At The Birth Collective we understand that so much of the focus in the months leading up to meeting your meeting your baby is often on the pregnancy and birth itself. The postnatal period may be given a cursory acknowledgement and then when your baby arrives the focus moves from mum to baby. While you get to know this brand new human, your body will be going through significant transformations too and this can often be a difficult adjustment for many.
The fourth trimester is very much still a part of pregnancy and understanding what to expect from your postnatal body is really important to help you successfully through this next phase in your journey. Here, we will outline a few of the common changes you can expect from your body after birth as well as tips on how to best deal with them.
The huge pressure placed on women to rapidly ‘bounce back’ to their pre-pregnancy weight and change their body shape can be immense and is one that is frustrating and unrealistic. Your body has done amazing things and is holding on to stored fat as a way to nurture your baby. Being kind to yourself and having patience. Changes will take time and enjoying these precious moments with your baby rather than putting pressure on yourself should be your focus.
Colostrum and Milk Production
Right after you’ve given birth, your hormones will begin to send signals to your breasts to produce milk. For a few days, your breasts may produce colostrum, also known as first milk – this is a thick, golden yellow liquid that is a very concentrated and nutrient dense food for your baby; they only need about a teaspoon of it at a time. Colostrum is packed with essential antibodies and immunoglobulins, helping to give your baby the nutrition they need straight after birth, while helping to protect them against bacteria and viruses.
Your breasts may then feel tight and sore or tender as they begin to produce ‘mature’ milk, which usually happens around day 3-5, this can be uncomfortable and may cause a low-grade temperature.
The Shape and Feel of Your Body
After you’ve given birth, you'll notice quite a few changes with the shape and feeling of your body, particularly your breasts and tummy. Your stomach is likely to be quite squishy and round after delivery as your muscles will have stretched during pregnancy. It can take six to eight weeks for your womb to contract back to its pre-pregnancy size, and breastfeeding may help it to contract more quickly.
In the first week after delivery, you could lose between four and six pounds (1.8-2.7kg) of pure water weight as a result of increased urination. The shape of your body after birth may be a concern to some, however, focus on maintaining a balanced diet and exercising regularly to maintain your health. Your body will gradually start to change but give it time.
If you’ve had stitches as a result of tearing or an episiotomy, then it is important to keep the stitches clean and dry. This will help to prevent infection and help you to recover much more quickly. Keeping a jug of water by the toilet to rinse after going to the loo, is a practical way to help keep yourself clean too. These stitches will typically dissolve once the wound has healed, however there are some circumstances where you may need to have the stitches taken out. It is important that you inform your midwife or GP if your stiches become uncomfortable or painful. Taking regular painkillers in the first week or two is important as it will enable you to move around more easily and help increase blood flow to the area and consequently improve healing. If you are breastfeeding, you should always ensure that you have checked with your pharmacist, midwife or GP before taking over-the-counter pain killers.
You may have some issues with bladder control after giving birth to your baby, particularly within the first few days. This can sometimes be caused by sudden movement, laughter or coughing. This is very common, remembering to continue with pelvic floor exercises after birth is really important to help to improve these symptoms and have long-term benefits too.
Lochia (Bleeding After Birth)
Lochia is the name for the bleeding that occurs after birth, whether you’ve had a vaginal or caesarean birth. This will be heavy at first like a period and you will need to use highly absorbent sanitary towels and change these regularly. This bleeding can continue for up to six weeks and gradually decrease over time, changing from a deep red colour to a brownish colour. Tampons should not be used after birth as this can increase the risk of infection. It is typically advised to avoid these until after your 6-week post-natal check.
Piles are also very common after birth but will typically disappear within a few days. If you feel very uncomfortable, then your midwife or GP may be able to provide you with a soothing cream to improve this. Eating a balanced diet consisting of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as wholegrain cereals and wholemeal bread, alongside drinking plenty of water, should help to make this process a lot easier.
These are a few of the changes that are common to expect in the days and weeks after you give birth. It’s important to remember that every woman’s body is a little different – this information should help prepare you for the majority of changes to your body, but if you’re unsure about anything at all, you can speak with your midwife or doctor.
We cover all of this and so much more in our Complete Birth Preparation and in our Post-natal Course. Focussing more in detail about how your body changes after giving birth and what to expect from your baby in the postnatal period, as well as offering practical tips and advice from our team of fellow mums and medical professionals on how to care for yourself and your baby postpartum. Buy our post-natal course online today!