How does your body change after you have a baby? WUKA experts discuss the physical changes that occur in the postpartum period.
The changes that your body goes through during pregnancy are immense. It’s a life changing experience, and one that will inevitably leave your body looking and feeling quite different afterwards. And this is to be expected. After all, you grew and delivered a whole new person- nothing will be the same after that amazing feat!
During pregnancy, some of the changes you can expect to see (alongside the obvious swelling to the abdomen as baby grows!) include:
If you experience pain or discomfort alongside these changes, speak to your midwife for advice.
In the immediate aftermath of having your baby, your body doesn’t just magically spring back to it’s former glory. The changes that have taken place over the previous nine or so months will take a lot longer to revert back, and in some cases they might not go back at all.
Generally speaking, during the first few weeks after your baby is born, it’s completely normal to have a saggy tummy that in some ways still looks pregnant. Your uterus will shrink back down, but it won’t happen overnight.
You may have stitches to the perineum (due to tearing or an episiotomy) or abdomen (due to a caesarean section) that will require extra care and attention. You might experience piles, temporary loss of bladder control and night sweats as your hormone levels continue to fluctuate. You will also experience postpartum bleeding (lochia) that can last for up to six weeks.
Make sure you have some postpartum period pants to absorb the flow, and to keep you dry and comfy as your body recovers. These pant are made to gently support your tummy while things settle down, sitting comfortably above c-section scars and with a leakproof layer that extends all the way to the back so that you can sit and sleep with confidence.
Suffice to say that this is a time where self care and a devotion to practising kindness towards yourself and your body is a must.
Some physical changes that take place during pregnancy and in the postpartum period can be longer lasting, and again this can be totally normal. It can take time for things to go back to normal, if they do, and it’s definitely not a race to get there. Your body will recover at it’s own rate.
Some of the changes you can expect to see after pregnancy include:
According to this study carried out by the British Medical Journal, Diastasis recti (separation of the stomach muscles) can be common after birth. It’s caused by the growing uterus pushing the muscles apart, and for most women they will return to normal within 8 weeks post birth.
You can check the recovery of these muscles easily, following advice from the NHS here. Pelvic floor exercises are crucial in helping the muscles to return to their previous state and for the gap to narrow.
Speak to your doctor if your baby is older than 8 weeks and you still have muscle separation- particularly if you’re also experiencing associated back pain. You may be referred to a physical therapist.
You might have noticed changes to your skin pigmentation during pregnancy, particularly if your skin is dark. These changes are caused by hormones, and they can take up for a year to go away.
Make sure you use a high factor sun block to protect your skin form UV exposure, as this can make the pigmentation worse.
Anaemia during pregnancy can be common, as your body needs more red blood cells for both you and your baby. It can be made worse if you don’t eat enough foods that are rich in iron, and if you’re carrying more than one baby too.
Post birth, anaemia can still be an issue, and you might need to take iron supplements to help. Speak to your doctor if you feel especially tired or unwell.
Back pain is common during pregnancy, as your body grows and your muscles stretch to accommodate your growing baby. After birth, back pain can occur as a result of physical exertions during labour, and due to the day-to-day demands of being a parent too. In some cases, diastasis recti can also cause back pain.
Your doctor can give you advice on dealing with back pain in the postpartum period; the NHS advice includes:
According to this study, core exercise are great for strengthening your back, helping to ease pain- but speak to your doctor or physical therapist before you start. Gentle yoga can be a great way to help strengthen the core and pelvic floor.
Both the physical act of giving birth and the effect of hormones can cause changes to your vagina in the postpartum period.
Some women might experience vaginal dryness due to the fluctuating hormones, and in particular if you’re breastfeeding. It’s thought that lower levels of oestrogen are to blame here, and things should even out again over time. If you experience pain during sex due to vaginal dryness, speak to your doctor to find out what treatments are available to you to ease this symptom.
