Growing a baby is a complex process which can alter your body in some surprising temporary and permanent ways. Here are just some of the changes you may experience.
You may find it harder to regulate your mood
Levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise during pregnancy and drop dramatically after birth. Decreasing hormone levels can lead to the mood swings, anxiety, sadness or irritability, sometimes referred to as the baby blues. The baby blues caused by this hormonal fluctuation usually resolve within a week. If they last longer or if the symptoms are intense, you may be suffering from postpartum depression and should consult your doctor.
These hormonal fluctuations can also cause some new mothers to develop thyroid problems. In the first four months after birth, such thyroid problems may manifest as insomnia, anxiety, rapid heart rate, fatigue, weight loss and irritability. Between four and eight months thyroid problems can cause fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin and depression. If fatigue, depression or mood swings persist past the first few weeks, schedule a visit with your doctor.
You may find it harder to recoup your energy
It’s normal to feel tired after childbirth, especially in the early weeks, but ongoing fatigue may have a cause other than the additional responsibilities and interrupted sleep associated with caring for a new baby. During the busy postpartum period, new mothers may also be vulnerable to iron deficiency, so it’s important to keep taking that prenatal vitamin with iron and be sure to eat iron-rich foods such as red meat, fortified whole-grain products, beans, lentils and leafy greens. Talk to your doctor if you have any iron deficiency symptoms, such as fatigue, pale skin, shortness of breath or dizziness.
Your hair loss may accelerate
Elevated hormone levels during pregnancy may have caused your skin to glow or given you an unexpected case of acne. Or those hormone levels may have been responsible for skin discoloration known as melasma. As hormone levels return to normal, so will your skin. Unfortunately, the thicker hair most women enjoy during pregnancy will also start to thin back to normal levels. Hair loss is slowed during pregnancy but once pregnancy is over, the body compensates by temporarily over-shedding.
You may need to shop for a bigger bra
It is not uncommon for a woman to go up two to four band sizes and two to four cup sizes during pregnancy and as levels of the hormone prolactin kick in to help produce breast milk. About two to three days after birth, breasts may become hard and sore. To ease the pain, you can apply warm packs before breastfeeding and cold packs after. You can also take ibuprofen, which is safe during breastfeeding. When you start nursing, the symptoms of engorgement will diminish.
It can take a while to regain a flat stomach
After the delivery you may still look a little pregnant, since it takes a while to lose the the extra fluids and fat accumulated during pregnancy. The uterus is also larger than it was before pregnancy, but it usually returns to normal within six weeks.
Exercise can help shape up the stretched muscles in your midsection, but if you had a C-section, wait until six to eight weeks after surgery. Low impact exercises such as yoga and swimming are the best way to start.
Your perineal area may be sore
The area between your vagina and rectum is known as the perineum. This area can stretch and tear during a vaginal birth. An episiotomy is a procedure in which a cut made at the opening of the vagina to help prevent tearing, but an episiotomy can also add to perineal soreness. To ease soreness, apply a cold pack on your perineum, sit on a pillow or a donut-shaped cushion, soak in a warm bath and take pain medication that is considered safe during breastfeeding.
You can expect uterine cramps and vaginal discharge
Contractions after delivery help the uterus shrink back to pre-pregnancy size. These cramps usually last for two to three days. It’s also normal to have a vaginal discharge called lochia, which can last for several weeks. If you’re not breastfeeding, your normal period will probably resume between seven to nine weeks. If you are breastfeeding, periods may not return for months or until you stop.
You may not feel like sex for about a month
Having sex too soon after the delivery can raise the risk of an infection. Most doctors recommend waiting four to six weeks. Not only does the perineum have to heal but it’s normal to experience temporary vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse very uncomfortable. A water-soluble lubricant can help ease dryness.
Your back and joints may hurt
After the delivery your body may need to readjust. Until the stretched out stomach muscles firm up again, the change in posture can strain muscles of your back, leading to a backache. If this problem does not correct itself within a few weeks, see your doctor.
During pregnancy the hormone relaxin causes cartilage to soften, allowing the pelvis to be more flexible. While this makes birth easier, it can sometimes cause problems when joints relax too much, and those problems can last post-delivery. Some women need physical therapy to recover, although most heal well with rest, heat, ice and pain medication. Be sure to report any lasting pain to your doctor.