Most people agree that pregnancy is a wonderful and beautiful thing. As women, it’s something that our body is just naturally made for – we are designed to carry and protect another growing and developing human inside of us. It really is an amazing thing!
However, all of that stops being so wondrous soon after the baby is born. In addition to caring for a newborn child, we also have to care for ourselves and our bodies as they begin the healing process and slowly make their way back to their pre-pregnancy condition… or something close to it. As tired new moms, we’re often left feeling physically and emotionally blindsided. What happened to me?!?! What is going on with my body?
Since most of us aren’t supermodels or celebrities with personal chefs, trainers, and live-in childcare, we don’t bounce right back into our pre-pregnancy jeans. Our tummies don’t snap right back into shape. New moms often go through an awkward and infuriating phase where the maternity clothes are too big and the pre-baby clothes are still too tight. Or even if we can manage to get into the clothes, they somehow don’t fit like they used to.
A new mom is exhausted, and rightfully so. At the same time, her emotions are all over the place. This is supposed to be one of the most joyful times in her life, but she may be weighed down with feelings of sadness, doubt, and frustration. And she’s tired… so, so tired. As natural as it is for a woman to adapt to her pregnancy and prepare for childbirth, the postpartum healing period can be a long and challenging road, making a mom feel like she’s being betrayed by her own body. Here are some of the common body struggles a new mom might face after childbirth.
You would think that once you have the baby and you’re no longer pregnant, that you’d lose a whole lot of weight right away, but no… There’s some truth to the saying “Nine months on, nine months off.” That weight didn’t appear overnight, so it’s not going to come off overnight, either.
Of course, you’ll lose 7 or 8 pounds of actual BABY weight. You can also expect to drop a pound or two from the placenta, blood, and amniotic fluid. And you’ll also start to lose some weight as your body begins to eliminate all the extra water from your body. So that’s maybe about 10-12 pounds.
No matter how badly you want to get rid of those pregnancy pounds, it’s not a good idea to start any crazy diets immediately after birth. Your body needs nutrients to promote healing and if you’re breastfeeding, you don’t want to deprive your baby of the calories he needs!
Some women are baffled to find that even weeks after giving birth, they still look pregnant. That’s because your abdominal muscles are stretched out from pregnancy and it takes awhile to get them back in shape.
Some lucky women are able to lose their baby weight pretty quickly, only to discover that despite being down several pounds, their pre-pregnancy clothes still don’t fit right. Many women discover that their hips and pelvis are wider after giving birth.
You might have noticed that your boobs got bigger during pregnancy, and swelled after birth as your milk came in. Just remember, what goes up… must come down. Many women find that once they stopped breastfeeding, their boobs become saggy and even smaller. On the other hand, some women end up with bigger, fuller breasts whether they breastfeed or not.
And that’s not all. Your feet can even change size during and after pregnancy, too. The weight added to your frame during pregnancy can flatten the arches of the feet, making your current shoes feel a little tight. Time to go shoe shopping!
Though it can be uncomfortable, and even embarrassing, leaking or dripping breasts are common after delivery. Your body is learning how to make milk and is trying to figure out some sort of schedule. Your boobs might spring a leak at any time without warning – even when the baby’s not there to nurse.
Your breasts might start to drip when you’re thinking about your baby – even if the baby’s in another room. Hearing a baby cry, even if it’s not your own, can also get things going. A warm shower can start your breasts dripping, or you might wake up wet. Sometimes you might drip from one breast while nursing on the opposite side.
The best thing you can do is stock up on nursing pads. They’ll absorb any leaks or drips and keep your clothes clean and dry. You can buy disposable or machine washable pads. Change them frequently to avoid irritation.
It was great going nine months without a period, wasn’t it? Well, look out. Aunt Flo will return sooner or later, but for several weeks after delivery, you’re going to be dealing with lochia. Lochia is a vaginal discharge that is made up of blood and tissue from the lining of the uterus. It starts off looking like a heavy menstrual period and dwindles down to a more intermittent spotting or discharge.
If you are breastfeeding, your periods might not return for several months. Some women might not even have a period until they stop breastfeeding altogether. If you’re not nursing, your period may return seven to nine weeks after delivery… meaning that once you’re finally done dealing with the lochia, your period is back.
And when it comes back, it might not be the same. As your hormone levels adjust, your period may be heavier and crampier than usual; although some women claim that their cramps are milder or don’t notice any change at all. Your period may also be erratic – coming irregularly, showing up earlier or later than it’s supposed to, and lasting longer or shorter than it normally did before you got pregnant. Remember that even if your period is out of whack, you could still be ovulating, which means there’s a chance you could get pregnant again. Use a reliable form of birth control if you’re not planning on having another baby any time soon!
