Your body spends 9 months getting ready for the arrival of your little bundle of joy. It goes through many unusual — and sometimes uncomfortable — changes to keep you and your baby safe and healthy.
But once you’re home with your new baby, your body changes once again and a whole new set of questions arise about your body and birth recovery.
“Your body goes through pretty significant changes in 9 months,” said Suzanne Nicholas, a nurse practitioner in Akron Children’s Maternal Fetal Medicine Center. “Remember, you were pregnant for 9 months, so you can’t expect an overnight pre-pregnant body once baby’s born. It’s going to take some time for your body to heal and recover.”
She answers your top 7 post-baby body questions and cautions when you should call your doctor.
Temporary urinary incontinence
It’s not uncommon to experience temporary poor bladder control, especially if you gave birth vaginally, pushed for an extended time or had a large baby. The stretching of your muscles during delivery can cause you to accidentally pass urine when you cough, laugh or sneeze.
“When you’re growing a baby, it’s stretching the whole support network down there,” Suzanne said. “We encourage women to do their Kegel exercises to help build those pelvic floor muscles back up.”
If symptoms don’t get better after a few weeks or if they suddenly get worse, coupled with a burning sensation or painful urination, call your doctor to rule out an infection.
The bleeding process is the body’s way of getting rid of the uterine lining once your baby is born. It varies as to how much each woman will bleed, but it will begin to lighten in color and amount after a few weeks. However, if you’re bleeding and soaking more than 1 pad in an hour, call your provider.
“Some women may still have spotting 6 to 8 weeks after delivery,” said Nicholas. “It can take time for the cervix to close.”
For most women, it will take about 2 weeks for the uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size. However, the muscles that supported it will take longer to heal. So don’t expect your pre-pregnancy body overnight. The weight will take time, as will the abdominal muscles.
Many women experience swelling in the days after delivery, especially in their lower extremities.
“The circulatory system is undergoing many fluid shifts to return to its pre-pregnancy status,” said Nicholas. “It may take time for the kidneys to catch up and release all that fluid that was received through an IV during labor.”
Don’t restrict your fluid intake, though. It doesn’t help the body and, in fact, can make fluid retention worse.
If the swelling is restricted to your lower extremities, there’s nothing to be concerned about. But, swelling of the face, headaches or visual changes should be reported to your doctor.
Bowel movements and hemorrhoids
Regular, daily bowel movements are encouraged after delivery. It can be delayed a bit, but it won’t impact your stitches once it comes. Just avoid straining, and use a stool softener to be on the safe side. It’s worse to be constipated than it is to go.
Suzanne advises women to get on a regular schedule before delivery to help avoid issues once your baby is born. Also, increasing fruits, veggies and water in your diet can help.
Hemorrhoids can be exacerbated from pushing during delivery. A stool softener can be your best friend here, too. Hemorrhoids almost never need treatment, and often go away on their own. In the meantime, sitz baths and cold packs can help.
At the time of delivery, your body will produce colostrum. About 2 to 4 days later. your milk will come in. These breast changes occur whether you’re breast-feeding or not.
“A warm shower, gentle massage and even pumping can help with tender and sore engorged breasts,” Suzanne suggested. “It’s a matter of balancing the supply and demand, and will take a few days for that process to even out. Lactation consultants are available to meet with you should you have any concerns.”
If you experience any pain, streaking in the breast or a fever, call you provider to rule out infection.
Most women get the green light for sexual intercourse and the use of tampons 6 weeks after delivery. It’s important to wait until you get a doctor’s approval, though, to reduce the risk of infection, increased bleeding and reopening of the healing tissues.
“You want the doctor to check and make sure the vagina and perineum have healed, and your uterus has gone back to its normal state,” Suzanne said. “Plus, there’s always the potential of ovulating, so the risk of pregnancy is high. It’s a good time to discuss birth control options if you haven’t already done so.”
Many new moms have irritability, sadness, crying or anxiety within the first several days after delivery. These baby blues may be related to physical changes and the emotional transition as you adjust to your new baby. Baby blues usually go away within 1 to 2 weeks.
“It’s not uncommon to have baby blues, especially in the first few days after birth,” Suzanne shared. “However, by day 3 or 4 if mom is spending more time sad about her experience or baby than she is happy, she should seek help.”
More serious and longer lasting than the baby blues, postpartum depression is present in 10 to 15 percent of new moms and may cause mood swings, anxiety, guilt and persistent sadness.
“We always encourage moms to ask for help, even if it’s hard,” Suzanne said. “Also, don’t feel badly about setting up only specific times for visitors so you can get acclimated to your new baby.”