If you had a vaginal delivery, you might notice other changes down there. Feeling bruised and swollen is normal post-birth, and this will ease off after a few days. In most cases though, your vagina might not regain it’s previous shape- yet another reason why pelvic floor exercises are vital, as they will help to strengthen the muscles.
Urinary incontinence is very common in the postpartum period. You might notice that you leak urine when you laugh, cough or sneeze- and while this is normal, it’s not something we really like to talk about.
During pregnancy, hormones help to stretch the pelvic floor muscles to accommodate your baby during birth. Theses muscles can take some time to return to normal, and this can lead to weakened bladder control, AKA stress/ urinary incontinence.
Wearing WUKA period pants can help absorb the odd leak too, plus they’ll keep any fluid away from your body so you stay nice and dry too.
Varicose veins are also common during pregnancy, and especially if you have a family history of them. They’re caused in part by an increase in blood during pregnancy, which can put extra strain on the veins; hormones during pregnancy can also cause the blood vessel walls to relax, which can be another risk factor for varicose veins.
According to the NHS, varicose veins should go away within four months post birth, but speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.
Stretch marks are very common during pregnancy, as the skin is forced to stretch to accommodate your growing baby. Not everyone gets them though, and a lot depends on genetics as well as hormonal changes.
While you can’t make stretch marks disappear, they do fade over time and become less noticeable. You can use a god moisturiser to keep the skin hydrated and there are some treatments that your doctor or beauty therapist might recommend to help. Bear in mind though, that treatments for stretch marks can be costly and might not give you the results you want.
Early on in pregnancy, you might notice changes to your breasts as they start to grow in size, ready for the production of milk to feed your baby. Whether you breastfeed or not, post-birth your breasts will become very full and swollen, and in some cases quite painful too. This is normal, and it’s part of the milk production process.
If you breastfeed, you’ll notice your breasts regularly fill with milk when a feed is due, becoming ‘flatter’ afterwards. If you don’t breastfeed, the initial fullness will gradually ease off.
Long term, there’s a really good chance that your breast won’t look the same after your baby is born. Some women find they change in shape and/ or size in the postpartum period, and this is normal. Investing in a good, comfy bra can make a world of difference, and always make an appointment with your doctor if you notice a lump or anything else you’re concerned about.
Lots of women enjoy thicker, more shiny hair during pregnancy, which is definitely one of the more positive side-effects of fluctuating hormones. Sadly though, lots of women also experience hair loss in the postpartum period, and this can seem quite alarming at first.
The good news is that most hair loss is temporary, and should settle down within a month or so after your baby is born.
Hormones are again to blame when it comes to dental problems you might experience during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. According to the NHS, your gums are more susceptible to plaque, which can lead to inflammation and bleeding. So keep an eye on this, and never skip your dental appointments.
Post-birth, NHS dental treatment is free of charge until your baby sis 12 months old, so make sure you see a dentist if you’re concerned about anything.
There are a lot of changes that your body goes through, and while not everyone will experience all of the above, many women will find it difficult to adjust to a ‘new body’. Add to this the pressure we place on women to ‘bounce back’, and the changes that take place can feel overwhelming.
The postpartum period is a time of recovery, so practising self care is essential. Allowing yourself at least 12 months to recover, and accepting that some changes could be permanent is the first step in adapting to this new normal. At the end of the day, the changes you see on your body are there for a very good reason, so be kind to yourself.
Some physical changes that take place during pregnancy can be permanent, and others might only be temporary. It can take up to 12 months for your body to fully recover after birth, and this time scale can vary from person to person.
Accepting your body and being kind to yourself in the postpartum period is essential for wellbeing, so precise self care and try not to judge yourself too harshly.
It can take up to 12 months for your body to recover after pregnancy, but it might never be ‘back to normal’ again. Lots of massive changes have taken place and some changes might be irreversible due to this.
In the postpartum period, pelvic floor and core strengthening exercise are really important, as they will help to tighten up the muscles that have loosened during pregnancy. Speak to your doctor about the best exercises for you, and when is the right time to start.
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