Having a baby will have a profound effect on your body. To help you understand these changes, we’ve gathered some facts new mothers should know about their postpartum body, according to medical professionals and physiotherapists. Discover what to expect and how to take care of yourself after giving birth.
Once you give birth, the physical changes you went through during pregnancy don’t just stop. It’s true that your body will go through a lot of transitions after giving birth. You’ll notice at least 20 distinct physical changes after giving birth.
1. Pain in the Body
Dr. Julian Robinson, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, believes that it is normal to feel exhausted after the physical demands of labor.
Many new mothers report experiencing cramping or fluttering in the stomach after giving birth, similar to menstruation cramps. These symptoms are exacerbated by breastfeeding. Pain may be experienced, but it should only last a few days and can be managed with prescription or over-the-counter medications.
2. Tearing of the Vagina
After a vaginal birth or an episiotomy (a surgical cut through the perineum), the tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus or perineum takes at least six weeks to heal.
Daily massage of the perineum in the last weeks of pregnancy is recommended by Suzanne Aceron Badillo, P.T., W.S.C, clinical program director of the Women’s Health Rehabilitation Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. A scar might grow more flexible with daily massage after delivery.
3. Feet and Extremities Swelling
Pregnant women, according to New York City-based nutritionist and fitness expert Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., C.D.N., C.F.T., create about 50 percent more blood and other fluids than usual to support the development of the fetus. Swelling of the hands, face, ankles, neck and other extremities (edema) can be caused by hormonal shifts. Feet often grow by half a size during pregnancy.
It may take several weeks for your body to rid itself of the excess fluid. Lakatos recommends eating meals high in potassium, like fruits and vegetables, to speed up the process because potassium helps offset the water-retaining effects of sodium. She also says that nursing mothers should consume more water than the average person.
Also, you might try out the following alternatives:
- Limit your time spent sitting or standing to no more than a few minutes at a time.
- If possible, go for low-sodium options and avoid items that are high in salt.
- Maintaining a constant angle of elevation for the lower extremities is highly recommended.
- Compression socks to minimize swelling.
4. Vaginal Discharge
Although you may have heard of lochia, or postpartum vaginal discharge, you probably weren’t prepared for how bloody it may be. Lochia is harmless leftover blood, mucus, and tissue from your uterus, but it’s not beautiful. No matter what method you use to give birth, the bleeding may be just as intense as, or even more intense than, your period.
Instead of tampons or other internal menstruation items that could potentially cause infection, pain, or irritation, try using thick, absorbent pads. Eileen Ehudin Beard, a nurse-midwife and family nurse-practitioner in Silver Spring, Maryland, advises new mothers to replace their pads every couple of hours during the first few days after giving birth. From then, the amount of wastewater released ought to lessen.
As your uterus shrinks from 2.5 pounds to 2 ounces in the first few weeks after giving birth, it is common to suffer lochia for up to a month or longer.
5. Breast Enlargement
For the first day or two after giving birth, you may experience breast flushing, swelling, pain, and engorgement from nursing. Breast sagging from stretched skin is common after the initial swelling subsides, usually after three to four days (or once you stop breastfeeding). Even if you choose not to breastfeed, you may still experience milk leakage for a while. You may also notice that the nipple appears off-center.
Breast volume decreases, stretch marks persist, and sagging occurs in most women when pregnancy and breastfeeding cease, according to Robert Brueck, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon in Ft. Myers, Florida.
Although breast engorgement or growth after childbirth is common, it can be extremely uncomfortable. A cold compress for pain and swelling and a supportive bra will help if you’re not nursing or pumping. It is possible to stimulate milk production while nursing or pumping by taking a warm shower or compress, massaging the breasts gently, or both.
6. Stretch Marks
Scars of this type on the stomach, hips, breasts, or butt often seem red, purple, or dark brown at first but fade over the course of a year. “Whether you get stretch marks relies a lot on heredity and how quickly you gain weight,” says Dr. David J. Goldberg, director of laser research in New York City.
Prescription creams like tretinoin cream can help reduce the look of stretch marks, but you shouldn’t use them while you’re pregnant or nursing.
One study indicated that while stretch marks cannot be avoided entirely, their intensity can be mitigated by moisturizing throughout pregnancy. In addition, they discovered that scar and stretch mark removal solutions claiming to use specific components were ineffective.
