Pregnancy means bringing a new life into this world. After all the changes your body goes through to accommodate a baby growing inside, it will not reverse to its original state after delivery. The nine months you spend coping with the changes in your body will be worth it when your little one arrives. However, your body will need ample time and care to recover from the life-altering miracle is performed.
How your body changes after having a baby can be a scary thought for some. However, since you made it through the surprises of pregnancy, you can make it through what comes after. Knowing what changes to expect after your delivery and how to recover during postpartum can help.
Postpartum Body After Pregnancy
Though your body will not shrink back to its previous size, you will experience many physical changes. From your breasts to your perineal area, there will be some uncomfortable instances. You will learn a lot about taking care of a baby, but you also need to be informed of your body and how to take care of it. Your body takes time to heal and adjust to new changes.
Vaginal Changes and Lochia
If your delivery was vaginal, you might experience vaginal bleeding and discharge. It may resemble and smell like a menstrual discharge. The first three days after delivery, it will be dark red with small blood clots. After that, until the tenth day, it will thin down and change to pink or brownish. Another week later, it will turn yellow and creamy.
The discharge may increase when you wake up in the morning, while you’re physically active or when you’re breastfeeding. The bleeding should stop 4-6 weeks after delivery. If you had a cesarean section, then you can expect less lochia within a day. You might experience some watery pink incision draining if you had a c-section or tubal ligation. Contact your doctor if this continues for more than a couple of days.
Lochia is excess tissue, mucus, and blood from your uterus used to grow and nourish your baby. The flow can be as heavy or heavier than periods. You can wear maxi pads (the hospital is likely to provide you with special padded underwear and panty liners for this duration) but should avoid tampons. Avoid putting anything inside the vagina for at least six weeks due to the risk of infection, irritation, and pain.
Abdominal aches similar to menstrual cramps may initially give you discomfort, but they should last only a few days. Your doctor may prescribe you painkillers to deal with them. If you had an episiotomy, tears, or grazes, then they should heal quickly. Cold presses or ice packs and walks will help but contact your doctor immediately if it’s too painful or you suspect an infection.
The incision between the vagina and anus is called an episiotomy. The doctor makes it during vaginal delivery to extend the vaginal opening to assist in the delivery. The area of the incision can feel very sore and swollen after delivery. You can avoid infections by using squirt bottles to rinse after you use the toilet. Avoid bubble baths and using harsh chemicals as they may cause irritation. In case of hemorrhoids, consult a doctor.
In vaginal deliveries, the vaginal opening dilates to 10 cm to let the baby out, leading to swelling, soreness and bruising, which should reduce a few days later. Your doctor may recommend pelvic floor exercises such as Kegel. There are also alternatives to Kegel, which can help you tone and strengthen those muscles when you are ready.
Another change you will feel is vaginal dryness caused by hormonal changes, which may decrease after you stop breastfeeding. After check-ups, your doctor or midwife will let you know if you can resume sexual activity and whether you can consider birth control options. A low sex drive is common a few weeks after birth and shouldn’t be cause for alarm.
Avoid putting pressure on your abdomen and lifting heavy things. Seek medical help immediately if you feel much pain or pressure in or around your vagina, as it could mean an organ prolapse. Pelvic organ prolapse happens when your urethra, uterus, or bladder moves from its original position.
Though doctors will clear most women to have recovered in 6-8 weeks, every pregnancy is different. Your recovery and healing time will be your own so try not to set unrealistic expectations. You need to eat and rest well. Despite your hormonal fluctuations, you need to be kind to yourself.
Changes in Breasts
After delivery, your breasts may initially leak, a fluid that should stop in two weeks. Breast pads will help you deal with that. Your breasts are also likely to become swollen, sore, and heavy with milk for two days after labor until the milk comes in. The swelling may cause your breasts to sag and get stretch marks, but this may subside after four days or after you stop breastfeeding.
Breast engorgement can produce a feeling of hardness and heaviness in the breasts, which can be relieved by breastfeeding frequently or pumping. Applying ice packs, pain medications, and supportive nursing bras may help with the swelling. The swelling could also be caused by an infection or a clogged milk duct. Consult your doctor if the pain persists.
Just like you may experience your breast size going up by two cups during pregnancy, you may also notice your nipples looking displaced and darker after pregnancy. Some level of soreness and dryness may also occur when you start breastfeeding. Nipple cream may help bring some relief. You should see a lactation expert if the pain prevents you from breastfeeding. Lactation experts can also teach you how to position your baby and breastfeed them more comfortably.
You can start breastfeeding the first hour after delivery. Ideally, you should solely breastfeed your baby for at least the first six months after delivery and then another year while slowly adding solid foods. If you do not plan on breastfeeding, then the milk supply will naturally decrease. You should consult your doctor about your milk supply and breastfeeding plan.