You might have enjoyed glowing skin, strong fingernails, and thicker, fuller hair during your pregnancy, but after delivery, don’t be surprised if you start shedding like a cat! Many new moms find that they lose a lot of hair in the first few months after giving birth. Although it can be alarming to find clumps of hair clogging your shower drain or hanging from your hairbrush, this postpartum hair loss is totally normal – and thankfully, it’s temporary.
During pregnancy, high levels of estrogen can prolong your hair’s growing phase, meaning it will fall out less than usual. That’s what gives you that thick, luxurious mane. But after childbirth, those estrogen levels drop, and you begin shedding hair again. Don’t worry. Things will even out eventually. Hair loss peaks around 3 or 4 months postpartum. By your baby’s first birthday, the rate of new growth and shedding will return to normal.
Did you hear that? No, mama, you’re not going crazy. You might be feeling a little sleep deprived, but if you think you’re hearing your baby crying, only to discover that he’s fast asleep in his crib, you’re not alone. A lot of women complain of hearing “phantom cries” – sounds that don’t really exist.
A lot of researchers think that it’s a maternal instinct kicking in. Your senses are heightened and you’re waiting at the ready in case your baby cries so you can protect him, feed him, and take care of him - a mom's natural reaction.
Unfortunately, these phantom cries can occur at the worst times… Like when you finally take five minutes to shower. You may swear that you can hear the baby crying over the sound of the running water. The sounds can also come at night. This makes it difficult to fall asleep, when you’re on edge, listening for any sound your baby might make.
If you’re not in the mood… you’re not the only one. A lot of new moms find that they have no interest in sex after having a baby, thanks to that postpartum drop in estrogen. You’re so focused on taking care of your new baby and your family that sometimes it can even be hard to remember to take care of yourself. You’ve got a lot going on and you’re super tired. There might not be much time during the day (or night) for any romantic interludes, and even if there is – you just might not feel like it.
And even if you do feel like it, you should wait until your health care provider gives you the okay at your postpartum checkup. When the time is right, take it slow and try to take it slow – things might not feel the way they used to. Low levels of estrogen and breastfeeding may decrease vaginal lubrication, making things a little uncomfortable, so you might want to grab a tube of lube before you hit the sack. And of course, make sure you have a form of contraception available if you don’t want to get pregnant again.
Going through labor and delivery puts a lot of stress on your body – including your bladder, which may be temporarily swollen from all of the pressure placed on it during childbirth. For the first couple days after delivery, you might not feel like you have to pee at all. This is especially possible if you had a really long labor, an epidural, or a catheter inserted.
Without the baby pressing on your bladder, you might not feel the need to urinate as frequently as you did during pregnancy. Even if you don’t feel like you have to, it’s a good idea to try to go to the bathroom as soon as you are able because your bladder will fill quickly with all of the extra fluid your body is working to get rid of. If you don’t go to the bathroom frequently, you might have problems with leaking or wind up with a UTI.
Were you one of those moms who was super worried about pooping on the table during delivery? Well, now the tables have turned. Rather than worrying about pooping… you might be worried about NOT pooping. After delivery, many women have to deal with constipation.
Women can be constipated after childbirth for many reasons. If you had a long labor and were unable to eat anything, then it might be a day or two until you have a bowel movement because there’s simply nothing in your system that needs to come out. After a C-section, it can take a few days for your bowels to start functioning normally again. Taking pain medications during labor or after delivery can slow down your digestive system, which can lead to constipation. If you’re sore because you had a tear, an episiotomy, or are dealing with hemorrhoids, you might be afraid to go to the bathroom.
To beat constipation, eat high-fiber foods like whole grain cereal and bread, brown rice, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water, and maybe even some fruit or prune juice. And go for a walk… it might be painful at first as you’re recovering, but a quick trip around the block (or even around the house) might be enough to get things moving!
You would think that knowing how to breastfeed should come naturally, but women do struggle with it. Some women find that their babies have trouble latching, or the mom might find that latching on is actually quite painful. If that’s the case, the baby probably isn’t getting a mouthful of breast at the start of the nursing session. You want the baby’s mouth to be open wide with his chin pressed against your skin and his nose away from the breast.
