Your Body After Birth
Your 9 months are up and your bundle of joy is finally here in your arms. The hard part’s done and everything’s going right back to the way it was pre-pregnancy, right? Well… not quite. Here are some of the things you should expect and prepare for to make your postpartum phase as easy as possible.
TV and movies make it look like you’ll be back to your pre-pregnancy belly as soon as that baby comes out, but unfortunately that’s just not the case. Your abdominal muscles and skin were slowly stretched out for 9 consecutive months, so it makes sense that they won’t snap right back in a few hours. As Kate Middleton showed the world, it's completely normal to leave the hospital looking like you're still a few months pregnant, so don't be alarmed or discouraged.
Even though you just expelled a baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid, you’ll still carry around some excess baby weight for the first 24 hours or so. Most of this is water weight (especially if you had a C-section and received IV fluids) and fortunately, water weight is fairly easy to shed. Drink lots of water to encourage your body to release the water it’s holding, and be careful how much salt you’re ingesting. Be prepared to pee - a lot.
Labor and delivery is over, but the contractions might not be. Your uterus will tighten and contract as it reverts back to its original shape and size, and there are some growing (er... shrinking?) pains that come with that process. These contractions, or “after pains”, are very noticeable if you’re breastfeeding - yay, hormones! The bright side? After pains generally subside within the first week.
After delivery, your body is going to work hard to regulate itself, which includes expelling anything you don’t need anymore now that you’re not actively growing a human. Postpartum vaginal bleeding, or lochia, is totally normal. Lochia is a heavy flow of blood, mucus, and tissue, mostly from where your placenta was attached. Basically, it’s a lot like your period, only heavier and generally longer. You’ll experience heavy bleeding at first that can last up to 10 days, and then it tapers into a light flow, then spotting, then nothing. The exact timeline is different for everyone, but the whole process can last 4 to 6 weeks after birth. Stock up on maxi pads - you’ll be glad you did.
Aches and Pains
It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that your body will be sore post-birth. I mean. You just grew a baby and then pushed that baby out of your body, and if you had a c-section then you just had major abdominal surgery after growing a baby. If you’re not sore at all after all of that, I would just like to know you and revel in awe of your Amazonian strength.
Vaginal deliveries cause perineal stretching, swelling, bruising, and potentially tearing. You may or may not need stitches, and either way you’re going to be sore. A sitz bath can help alleviate some soreness by soaking your perineum, and the hospital will likely give you a squirt bottle to help with post-bathroom clean up. You may also find relief from ice packs, hot compresses, witch hazel pads, and cushions, and your medical professional might recommend pain relievers like creams or even just Tylenol.
With C-sections, you’ll very likely experience soreness around the incision. You may also have the fun of nausea, constipation, and just general exhaustion. If you notice anything that’s concerning to you (redness, swelling, oozing, etc.) be sure to contact your medical professional right away.
Did we mention you’d be sore? As I’m sure you can imagine, all of that below-the-belt soreness is going to make using the bathroom incredibly unpleasant. Your bladder and perineum may be bruised, and delivering a baby can cause rectal soreness and hemorrhoids. Plus, if you delivered via C-section, anesthesia can cause slower bowel movements, and urination can be difficult after the catheter is taken out.
Post-birth, your breasts will swell as they fill with milk. It can be uncomfortable, but it usually goes away once you’re breastfeeding regularly. If you’re not breastfeeding, the tenderness and soreness may last until you stop producing milk - usually within a week or so. Either way, you’ll want a good supportive bra that doesn’t bind. Warm compresses and ice packs can help relieve some of the pain or discomfort, too.
Did your hair seem thicker and more voluminous while you were pregnant? Yeah, that happens. Thank your hormones! High hormone levels made your hair grow faster and shed less while you were pregnant.
Now you’re postpartum, though, and your hormones are shifting back toward pre-pregnancy levels. As your hormones regulate, your body will shift back to its typical functions, which includes hair cycling. It’s normal to see a lot of shedding in the months after birth, but everything should even out within a year.
If you’re breastfeeding, you may not notice a change in your hair until you stop breastfeeding.
Oh, mama. You’re about to go on an adventure. You’re going to feel overwhelmed by the love for and excitement of your new baby. You’re also going to feel overwhelmed by the sheer exhaustion and pain your body is experiencing, plus there’s all the shifting hormones and the general stress of being a new parent. You’re going to feel irritated, anxious, sleep-deprived, and overwhelmed. You might cry a lot, and you might have trouble concentrating. The hormone changes can cause hot flashes and nightsweats, too.
That’s okay! You’ve got this. What you’re feeling is completely normal. Consistent sleep (I know, I know) and a regular, healthy diet will help your body function at its best, and that will help mitigate the hormonal fluctuations and mood swings you experience.
If your overwhelm seems like too much to manage, reach out to friends and family for assistance if you’re able. If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, please contact your medical professionals.
This topic is important enough to get its own little blurb. It’s more than mood swings and post-baby blues, and it is completely normal.
Postpartum depression feels a little like the mood swing side effects listed above, but the symptoms are generally more intense and last longer than the immediate after-baby-hormone-regulation phase. You might even begin to develop symptoms during pregnancy, or you might not experience it at all until a few months after birth. Also, not experiencing PPD with your first pregnancy does not mean you can’t experience it with pregnancy 2 or 3, etc.
Postpartum depression can occur in other members of the family, too.
A few signs of PPD include, but are not limited to…
Severe mood swings
Difficulty bonding with your new baby
Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
Severe fatigue or sudden loss of energy
An overwhelming sense of hopelessness
Loss of appetite
Anxiety and/or panic attacks
Not sleeping at all or sleeping too much
Thoughts of harming yourself or others
If any of these symptoms don’t subside after a couple of weeks, grow in intensity, or prevent you from caring for yourself or your baby, please reach out to a medical professional.
We are not medical professionals, and we can not and will not offer any medical advice. If any of these symptoms resonate with you, please seek further guidance from your medical professionals.
Oh, yeah, that. Wasn’t it nice not dealing with your period these last few months?
Some women who breastfeed don’t get their period again until they stop breastfeeding. If you’re not breastfeeding, though, you’ll probably see your period return within 4 to 6 weeks after birth. Yeah, while you’re dealing with alllllll of the rest of this, you’ll have to factor your period in again, too.
Your after-baby period may not be the same as your pre-baby period. It could be longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, more intense or less intense. It typically returns to your pre-baby normal over time, though.
Diastasis recti is totally, totally common. Your uterus stretches your abdominal muscles to make room for baby, and sometimes that causes a partial (or complete) separation of those muscles. The general signs of diastasis recti are a bulge in your stomach, lower back pain, and bloating. Depending on the severity of the diastasis recti, your muscles may heal themselves over time or with the assistance of certain core-strengthening exercises. For some women, though, a reconstructive surgery is needed to fully repair the separation, especially if the condition causes unbearable pain that makes day-to-day activities difficult. You’ll definitely want to discuss your specific situation with your medical professional.
Again, we are not medical professionals. Your health and your pregnancy are unique to you. While the topics mentioned in this post are common, you may not experience all or any of these. You may also experience situations or symptoms not outlined here. Should you experience anything concerning, alarming, or painful during your pregnancy or your postpartum phase, please consult a medical professional right away.