Throughout your pregnancy, you’ve watched as your once-familiar body morphed into something almost unrecognisable, taking on new shape, growing new aches and pains, and developing not-so-pleasant digestive issues you’re embarrassed to even talk about. You might be thinking, “I can’t wait for this baby to come out so I can have my body back.”
Uh, not so fast (sorry!). The truth is that once your baby is finally out of your belly, your body goes through a ton of changes that are foreign and strange and, yes, sometimes disgusting. I remember what it felt like when my breast milk started coming in, and how I was convinced that these giant, hard, painful boulder-like boobs were literally going to rip away from my body. Or how a few days after I had my twins, I was walking around the maternity ward, when a labouring woman stopped me to say, “How much longer will it be?” My belly still looked pregnant?! Yes, my belly still looked very much pregnant. The horror!
So in addition to prepping the nursery and taking baby-care classes, it’s important to educate yourself on what exactly is going to happen to your body during that postnatal period. By knowing what to expect, hopefully you’ll worry less (and be prepared to deal!). Here, Dr Sheryl A Ross, an doctor in a big city private practice, breaks it all down:
1. The pain of giving birth doesn’t disappear overnight. If you have a vaginal delivery, it’s likely that you’ll experience some tearing during childbirth. Using ice packs (which you should change every few hours) for the first day or two will definitely help with the pain, but you can expect a lot of soreness, from front to, er, back, for several days. Unfortunately, your vagina won’t be fully recovered for about six to nine weeks. If you delivered via casearean, it may take several weeks to be able to walk more than a few blocks, and getting in and out of bed will be painful. You may also have numbness and/or tightness around your incision for months.
2. It will probably hurt to pee. After basically pushing a giant melon out of your vagina, everything below the belly button has been fairly traumatised, including your bladder. If you experienced a small tear near your urethra during vaginal childbirth, it may burn when you pee as well for a few days. If you had a casearean, the catheter they used for the procedure may cause some burning during urination as well.
Related: 21 Things Only Mums Who Breastfeed Know
3. And, you might pee your pants. Yes, this is common after a vaginal delivery — and it can happen for weeks, months, even years after having a baby. Dr Ross recommends doing daily Kegel exercises both during your pregnancy, and after having a baby, to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. That will help prevent little dribbles when you cough, sneeze, laugh or exercise.
4. You’ll bleed a lot, regardless of the type of delivery you had. For sure, your doctor probably warned you that there would be blood (called lochia). Unfortunately, it may be more heavy than you were expecting, and can be unpredictable. Just when you think the flow is getting lighter, it may become heavy again. While lochia is especially bad in the first week, it can typically last for several weeks.
5. Your breasts will feel like bowling balls. As I experienced, when your breast milk starts to come in, your boobs get really hard and sore. Then, once your baby learns to latch on, the letdown freakin’ hurts! Not only does the letdown sting and your nipples get raw and blistered as they get accustomed to the sucking, but your uterus also cramps up while you’re feeding. So it’s like your body is being assaulted on two fronts.
6. You might get major night sweats. Within the first 48 hours after having your baby, you may sweat profusely as your oestrogen levels drop and the prolactin hormones start to rise, both of which stimulate the production of breast milk. While it’s definitely uncomfortable, it’ll ease up in about four to six weeks.
7. The baby will be out, but you may still look pregnant. It takes about six weeks for your uterus to return to its pre-baby size, so in the meantime, it might still look like you’re a few months pregnant. Not only that, but your tummy skin will be fairly loose and flabby, still with visible stretchmarks (which sadly, may never go away). According to Dr Ross, you shouldn’t expect to get your tummy back to the way it looked pre-pregnancy for about nine months (and even then, it may never return to the way it was exactly).
8. You’ll start to lose your hair. Remember how gorgeous your hair looked when you were pregnant? That’s because you weren’t losing as many strands as you usually do. Once the baby comes though, you may suddenly feel like your hair is falling out like crazy. Don’t worry, you’re not going bald. Your mane is just making up for lost time, but it’ll go back to its normal shed cycle from six months to a year postnatal.
9. You’ll have no sex drive. No, new mummyhood isn’t particularly sexy, but if you’re breastfeeding, your libido is likely to be at rock bottom. You can blame the hormones, as well as the fact that you’re just utterly exhausted. While communication is hard in the first few months, it’s important to discuss your feelings with your partner so he knows it’s no reflection on him. (Yes, you may think he should just understand, but he might not.)
10. Your body shape will probably be different… permanently. Many new mums are surprised when, after months of exercise and dieting, their post-baby bodies still aren’t what they once were. The truth is that pregnancy changes your body so much that you may suddenly carry weight in places you never did before. Maybe you’re suddenly very wide-hipped, or you have saddle bags, or your butt is actually sort of flat and shapeless. Still, women’s biggest complaints tend to be the changes to their belly and their boobs–it’s the pooch that just won’t go away, and the deflated breasts you’re left with after breastfeeding that are often the toughest to accept.
11. You will likely get some post-baby blues. As happy as you may feel about your new baby, it’s incredibly common for new mums to feel overwhelmed, stressed, tired and, yes, bummed out, due in large part to the change in hormones. Add to that the pain and sleepless nights, and you’re not going to feel like yourself. While the blues are normal (Ross estimates that about 80 percent of women go through it), postnatal depression is not. So if you feel unable to take care of your baby or are having dark thoughts, talk to your doctor immediately. Regardless, be sure you’re asking friends, family, and your partner for help. It really does take a village!
More postnatal info:
- How to Heal Diastasis Recti, According to an Expert
- Postnatal Birth Control: What Option Is Best for You?
- My Postnatal Depression Was So Severe I Didn’t Recognise Myself