Giving birth is a wonderful event that parents spend nine months waiting for. Meeting the newest member of the family means you immediately forget about the morning sickness you had to endure, the swollen feet, the insatiable appetite and the mood swings that were uncharacteristic for you. All of that was worth it to be able to spend time with your new baby. However, after months of preparing for the birth of your baby, your body looks considerably different. It’s grown to accommodate the growing baby and produced hormones that have caused symptoms that you were previously unaware of (who knew you’d lose less hair on your head but grow more in surprising places?).
Now that your baby is here, your body begins the task of healing itself and working to return to it’s pre-baby state. In doing this, your body looks and feels different. While the changes aren’t permanent, the short-term changes are pronounced and at times surprising. The following information will prepare you for the changes that you’ll encounter and give you a sense of what’s normal and what isn’t. In some cases, you’ll even get ideas on how to combat these conditions. Be aware that there are some conditions that you can’t do anything about and have to simply wait for them to resolve themselves over time. Patience is key so it’s a good thing you have a brand new baby to take your mind off of the changes.
15 Enlarged Breasts
Soon after giving birth, women begin to experience engorgement as their bodies prepare to produce milk. This soreness and swelling only lasts for a few days but can be very uncomfortable and lead to sensitive breasts. A bonus of enduring this discomfort and breastfeeding is that nursing your baby has been shown to help shirk the uterus. Take home note: the more nursing, the better. For women who choose to breastfeed, their breasts will remain full but may sag in the weeks following delivery. Keep in mind that sagging breasts aren’t related to breastfeeding, as you ween your baby and your milk supply decreases some of the sagging you experience will be due in part to stretched skin. Months after giving birth it’s common for women to drop a cup size when compared to their pre-pregnancy cup size. This change is emphasized after multiple pregnancies.
It’s also common for moms to experience general milk leakage even when thinking about their baby or hearing theirs or another baby cry. Adding nipple pads to bras will help manage this. If leaking persists after you’ve given up breastfeeding, consult with a doctor to ensure the discharge is normal.
This is very common after pregnancy and it may take a day or two for your body to “remember” how to perform this particular bodily function. Procedures during delivery, such as an episiotomy, can make your bowel movements somewhat painful. Bowel movements may even make you weary of pushing too hard. Be assured that no matter how hard you push, your stitches will remain in tact.
The first bowel movement after giving birth causes the most apprehension but it won’t be as bad as you think. The best natural remedy to help with the process is to increase your fiber intake (such as whole grains, oats and bran), eat more fruits and vegetables (bananas are great for relieving constipation because they moisten stools) and drink lots of water.
13 Hair Loss
During pregnancy, the hormones surging through body result in reduced hair loss. The hair on your head will be nice and thick, and not to mention shinier, but that also means that you’ll have hair growing in surprising places (like your chin) as well. After giving birth, the tables turn and you’ll start losing more hair than usual. The good thing is, hormones eventually stabilize and hair loss returns to its normal rate (which is about 100 hairs a day). The best way to manage hair loss is to eat healthy foods full of nutrients and to be gentle while combing and styling your hair. Excessive manipulation can lead to more loss. If you find that you’re losing an excessive amount of hair and are experiencing symptoms not related to postpartum, consult with your doctor as this may be a sign of postpartum thyroiditis.
12 Urinary Incontinence
Natural births can result in weakened pelvic floor muscles, ligaments and nerves. As a result, it may become harder to control your bladder due to the reduced support. Added to this, the urethra is unable to close completely which leaves you susceptible to leakage. There’s no longer a baby weighing down on your bladder and forcing repeat visits to the washroom but the control you had before and during pregnancy is gone. An innocent sneeze or cough may result in some urine leakage. Fortunately, within a few weeks the condition improves. To help strengthen pelvic floor muscles, Kegel exercises are recommended. They’re easy to do and can be done absolutely anywhere.
In situations where the condition persists a doctor should be consulted to determine if you’re suffering from a urinary tract infection. This can be accompanied by a burning sensation while urinating.
