There’s no doubt that becoming a parent changes everything; but there is nobody who experiences that more significantly and as energetically as a mother. Pregnancy is an absolutely incredible process – as is childbirth – but those changes require a tremendous amount of change, elasticity and endurance from the female body.
After you give birth to your baby, your body will never be the same. While some things will shrink back, un-stretch and re-shape themselves – others may not, or they may not to the degree that you were used to before. Or, you may find things reveal themselves slowly – things you never really expected.
Is there something that’s thrown you for a loop? Are you experiencing postpartum pain, discomfort or changes that don’t seem quite normal? Schedule a consultation with Women’s Health Associates and our OBs or Midwives will be happy to check in and see what’s going on. (913) 677-3113.
The External and Internal Body After Childbirth
While we will cover the basics of what is normal, and what you should expect after you have your baby, we also want to focus on the more internal changes that are pretty darn common, but aren’t spoken about all that much in the local coffee shops.
Many women neglect to mention these persisting issues to their OB/GYNs because:
- They’re embarrassed
- They think, “some things just don’t get better after having a baby”
- They’re so overwhelmed by their new life and expanded family that they never get around to it
Here are some of the things that you can expect to experience after childbirth:
Contractions and Lochia. One thing you may not know: when your baby first latches on and breastfeeds, it will cause your uterus to contract and return to its normal shape. Occasionally, these muscle contractions cause the same types of sensations that you felt during the beginning stages of labor – and that can be pretty shocking for a new mom. These minor contraction twinges or pains are totally normal and will fade within the first week or so.
During that first week to 10 days, you will also experience vaginal bleeding and leakage as your body sheds the fluids leftover in the uterus after the baby. After the first several days, this bleeding will die down. If it increases, it’s a sign that you are doing too much and need to spend more time in bed with your new baby. If the bleeding increases and doesn’t seem to let up when you rest – call your doctor to check in.
Extra Weight. Here’s the most obvious one; most women gain somewhere around 30 to 40-pounds over the course of a nine-month pregnancy. It can take every bit of that amount of time, or even longer, to take it back off again. A quick poll around our office showed that most women didn’t feel “back to normal” or even “close to back to normal” for about two full years after their baby was born. Eat well, exercise moderately at least three to five times a week, and give yourself a break.
Weight Loss Tip: Breastfeeding burns extra calories and, as we mentioned above, it also helps shape and tone those uterine muscles. Breastfeeding your baby for at least six months (one year or more is optimal) is one of the best things you can do for you baby, yourself and your postpartum body.
Stretchier Skin. While the body’s ability to elastically expand and contract is pretty amazing, some women’s bodies do it better than others. Genetics play a big role in this. If your mom and sisters didn’t have too many stretch marks, and their bodies returned to normal, yours will probably follow suit. The opposite also applies. The older you are when you have your baby can make a difference, as will the number of pounds you gained during pregnancy or how many babies you have had.
Got Stretch Marks? Retin-A can help (after you’re pregnant and done breastfeeding) as can dermabrasion if your stretch marks are on the more dramatic side. Otherwise, you can do your work to embrace your new body and know every change was made to create a miracle – there’s a whole tribe us right with you, sister!
Got Flabby Skin? Unfortunately, stomach flab won’t disappear using any of those tantalizing “over the counter” products (or electronic exercise belts!!). Tummy controlling underwear and undergarments are the quick fix – while abdominal exercises that focus on the transverse abs can help you out in the longer run. We like these 5 Exercises For Your Post-Baby Belly.
Saggier Breasts. This is a very common side effect of getting pregnant, breastfeeding, hormonal changes and aging. Even women who don’t breastfeed may find their breast sag more after childbirth. While those over-the-counter breast pills and creams don’t work, a good fitting bra designed to provide support sure will.
Also, talk to a physical trainer about exercises that firm up the pectoral muscles, since that will also provide a little natural lift for your bosoms.
Internal Postpartum Changes Require Attention Too
Your pelvic floor has been through the ringer, as has each of your pelvic organs and the connective tissues that bind them together. Depending on the delivery method, you may have pelvic floor injury, vaginal trauma or C-section scar tissue that simply isn’t healing well. These issues are often overlooked – even by highly educated and well-meaning OBs.
The following are some things to pay attention to. If you notice any discomfort that seems beyond what you expected, lasts longer than you thought, or lasts longer than the six-weeks (vaginal delivery) or eight- to ten-weeks (C-Sections) after your deliver, do not hesitate to contact your OB/GYN. If she or he doesn’t seem attentive, or doesn’t have a solution – check in with a pelvic physical therapist near you!
Urinary Incontinence. We joke about “peeing every time we sneeze,” but it’s really no laughing matter. While perfectly normal for the first several weeks postpartum, normal, post-partum urinary incontinence should clear up with time and regular, properly done kegel exercises. Incontinence or leakage that lasts beyond that point could indicate a mild pelvic prolapse (things are starting to sag or drop lower into the pelvic floor, which compromises the bladder and/or urethra) or muscle weakness that requires further attention. Read Living With and Healing Urinary Incontinence for more information.
Pain During Intercourse. First, we want to be very clear about this “cleared for sex after six-weeks” myth. So, physically – you may be given the “all clear,” after six-weeks, but that doesn’t mean a postpartum woman is ready for a sexual relationship with her partner. You may still be tender, nervous, experiencing anxiety over delivery trauma, sore or just plain worn out. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. You may need to develop a sensual relationship with your partner, via baths, massage, kissing, gentle foreplay and so on before you’re ready. There are plenty of ways for him to find release with you, without vaginal sex having to be the end-all-be-all event.
Now, if you tore – or had an episiotomy – that required stitches – you may also have vaginal scarring that makes sex uncomfortable. Or, you may have numbness where nerve tissues were damages. Don’t take these things lightly. Be clear with your doctor and confide in detail regarding your issue. Sometimes, gentle self-massage using vitamin E oil will help to break up scar tissue and stretch the vagina. If that doesn’t work, pelvic floor exercises might help to create stronger pelvic floor muscles and tissues. In very extreme cases, plastic surgery may be an option.
Again, if your OB isn’t helpful, contact a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floors and it can be a life saver.
- Pelvic floor weakness, prolapse or trauma can potentially cause:
- Rectal incontinence or discomfort during bowel movements
- Chronic pelvic or lower back pain
- A feeling of fullness or that something is pushing through the vaginal canal
- Irregular bleeding
- Spotting or bleeding after intercourse
- Pain or discomfort that is higher in the vagina or pelvic area during sex
Never assume that you have to live with physical discomfort or pain after childbirth. And never take a first doctor’s, “there’s nothing I can do,” for an answer. In almost all cases, there is something that can be done to treat, heal and improve any lasting changes that occur as the result of giving birth to your beautiful baby.
Contact Women’s Health Associates and work with a team of women’s health providers and advocates who are here to provide compassionate care at every stage of your life.