During pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through lot of changes. Although the pregnancy is over and you’ve got the gift of a living, breathing miracle in your arms, the challenges are just beginning.
You need to adapt to your new role while learning how to take care of your baby. During the first few weeks, you will spend most of your time feeding, diapering and comforting your baby. You naturally develop an emotional bond with your child.
But at the same time, soon you will notice or experience new changes in your body, too. As your body starts to recover and adjust to its new role, many things happen to your body.
Postpartum recovery can be tough and instead of panicking at the challenges, you must keep calm and have patience. Your body will start to return to normal again in a few months. Until then, go easy on yourself and do not hesitate to ask for help if you need it.
Here are 10 shocking things that happen to your body after giving birth.
1. Postpartum Blues
Postpartum blues, also referred to as “baby blues” is a common problem in almost 60 to 80 percent women. It is a mild and temporary form of depression with symptoms like mood swings, lethargy, feelings of loss, frustration, irritability, unexplained weeping, and insomnia.
The fluctuating hormone levels in the body are primarily responsible for mood and behavior changes after giving birth. Also, factors like stress and lack of sleep after a draining day of taking care of your newborn baby may contribute to postpartum blues.
While it is common to experience postartum blues or “baby blues” during the first couple of weeks following deliver, if the symptoms of depression persist then you could be suffering from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is a type of clinical depression that affects women within the first few months after childbirth. Also referred to as postpartum major depression (PMD), it occurs in approximately 10 percent of childbearing women.
In postnatal depression, a woman may have signs like feeling down, not enjoying things that she used to like before, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite and low self-esteem.
In such cases, it is important to talk to your doctor about it to treat the problem quickly.
2. Post-Labor Pains
With all the pushing and contortions of labor, it is very natural to feel washed out, tired and even painful. Pain can be felt in the ribs, abdomen and back as well as near your private parts.
After delivery, the uterus is shrinking back to its normal size and position, and this causes intense pain as it contracts down. After childbirth, the uterus is hard and weighs about 2½ pounds, but it goes down to just 2 ounces after about six weeks.
The pain feels like mild labor contractions, and often happens during breastfeeding. This is mainly due to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which encourages your uterus to contract.
The pain will be greater if you have given birth by cesarean, which is a serious, major surgery. Recovering from a cesarean takes more time.
The tearing during vaginal birth also will cause a lot of discomfort during the healing process.
The healing process varies from person to person, but in general, the pain or discomfort becomes more manageable about one to two weeks after giving birth. By six weeks, the pain will vanish completely.
To relieve pain and soreness:
- Lie down as much as you can, so that the pressure is taken off your bottom.
- Put a cold compress on your perineum to reduce pain.
- Rest whenever you feel the need, and give your body time to heal.
- Continue having a warm bath daily for at least a month.
- Start doing pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible.
If the cramping or pain persists, call your doctor immediately. It could be a sign of infection or another problem that requires medical attention.
3. Painful Breasts
Painful, large and swollen breasts are something that most new moms have to deal with.
Initially after childbirth, the breasts are soft as they contain a little colostrum, the rich, creamy first milk full of antibodies that help protect your baby from infection. However, after a few days as the breasts start making milk, they may feel hot, swollen and tender.
During this stage, the nipples become very sensitive and feeding may become extremely uncomfortable. This may even contribute to early weaning.
However, at this time, breast milk production tends to operate on a supply-and-demand system. So, try to breastfeed more and, with time, the discomfort and pain will be gone.
A 2015 study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal found that women who received intravenous fluids during labor had higher levels of breast edema postpartum and rated their breasts as firmer and more tender than women who did not receive intravenous fluids.
If you have a fever and your breasts are red and warm, don’t ignore it. This can be a sign of mastitis and breast abscess, both painful infections that need to be treated with antibiotics.
4. Vaginal Dryness
Many women suffer from vaginal dryness after childbirth. This problem is also experienced by many women during pregnancy.
Vaginal dryness can give any woman a difficult time, but bear in mind that it will gradually resolve on its own, after a few months.
Vaginal dryness mainly occurs due to ongoing changes in the hormone levels during and after pregnancy. Once the hormonal balance is regained, the problem of vaginal dryness reduces and disappears.
Along with hormonal changes, breastfeeding can cause vaginal dryness. The longer you breastfeed, the longer the problem will persist.
According to a 2000 study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 83 percent of female participants experienced sexual problems in the first three months after delivery and postpartum vaginal dryness is one of the reasons behind it.
To help deal with this problem, make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep the body hydrated. Also, avoid douches and personal hygiene sprays, which can irritate sensitive vaginal tissues.
5. Vaginal Bleeding
After delivery, many women suffer from seemingly never-ending bloody discharge from the vagina. This vaginal blood with small clots is called lochia. This problem is common, whether you gave birth vaginally or by caesarean.
Lochia is very similar to the bleeding you experience during your menstrual period, however, it is much heavier. It starts immediately following birth and usually continues for two to three weeks. In some women, the problem can last up to six weeks.
The bleeding is red at first, then brownish, and finally yellowish-white.
When experiencing postpartum bleeding:
- Use heavy-duty pads and change several times a day.
- Do not use tampons to prevent introducing bacteria into your still-recovering uterus and genital tract.
- Do not wear your favorite clothes immediately after delivery to avoid staining them.
- Rest as much as you can and avoid excess standing and walking.
- Do not do strenuous activities, as it will interfere in your body’s repair work and cause more bleeding.
