10 Things No One Tells You About Postpartum Recovery

Sarah Siebold MA, IBCLC writes about 10 of the top things we need to talk more about when it comes to postpartum life and recovery. 

Body changes postpartum

Information abounds about all things pregnancy. There’s no shortage of information about first trimester morning sickness, second trimester heartburn, or third trimester sleeplessness. But when it comes to postpartum life and recovery, information is limited, and women very often only learn about what to expect when they’re in the throes of these changes themselves. 

10 Body Changes After Pregnancy

Here are 10 things we should talk more about when it comes to life after birth: 

  1. Bigger feet after pregnancy
  2. Postpartum Contractions
  3. Allergies
  4. Postpartum back pain
  5. Postpartum hair loss
  6. Menstruation
  7. Breast changes
  8. Incontinence
  9. Flat bottom
  10. New life with baby

Scroll down to read more about these changes.

 

Growing feet 

Researchers from one study found that almost 70% of postpartum participants reported longer feet and shorter arches. Evidence isn’t conclusive, but pregnancy weight gain coupled with relaxin, the placenta-producing hormone that loosens ligaments and allows for cervical dilation, could be responsible for postpartum foot growth. 

Contractions that keep kicking 

Women the world over liken labor contractions to the most debilitating and gut-wrenching of period cramps. But what about the cramps that keep kicking after childbirth, the ones that help expel the placenta during the third and final stage of labor and contract the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size? What we don’t talk much about is how breastfeeding hastens this process; it speeds up these contractions and our postpartum recovery commences faster. So if you’re cradling your three-day-old newborn and still cramping, know that they, too, will pass, and might be more severe after subsequent pregnancies. If contractions get increasingly more intense or seem atypical, reach out to your doctor for personalized clinical care.

Allergies 

Hormonal shifts after pregnancy sometimes change the way our bodies react and adapt to the outside world — and postpartum allergies are one such way. During pregnancy, the body intentionally suppresses its own immunity so as not to reject the growing fetus as a foreign and therefore dangerous intruder. Once the body’s defense mechanism kicks back into gear after birth, it sometimes takes the job too seriously and attacks outside forces that used to be inconsequential. That’s where allergies come in. Some postpartum women are allergic to foods that were once staples in their diets; others develop skin irritations from products that never posed a problem in the past. What’s helpful to know is that these allergenic flare-ups are often temporary.

Core Muscles  

Postpartum women generally see their doctors for a six-week check-up, during which time they get the go-ahead to resume exercise and intercourse. And while there’s the intuitive knowledge that core muscles have been dormant for many months while growing a baby, the tendency to jump back into a high impact exercise routine is pervasive. When core muscles aren’t strong enough to activate during exercise, the low back overcompensates. Add to this the almost incessant picking up and carrying of a growing baby and many postpartum women suffer from sometimes debilitating and chronic back pain. 

Baby Hairs

Newborns usually lose the hair they’re born with and grown in the hair they’ll keep through childhood. Postpartum women lose hair, too, and it’s called postpartum alopecia. Hair loss after pregnancy and birth is caused by a dramatic hormonal shift, and it often occurs weeks or months into postpartum life. Many women report clumps of hair falling out in the shower and a thinning of the hair around their front hairline. This shedding of hair is temporary, and many report hair regrowth anywhere from 6 to 12 months postpartum. 

Return of Menstruation  

Many categorically assume that breastfeeding inhibits the return of menstruation — and while  often the case, breastfeeding doesn’t universally preclude the return of a woman’s fertility. The Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM) is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy and as effective as hormonal birth control as a safe family planning option, so long as: 

  1. Baby is under 6 months of age. 
  2. Baby is exclusively breastfed, given no pacifiers or bottles, and is breastfed on demand both day and night. 
  3. Mother and baby sleep in close proximity to each other. 
  4. Mother’s period has not returned (normal postpartum bleeding, called lochia, is different from menstrual bleeding).

It’s important to remember that fertility can return while breastfeeding, but every woman’s body responds differently to the hormones of lactation. Whether or not menstruation has returned during breastfeeding, it’s always best to consult with your doctor about birth control options or family planning methods that feel right to you. 

Breast Changes 

A woman’s breasts undergo such massive changes during pregnancy and after childbirth: they grow, they ache, they leak. One of the most surprising and sometimes alarming breast changes for postpartum women occurs around the 3-month mark when their breasts feel suddenly less full. The fear is that milk supply has vanished overnight, but the truth is much less grim. When milk increases in volume a few days postpartum, the goal is for the body to activate the right machinery, as it were, to make enough milk for our babies. It takes anywhere from 6-12 weeks for the postpartum body to regulate milk production and produce the amount baby needs as opposed to a much higher volume. The result is a breast that feels lighter, even empty. Despite this feeling and a decrease in breast size, lactating parents are always producing milk, even when it feels like there couldn’t possibly be anything there.  

Incontinence

There’s a pervasive assumption that women who have birthed babies will be automatically burdened by postpartum incontinence, a leaking of urine that happens involuntarily. But why does it happen? Pelvic floor muscles weaken during pregnancy, and some women suffer damage to the nerves that are responsible for bladder control. While postpartum incontinence may seem inevitable, it doesn’t have to continue and can be managed with the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist.  

Flat Bottom

What the internet calls “Mom Butt” is a real postpartum experience for many breastfeeding parents. The truth about this slowly flattening behind is that the production of breastmilk for our young actually melts away our own gluteal-femoral fat to do it, thereby helping to turn our fat into the food source for our young. 

A New You

Our physical bodies undergo changes after childbirth, and so do our emotional and spiritual ones. While we know intellectually that becoming a mother is a shift in identity so great, we can’t possibly know how much that change will affect our sense of self, the lens through which we see the world, and the way in which we understand our own place in relation to others. We need to talk more about this shift from non-parent to parent, how long it takes to process, and what that looks like in the weeks and months following birth. 

 

 

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