With so much focus on pregnancy, we forget our bodies change after delivery, too. Learn 7 postpartum changes you didn’t know might happen.
Every mom has her labor stories, from contractions they didn’t see coming (“I thought I had gas!”) to rushing to the delivery room through traffic.
But what you don’t always hear about are the postpartum changes your body experiences those first few days and weeks.
During that time, all the focus is on the baby, from gaining enough weight to latching on correctly. In the middle of pediatric appointments and getting them to sleep, we forget we also have gone through a lot.
Many of us only learn about these changes as we experience them, not beforehand. Friends aren’t always forthcoming about these topics, many of which can feel private and embarrassing. And they can happen through a wide time frame, from immediately in the hospital to months at home.
So, what changes can happen with your body after giving birth?
7 postpartum changes you may not know about
It didn’t occur to me that my body would continue to change as it transitioned back to its pre-pregnancy stage. I focused so much on caring for a newborn that I overlooked the (now obvious) changes my body would have to go through after giving birth.
These are just some of the changes I either saw or had friends tell me about. I also surveyed my readers to see what changes they saw during the postpartum period and shared those as well.
Because as crazy as pregnancy can be, our bodies continue to change long after the baby is born. Check out these 7 postpartum changes you may not know about:
1. Your belly takes 4-6 weeks to go back to its pre-pregnancy size
You’d think that after the baby was out of your womb, your body would slim down right away. Unfortunately, you’ll need to hang onto your maternity clothes for a while.
Your uterus will go back to its regular, pear-sized shape, but not for another four to six weeks. (You might experience cramps while it shrinks.)
In the meantime, your body will look like it did when you were six months pregnant. Except unlike the six-month mark, you’ll have extra skin that will also need time to firm up and go back to its pre-pregnancy condition.
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2. A “period” for several weeks
Remember all those months you enjoyed not having a period during pregnancy? All that comes to an end after you give birth. But rather than a few days of bleeding like you would during a regular menstrual cycle, you’ll bleed for several weeks straight.
Called lochia, this is your body’s way of shedding its uterine lining of blood, collected over several months. You’ll bleed for the next few weeks and will need to wear a sanitary pad in the meantime.
3. Your body needs time to heal
Imagine you had a hospital procedure done, not related to giving birth. You’d likely stay in bed, rest for hours on end, and focus on healing your body.
Unfortunately, childbirth includes responsibilities for mothers that don’t always make that possible. You’re walking around, tending to the baby, and are up all hours of the night helping him sleep.
But despite all these responsibilities, your body will need to heal those first few weeks after giving birth.
Stitches from an episiotomy take two to three weeks to dissolve, though you may only experience discomfort for that first week. You may have had a c-section and healing from the incision, or constipation and hemorrhoids from difficult bowel movements (a stool softener can help).
No wonder one Chinese tradition includes staying indoors for 30 days after giving birth for postpartum care. I did this myself and only left the house for doctor’s appointments. After that first month, I had enough energy to take a walk or run an errand, but focused more on resting and healing my body.
4. Stomach muscles that can widen and weaken
“My stomach muscles are four fingers wide,” a friend described. She had diastasis recti, a condition where the large abdominal muscles separate because of pregnancy.
No matter how common the condition may be, it doesn’t happen to everyone (it didn’t to me). And thankfully, certain exercises can improve your body’s condition. Still, your obstetrician will want to monitor your abdominal muscles to help you strengthen them.
5. Heightened emotions
“You might feel sad after giving birth,” another friend warned, “There were times where I’d hold the baby and we’d both be crying.”
Yeah, right, I thought. That won’t happen to me. I figured she was more prone to feeling depressed. I’m not the sad type, I said to myself.
Fast forward a few months later and I too was crying along with the baby, and over the simplest things. I now knew what she meant.
Why do we go through mood swings after birth? A few reasons:
- Hormones: Hormone levels ave spent building up for months during pregnancy are now leaving your body all at the same time. Hormonal changes can affect our moods and make us feel heightened or unexpected emotions.
