Significant changes happen to your body during pregnancy and childbirth. These changes continue after your baby's born. Your postpartum body differs from your pre-pregnancy body. It needs time to heal and adjust. Remember that the changes improve and you can regain most of your pre-pregnancy body over time. It's important to know what to expect from your postpartum body and not view its changes as negative.
While many women prepare for labor and birth, they're often underprepared for the changes their bodies experience after the birthing process ends. One study found that women's dissatisfaction with their bodies increased during the postpartum period than during the late stages of pregnancy. After you deliver your baby, expect to see changes and know they're a natural part of the birthing process.
What to Expect the First Days Postpartum
Vaginal pain and discomfort. You'll likely experience vaginal pain and tenderness that improves after the first few days. The pain may be greater if you had an episiotomy, a tear, or needed stitches. If your pain increases with time, it could indicate an infection, and you should call your doctor. Ways you can help ease vaginal pain after childbirth include:
- Soak a few menstrual pads with witch hazel and put them in the freezer. Grab a fresh one to wear every few hours.
- When you need to urinate, use a bottle to squeeze water over the tender area. This helps limit the sting from urine on the perineum.
- Use pillows and cushions to relieve pressure on any sore areas.
- Take a shallow bath with a mixture of baking soda, herbs, and salt. This mixture is sometimes called a sitz bath. You can find it at a pharmacy. Try different temperatures until you discover the most soothing one for you.
C-section pain and discomfort. After a C-section, it's important to rest as much as possible as your body heals. Your doctor may recommend a pain reliever. Try breastfeeding positions that don't place the baby directly over the incision site, such as side-lying or the football hold. If you notice discharge or swelling at your incision site, contact your doctor as this could be a sign of infection.
Bleeding and discharge. For the first few days after childbirth, expect a heavy red discharge. This should lighten and shift to a mucousy watery discharge that can then continue for weeks. If you find that bleeding increases or you're filling more than one pad per hour, talk to your doctor.
Afterpain contractions. You may experience uterine contractions that feel like menstrual cramps as your body compresses uterine blood vessels and your uterus returns to pre-pregnancy shape. Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed.
Breast changes. Expect engorgement, or swelling, in the breasts during the first few days after childbirth as your milk supply comes in. Breastfeeding frequently during this time helps reduce swelling. Other comfort measures to try include:
- Cold cloths on the breasts between feedings
- Expressing a small amount of milk before feeding to facilitate latching
- A warm shower before feeding to make removing milk easier
What to Expect the First Weeks Postpartum
Changes in mood. It's common to experience changes in mood after childbirth. You may find yourself crying more than usual, feeling increased anxiety, and experiencing mood swings. These changes should decrease after the first couple of weeks, but if they don't, call your doctor as you may be experiencing postpartum depression.
Incontinence and changes in bowel movements. Your pelvic floor goes through some changes during pregnancy, and it may take time to build your strength back up. Some women experience partial incontinence for several months or more after childbirth. This worsens by sneezing or coughing. Consider doing Kegels, or pelvic floor exercises, to improve bladder control.
If you have difficulty passing bowel movements, try increasing your fiber intake and asking your doctor if they recommend a stool softener.
What to Expect the First Months Postpartum
Hair and skin changes. You may notice that your hair sheds more often for the first several months after childbirth. This is no reason to panic, as this is your body's way of ridding itself of the increased hair you had during pregnancy due to hormones. Stretch marks may seem vivid at first, and though they won't go away completely, expect them to fade with time.
Weight changes. Your weight may not return to what it was before pregnancy, even several months after childbirth. One study found that weight remained an average of 5.4 pounds more at nine months postpartum than pre-pregnancy weight.