Some moms might feel like their baby is gulping, choking, or especially fussy during nursing sessions. It could be that the mom is just producing milk so fast and forcefully that the baby is having a hard time keeping up. Some moms feel like their baby nurses all the time; others worry that their baby falls asleep all the time during nursing, and are afraid that their babies aren’t getting enough to eat.
If you’re having difficulties with breastfeeding and want to continue, you should contact a lactation consultant for advice.
Everybody always asks if the new baby is sleeping through the night. The problem is that, although the baby might finally be sleeping through the night… sometimes mom isn’t. Postpartum insomnia is when a new mom, one who desperately needs to sleep… just can’t.
Moms who suffer with insomnia often lie awake at night, worrying about their baby. They’re anxious and on edge. They’re afraid to fall asleep in case they won’t hear the baby cry. Or, if they finally do manage to fall asleep, they startle awake at the slightest sound, or even at those “phantom” baby cries we mentioned earlier.
“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is advice that everybody likes to give new parents, but it’s not always easy. To try to improve your chances for getting a good night’s sleep, make sure your partner is helping out – even overnight. If you’re breastfeeding, consider having someone give your baby a pumped bottle of breastmilk so that you don’t have to get up overnight.
Even if you find that you’re unable to doze off while the baby is napping, put your feet up and do something quiet and relaxing. Don’t worry about using that time to do chores or write thank you notes. Just rest.
You might think that if you haven’t gotten your period yet, that you can’t get pregnant. Nope. Remember that you ovulate, or release an egg, about two weeks before you have a period. So if you haven’t gotten your first postpartum period yet, it’s hard to to pinpoint when you ovulate – which means that unprotected sex could lead to another pregnancy.
If you don’t want to get pregnant, it’s best to use a contraceptive. While breastfeeding might keep your period away, and is thought to prevent pregnancy, it’s not your safest bet.
You’re better off using condoms and spermicide. You can use birth control pills, but if you’re breastfeeding, your choices are limited. (Breastfeeding moms shouldn’t take birth control pills that contain estrogen.) If you don’t want to get pregnant any time soon, you can have an IUD inserted after your uterus has fully healed. And if you used a diaphragm before you got pregnant and want to go back to it – you should get resized before having intercourse to make sure you have a proper fit.
Some moms experience excessive sweating at night after they give birth. This is your body’s way of trying to get rid of all the extra fluids you accumulated during your pregnancy. When you’re sleeping at night, or even if you’re just sitting still, you can sweat like you’ve just finished running a marathon. It’s normal, and it will eventually taper off as your hormones balance out.
All that sweating can keep you dehydrated, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. How do you know if you’re getting enough? If your urine is plentiful and pale in color, you’re good. If it’s dark or you’re not peeing a lot, then you need to drink up!
If most of your sweating happens overnight, put a waterproof pad on your side of the bed. Wear loose, comfortable pajamas (or skip them altogether.) And tell your partner to bundle up – crank up the AC or open a window if you have to.
Fluctuating hormones, stress, and exhaustion don’t just affect your body and mind – they can affect your skin, too. Some women who had great skin during their pregnancy might have trouble with dry skin, blemishes, and breakouts during their postpartum recovery. (Other lucky women might find that their skin clears up after giving birth!)
Some women develop what’s known as “the mask of pregnancy” – where patches of skin on your lips, nose, cheeks, and forehead get darker and discolored. Some women notice that their nipples, labia, and moles might be a shade darker, too. And the linea nigra? That might be there for awhile after birth, but it will eventually go away.
Those pregnancy stretch marks on your boobs and belly? They might get lighter, but they don’t always disappear entirely. They might be bright red or purple right after birth, but will eventually fade to a more silver color that kind of blends in with your skin.
Becoming a mom changes your brain. You’re a mom now – so you’re naturally more focused on parenting, nurturing, and protecting your baby. Those hormonal changes can cause an emotional roller coaster. Many new moms are overwhelmed by everything involved with parenthood, and although it’s a joyful, happy time, sometimes it’s a lot to take in and your emotions get the better of you.
You might feel the baby blues – feelings of sadness, weepiness, and sensitivity. These feelings are common, but should not be confused with postpartum depression or anxiety. Severe mood swings, feeling hopeless, thoughts of self-harm or harming the baby, and thoughts of suicide should not be overlooked.
Even if you’re not normally a worrier, motherhood introduces you to a whole new set of fears. You may worry about handling the baby, about whether or not the baby is getting enough to eat, and about knowing what to do when something goes wrong. Try to relax a little… It’s new to you, but you’ll figure things out eventually!