Bladder and Uterine
Pregnancy and postpartum are both hard on your bladder. Your bladder may become swollen, and you may have less urge to urinate due to loss of sensitivity. To help your body get rid of fluid, try and urinate often. This will also help your uterus contract. At the same time, your stretched pelvic muscles may cause bladder control issues when you sneeze or laugh. Pelvic floor exercise can help with that.
Even though the uterus expands from pear size to the size of a watermelon to accommodate a baby, it usually contracts within six weeks. Post-delivery, uterine contractions can be intensely painful but should subside with heating pads, walking, and pain medication. Consult your doctor if you have difficulty peeing.
Constipation and Bowel Movements
Your first post-delivery poop may take three to five days to happen. If it doesn’t happen by a week, you should seek medical advice. You may need a stool softener to help this along. Also try increasing fiber in your diet and your water intake to keep your bowel movements regular.
Anal incontinence can make you lose control of your gas and bowel movements. It occurs when pelvic floor muscles or nerves are damaged during delivery. Most women can regain control after a few months postpartum. Special absorbent underwear, adult diapers, and pelvic floor therapy can help till you feel better.
Chills and Sweating
Sweating a lot, especially at night, and then getting chills is expected when your body’s hormones readjust. Changing clothes often and increasing water intake can help. If you experience intense chills, it might be a sign of fever. Consult your doctor to rule out infections.
Changes in Appearance
Your bodily changes after birth affect you both internally and externally. Some of the external changes can be permanent. Let’s discuss some ways these changes can affect your appearance.
Water Retention and Shoe Size
Yes, you read that right. Swelling during pregnancy is also common postpartum as your body continues to hold water due to increased progesterone hormone. It can cause swelling in your arms, feet, and legs but shouldn’t last more than a week.
Though swelling will reduce after birth, it may permanently change your shoe size. This can be due to a woman’s extra weight during pregnancy or because the hormonal changes loosen the ligaments, making the foot structure softer and longer. But that may mean more new shoes for you!
Increase your potassium intake if you want the swelling to reduce or the fluid to flush from your system quicker. Contact your doctor if the swelling persists.
Stretch Marks and Breasts
Besides growing a few cup sizes, your breasts may sag a little due to breastfeeding. But you may also get stretch marks due to the rapid weight gain in pregnancy and the fibers of your skin becoming softer. Your skin may also feel drier, so it’s a good idea to invest in an excellent moisturizer.
These stretch marks can appear on your hips, stomach, breasts, and butt. They start as thin angry red lines on your skin and then turn lighter to almost white over a year. Stretch mark creams can prevent them from becoming permanent, but they have to be breastfeeding safe. However, most stretch marks, especially on the stomach, may become permanent.
Hair Loss and Anemia
During pregnancy, you may experience reduced hair fall due to an increase in estrogen hormone production. However, postpartum hair loss can take away that thick hair. Many new mamas experience hair fall after two to four months of delivery. Your hair loss may be temporary and should decrease once your estrogen levels increase. In case of bald patches, please consult your doctor as it may be due to iron deficiency.
When your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells the condition is called anemia. It can make you feel exhausted, breathless and affect your milk supply. If you are constantly tired, it can be iron deficiency anemia. Your doctor may prescribe iron supplements or recommend you increase iron intake in your diet.
Don’t put off going to the dentist. Hormonal changes can also affect your gums and make them more vulnerable to plaque and bleeding. Morning sickness could have caused acidity leading to inflammation.
Your body will not go back to how you looked before you were pregnant immediately. You can expect to decrease in the same weight as your baby and placenta after birth, usually around six to twelve pounds. You will further lose weight as your body discharges the excess fluid. There is a chance you may weigh twenty pounds lighter after birth.
Your weight loss will have to be slow and may take several months. Good nutrition and exercise can help. Aim for healthy weight loss and do not follow fad diets with extreme dietary restrictions. Postpartum bodies are different for everyone, so you shouldn’t compare yourself to anyone. Set realistic goals, and slowly you can achieve them.
Varicose veins are swollen, blue or purple appearing veins. They can be lumpy or twisted and can develop during pregnancy. They do not go away entirely in postpartum. If they are causing you pain or swelling, you should consult your healthcare provider.
Your bodily changes after pregnancy may leave you feeling overwhelmed. You don’t immediately return to your pre-pregnant appearance, and some of the changes can be permanent. You need to be aware that your body changed internally to bring a new life into the world; some external signs will show and maybe there to stay.
Avoid the idea that you need to look like you never had a baby. Eat healthily and exercise. Take care of yourself for your own sake and because your baby needs you.