During your pregnancy everything is focused on the birth, bringing home baby and baby care. There is a 12 week period called The 4th Trimester, which covers not only baby care and bonding, but the mothers experience postpartum – emotionally, physically and spiritually. Rarely do mothers get the lowdown on what to expect of their own bodies postpartum, and what to do to help care for the changes that will occur. This can make new mom’s ask:
What do I need to know about the postpartum period?
I didn’t expect this!
When you are discharged, you are sent home with heaps of paperwork, notes and a brief description of basic care for mothers. All of the baby books that you voraciously read give little explanation to cover your needs, instead focusing solely on the baby. Many mothers think that once the baby is out they can sling on their skinny jeans and proceed as normal. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Some mothers completely shell shocked with the upheaval their bodies – and emotions – go through.
Here are some things you *didn’t* expect when you were expecting.
LOCHIA: THE POSTPARTUM “PERIOD”
Your uterus, where the placenta was attached, is ripe with blood vessels. After birth, your uterus will start the process of involution, or shrinking back down to it’s standard size. During this process, bloody discharge known as lochia is expelled. For the first few days, lochia will usually be bright red, and then it will start to dilute into a paler color over the next two to four weeks. Similarly to menstruation, your uterus will also shed some of it’s lining along with the lochia in small bits of tissue and blood clots. If your blood is bright red for a longer period of time, or isn’t tapering off as time goes on, it might be a good idea to call your doctor. Additionally, large blood clots, foul smelling lochia, or feeling weak are also concerns to address with your physician, as they could be indications of too much blood loss or an infection.
ACNE AND BREAKOUTS
Your body is producing a ton of hormones post birth, and they can do a number on your skin. While they will settle down a few weeks postpartum, be gentle with yourself the first few weeks after giving birth. You aren’t sleeping, you barely have time to shower or keep up with a dutiful skin regiment and you have hormones racing through your body. All of that equals breakouts similar to adolescence. Take refuge in the fact that you will be focusing so much energy on loving your baby to really notice, and once you have some time under your belt these skin eruptions will start to dwindle.
HAIR LOSS AFTER BIRTH
Hormone chemicals also create slight hair loss postpartum. That once shiny, thick, luxurious pregnancy hair might be replaced with stringy, shedding less than luster locks. Usually occurring in the 3-6 month time frame, hair loss is not something to be overly concerned about. Within the year you should see the return of having 3/4 of your hair back to the growth phase.
You will notice that you will sweat a ton postpartum, soaking your sheets and clothes. This is normal and it the body’s way of getting rid of all of that water retention from pregnancy. Additionally, if you are breastfeeding, you will also notice that you sweat between your breasts much more frequently. When your breasts are working to produce milk, your sweat glands are also working on overload. The best solution to this is to wear cool, absorbent cotton clothing, and if need be leave an extra cloth or towel between your breasts. Within the first month all of the wetness should die down.
PEEING WHEN YOU LAUGH, COUGH AND SNEEZE
As we all know, major shifting occurred within your pelvic region to accommodate your growing baby. Postpartum you will find that you leak a little every time you laugh, cough or sneeze. All mothers witness this unfair situation postpartum, it’s become a joke of sorts in the tribe. Slowly, your pelvis, bladder and hips will return to an almost normal position, but there are things you can do to help tighten up all of those inner muscles. Kegel exercises are probably the most well known exercises, which basically involves squeezing the inside of your pelvis as if you were slowing down a stream of urine. If you are unsure how to do this, I would suggest actually sitting on the toilet and stopping a flow so that you can feel exactly which muscles you want to clench. The best part about Kegels is that you can do them anywhere, as long as you don’t make a face full of concentration while doing them! I read a book where a postpartum mama did Kegels while driving, at every stop light, and even put a sticky note on her steering wheel to remind her. Whatever way you choose bear in mind it can take an upwards of 12 weeks to actually notice a change in the dribble, so until then keep a pantyliner close by.