- Fatigue: We’re tired. Performing tasks sleep deprived is similar to being under the influence of alcohol. We’re not exactly functioning at our optimal best, leaving us an emotional wreck.
- Adjusting to parenthood: It’s hard caring for a baby, deciphering cries, and wondering if our lives will ever feel normal again.
The crazy part? All three factors happen at the same time. No wonder we feel like a hot mess after giving birth. That’s why it’s also common to feel symptoms of anxiety and postpartum depression, which you should bring up with your doctor.
6. Vaginal dryness
Remember the hormones we talked about? One of the hormones you’ll likely see disappear is estrogen, especially if you breastfeed. The lack of estrogen in your body will leave you with vaginal dryness, yet another discomfort to consider on top of everything else.
If you experience intense dryness and itching, ask your doctor to prescribe a topical ointment to ease your discomfort.
7. Milk won’t come in for a few days
I always assumed that when babies nursed after birth, they were drinking regular breast milk. Except your body won’t produce the creamy, white milk you might expect, but a yellow-colored texture called colostrum.
Colostrum contains a high concentration of nutrients in low volumes. This is why, if you pump in the initial days, you’ll barely get anything compared to later days.
Still, those few drops are perfect for newborns and exactly what they need. Their immature digestive systems can’t handle a large amount of regular breast milk yet, but it can digest colostrum.
Colostrum is also a laxative, helping your newborn pass his first bowel movements. And finally, it’s high in antibodies, boosting his immunity.
Even though colostrum may not look like enough, rest assured that this small amount of milk is his perfect food. A few days to a week later, your “regular” breast milk will come, right when he needs it. (Note: watch out for breast engorgement when it does.)
And while you ate an extra 300 calories a day while pregnant, you’ll now need to eat an extra 500 a day if you’re breastfeeding (double that for twins). Your body will use these extra calories to produce breast milk.
Readers chime in
I had asked readers on Facebook what postpartum changes happened to their bodies they didn’t expect after giving birth. Here’s what they shared:
- “Hot flashes and the fact that your feet get bigger during pregnancy and don’t go back. I gained almost a whole size with my first.”
- “The shakes and chills. Not one person told me I’d be shaking like a tree for almost two hours after giving birth.”
- “Swollen legs! My legs were like tree trunks!“
- “Backache and hair loss.“
- “The first time I stood up, I did not expect for fluid to basically fall out of my body. Just beware: everything is so stretched. Do those kegel exercises, girls.“
- “The hormone relaxin (which is increased in your body during pregnancy to relax muscles and ligaments so all your internal organs can rearrange themselves) stays elevated in your body up until six months after you stop breastfeeding. So until then, you’re at an increased risk of injuries to your joints because everything is loosey-goosey and unstable.”
Pregnancy takes its toll and changes our bodies for nine long months, but so too does it go through postpartum changes we don’t always hear about.
Your belly won’t slim down to its pre-pregnancy size and instead will take four to six weeks to shrink. Around the same time, you’ll also bleed for several weeks as your uterus sheds the blood lining its walls.
Your body will need to heal from childbirth, especially as you adjust to the challenges of caring for a newborn. Other postpartum changes can include a separation of stomach muscles or vaginal dryness.
And finally, your body won’t produce the regular breast milk you may be expecting, but rather a dense, yellow-colored milk the first few days. Don’t worry—this is normal and exactly what your baby needs during that time.
Take as much care of yourself after giving birth. Postpartum changes happen to every mom—even if they’re not as exciting to talk about as rushing through traffic in the middle of labor.
Get more tips:
- 12 Rules to Follow when Visiting a New Mom
- The Ultimate Mom to Be Guide: Everything I Wish Someone Had Told Me when I Was Pregnant
- When Do Newborns Get Easier?
- The Best Advice for New Parents (From Parents Who’ve Been There)
- What to Stock Up on Before Baby Arrives
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