If you are preparing to welcome a brand new family member, everything about your life is about to change. Your sleeping patterns, your routines, your budget, even the way you think about life.
Also, your body. Building a new human is a massive job, and it will leave its mark on your body in a big way. Here’s what to expect.
19 incredible ways your body changes after giving birth
- For the first few days after giving birth it’s normal to feel tired and have some aches and pains. A bit like after a good workout, because giving birth is a bit of a workout with all the pushing and contortions.
You may also experience abdominal discomfort as your uterus contracts back to size. This discomfort can be more pronounced during breastfeeding and feels a bit like menstrual cramps.
- While you are already tired from squeezing a human out of your body, you might continue feeling a bit shaky for a few weeks.
This is because new moms are at risk of iron deficiency due to blood loss during labour.
- You will have pain in your perineum – this is the area between your vagina and your rectum. During a vaginal birth this area stretches and may tear.
This pain will be even worse if you needed an episiotomy – this is a cut made by the doctor to help your baby out.
- If you had a C-section, the cut on your belly might be sore. A C-section counts as major surgery that needs recovery time, and you will also be tired from blood loss.
- After giving birth your body needs to get rid of leftover blood, mucus and tissue from your uterus. It does this in the form of a heavy vaginal discharge that could last up to a month or even more.
At this point you will likely be too tender to use tampons, and they could put you at risk for infection, so opt for heavy-duty pads.
For the first few days you will have to change your pad every couple of hours, and then the amount of discharge should decrease.
- You may experience incontinence, especially when sneezing or coughing, and your bowel movements may be affected.
Pregnancy changes your pelvic floor, and it can take some time to build your strength back up.
- An interesting fact about pregnancy is that your body produces around 50% more blood and other fluids to accommodate your growing baby.
This leaves you with swollen feet and other extremities. Your feet can get up to half a size bigger. After giving birth it takes a few weeks for all the extra fluids to leave your system.
As your body gets rid of extra fluids you might find yourself peeing and sweating – a lot.
- Then, of course, there is breast engorgement. After you give birth oestrogen and progesterone levels drop, and prolactin, the hormone that produces breast milk, increases.
This leads to your breasts becoming even bigger than they were during pregnancy, due to increased blood flow and milk. Engorgement peaks two to three days after birth, and your breasts will be hard and sore. Things will get better in two to three days if you are breastfeeding, or in about a week if you aren’t.
- Your belly takes a hard knock during pregnancy, as the skin has to stretch quite a bit to make room for baby.
Giving birth will leave you with stretch marks and excess flab, the extent of which will be determined by your age, genetics and the amount of weight you gain during pregnancy.
Your belly will get smaller again as your uterus shrinks back to its original size, which takes about six weeks. The skin might never go back to its original tautness because of how much it had to stretch.
- Stretch marks usually start out red, and take about a year to get lighter. One study found that they cannot be prevented, but that using moisturisers during pregnancy can help reduce the severity.
- Varicose veins affect around 40% of pregnant women, most often on the calves and thighs. They may improve after childbirth, but will probably not go away completely.
- Increased blood volume putting pressure on your veins causes haemorrhoids, which can take about 12 weeks postpartum to clear up.
- Since your abdomen muscles are stretched and weak after childbirth, your body will put extra weight on the back muscles, which can lead to backaches.
Poor posture during pregnancy can also contribute to this. It should clear up in the first six weeks after giving birth.
- Postpartum constipation occurs in the first week because of dehydration and pain medication side effects.
Abdominal surgery does cause constipation as well, so especially expect it if you are having a C-section.
- A lot of hormones on the loose in your body during pregnancy gives you fuller and thicker hair. After baby is born, your locks may thin out and you might notice that you are losing hair.
- You might think that your arms have nothing to do with giving birth, but even they will be affected.
Sore, weak arms are the result of large amounts of the hormone relaxin in your body during pregnancy, which can weaken the joints afterwards.
- Then there is the matter of your weight. Yes, you will gain weight. Expect it to show in the usual areas where women gain weight – the bum, thighs and hips.