STRETCH MARKS, JELLY BELLY AND BELLY THE BELLY LINE
We all remember the time we looked in a mirror to see why your belly was so itchy and saw them..stretch marks covering the bottom half of your beautiful bump. Some might appear red/purple in color, some might stretch all the way up through the belly button. Unfortunately stretch marks never completely fade, but rubbing coconut oil, vitamin e, argan oil or shea butter on during pregnancy and postpartum can help soothe and reduce the redness. In most cases the lines fade within a few weeks. For more extreme cases there are medical procedures to help eradicate the stretch marks, but most women I know wear them as a badge of honor to the life that they carried.
Your jelly belly might be quite shocking when you first see it after birth. Inside you feel so much lighter having your baby no longer pressing on every inside organ you have, but outside it looks like a big pooch. In time, with proper diet and exercise during pregnancy and after the initial 6 weeks, you will find that everything starts to firm up again. Breastfeeding mothers have the added benefit of uterus contractions every time they nurse, which also helps to shrink the uterus.
As for the dark line that appeared from your belly button down *not on everyone though*, is caused by the same hormones that make your labia and nipples to darken during pregnancies. In most cases the line fades considerably, but in some women it never fully disappears.
BABY BRAIN, HALF BRAIN AND THE ENDLESS FOG
One of the beautiful things about the first six weeks is that you are in such a sleep induced haze that you barely remember how tired you really were when you are out of it, which is one reason why I am sure we have more than one baby! Sleep deprivation is no laughing matter, in fact, it’s commonly used as a torture tactic. Physically, new parents definitely bear the brunt and show the physical symptoms that lack of sleep can produce such as having a shorter fuse than normal, poor decision making, emotions that run amuck, and lack of concentration. Not having ample sleep can also have physical detriments such as weight gain, a weakened immune system and an increased appetite. Sleeping when the baby sleeps or hiring nighttime help is something that is highly recommended if it is within reason. Cleaning your house certainly isn’t going anywhere, so don’t feel indulgent if you take time to sleep instead of tidying up.
BIG BOOBS FULL OF MILK
Although most breastfeeding moms know that their breasts will swell considerably when their milk comes in, few are prepared for the actual feeling of engorgement or what to do when it really hurts. Your breasts usually feel fine for the first few days when they are only producing colostrum. But around the third day after delivery, they suddenly fill with milk and fluid, often becoming tight, hard, and enormous. The quickest way to get relief is to nurse the baby frequently and for as long as she wants to eat. Since some babies are slow to get the hang of nursing and others are still sleeping off the trauma of delivery, a breast pump can be a lifesaver. Pump just enough milk to feel normal again, because if you pump too much and too frequently, your body will continue to create excess milk to meet the pump’s “demand” and you’ll defeat the purpose.
While most women are forewarned about engorgement, few are tipped off to the fact that their breasts will suddenly deflate at six weeks postpartum. It takes about that long for your body to figure out your infant’s nursing needs and adjust to making milk at the appropriate times. With milk coming in at regular intervals, moms don’t have that bursting-your-buttons feeling anymore, leading some to erroneously believe that they’re not making enough milk. Couple the feeling of soft breasts with the fact that most babies have a big growth spurt at six weeks and seem constantly hungry, and you’ve got legions of nursing mothers running for the formula to take up the imaginary slack. The answer here is to trust your body—your baby is hungrier because he’s growing, so just feed him when he asks and your breasts will make more milk to meet the demand.
YOU WILL SURVIVE!!
The bottom line is that in about three months the quirkiest postpartum effects will have passed, and by six months you should feel like a close representation of your old self. Until then, behave as though you were still pregnant; take care of yourself, eat nutritious foods, dress comfortably, and get as much sleep as you possibly can. Take heart in the fact that you’re in the homestretch and already holding the best prize of all.
“As a new mom I didn’t realize that it would take time, that I wouldn’t get that “instant gratification” I was looking for from my postnatal body. ~Alyssa Milano
You will find your new norm. It’s not all cute onesies and smiling pictures, and that’s ok. Don’t worry about what others might think. Enjoy every moment. Parenthood is a beautiful experience. Allow yourself grace & room to grow.
Looking for More?
The video above is a DIY way to make postpartum padsicles. If you have a vaginal birth these will be life changing!
Kegal Exercises are a great way to tighten your muscles after childbirth.
Here is more information about lochia and what to know about it.
My favorite postpartum recipe book, The First 40 Days, is a must have for new moms.