11 Vaginal Soreness
If you had a natural birth, vaginal soreness goes without saying. Birthing a baby, regardless of size, will cause stretching. Tearing, to various degrees, is normal and may require stitches in some cases. For the next several weeks the uterine lining (lochia) will continue to shed and be discharged. Initially, it’ll initially consist mostly of blood and shouldn’t be confused with a menstrual cycle (it’s much heavier than your heaviest cycle). Over the next few weeks it will take on a yellowish-white color and will take up to two to three months (or longer if breastfeeding) for a regular menstrual cycle to return postpartum.
Some women find that sitting on a donut pillow takes the pressure off of their stitches while they’re healing. Pain medication (such as antihistamine and ibuprofen) can also help with the soreness. Vaginal dryness is also common during this time especially for women who breastfeed.
10 Back Pain
As your pregnancy progresses, more pressure is put on lower back muscles as they work to support your growing bump. Poor posture during pregnancy (which is common) exacerbates this condition. Even after giving birth this pain can persist because of the weakened state of your abdominal muscles. The good news is that the pain will subside within a few short weeks and exercises that strengthen core muscles will help relieve pressure placed on your back muscles. A strengthened core helps maintain improved posture. However, if your back pain persists, visit a chiropractor for an assessment. If they deem it necessary, they’ll perform an adjustment on your back to help relieve pain resulting from poor posture as well as help bring alignment back to your pelvis. Regular visits might be needed to completely irradiate your discomfort.
9 Discolored Skin
Alas, the pregnancy glow woman sport during the second and third trimesters has finally faded. It’s entirely normal to develop rashes on your face, known as the pregnancy mask (the medical term is melasma), that appear around your mouth, eyes and chin. Skin is also dryer than normal but like most postpartum changes to your body, this will pass over time. Creams can be used in the event that the condition persists and if you experience a prolonged patchy complexion. Consult your doctor or a dermatologist before beginning a treatment regime.
On the flip side, women who suffered from acne during pregnancy will begin to see changes in their complexion now that they’ve given birth. This is primarily due to the hormones that increased during pregnancy, leaving your body. As this takes place, your body is working to get back to its regular pre-pregnancy state and your complexion will clear up.
8 Mommy Tummy
After giving birth, women will still look as though they’re six months pregnant. Now that the baby has left it, the uterus will begin to contract over the next several weeks. Many women develop a linea nigra (the dark line running from your naval to the top of your pubic bone) while pregnant and it will begin to fade and eventually disappear. Stretch marks will also begin to fade but won’t disappear completely, they’ll become less noticeable over time. There’s lots of debate as to whether or not oils and lotions do anything to reduce these marks during and after pregnancy. Findings are based on individual experiences.
All pregnant women suffer to some degree from diastasis recti which is when the left and right sides of the abdominal muscles separate to accommodate the growing uterus. Getting rid of the condition is possible but women should avoid exercises that put strain on abdominal muscles (ex: crunches and sit-ups). Exercise that strengthen the transverse abdominis muscle will help pull the affected, weakened, muscles back together. Something as simple as plank exercises will go a long way to isolating and strengthening these muscles.
7 Larger Feet
Women are told that healthy pregnancy weight gain is between 25 – 35 pounds. However, some women may gain upwards of 60 pounds and are still healthy. Whatever the weight gained, it puts additional pressure on your feet. This added weight can slowly decrease the arch in your feet and cause slight widening and lengthening as your feet flatten. This permanent change to your feet is caused by the pregnancy hormone relaxin (yes, that’s its real name). Its primary purpose is to prepare the body for physical changes that occur to accommodate your growing baby and for giving birth. You’ll find that your loosened muscles and ligaments give you increased flexibility. This added flexibility also applies to your feet and are part of the physical changes your body goes through. While it’s not common in all women, it’s still a possibility to be mindful of. Just when you thought the swelling you experienced during pregnancy was behind you, nature tests your ability to fit into your favorite shoes postpartum!
