Once you've prepped the nursery, shopped for all the adorable baby clothes, had the baby shower and made the fateful trips to and from the hospital, you'd think you could put pregnancy away in a memory book and get on with motherhood. Unfortunately, your body may need a period of adjustment before it's ready to move on to the next phases of your life.
Delivering the baby will shed a few pounds and take away the feeling you're carrying a very heavy basketball in front of you. But some of the other alterations pregnancy hath wrought might take a little longer to resolve. Friends and relatives may have glossed over a few unfunny facts about your post-pregnancy physique. Just to set the record straight, here are 10 things you may not have heard about recovering from the big event.
We'd like to offer a little observation here: Having a baby is a big deal, a really big deal. You may not love the residual brown patches on your complexion or the jiggle in your tummy, but you earned them in a worthy cause. And even if those imperfections won't land you on the cover of the next summer swimwear daily, you should bear the marks with pride. You didn't just save a life; you brought one into the world. If that doesn't make you a flat-out, downright, traffic-stopping beauty, regardless of your panty size, it sure should.
There'll Be Some Residual Discomfort (or... Ouch!)
Everyone warns you about the pain of childbirth, but the aches and twinges can linger long after the last moan fades away. After childbirth, your uterus will begin to contract, which is a very good thing if you ever want to stop looking like you swallowed a soccer ball. The process may cause mild to severe cramping, though. It can take from four to six weeks for your uterus to shrink back to its pre-baby size, and the worst of the cramping will probably occur within the first two or three days. Your vagina will also be tender, bruised and swollen, contributing to the discomfort. Having had an episiotomy or experiencing tearing during delivery will require healing time, too. All told, you'll be generally tired, sore and a little flummoxed; this at a time when you were probably looking forward to feeling more like your old self again.
Expect Vaginal Discharge
As if there weren't already enough goo and glop to deal with, once you get home, there'll still be some significant vaginal discharge. There are a number of ways to look at this. Everything your uterus is sloughing off now will be less weight to worry about later. That's the upside. The amount of blood and the volume of the discharge will diminish in a few days, but spotting may continue for a couple of months.
A Post-Pregnancy Paunch is Normal
Within the first couple of weeks after your baby's birth, you could lose more than 12 pounds. The bad news is that your previously flat stomach will probably look more like Santa's bowl full of jelly than the toned body you remember. Your abdominal muscles had to do some impressive stretching, and now it will take a while for them to tighten up again.
It can be scary when you think about the challenges of just taking care of the baby, much less what's involved in crunching your way back to your old tight stomach. Exercise will help you start to regain that paunchless silhouette. The natural contraction of your uterus back to its tiny, unobtrusive size will help diminish that "still-pregnant" look, too.
Those celebrity moms who manage to get themselves back into a roomy size four within weeks of having a baby are the exception, and they probably worked at it full-time and then some. If you aren't stressing over the next red carpet event in your future, take a realistic view of your post-pregnancy pooch.
You're Gonna Lose Some Hair
Remember the day you realized that pregnancy agreed with you? Your complexion was glowing, and your hair looked thicker and more lustrous. Heck, you looked great. Well, it's time to give that all back. One day, not long after you bring the baby home, you're going to brush your hair and it will come away from your scalp in large bunches. A bald baby is OK, but a bald mommy? Not so much.
Hair goes through natural growth and shedding phases that are interrupted during pregnancy. Increased estrogen keeps you from shedding as much hair as you would normally. Once your hormones return to pre-pregnancy levels, you start to shed hair at an expedited rate until things stabilize in six months to a year. If you really love those dense, luxuriant tresses, take a photo. Unless you had them before you were pregnant, they won't last.
Your Body Will Rule Your Emotions -- Same Stuff, Different Day
Hormone changes are not a thing of the past once you bring the baby home. It's not uncommon to feel blue, let down, discouraged and unprepared to the task ahead of you. That new beginning you were so enthusiastic about nine months ago may suddenly seem overwhelming. As if that weren't enough, the guilt of feeling unhappy with your lot may be making things even worse. After all, you have a beautiful baby, so what's the problem?
Very soon after delivery, the levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body start to drop back to normal. That precipitous drop can trigger depression in some women. So can the drop in thyroid hormones that sometimes occurs after delivery. (Thyroid issues can be diagnosed with a blood test and are easily treated.) A lack of sleep or a response to stressors like financial or marital issues can contribute to feelings of anxiety and sadness, too.
