How Does a Woman's Body Change After Pregnancy?
6 Post-Pregnancy Body Changes You Didn't Expect
When you found out you were pregnant , you knew your life was going to change forever! So much to look forward to: bringing your baby home, seeing his first smile, hearing his first coo.
And you knew your body was in for some changes, too -- gaining weightduring pregnancy, bigger breasts, maybe swollen ankles if you stayed on your feet too long.
But there are some changes that might surprise you. Here are five of them.
1. Sex Drive Dive
If you're not in the mood, you're not alone -- many new mothers see a drop in their sex drives.
"It can take up to a year to feel like you are really back in the mood forsex," says Hope Ricciotti, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School and a practicing obstetrician at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. "You are so focused on your child and your family that you have little to no time for yourself, and that includes sex."
You’re also tired and may not have any romantic moments for the first few months after baby is born to even think about the act that conceived your child, she says.
Mix these with estrogen levels that bottom back to normal post-childbirth, and sex drops to the tail end of your priority list. The good news: It will move back up.
"Estrogen levels rise during pregnancy, and fall abruptly after you give birth," says Silvana Ribaudo, MD, an obstetrician at Columbia Medical Center in New York. "The change in estrogen levels means a woman’ssex drive is probably pretty low. It rebounds, but it does take time."
2. Belly Bulge
You give birth, you lose your belly, right? Well, not that fast.
“After you give birth, lots of women expect that their belly will return to its normal size almost immediately,” Ribaudo says. “It takes about 6-8 weeks before the uterus is back to its prepregnancy size.”
Amanda Ezman of Oneida, N.Y. was among the new moms surprised by the size of her belly after she gave birth.
“I used the bathroom the day after my daughter was born, and looked in the mirror,” Ezman says. “I thought I would look a little different, but I still looked almost nine months pregnant.”
During pregnancy and after delivery, exerc and a healthy diet are key to getting your body back in shape (under the direction of your ob-gyn, of course).
“It takes time,” Ricciotti says. “Core exercises that focus on your belly do help in toning your baby bulge.”
3. Shoe Surprise
Think the changes you experience from pregnancy happen mostly in your mid-section? You forgot about your feet.
"Yes, a woman’s feet swell during pregnancy,” Ricciotti says. “But after her baby is born, she may have a permanently different shoe size.”
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that average-sized women gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy. That extra weight puts your feet under pressure.
"The additional weight you carry may flatten the arch of your foot,” Ricciotti says. “With the arch flattened you might find that you need an extra half-inch larger shoe size to be comfortable.”
Hormones play a role here, too -- in particular, one called relaxin.
"It does just what it sounds like,” Ribaudo says. “It relaxes the muscle ligaments in your body to help prepare you for childbirth, but it’s not exclusive to your pelvic area. It also affects the rest of your body, including your feet.”
With loosened ligaments in your feet and an increase in body weight pushing down on your arch, your feet are primed to flatten and lengthen.
On the bright side? It's a great excuse to go shoe shopping.
4. Cup Size
A lot of women expect their breasts to get bigger before and after birth, especially if they continue breastfeeding. But just remember: what goes up…
"After you give birth and stop breastfeeding... that can leave your breasts looking not only saggy, as most women expect, but smaller as well," Ricciotti says.
It’s not uncommon for women to drop a cup size after pregnancy andbreastfeeding, and it’s not over yet.
"The more children you have, the more your breasts tend to sag," Ricciotti says.
Don’t blame breastfeeding, though. A 2008 study of 93 women found that history of breastfeeding was not linked to their odds of having sagging breasts. Instead, the risk factors for sagging breasts were higher BMI, greater number of pregnancies, larger bra size before pregnancy, history of smoking, and older age.
5. Hair Loss
Most women have fuller, shinier locks during pregnancy. After delivery, your hair goes back to normal -- and that may mean it looks like you're losing more hair than normal. But don't worry -- it all evens out.
During pregnancy, Ribaudo says, higher estrogen levels keep your hair from falling out at its normal rate.
So after pregnancy, when estrogen levels drop and return to normal, your hair has to catch up -- by falling out.
Your heavy shedding period happens one to five months following pregnancy, according to ACOG. Most pregnant women have this hair loss , but the good news is that it’s temporary. Hair loss peaks around 3-4 months after birth, but usually returns to normal within 6-12 months.
9 Ways Your Body Changes After Pregnancy
How will your body look after your baby arrives? Here are some major changes you'll experience, from hair loss to constipation.
A few weeks after delivery, you may start losing large amounts of hair. The average person loses 100 hairs a day, but during pregnancy you were losing far less than that due to those raging hormones. Now that the pregnancy is over, your body will have to compensate and lose extra hair for the first six months after delivery. But don't worry -- your hair will soon return to its normal growth cycle.
The "mask of pregnancy" (the tan-colored area around your eyes), which you got so many compliments on, will start to fade. Women who suffered from severe acne during pregnancy should see their skin start to clear up. However, other women will begin to experience a red rash that around their mouth and chin or suffer from extremely dry skin. Both of these conditions should be gone within weeks.