7. Varicose Veins
Dilated blood vessels at the skin’s surface, most common on the calves and thighs, affect as much as 40% of pregnant women. “Heredity, hormones, and the strain on the veins of pregnant pounds all play a part,” explains Lisa Masterson, M.D., an OB-GYN in Los Angeles.
Varicose veins are transitory, and while they often heal after childbirth, it may take as long as 12 weeks for them to completely disappear. Hemorrhoids and varicose veins are common during pregnancy because of the increased blood volume that puts pressure on the veins.
Ceders-Sinai says that sitz baths, ice packs, and stool softeners are all safe ways to get some relief. There is a chance that your doctor can prescribe you painkillers to aid with the suffering.
8. Noticeable Stomach Pooch
In pregnancy, your tummy changes more than any other part of your body. A pooch or stretch marks may result from these changes depending on the mother’s age, genetics, and the amount of weight gained during pregnancy.
The postpartum tummy will shrink when the uterus returns to its size before pregnancy, although this can take up to six weeks. The skin on the abdomen, however, may never be as taut as it was before because of the stretching and pulling that has taken place. Likewise, the abdominal muscles can stretch and separate, a condition known as diastasis recti, during pregnancy.
Megan Flatt, a trainer and fitness educator in San Francisco, developed a prenatal and postpartum exercise program called Bump Fitness. Flatt argues that keeping the core muscles (abdominals and back) strong during pregnancy aids in a quicker recovery of the abdominals.
While your stretched abdominal muscles recover their strength, your body shifts that weight onto your back muscles, which can cause discomfort. It is possible for bad posture to be the cause of back discomfort in the postpartum period. These postpartum issues usually disappear during the first six weeks after having a child. If not, a trip to the chiropractor might be in order.
10. Hair Loss
A reduction in hormone levels causes hair loss in as many as 10% of new parents. Rest assured, you aren’t actually as bald as you look. According to gynecologist Shari Brasner, M.D., hair thickens during pregnancy; in the months following delivery, you simply shedding that excess hair. Normalcy should be restored within three months, but if your brush still looks like a small furry animal after that time, see a doctor. Having your thyroid checked is something they might recommend.
11. Discoloration of Skin
Melasma affects up to 70% of expecting mothers (the “mask of pregnancy”). Dark spots on the forehead, cheeks and upper lips can be caused by hormonal swings and frequently diminish postpartum but don’t go away completely for some women.
Prescription medications like steroids, tretinoin (Retin-active A’s ingredient), and bleaching treatments can be used singly or in tandem to get the desired results. A lot of patients feel better after just a few weeks of treatment. (Unfortunate side effects include transient redness, peeling, and dryness; avoidance during pregnancy and lactation; and lack of coverage by all insurance providers.)
12. Urinary Incontinence
While you’re nearing the conclusion of your pregnancy, the extra weight of your baby might put a strain on the muscles in your pelvic floor that help you maintain bowel and bladder control. Due to muscle weakness, you may experience minor urine leakage when coughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects.
Strengthening your pelvic muscles with Kegel exercises is the most effective way to stop leaks. To learn which muscles to target, stop urinating midstream. Locate the relevant muscle groups and then regularly contract and relax them to strengthen them.
Dr. Rakhi Dimino, an OB-GYN at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas in Houston, recommends beginning these exercises immediately after giving birth, ideally every time you urinate, and gradually increasing the length of time, you maintain the squeeze. You should start to feel better by the end of the first month.
13. Painful, Weak Arms
Pregnant women who don’t maintain their usual exercise routine sometimes have muscle weakness in their upper bodies. Moreover, your body creates more of the hormone relaxin during pregnancy, which can weaken the joints after delivery. Aching joints are a normal aspect of recovery from childbirth, including sore wrists, aching shoulders, and fatigued arms.
Upper-body stress can be reduced by toning and strengthening the arms, back, and shoulders. According to Flatt, the greatest time to begin is during pregnancy. Do not resume exercise for at least six weeks after giving delivery.
14. Thicker Thighs and Legs
Dr. Michael Dawson, an OB/GYN at Atlanta Women’s Specialists, observes that “quite often, a woman’s activity and nutrition levels fall down” while carrying a child. “Because of these causes, you will acquire weight. Extra fat is typically stored in the posterior, hips, and thighs, the areas where women tend to gain weight.”
