The day has come! Your beautiful baby is born into the world. As she’s carried to the scale by a nurse, you notice the squishy puddle of a stomach left behind in her place. It’s the first time you’re looking at your body since you haven't had to share it, but it’s not the same as it was before.
Learning what to expect from your postpartum body is a great way to understand and accept it after childbirth. If you have knowledge on common postpartum conditions such as incontinence and breast engorgement, it will be easier to deal with these trials as they come your way.
10 things to Know About Your Postpartum Body.
When you get home from the hospital, your body will continue changing long after the baby’s birth date. Some of these changes subside with time, while others remain permanently. All are normal and very common.
Here are some of the ways women’s postpartum bodies change over time and tips for handling these changes.
1. Breast engorgement.
Your breasts grow throughout your pregnancy, but when the baby finally comes is when they really make their big debut. Whether or not you decide to breastfeed, all women’s breasts will become large, hard and painful as they begin to fill with milk after birth. Breastfeeding alleviates the effects of engorgement, but if you’re not breastfeeding, it should disappear in a few days.
Tip: Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, your engorged breasts may find relief from hand expression — just enough to ease the pressure. You don’t want to overdo it, or you may begin overproducing milk, which leads to further engorgement.
2. Afterbirth pains.
You thought that when the baby came out, the labor pains would be over. But, after childbirth, the uterus continues contracting for days in order to shrink to its original size and cleanse out any remaining tissues and blood. These aren’t as strong as labor contractions, but they may feel like severe period cramps.
Tip: Stay hydrated and take pain medication as directed by your doctor. Know that the pains will eventually subside,and apply heat to your abdomen. Breastfeeding helps speed this process along.
3. Saggy belly.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, the loose, saggy belly that remains once baby has made his exit. Your skin is somewhat elastic, but it takes time to return to its normal state after making room for a whole human. It’s completely normal (and expected) to have belly skin that sags after birth.
Many women also experience a condition called diastasis recti, in which the abdominal muscles are split apart from the baby’s stretch. This allows internal organs to droop outward, adding to the “mom pooch.”
Tip: Many mothers will always have a small “pooch” as a reminder of the life they once carried. However, strength and cardio training can help reduce belly fat and fuse abdominal muscles. Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor (usually at about six weeks postpartum), begin a gentle exercise program to regain a toned stomach.
4. Genital pain.
You knew a baby coming through your vagina would be a stretch, but you might not have realized the external damage that could happen, too. For those who give birth vaginally, the vagina and perineum often emerge from the experience bruised, torn, stitched and sore. As a result, going to the bathroom is painful on broken skin and even sitting in the wrong position can be excruciating as well.
Tip: Cool compresses are the best way to soothe your injured areas. Stock up on extra ice pack sanitary pads from the hospital, or apply cool rags to the area. Sitz baths soothe your delicate skin as well.
So much pressure is exerted when pushing out a baby that veins around the anus reach their maximum capacity. They often bulge or pop out, becoming irritated and sometimes bleeding. Add the massive constipation that new mothers experience after birth, and going to the bathroom can become excruciating.
Tip: Try using witch hazel-medicated wipes like Tucks cleansing pads to soothe inflammation. Other treatments in the form of creams are also available to aid in recovery. Most hemorrhoids will pass with time.
6. Baby blues.
By now, we’ve all heard of postpartum depression, but did you know that baby blues are less severe and completely normal? For a few days to a few weeks postpartum, many mothers experience hormonal changes that alter their mood, making them feel sad, weepy or sort of depressed. For many, this effect goes away as hormones begin to stabilize. For others, baby blues turn into the dreaded condition of postpartum depression.
Tip: Keep your doctor up to date on how you’re feeling emotionally. If you don’t begin to feel better after a few weeks, work closely with your doctor or a mental health professional to diagnose and treat the possibility of postpartum depression.
7. Drop in sex drive.
You’ve got hormones, sleepless nights, breast milk spills and utter chaos at play, so who has time for sex? The doctor usually says it’s fine at about six weeks postpartum, but many moms don’t feel sexual desire at all for months following their baby’s birth. It’s normal to experience this dip in desire, and you shouldn’t start again until you feel comfortable.
Tip: Rest assured that your normal sex drive will eventually return, perhaps after you stop breastfeeding or when the baby sleeps through the night again. Make “dates” with your significant other to have intimate time together, even if you don’t include sex.
8. Hair loss.
Did you know you can lose up to one-third of your hair after having a child? Part of this effect is due to the loss of the thicker, lush hair you gained while pregnant. Hormones fluctuate wildly after you have a child, which causes you to lose that baby hair, and possibly even more. Don’t worry — it should stop falling out somewhere within a year of the birth of your child.
Tip: Take the vitamins your body needs and eat a well-rounded diet to help your body promote hair growth. Limit the amount of damaging styling you use, and wash with a volumizing shampoo.
9. Urinary incontinence.
When your baby came through the birth canal, she may have loosened muscles and damaged nerves in the area. As a result, many new moms have urinary incontinence, or trouble keeping their urination totally under control. Weakened pelvic floor muscles that are healing may allow accidents to happen because they can’t adequately control urinary function. It can be embarrassing, but it’s very common among postpartum mothers.
Tip: With healing time and exercises to improve pelvic-floor muscle strength, urinary incontinence can be improved for many women.
10. Sagging and smaller breasts.
Each child you have contributes to sagging of your breasts over time. This is because the skin and tissues in your breasts can only stretch so far before the stretch becomes permanent. When your breasts become engorged after childbirth, the skin is stretched in irreparable ways, often leaving breasts saggier and smaller than they were before pregnancy.
Tip: Breast sagginess is affected by weight gain, smoking and additional children. Breastfeeding does not seem to worsen the effect of sagging breasts over feeding babies formula.
Embracing the changes.
Our bodies change throughout life depending on the situations we experience and the way we care for ourselves. Having a baby is a huge life experience that takes time to recover from. Trust that your body will heal and that most of your uncomfortable postpartum symptoms will soon be gone. Those that remain permanently are a reminder of the life your body brought into the world.