

After the birth of your baby your doctor will talk with you about what you can expect as your body starts to recover.

You will have spotting or bleeding off and on for up to six weeks. You may experience swelling in your legs and feet. You can reduce swelling just like you did when pregnant, by keeping your feet elevated when possible. You might feel constipated so be sure to drink plenty of water and eat fresh fruits and vegetables.

Uterine cramping is common, especially if you are breastfeeding. Your breast milk will come in within 3 to 6 days after your delivery. Even if you are not breastfeeding milk may leak from your nipples, and your breasts might feel full, tender or uncomfortable while they adjust.

Doctors usually recommend that you abstain from sexual intercourse for 4 to 6 weeks after birth. Before resuming sexual intercourse, talk with your doctor about birth control since you can become pregnant again. Breastfeeding absolutely does not protect you from getting pregnant again.

Regaining a Healthy Weight and Shape

Both pregnancy and labor can affect a woman's body shape. If you are trying to lose pregnancy weight, make sure you do it in a healthy way and consult your doctor before you start any type of diet or exercise plan. If you want to diet and are breastfeeding, it is best to wait until your baby is at least two months old as you need energy and calories the first couple months. When you start to lose weight, try not to lose too much too quickly because environmental toxins that are stored in your body fat can be released into your breast milk. Losing about one pound per week has been found to be a safe amount which won't affect your milk supply or the baby's growth.

Feeling Blue

In addition to the physical changes, you may feel sad or have baby blues. This is normal after childbirth. 50 to 75 percent of new mothers report feeling sad or depressed after giving birth. Your hormone changes, adjusting to a new baby, and lack of sleep all affect your emotions.

Be patient as these feelings are normal and should get better over time. Be aware of your feelings and talk with your family, friends, and your doctor especially if you are extremely sad or are unable to care for yourself or your baby. You might have a serious condition called postpartum depression which needs treated by your doctor.

Signs of postpartum depression include:

  • feeling restless or irritable
  • feeling sad, depressed or crying a lot
  • having no energy
  • having headaches, chest pains, heart palpitations (the heart being fast and feeling like it is skipping beats), numbness, or hyperventilation (fast and shallow breathing)
  • not being able to sleep, being very tired, or both
  • not being able to eat and weight loss
  • overeating and weight gain
  • trouble focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • being overly worried about the baby
  • not having any interest in the baby
  • feeling worthless and guilty
  • being afraid of hurting the baby or yourself
  • having no interest or getting no pleasure from activities like sex and socializing
  • This condition can be successfully treated with medicine and/or therapy. Your doctor can help you feel better and get back to enjoying your new baby. Get more details on postpartum depression.

Infant Safety

Since 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that infants be placed to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS}. SIDS is the sudden and unexplained death of a baby under one year of age. Even though there is no way to know which babies might die of SIDS, there are some things that you can do to make your baby safer:

Always place your baby on his or her back or side to sleep, even for naps. This is the safest sleep position for a healthy baby to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Place your baby on a firm mattress, such as in a safety-approved crib. For more information on crib safety, call the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 1-800-638-2772 or visit their web site at Research has shown that placing a baby to sleep on soft mattresses, furniture, waterbeds,  or other soft surfaces raises the risk of SIDS.

Remove soft, fluffy, and loose bedding and stuffed toys from your baby's sleep area. Make sure you keep all pillows, quilts, stuffed toys, and other soft items away from your baby's sleep area.

Make sure everyone who cares for your baby knows to place your baby on his or her back or side to sleep and about the dangers of soft bedding. Talk to child care providers, grandparents, babysitters, and all caregivers about the risk of SIDS.

Make sure your baby's face and head stay completely uncovered during sleep. Keep blankets and other coverings away from your baby's mouth and nose so they can breathe freely. If you use a blanket , make sure that the baby's feet are at the bottom of the crib and that the blanket is no higher than the baby's chest. Make sure the blanket is tucked in around the bottom of the crib mattress.

Do not allow smoking around your baby ever as this can increase the risk of SIDS.  Make sure no one smokes around your baby, including you.

Never let your baby get too warm during sleep. Your baby's room should be at a temperature that is comfortable for an adult and remember that too many layers of clothing or blankets can overheat your baby.

Some mothers worry if the baby rolls over during the night. However, when your baby is able to roll over by herself, the risk for SIDS is reduced. During the time of greatest risk, 2 to 4 months of age, most babies are not able to turn over from their backs to their stomachs.