Typically, postpartum bleeding does not cause any complications and will end on its own when your body is ready. However, if you notice very large clots or experience very heavy flow and there is a foul smell, consult your doctor immediately.
6. Post-Baby Belly
Once the baby is born, it does not mean that you will have a flat tummy. After delivery, most women will have a round belly.
The uterus, abdominal muscles and skin are stretched for months during pregnancy, hence it takes time for that part of your body to shrink back to its original shape. It may take months after giving birth to get a flat belly. For those who have a C-section, it may even be a year down the line to get a toned and flat belly.
In a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers found that weight gain in the first trimester was more strongly associated with weight retention at seven years postpartum as compared to weight gain during the second or third trimesters.
It is important to take initiative to lose the postpartum weight and restore your body’s original shape. Holding on to pregnancy weight can put you at a higher risk for chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
A 2009 study published in Women & Health found that postpartum weight gain and changes in body shape can result in body dissatisfaction, or a negative body image.
One of the best ways to reduce this type of weight gain is breastfeeding. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that breastfeeding reduces postpartum weight retention.
Along with breastfeeding, both nutrition and physical activity play an important role in the weight-loss process for anyone attempting to lose weight.
7. Hair Loss
After delivery, you may notice excessive hair loss. Do not panic, as this is normal.
During pregnancy, most women will have a massive mane of hair due to hormonal changes in the body that cause more hair follicles to be in the active growth phase than normal.
But soon after childbirth, a sharp decline in the estrogen level in the body sends more hair follicles into a terminal stage. This leads to excessive hair loss and thinning of scalp hair, which affects between 40 and 50 percent of women.
However, like most changes related to pregnancy and childbirth, it is temporary. The hair-loss period typically occurs within five months after the baby is born, and usually resolves within 15 months.
To fight hair loss after delivery and enjoy healthy and strong hair again, you must:
- Avoid pigtails, braids and any tight hairstyles that cause excessive pulling.
- Follow a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which contain flavonoids and antioxidants. Consult your doctor about supplementing your diet with vitamin B complex, biotin, vitamin E and zinc.
- Use shampoos and conditioners that contain biotin and silica.
- Do not comb or brush your hair when it’s wet.
- Avoid using blow dryers and other heated hair instruments.
8. Hemorrhoids and Constipation
The ongoing hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy and the postpartum period can slow down the gastrointestinal system and cause constipation. Also, pain medications prescribed for new moms can affect the digestive system and lead to constipation.
In addition, women who have hemorrhoids or tears during delivery can find it very difficult to have normal bowel movements, ultimately causing constipation.
To fight constipation, you can take a stool softener and eat foods rich in fiber content. Drinking warm liquids each morning can also help.
Not just constipation, childbirth can stress your rectum and cause hemorrhoids as well. A hemorrhoid is a painful swelling of a vein in the rectum that can cause intense pain, rectal itching, bleeding after a bowel movement and swelling in the area around the anus.
You can try a sitz bath, 2 to 4 times a day, to help hemorrhoids shrink. Applying witch hazel to the hemorrhoids can also help and try to sit on a pillow or waffle cushion to relieve pressure on the rectum. Sitting in a rocking chair or recliner may also provide relief.
9. Night Sweats or Hot Flashes
No doubt, you may have sweat a lot during labor, but after childbirth you may also find yourself sweating quite a bit during the first few weeks.
This happens due to the sudden change in the body’s estrogen level, which in turn messes with your body’s temperature regulation. It is also a normal way for your body to eliminate all the excess fluid retained during pregnancy. Sweating heavily during the night is most common.
You may also experience hot flashes, just like those associated with menopause.
A 2013 study published in Fertility and Sterility found that hot flashes were reported by over one-third of women during pregnancy and the postpartum period. The predictors of these hot flashes, including depressive symptoms, low education and higher body mass index, are similar to those during menopause.
There is nothing to worry about as things will get back to normal within a couple of months. In the meantime, take care of your body properly to ease the symptoms by following these tips:
- Your body may become dehydrateddue to heavy sweating, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids.
- Put a soft towel on your pillow to absorb some of the moisture.
- Wear loose, lightweight clothing to allow the sweat to evaporate.
- Sprinkle on some talc-free powder to absorb excess moisture and help prevent a heat rash.
10. Postpartum Thyroiditis
Postpartum thyroiditis, which means inflammation of the thyroid gland, is common after childbirth.
According to the American Thyroid Association, postpartum thyroiditis affects 5 to 10 percent of women. However, the good news is that thyroid function returns to normal within 12 to 18 months for 80 percent of women.
Pregnancy has a profound impact on how the thyroid gland functions, as the gland may be affected by the ongoing hormonal changes in the body. The thyroid is primarily influenced by two main hormones: human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone that is measured in the pregnancy test and estrogen, the main female hormone.
After a woman delivers a baby, inflammation of the thyroid occurs. This can cause both thyrotoxicosis (high thyroid hormone levels in the blood) and hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels in the blood). In postpartum thyroiditis, thyrotoxicosis occurs first, followed by hypothyroidism.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that treating the hyperthyroid phase of postpartum thyroiditis is for controlling the symptoms, whereas treatment of the hypothyroid phase is indicated for symptomatic relief as well as in women who are either breastfeeding or attempting to conceive.
You must get your thyroid level checked if you suffer from symptoms such as shakiness, palpitations, irritability, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, fatigue, increased sensitivity to cold, depression, dry skin and vaginal dryness.