Women expect their bodies to go back to normal after they give birth. What most moms don’t realize is that some very dramatic things happen to their bodies as they enter what is referred to as “the fourth trimester.” There are some postpartum body changes you should know about — because if you don’t, the things that happen to your body rang from mildly alarming to absolutely terrifying.
Most people think of the postpartum period as being the six weeks right after birth. The reality is that it can take up to a year for a woman’s body to return to its prepregnant state. Some changes will be permanent. (I’m looking at you, stretch marks!)
One postpartum surprise happens right after birth. It is very common for a woman to experience uncontrollable shaking. When I was a labor and delivery nurse, moms would almost always say, “I don’t know why I’m shaking, I’m not cold.” Despite not feeling cold, a warm blanket still goes a long way to help.
Fortunately, this post-birth shaking doesn’t last longer than a few minutes. It is a result of the very dramatic changes your body has just gone through.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
Pregnancy hormones result in luxurious hair growth due to a longer growing phase. Once those hormones have returned to normal, that extra hair will start to fall out. This occurs at approximately three months postpartum. Women report looking down in shock at the amount of hair on the shower floor. There is not much new moms can do about this. They can take comfort in the fact that their hair growth cycles will stabilize.
Most women enjoy the break from menstrual periods during pregnancy. It often comes as a rude shock when they find out they will have vaginal bleeding for about six weeks after the birth. In the first couple of days, the bleeding is like the heaviest period a woman has ever had. The bleeding will then get lighter. At one to two weeks, there is often a brief increase in bleeding. The increased bleeding is a result of a scab forming at the area where the placenta was attached. When the scab sloughs off, it results in a day or two of increased bleeding. A woman should contact her health care provider if she passes any clots larger than the size of a quarter.
Noticeable uterine contractions will continue for days after the birth. The strength of these contractions can take a woman’s breath away. (She thought the hard part was over after birthing her baby.) These contractions are referred to as after-pains. They can be especially intense when breastfeeding. The same deep breaths that helped during labor will come in useful when these after-pains make an appearance.
After giving birth, using the bathroom can an adventure. Many women develop hemorrhoids during pregnancy or childbirth. While this is a problem that resolves for most women, 25% will still be dealing with them at six months.
Women can experience bladder issues, as well. Eight percent of women will have difficulty passing urine and require catheterization. Conversely, a third of women will experience some degree of urinary incontinence in the first three months after giving birth. That statistic should be a strong incentive for women to do their Kegel exercises regularly. Research supports that Kegels help prevent leaky bladders in the postpartum period.
The Weight Wait
Moms are often anxious to weigh themselves after birth. The number on the scale is disappointing to many. The math may not make sense. A woman’s weight loss immediately post-birth is not always equal to even her baby’s weight, not to mention the placenta. Just remember that it took nine months to reach that weight, and it will take time to lose it all.
Fortunately, the majority of these postpartum changes are temporary. Gazing at their beautiful new baby is the best distraction.
Postpartum Workout Realities: What New Moms Need to Know
Postpartum Nutrition: A Healthy Diet Plan for Weight Loss
Postpartum Doulas Assist the Entire Family
Paternal Postpartum: The Stats, Signs and Stigma
Postpartum Body Changes You Should Know About — Sources
Baby Center – Postpartum Hemorrhoids
Scandinavian Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – Prevalence of postpartum urinary incontinence: a systematic review
Cochrane – How effective are pelvic floor muscle exercises undertaken during pregnancy or after birth for preventing or treating incontinence?