Your breasts will probably become flushed, swollen, sore, and engorged with milk for a day or two after the birth. Once this swelling goes down, in about three to four days (or until you stop breastfeeding), your breasts will probably begin to sag as a result of the stretched skin. You may also experience milk leakage for several weeks, even if you don't breastfeed.
Just after giving birth, your uterus is still hard and round (weighing about 2 1/2 pounds) and can be felt just by touching your naval. In about six weeks, it will weigh only 2 ounces and will no longer be felt by pressing on your abdomen. That mysterious brown line that you may have had down the center of your lower abdomen during pregnancy will disappear. But, unfortunately, those stretch marks you developed aren't going anywhere in the near future. Stretch marks tend to be bright red during and shortly after pregnancy, but they will eventually become more of a silver color and begin to blend in with your skin. Also, even the fittest moms will experience some flabbiness in the midsection after giving birth. Normal stomach exercises (such as sit-ups) can get your tummy as flat as it once was.
Because it will take some time for the stretched abdomen muscles to become strong again, your body is putting extra weight on the muscles of your back. This can lead to a backache until the abdominal muscles tighten up again. A new mom can also be suffering from back pain due to poor posture during pregnancy. Generally, these problems should clear up in the first six weeks after giving birth. If not, you may want to see a chiropractor.
Incontinence and Constipation
Without the baby pressing on your bladder any more, you're not urinating as frequently. But pressure on the urethra during delivery can make urination difficult postpartum. New moms may also suffer from incontinence or a urinary tract infection, which can cause a burning sensation during urination. Constipation may still be a problem, too, after you give birth. An episiotomy or hemorrhoids may make a bowel movement painful. A diet high in fiber and plenty of water, milk, and juices can help ease the pain.
Vaginal Pain and Discharge
Your vagina may feel stretched and tender after the delivery. If you had an episiotomy, using cold packs right after delivery can help ease discomfort. Shortly after delivery, you will start to have a vaginal discharge made mostly of blood and what is left of the uterine lining from your pregnancy. This is called lochia and can last for several weeks. You can usually start having sex again about three to four weeks after giving birth. If you're breastfeeding at that point, you may experience vaginal dryness, which can make intercourse very uncomfortable. Look for a water-soluble vaginal lubricant to ease the pain. If you're not breastfeeding, expect your period to return about seven to nine weeks after delivery. If you are breastfeeding, your periods may not return for several months -- or possibly not until you stop breastfeeding altogether.
Swollen Legs and Varicose Veins
The swelling and puffiness in your legs that you may have experienced during pregnancy will lessen very quickly after you give birth. However, some women begin experiencing twitchiness in their legs postpartum. If this happens to you, walking can provide some relief. Spider veins and varicose veins will probably improve with postpartum weight loss, but they will never go away completely.
Sweating & Energy Levels
You may start experiencing excessive sweating at night after giving birth. This is because your body needs to get rid of all the extra fluids it accumulated during your pregnancy. On the energy front, some new mothers say that they feel more energetic than they ever did before pregnancy. In fact, a woman's aerobic capacity can increase up to 20 percent in the first six weeks postpartum. Other women say that the sheer exhaustion of childbirth, caring for a newborn, and excess body weight makes them feel sluggish and moody.
No matter what your body may be feeling, there are some general rules for new mom to follow:
1. Get as much rest as possible
2. Eat healthy foods
3. Don't rush yourself to get back to what you were before
Soon enough, your body will feel like it's yours again.
The Mommy After: 10 Postpartum Body Surprises
They say females are the stronger sex because we can birth babies. But, are women warriors because they deal with the aches and pains of pregnancy and labor or because they can look in the mirror after delivery and deal with its physical aftermath? There are lucky mothers who end up with amazing postpartum bods, but the masses have reflections that are a far cry from their prebaby physiques. Check out some of the common surprises.
Motherhood can turn an apple into a pear or a skinny "boy" bod into that of a mushy mommy. Ladies may lose all the weight, but the parts shift and don't necessarily fall back into the same places.
Saggy, Baggy Belly
Even for a skinny minnie, excess skin and that last bit of belly blubber can be impossible to burn.
Women liken their post-breastfeeding breasts to folding pancakes into a bra. And going without wire support after having an infant or two is near impossible.
Mothers aren't marsupials, but after baby, many ladies carry a bit of a pouch. For some, it's an inevitable curve of the stomach.
A toned back may end up with little tufts of fat after the expectant phase. And certain undergarments tend to emphasize them.
While stretch and burn is a normal part of pregnancy, stretch marks tend to stick around after baby makes its debut. Some lines tattoo themselves on bellies, thighs, and boobs.
Gaining and losing weight can have a ripply side effect. Thighs and rears are two popular areas where the cottage cheese deposits collect.
Even long-legged ladies aren't immune to spider veins after the bodily pressures of pregnancy.
While the expectant phase can cause a belly to swell, it can also lead to the loosening of a lady's tight end. Mom jeans were made infamous for showcasing flattened rears.
Severe tears and subsequent stitches can cause a relocation of lady parts.
Your Best Asset
Though moms may believe their figures have gone south after they bear children, most say the baby makes up for any physical flaw and becomes a woman's best asset.