6 Varicose Veins
While they’re not great to look at, varicose veins fade overtime (although they won’t disappear completely). The twitching in the legs that some women experience after giving birth can be relieved by walking or any other exercise that promotes blood flow. Elevating your feet is another great option when lying down or sitting up. Place your feet on the foot rest or on a pillow. When possible, try to avoid sitting for long periods of time and crossing your legs. Whether done together or separately, they minimize effective blood circulation to your legs and feet. In some cases, women choose to wear supportive hose or compression stockings. They’re thicker than regular stockings and are tight at the ankle so as to help push blood back up the body and towards the heart. Another change you may notice is the appearance of spider veins which are likely to appear on legs or ankles. They appear during pregnancy and disappear shortly after you’ve given birth.
5 Mood Swings
Between caring for a newborn who doesn’t sleep, dealing with a body that looks and feels different and the hormones still raging through your body, it’s no wonder that some women experience mood swings. Motherhood requires a lot of adjustments (especially if you’re a first time mom) so the responsibility and knowing what to do can be overwhelming. While these feelings are normal, a doctor should be consulted if you begin to feel sad for long periods of time and are struggling with daily tasks. Combined these could be symptoms of postpartum depression. Don’t be afraid to ask for help as soon as you feel you need it. This ensures your health and that of your baby’s because they’re depending on you.
4 Changing Body Shape
Many moms are able to get back to their pre-pregnancy weight by the time their baby turns one. However, the firmness that they once enjoyed may be gone as things shift and don’t return to the exact same place as before. Many moms have commented that they actually feel “softer”. Don’t feel discouraged by this because your child loves cuddling with you no matter what. Accepting that your body has changed is key to embracing how you look after giving birth. If getting back to your pre-pregnancy weight is important to you, take the time to exercise and monitor your diet. Be kind to yourself, especially if you’re breastfeeding because your body needs as many nutrients as possible. Ignore the pictures celebrities post of themselves two weeks after giving birth weighing 100 pounds and with six pack abs. The reality is, it took nine months to gain your baby weight so it’ll take just as much time to lose it. It’s not a race and having a new body is part of the journey of motherhood.
3 Excessive Sweating
During pregnancy, a woman’s body retains a great deal of water. From increased blood flow to amniotic fluid, the body needs to rid itself of excess fluid after giving birth. One way it does this is through sweating (another is through frequent trips to the bathroom). It’s common for women to wake up from night sweats drenched. Fortunately, you’ll only have to endure sweating for a few weeks (long if you’re breastfeeding) before your fluid levels to return to normal. To avoid dehydration, drink lots of water. This may seem counterintuitive but doing this won’t add to the sweating you’re experiencing, it’ll help it. Sweating only becomes a health problem if it’s accompanied by a fever. This could be a sign of an infection and requires immediate medical attention.
The gradual weight gain followed by a quick decrease (when your baby is born) and further loss of fat can result in cellulite which is a collection of fat deposits under the skin. Estrogen also adds to this process because it allows the body to store much needed fat during pregnancy. It’s the reason for the fat deposits because it causes connective tissue to become looser than normal. In addition to this, a lack of exercise or poor nutrition during pregnancy can contribute to this condition. The result is the lumpy look that we’re all familiar with. Popular spots for cellulite to develop are on your thighs and rear-end but can also appear on your knees and upper arms.
It’s never too late to get rid of this condition. Regular exercise and an improved diet that balances required nutrients and vitamins will go a long way to getting rid of fat. There are also cellulite treatments to try once you’ve regained your strength that will help.
1 Flatter Rear-End
As you begin to shed your baby weight, don’t be surprised if your rear-end also starts to shrink. You’ll find that you just don’t look the same in your favorite pair of jeans. Why is that exactly? As your baby grows, your posture begins to shift and your pelvis will tilt back in a way that requires less work from your glute muscles. Cardio is the best way to strengthen and add back what you’ve lost. Try exercises such as walking, running, cycling or swimming to re-train your glute muscles and see your rear-end again. It’ll take time but the benefits are worth it if your goal is to have a body similar to what is was pre-pregnancy. Another bonus to this approach is that your leg muscles also begin to tone up and you greatly improve your heart and lung health.