While some anxiety and depression are normal, if you find yourself becoming more depressed as the days stretch into weeks and months, consult your doctor. You may have postpartum depression. More pervasive than a temporary bout of the blues, postpartum depression can sap all the joy out of what should be an exciting and rewarding time. If you're having trouble coping, your doctor can help.
The Stretch Marks Will Fade -- Eventually
Stretch marks occur during the last few months of pregnancy in up to 90 percent of women. Those shiny pink or purple lightning bolts on your hips, stomach, breasts and thighs aren't temporary blemishes, either. They're actually scars called striae distensae that are the result of hormonal changes and rapid weight gain. They have a hereditary component, too, so if your mother has them, you'll probably have to deal with a few as well. Over time, stretch marks may fade to silvery white lines that will only be noticeable when you're out on a sunny day in your low-rise jeans and tube top -- or your teeny bikini. (Let's not think about that right now.) There are ways to take a proactive approach to stretch marks. From a tummy tuck that will actually remove the affected skin, to dermabrasion and laser treatments, stretch marks don't have to be forever if you're determined to eradicate them. There are also creams you can use to moisturize your skin during and after your pregnancy to keep it supple and stretchy.
You May Have Trouble Urinating
This can be a delicate topic, so we'll approach it with caution. You probably spent more of your pregnancy than you care to remember looking for a bathroom. In fact, you can probably describe the décor in every bathroom from your house to the interstate. Post-pregnancy might be a bit of a revelation because you will have to pee more, but feel the urge less. If you had an epidural, prolonged labor or an assisted vaginal delivery, this could be even more of an issue.
For a while after you give birth, your bladder may be less thoughtful about sending you messages that it's full, super-full or fair to bursting. Coming at a time when your body is eliminating the extra water it retained while you were pregnant, this could be a disaster in the making if you're not careful. Your best option is to pee on the old schedule for a few days, with lots of trips to the restroom whether you feel like taking a refreshing pause or not. Not urinating enough during this time could cause more than embarrassment. It could contribute to prolonged after-pains and urinary tract infections.
Your Breasts Will Hurt
You have hormones to thank for the wondrous transformation in your breasts during and just after pregnancy. Whether or not you decide to breastfeed, you have to be impressed with the fact that your body is gearing up to produce milk. It's amazing, really. It also smarts like heck. That's a mild term for the full, hard, achy feeling that accompanies the first stages of lactation. If you're breastfeeding, those initial nursing sessions may be a big relief from the discomfort. If you're not, it will take a few weeks for your milk to dry up. Until it does, cold packs will provide some relief from the tenderness, reduce the swelling and speed the process along.
The Baby Fat Won't Just Roll Off
Every new mother wants to get back to her fighting weight in as little time as possible. The practical demands of parenthood and life in general can get in the way, though. Could you exercise four hours a day if you had the energy and the baby would accommodate you by napping on cue? Well, maybe, but beating yourself up about being soft around the middle isn't helping. The stress alone may be sabotaging your best efforts. It could take a year or more for you to lose all the baby weight. Yes, some women manage to do it faster, but one year is a realistic goal and one that will give you the time to plan and implement a successful exercise and weight-loss strategy. Learn to eat better instead of concentrating your attention on shedding the pounds. Take up a sport you enjoy. Get moving again.
It's Mind Over Matter
Having the baby was a milestone. You may have looked forward to it as a time when you'd be able to put all the uncomfortable, embarrassing and inconvenient pregnancy stuff behind you, too. You know: the liquids, the small indignities and all the things that start out funny but get old after a while. The truth is that most of the body issues are relatively short-term inconveniences. A few weeks, a month or even a year after the baby's born, they're history, a side note in the baby book.
It's natural to feel discouraged at the tummy pooch and the stretch marks that aren't fading as fast as your mother promised they would. A new baby can be rewarding, frustrating, tiring -- very, very tiring -- exasperating, humbling and awe-inspiring. Your body made that baby possible. Think about that the next time you're confronted with a full length mirror, a sore spot you can't quite disregard or a sink full of hair that was attached to your head a few brief moments ago. Your outlook can't firm up those abdominal muscles, but it can make the cosmetic issues and body image disappointments less significant by putting them in perspective.
We mostly associate postpartum depression with new moms. But studies show that new dads experience it, as well. HowStuffWorks looks at one.
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