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Caring For Yourself

Life with a new baby is wonderful, but it can also be unpredictable and demanding – making it difficult for you to look after your own needs and emotional wellness. We are here to help.

Post Pregnancy Body

Being pregnant and giving birth puts a woman’s body through a lot, and may even change it forever. For many new moms, getting their ‘old’ body back is important and can cause emotional distress and even depression.

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Truths About Your Post-Pregnancy Body

Allow time to recover and renew

After giving birth, your body will gradually adjust to a post-pregnancy state over a period known as postpartum. Contrary to social media posts featuring celebrities with trim post-baby bodies, these changes don’t happen quickly. For instance, it takes time for your belly to shrink and for your hair growth to return to its regular pattern.

It’s easier to be patient when you know what to expect. What’s more, learning about the post-birth experience and potential warning signs, can save your life.

How long will I bleed after I give birth?

Lochia — vaginal bleeding after birth — lasts about four weeks. Plan to wear a pad for protection so you can go about your normal activities. The blood will change from red to light red to dark pink after the first week. It should then get thicker and look yellowish. Call your health care provider if you’re soaking more than one pad in an hour, if there are large clots, if you’ve noticed that the lochia smells foul, or if it returns to a bright red color after having been lighter.

Will I have cramps?

Your uterus is a muscle that contracts as it returns to normal size. Cramp-like pains can last about three days. Breastfeeding stimulates oxytocin, a hormone that can help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy state. This may cause uterine cramps during the first few days after birth. Talk to your doctor about taking ibuprofen or another pain reliever.

What medicines are safe to take while breastfeeding?

The Infant Risk Center has a hotline for questions regarding over-the-counter drugs while pregnant or nursing. Call 1-800-352-2519.

You can also check LactMed, an online resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, or mothertobaby.org.

Are hemorrhoids after birth normal?

Yes. The weight of the baby’s head in the birth canal or strain of pushing can cause hemorrhoids, which are swollen, inflamed veins in the rectum and anus. You may also experience a tear in the perineum — the area between the vagina and rectum — that requires stitches.

At the hospital, you’ll receive a plastic bottle with which you can squeeze warm, soothing water over sore areas. Follow the instructions and keep the area clean. A sitz bath is a shallow basin of warm water in which you sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Medicated sprays can numb the perineum. Sitting on a donut-shaped pillow — available in most drugstores — can help protect your bottom when you’re seated.

Will my bathroom habits change?

You might be constipated for a few days. Drink plenty of fluids and eat a fiber-rich diet.
You may need to empty your bladder more frequently. It’s your body’s way of getting rid of the excess fluid you retained during pregnancy and any residual IV fluids you received during labor. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing incontinence, a common postpartum problem when you can’t control your urine or stool.

What should I expect after a cesarean?

A cesarean is a major surgery during which a cut is made in the lower part of your belly. Follow instructions regarding the care of the incision. Call your health care provider if you experience:

  • Redness, swelling and/or warmer skin around the incision.
  • Fever.
  • More pain or tenderness around the area or severe belly pain.
  • Any drainage from the incision.
  • An opening of the incision.

What about my breasts?

The size of your breasts may change during pregnancy. After giving birth, your breasts may change dramatically depending on whether you’re nursing, how often you’re nursing, and how well the baby is latching. Talk to your nurse, doctor or breastfeeding specialist to get help with breastfeeding if you have any questions or concerns. Hand expression can help relieve engorgement early on. Disposable or re-useable pads in your bra can prevent leaks from showing.

What are Kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises build up the pelvic floor. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends:

  • Squeezing muscles that stop the flow of urine to pull the vagina and rectum up and back.
  • Hold for three seconds. Relax for three seconds.
  • Do 10 contractions three times a day.
  • Increase your hold by one second each week. Work your way up to 10-second holds.

It’s important to do these exercises correctly to get the right results. When you go for your next exam, get additional guidance from your health care provider.

What are post-pregnancy warning signs?

Any woman can experience complications after birth. These conditions have the following symptoms:

  • High blood pressure: a headache that isn’t helped by pain relievers, blurred vision, spots before your eyes and pain in the upper fourth of your abdomen.
  • Pre-eclampsia (a syndrome related to high blood pressure): nausea, swelling in the hands and face, gaining more than 5 pounds in a week, nausea or stomach pain, headaches and seeing spots.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a pulmonary embolism (PE): swelling in a leg or arm, pain or tenderness unrelated to an injury, skin that is warm to the touch or red with swelling and pain, difficulty breathing, chest pains that worsen with a deep breath, coughing up blood and a faster or irregular heartbeat.

The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses features a printable list of when to get help. Call 911 if you have:

  • Chest pains.
  • Obstructed breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Seizures.
  • Thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby.

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Bleeding that soaks through one pad an hour or blood clots as large as an egg or larger.
  • An incision that isn’t healing.
  • A red or swollen leg that is painful and warm to the touch.
  • A temperature of 100.4 °F or higher.
  • A headache that doesn’t get better or a headache with vision changes.

For the sake of your health, don’t delay medical attention for any of these symptoms.

For more information:
Care of You and Your Baby, a publication by ChristianaCare

Medical Reviewer:
Mona Liza Hamlin, MSN, RN, IBCLC
Nurse Manager, Postpartum Units and Perinatal Resources
ChristianaCare
Date Last Reviewed: September 9, 2018

Center for Women's Emotional Wellness

All is far from lost. There are a number of ways you can work towards reclaiming your fitness (and flatness) if that’s your goal.

If you had an easy delivery, you can start gentle exercise just a few days afterwards, including walking and gentle stretches. We recommend waiting until at least six weeks before undertaking more high-impact exercises such as running or aerobics.

Talk to our experienced nurses to find out more about getting your body back in a healthy, safe and sustainable way.

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