During pregnancy, we spend a lot of time caring for our changing bodies. We try to practice eating well and exercising. We avoid alcohol and other known substances that may not be good for a gestating baby. We often spend time reading and planning for the birth, too.
Once the baby is born, most new mothers expect to feel a sense of joy and relief. We worked hard all those months and now it’s over and baby is here! While hopefully those happy emotions come to fruition, what we don’t often expect is that postpartum can bring about its own bodily challenges that may be equal to, or even more difficult than the pregnancy itself.
After delivering my first baby, I remember feeling as if my body would magically return to its pre-pregnant state. I didn’t expect the aches and pains, the bloated belly, or so many other things that come along with the early stages of postpartum. But I simply hadn’t heard about it. All I knew about postpartum was that I would have to take care of a baby. It didn’t occur to me that taking care of myself during this time would actually be very important, as well. I was tender from birth, emotional, and exhausted. Yet I hadn’t a clue what was really going on with my body.
Here are 5 things that happen to your body in the immediate postpartum:
1) Your uterus will continue contracting- Of course we’ve heard about contractions during labor and delivery. That’s how your baby gets squeezed out into the world! But who knew your uterus had extra work to do once your baby was already out? That’s right. Post-birth, your uterus is working hard to return to its pre-baby state. The contractions won’t be as intense as during delivery, no. But some women are surprised by this early postpartum discomfort. Usually, as baby begins nursing, the contractions are heightened, helping the process along.
2) You may be very sore (especially if you’ve had stitches)- If you’ve had a vaginal birth, you may be a little more sore than you anticipated. Of course this depends on your birth. For example, if you had little or no tearing, you are likely to be less sore. But if you had a few stitches, this healing process may take a little more time and make using the bathroom a, uh, delicate experience. If you’ve had a cesarean delivery, of course, there is going to be some anticipated pain along with the incision. Many women can find sitting up to nurse and hold their baby difficult especially in the early days of postpartum.
3) Your hormones begin undergoing major shifts- Once your baby is out into the world, a major “hormone dump” begins to take place. Your body no longer needs all the strong hormones that were raging through you during gestation. But many women find the adjustment to be more than they expected. It’s not uncommon to feel sad or weepy during the first few days and weeks of postpartum as the body undergoes these changes in hormone levels. Breastfeeding, which is known to increase oxytocin, the love hormone, has been known to help to offset some of the “hormone dump.” Still, many women struggle with their emotions during postpartum. And about 15 percent of new moms will be affected by a postpartum mood disorder, like postpartum depression or anxiety (and those numbers are on the rise). Though it’s challenging to talk about, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So make sure to talk to your care provider right away to receive help or treatment.
4) Your colostrum comes in (but not your milk)- Another postpartum surprise- your milk won’t come in right away! Yes, your body will make milk to feed your baby. But a lot of women feel shocked that it actually takes a few days (up to 4 or even 5!). Many new mothers feel concerned as to whether their baby is “getting anything” when they latch onto the breast. But rest assured, colostrum, the nutrient dense pre-milk your body makes immediately, is all your baby needs in the early days. Remember, that infant belly is teeny tiny! All your baby needs is a few drops of colostrum until your milk comes in. So don’t stress. You’ll be soaking through breast-pads in no time.
While postpartum is a wonderful time of bonding and getting to know your new addition, it’s important to pay attention to your own body to. You just gave birth and your body is still going through a lot. So listen in close, rest as much as you possibly can, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.