It can take a long time to lose the baby weight – weight loss is always a slow process if you are doing it in a healthy manner.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself – your body did an enormous thing, it deserves a break. Being healthy is enough.
- Up to 70% of new moms get melasma – the ‘mask of pregnancy’. These are dark patches on the forehead, cheeks and upper lips, caused by hormonal fluctuations.
They fade after delivery, but often not completely.
- All the hormones gone wild can also give you acne. This will in most cases clear up again.
|Did you know?|
|Breastfeeding is often blamed for giving you saggy breasts, but the actual culprit is weight gain during your pregnancy. Ageing and smoking are also contributing factors.|
What you need to know about post-baby hormones
Pregnancy makes your hormones go wild.
“Some of your hormones go from the highest they ever will be to the lowest, just before delivery to just after,” says Ann Dunnewold, co-author of Life Will Never Be the Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide.
Here’s the gist.
Oestrogen and progesterone
Your levels of both these hormones drop dramatically right after giving birth, and that’s what’s behind the so-called ‘baby blues’. It’s quite normal to experience anxiety, sadness or irritability for a week or so after birth.
If these symptoms, however, are more intense, last longer and start interfering with your daily life, you need to get medical assistance. Postpartum depression is real and it is brutal.
This hormone floods your system directly after baby is born. It is one extremely valuable hormone, because it makes you want to love and protect your baby despite all the horrors your body has been through.
Also known as the ‘bonding hormone’, oxytocin switches on mothering behaviour. One part of being a mother is being able to spot danger in your child’s world. This can cause you anxiety.
Progesterone is a natural anti-anxiety substance, but since you are low on that after delivery, it’s easy to see how you could be very anxious with your mood all over the place after giving birth.
This is normal and it is okay. But make sure to speak to your doctor if you struggle to cope.
These hormones regulate body temperature, metabolism and organ function, and having a baby can affect them as well.
According to the American Thyroid Association, five to 10% of women suffer from postpartum thyroiditis, which can cause insomnia, rapid heart rate and fatigue.
|Day three drama|
|There are a few sources that claim the third day after giving birth is the worst. Hardcore baby blues kick in and you experience mood swings, teariness, feeling overwhelmed and anxious.|
You might find yourself crying uncontrollably about anything at all. You might feel like there is nothing left in your future apart from caring for a baby, and you might feel like no one understands.
The baby blues are normal. By day three the fuss over giving birth is beginning to fade and all you are left with are those crazy fluctuating hormones, as explained earlier.
As if all of this isn’t challenging enough, you also have a tiny, brand new person who needs you to survive, and who is probably not letting you get some much-needed recovery sleep.
Considering all of this, no one should be judging you for being emotional. Cry when you need to, and know that this too will pass. If it doesn’t, speak out. There is help.
Preparing for postpartum recovery
Many new mothers do a lot of research about the birthing process and about caring for a baby, but get caught unawares about everything their body goes through afterwards.
Here’s a handy list of items to gather while you are still pregnant. They will allow you to care for yourself during a time when another little life will become your main priority:
- Pain medication such as paracetamol to help with perineal pain and other pains and aches.
- A sufficient supply of maxi pads.
- Ice to use for ice packs. Icing the perineal area can help with pain relief.
- Witch hazel pads. These can further assist with pain management as well as help with postpartum haemorrhoids.
- A sitz bath is a shallow bath in which you can sit in to help relieve pain and itching.
- You will need a squirt bottle to rinse off the perineal area after going to the loo.
- Comfortable cotton underwear. Yes, granny panties are all the rage if you are a new mom.
- Comfortable nursing bras.
- Lanolin nipple cream to prevent and soothe cracked nipples.
- If you are breastfeeding, nursing pads will help to control leaky nipples.
- Stool softener.
- A postpartum recovery belt to support your muscles and help with back pain.
- A heating pad can help with aches and pains in your breasts.
There’s no getting away from the fact that having a baby might just make you feel like you’ve been hit by a bus – or worse. And no doubt it is daunting for a young mother.
But look at it this way. Many mothers have more than one baby, and this can only mean one thing: what you get far outweighs the pain and discomfort.