10 things that will happen to your body after childbirth
Pregnancy is a time of tremendous change for your body, but the changes don’t stop once you’ve delivered your Tot…
You’ve spent the last nine months growing a human inside you – it’s an incredible, transformative, awe-inspiring process (seriously: you grew a human with your own body!) and one that requires a lot of changes. Your baby needs to grow, so your stomach muscles stretch to allow it. Your baby needs to come out somehow, so your hips widen to accommodate it. Your baby needs to be nourished, so your body makes a placenta. It’s all pretty amazing. The rapid changes of pregnancy certainly slow down after you have given birth, and your body will eventually feel like it is back to “normal”, but for a little while there are a few more changes to come…
1. Your breasts will be larger than normal (even bigger than they were during pregnancy, most likely). After delivery, your hormones send a message to your breasts, indicating it’s time to start producing milk to feed your baby. For the first few days, you’ll produce colostrum, an incredibly nutrient-dense substance that’s thicker than the milk that will come later, and yellow in color. Packed with essential antibodies and immunoglobulins, colostrum is just what your baby needs straight after birth. It’s pretty amazing – colostrum protects against bacteria and viruses and also has a mild laxative effect, helping your baby pass their first stools.
After two or three days, your milk will “come in” and your breasts will become larger and very, very hard. It’s likely they will cause discomfort, but nursing your baby frequently is the best way to alleviate the pain (it will also allow your body to start regulating the amount of milk it produces). Cold packs also help. We love Kushies Organic Jersey Nursing Pads, to help protect against leakage, and a natural nipple balm like Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter, which nourishes sore nipples in those early days of feeding.
2. If you had a vaginal delivery, your vagina will be swollen and bruised for a few days (up to a week) after birth. It might look a little unusual but it’s perfectly normal – you can use cold packs to help decrease the inflammation. Wear organic underwear and organic pads when possible. Lying down rather than sitting will help with the bruising and lying on your side rather than on your back will also relieve the pressure. You might find sitting on a cushion more comfortable than sitting on hard chairs.
3. Your weight will go down. During the first week after birth alone, you’re likely to lose between four and six pounds of pure water weight. This is the result of both increased urination and perspiration. If you’re breastfeeding, you can expect to lose even more weight. Nursing burns 300-500 extra calories a day, and while you’ll likely be hungrier to compensate for the additional energy you’re burning, you’ll still probably lose weight as a result of breastfeeding.
4. Your uterus will contract. By the time you go into labor, your uterus is 15 times heavier than its pre-pregnancy size. And what goes up (in size) must come down. Your uterus will begin to contract after delivery (breastfeeding can help quicken the process) and sometimes, it can be painful (similar to heavy period pain). Use warm packs to ease discomfort and ask your midwife about painkillers that are safe for breastfeeding (if you’re nursing). You may still look like you are five or six months pregnant for a while after giving birth – go easy on yourself and give your body time to adjust, after all it took your body nine months to grow! If you are breastfeeding those extra fat stores you put down will come in handy nourishing your baby.
5. You’ll experience bleeding, whether you had a vaginal delivery or a C-section. After the birth, you’ll bleed quite heavily for about a week. This is your body’s way of shedding the lining of the uterus and any excess blood – in other words, entirely normal. It’s a good idea to pack some organic sanitary pads when you go to the hospital as the bleeding will be intense for the first few days. Don’t use tampons until you get the go-ahead from your doctor (at your six-week check-up, usually) – they can cause infections. For the first week or so, the bleeding will be frequent and heavy, and bright red in color. After that, it’ll fade to a rusty brown color and become less heavy. If you notice any large clots (bigger than a quarter), call your doctor as you may be at risk of a post-partum hemorrhage.
6. Your pelvic floor may need some attention. Pregnancy and labor demand a lot from your pelvic floor. You might notice, after delivery, that you accidentally leak urine. It’s nothing to be embarrassed by, and will be helped with regular pelvic floor exercises. Try and spend less time standing and more time sitting or even lying down (easier said than done, we know) and take your doctor’s advice before you hit the gym or put on your running shoes – being too ambitious with your exercise plans after childbirth can be counterproductive. (Click here for more advice on pelvic floor care after childbirth from our expert Sara Haley).
7. Your stomach will look quite baggy for the first two weeks after birth (and possibly longer), because it has expanded so much to accommodate your baby. Breastfeeding helps tighten this loose skin, and as your uterus contracts, your stomach will return to its old self. A healthy diet helps, and once you’ve got the OK from your physician, gentle exercise will get your muscles back to where they were.
8. Your hair may lose its luster. One of the lovelier biological side effects of pregnancy is thicker, fuller hair. But generally, this bonus only lasts for the term of the pregnancy itself, and you may find your hair falling out in the months after your baby is born. Don’t worry, you aren’t going bald – eventually the thinning will slow and your hair will return to normal. Remember to always use organic hair and skincare products when pregnant and nursing – the ingredients can pass into the bloodstream and onto your developing or newborn baby.
9. Your stitches will need looking after. If you had perineal stitches, keep them clean by bathing them in warm salt or plain water (don’t use bath products at all, these may cause infection). You might choose to not wear underwear at home, to reduce discomfort. These days, most perineal stitches are soluble, so you won’t need to have them taken out.
Sex after stitches may be a little painful or uncomfortable. Go slowly, use a lot of water-based lubricant, and if you don’t want to fall pregnant again, consider your contraceptive choices (it’s a myth that breastfeeding is a contraceptive, you can definitely still get pregnant while nursing!). If you’ve had a C-section, your scar will be puffy, slightly raised and a little darker than the skin around it. Watch for any signs of infection – red, inflamed skin will tell you – and clean the wound with warm water and plain soap. Allow it to air dry to avoid infection.
10. Your emotions may be fragile in the weeks after birth. Studies estimate that up to 80 per cent of new mamas feel weepy and irritable after giving birth. And it’s understandable – your body, your home, your life have undergone radical changes in a really rapid time frame. For most women, this feeling subsides significantly by the ten-day mark. If these feelings persist for you, see your doctor as soon as you can.
You might also feel scatter-brained and forgetful – again, this is entirely normal. In fact, scientists at the Australian Catholic University have confirmed that pregnancy does actually cause slight memory loss! Then there’s the lack of sleep, multi-tasking and general busyness of having a newborn, all of which can lead to forgetfulness. With more rest, you’ll be back to normal very soon.