- Sep 21, 2023
Like many first-time mamas, I signed up for every pregnancy, childbirth, baby, and parenting class offered, so I knew exactly what to expect and how to react when delivering my baby. While I felt reasonably ready for labour and delivery (as much as anyone can be), I was in for a huge surprise when it came to my post-partum recovery. One of the first shocks was realizing disposable hospital mesh undies and my maternity clothes would be my going-home outfit instead of my pre-pregnancy clothes and underwear I had carefully selected and packed in my hospital bag. That wasn’t my first surprise and it certainly wasn’t the last. In the hours, days, and weeks after you give birth, as you are trying to come to terms with the massive shift of life and responsibility, a certain running commentary goes on in your brain. It veers from a kind of hell, yeah, pride (´I just made an actual tiny human with my body! ´) to disbelief at the changes happening in your body.
Your body goes through a major transformation during pregnancy – and an equally major one after labour and delivery. While there is lots of week-by-week information about the changes happening inside your belly, your health and body after birth often get overlooked, as you cope with the admittedly big issues of caring for your baby and functioning on little sleep. A good friend of mine, the mother of six-month-old Luke, told me she felt completely blindsided by her post-baby body, which included brief Hulk-like swelling in her legs and feet as well as persistent infection under her c-section scar. She did all her reading on being pregnant and different delivery options but realized that she was totally unprepared for what came after. “I was healthy and strong while I was pregnant, so maybe that’s why I felt kind of defeated after delivery.”
After talking to many other new mums, I realized I wasn’t the only one stunned by the realities of postpartum recovery. It’s my hope that by sharing some of the truths with you here, I can help you be better prepared to know what symptoms are considered “normal” even though you might feel like you’ve been run over by a truck. Amid the love and attention showered on your new baby, it’s important to remember to take care of you. Your body just achieved the miraculous feat of growing another human being for 40 weeks and delivering a baby into the world. Just as your body changes throughout the stages of pregnancy, it will continue to change in the weeks and months after you deliver.
Here are some truths about Post-Partum Life:
1. You will bleed (maybe for weeks)
All the blood and tissue that supported your pregnancy called the lochia will be discharged in the weeks following delivery. It will start quite heavy (and you will be thankful for those mesh undies and pads) and eventually tapers off. And, yes, you still bleed even if you deliver via C-section.
2. Your belly will look like you’re 5 months pregnant
Your uterus expanded during pregnancy to accommodate your growing baby and it will take time (sometimes months) to shrink. As it shrinks, it can cause some cramping (nothing to be worried about). Breastfeeding moms are more prone to cramping the first few days postpartum because a chemical released during breastfeeding causes the uterus to tighten. Many mums worldwide find relief with a postpartum binder around their abdomen. A postnatal belly band can help you heal faster after having a baby and has been known to relieve back pain, increase circulation, improve posture and shrink the uterus.
3. You won’t recognize your breasts (and they will hurt!)
A few days after giving birth, your breasts will fill with milk and become enormous! While your partner might like the new look, you will see them as your baby’s food source and won't want anyone to touch them as they will likely be tender and sore. If you’re breastfeeding, your nipples may hurt and might even crack for the first few days. If bacteria enter the milk duct through a crack in your nipple, it can cause an infection called mastitis. Applying heat and keeping your chest warm can help relieve pain and discomfort and help milk flow more easily – try specific protective clothing to keep your chest area warm.
4. Everything down under will be sore after vaginal delivery
Your vagina is amazing for opening to 10cm to allow your baby to deliver, but that incredible feat makes it very sore post-partum. It can also tear or be cut during delivery, increasing your pain. The good news is that this pain will eventually go away! Some women develop hemorrhoids during pregnancy or get them from pushing during delivery—drink lots of water and consider a stool softener to avoid straining when you go to the bathroom. You also might be constipated or have difficulty urinating (or controlling your bladder) postpartum.
5. You will be on an emotional roller-coaster
Your hormones have gone through a crazy rollercoaster of changes - progesterone and estrogen peak during pregnancy and then abruptly come down closer to menopausal levels after delivery. Your thyroid and adrenals can get whacked out from the stress of pregnancy, delivery, and lack of sleep after the baby arrives. From the milder form of “baby blues” to full-blown post-partum depression, some mood issues are very common in the days, weeks, and months following a new baby. Blame hormones again, lack of sleep, nutrient depletions, as well as the massive shift of life and responsibility that just happened. Add in infant feeding issues, difficulty bonding, and pressure to do everything right and you can see why this is so common. If you suspect you suffer from post-partum depression, please seek help from a qualified medical professional immediately.
6. You may be plagued by postpartum perspiration
If you find yourself sweating as if you´ve just run a marathon after having a baby, even when sitting still, you are most likely experiencing a very common postpartum symptom. This is normal and tends to happen more often when you´re sleeping. Your pregnancy hormones again are the culprit here, as they instruct your body to rid itself of all those extra fluids built up in your body during pregnancy. All your fluid loss - perspiring, bleeding, crying, and milk production - can leave you dehydrated, so make sure you´re drinking plenty of fluids.
7. C-section is major surgery and requires plenty of recovery time
If you deliver via C-section, it’s major surgery. You will stay in the hospital for three to four days and your body will need up to six weeks or more to recover. Gas pains can be excruciating during C-section recovery. They should pass within a week, once your bowels are moving usually again (abdominal surgery causes them to "shut down" temporarily). In the meantime, eat easily digestible food, use stool softening supplements, and remember to walk around a lot as this will aid recovery.
8. Bold spots may appear at your hairline
The dreaded postpartum shed - hopefully, you were warned about this one. This usually takes place around 4 months postpartum although can happen before or after. When you were expecting, your pregnancy hormones keep your hair from falling out – leaving your hair looking lush. But all good things must come to an end, including your awesome new ´do´. When those hormones drop back to normal, the extra hairs fall, too.
9. You might have low libido
Your super low post-delivery hormones along with fatigue, stress and the recent memory of delivery will keep you from feeling in the mood – think of this as mother nature´s way of keeping you from getting knocked up while busy tending to a newborn. It is normal to experience low libido for the first several months or even a year after delivery, and probably a different sex life than what you experienced before kids (I mean, obviously).
10. It takes time to lose your pregnancy weight
It is normal to hold on to weight after delivery. You will likely lose a big chunk in the beginning, but the rest will take much longer. Breastfeeding isn´t always the magic bullet for losing all the weight. Losing baby weight is very individual and depends on a range of factors, including your sleep, stress, hormones, exercise, and diet. Waking up several times a night or generally getting less sleep? You´re very unlikely to get back to pre-baby weight until rest becomes more manageable.
11. Your core muscles will need time to heal and get stronger
There's no denying it – having a baby wreaks havoc on your body. Once you're a new mom, you're tasked with putting it all back together, and the first hurdle is the repair and reactivation of your abdominals. During pregnancy, your abs separate to make room for your growing baby – a process called Diastasis Recti. It's crucial to reconnect your abs when you are postnatal, and it should be the first thing you do when returning to fitness. If you don't close the Diastasis, you'll maintain what is lovingly referred to as your "Mommy Tummy" (the appearance of your abdominal organs, pushing and dropping forward where the abs are not joined) – and are likely to experience lower back pains and poor posture. After your resting period, start by activating your deep ´thinking´ muscles - you don't actually have to move to activate them. Postnatal belly bands are a great tool to use to encourage the stretched tissue and muscle fibers back together.
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