Dr. Dawson warns that it may take a year or more to shed the extra pounds you put on while pregnant. Health professionals say that a healthy diet and regular exercise are the best ways to lose weight safely and healthily. Eating low-calorie, high-fiber foods like veggies will help you feel full on fewer calories. In terms of physical activity, Flatt suggests doing activities that target numerous muscle groups at once.
15. Night Sweats
In the days following childbirth, it is normal for your body to experience night sweats as your hormones readjust. Your body can get rid of the extra fluid it has been holding onto because of your pregnancy by sweating. Your perspiration should stop in a few days, but until then, use one of those baby crib pads to protect your mattress from getting wet.
As if being uncomfortably sweating wasn’t bad enough, you might also feel angry, and who could blame you? Feeling too damp to function? Try one of these fast fixes!
- Wear only your underwear or a thin set of cotton pajamas to bed.
- Let some fresh air in, or turn down the heat when you go to bed.
- Stay away from the coffee and the hot sauce if you can.
- Use a cold towel on your neck to relieve the tension.
- If you’re having trouble unwinding, a meditation app might help.
It’s normal to wait at least two or three days after giving birth before passing gas. The inability to properly contract the abdominal muscles, postpartum intestinal damage, or the use of narcotic medicines are all potential causes of this problem. A lot of moms and dads are afraid they’ll tear their sutures if they let it all the way out, so they stifle the pain instead.
Eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and drink at least eight glasses of water daily to keep things moving along. It’s not likely that your stitches will rupture, and holding it in will only make you more constipated, so try not to stress over it. Get up and move around. Just take it easy, especially after a C-section.
Dr. Dimino thinks your complexion may be affected by the same hormones that cause acne in some infants. The skin normally clears up by the time you go in for your six-week postpartum checkup, but you can try using an over-the-counter acne lotion with salicylic acid to hasten the process. But if you are nursing, you should talk to your doctor first because some medicines, even those that are put on the skin, can get into breast milk.
The safest option may be the most natural one: Lemon juice can be used to cure spots since it dries up excess oil and makes them appear lighter.
18. Scar from a C-Section
Most C-section scars become barely noticeable within a year or two, although they will never be completely invisible. The key to reducing the appearance of scars, according to Debra Jaliman, M.D., a clinical lecturer of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, is prompt treatment.
19. Shift in Energy Levels
Some new mothers and fathers report having more energy than they had before they became pregnant. In fact, in the first six weeks after giving birth, your aerobic capacity might rise by as much as 20%. Some claim that their postpartum body feels sluggish and cranky because of the overwhelming exhaustion of childbirth, caring for a newborn, and additional body weight.
Consider implementing some of the following strategies to boost your stamina:
- Get into a regular exercise schedule.
- Be sure to get lots of sleep.
- Go on a good eating plan.
- Drink lots of water to keep yourself from drying out.
- Take control of your stress levels.
According to Dr. Dimino, hormones and other postpartum changes to a woman’s body and emotions can contribute to anxiety and even nightmares. Most doctors would advise waiting for the anxiety to lessen on its own rather than prescribing medication as long as it doesn’t interfere with caring for the baby.
If your anxiety is getting to the point where you’re having panic attacks (or feeling hopeless or fully overwhelmed), talk to your doctor as soon as possible. This could indicate postpartum anxiety (PPA) or depression (PPD), both of which respond well to treatment.
Knowing When to See a Doctor
Throughout the first six weeks after giving birth, if you notice any of the following changes, it is imperative that you contact your doctor immediately.
- Symptoms indicate a fever greater than or equal to 100.5 degrees.
- An unexpectedly substantial amount of blood loss (soaking more than one pad in an hour) or frequent, big clots.
- Putrid vaginal discharge.
- Extreme discomfort, redness, or drainage around or from a C-section or episiotomy incision may be signs of infection.
- Weakness, sickness, or throwing up.
- Urinary tract irritation or burning.
- Long-term (lasting longer than three days) constipation.
- Symptoms of mastitis include breast swelling, redness (or red streaks), pain, and fever.
- Symptoms of deep vein thrombosis, including pain, swelling, and redness in the legs and/or calves, can occur anywhere in the lower extremities (DVT).
- Chronic visual disturbances or head pain.
- Swelling of the hands, feet, and face to an abnormal degree.
- Extreme sadness and doubt in one’s ability to care for either oneself or the baby are signs of postpartum depression (PPD).