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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Kegel exercises build up the pelvic floor. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends:
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.
Any woman can experience complications after birth. These conditions have the following symptoms:
The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses features a printable list of when to get help. Call 911 if you have:
Call your health care provider if you have:
For the sake of your health, don’t delay medical attention for any of these symptoms.
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.