Body changes after childbirth
How long will it take for my uterus to shrink?
By the time you go into labor, your uterus is about 15 times heavier – not including its contents! – and its capacity is at least 500 times greater than before you conceived. Within minutes after your baby is born, contractions cause your uterus to shrink, clenching itself like a fist, its crisscrossed fibers tightening just like they did during labor.
These contractions cause the placenta to separate from the uterine wall. After the placenta is delivered, the uterus clamps down even more, closing off open blood vessels where the placenta was attached. As the uterus continues to contract, you may feel cramps known as afterpains.
For the first couple of days after giving birth, you can feel the top of your uterus at or a few finger widths below the level of your belly button. In a week, your uterus weighs a little over a pound – half of what it weighed just after you gave birth. After two weeks, it's down to a mere 11 ounces and located entirely within your pelvis. By about four weeks, it should be close to its pre-pregnancy weight of 3.5 ounces or less. This process is called involution of the uterus.
Even after your uterus shrinks back into your pelvis, you may continue to look somewhat pregnant for several weeks or longer. That's because your abdominal muscles get stretched out during pregnancy, and it will take time – and regular exercise – to get your belly back in shape.
How much weight will I lose right after giving birth?
You probably won't return to your pre-pregnancy weight for some time, but you will lose a significant amount of weight immediately after delivery. Subtracting one 7- to 8-pound baby, about a pound or so of placenta, and another few pounds of blood and amniotic fluid leaves most new moms about 12 pounds lighter.
The weight keeps coming off, too. All the extra water your cells retained during pregnancy, along with fluid from the extra blood you had in your pregnant body, will be looking for a way out.
So you'll produce more urine than usual in the days after birth – an astounding 3 quarts a day. You may perspire a lot, too. By the end of the first week, you'll likely lose about 4 to 6 pounds of water weight. (The amount varies depending on how much water you retained during pregnancy.)
How come I can't tell when I need to pee?
Labor and delivery can take a toll on your bladder, causing some temporary swelling and loss of sensitivity. You may not feel the usual urge to pee in the first days after you give birth, especially if you had a prolonged labor, a forceps or vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery, or an epidural. This is also more likely if you had trouble urinating during labor and had to be catheterized.
But with all the extra fluid your kidneys are processing, your bladder fills up rapidly, so it's essential to give yourself a chance to urinate frequently even if you don't feel the urge to. If too much urine accumulates in your bladder, you might have a hard time making it to the toilet without leaking. What's more, your bladder could become overly distended. This can cause urinary problems and also makes it harder for your uterus to contract, leading to more after pains and bleeding.
If you can't pee within a few hours after giving birth, a catheter will be put in to drain the urine from your bladder. (If you deliver by c-section, you'll have a urinary catheter for the surgery, which will remain in place for a short while after delivery.)
Let the nurse know if you're having difficulty urinating or are only producing a small amount of urine when you pee. If your bladder gets too full, it can actually keep you from being able to urinate.
Will my vagina and perineum ever get back to normal?
If you give birth vaginally, your vagina will probably remain a little larger than it was before. Right after delivery, the vagina will be stretched open and may be swollen and bruised. Over the next few days, any swelling you might have starts to go down, and your vagina begins to regain muscle tone. In the next few weeks, it will gradually get smaller. Doing Kegel exercises regularly helps restore muscle tone.
If you had a small tear in your perineum that did not require stitches, it should heal quickly and cause little discomfort. If you had an episiotomy or a significant tear, your perineum needs time to heal, so wait to start having sex again until you get the okay from your practitioner at your postpartum checkup. If you continue to have tenderness in that area, delay intercourse until you feel ready.
In the meantime, figure out what you want to do for contraception. When you do feel ready (both physically and emotionally) to have sex again, be sure to go slowly.
When you start having intercourse, you'll probably find that you have less vaginal lubrication than you did when you were pregnant, due to lower levels of estrogen. This dryness will be even more pronounced if you're breastfeeding, because nursing tends to keep estrogen levels down. Using a lubricant is a big help. (Be sure to buy a water-based lubricant, particularly if you're using a barrier method of contraception. Oil-based lubricants can weaken latex, which can cause a condom to break or ruin a diaphragm.)
What's this vaginal discharge?
It's normal to have vaginal discharge, called lochia, for a month or two after you give birth. Lochia consists of blood, bacteria, and sloughed-off tissue from the lining of the uterus.
For the first few days after birth, the lochia contains a fair amount of blood, so it will be bright red and look like a heavy menstrual period. You'll likely have a bit less discharge each day, and by two to four days after you've given birth, the lochia will be more watery and pinkish in color.
By about ten days after you've given birth, you'll have only a small amount of white or yellow-white discharge, which will taper off over the next two to four weeks. Some women may continue to have scant lochia or intermittent spotting for a few more weeks.
What should I expect if I'm breastfeeding?
Hormonal changes after delivery prompt your breasts to start producing milk. When your baby nurses during the first few days after birth, he's getting colostrum, a thick yellowish substance that your breasts produced during pregnancy. His suckling triggers the release of the hormones prolactin, which stimulates milk production, and oxytocin, which causes the milk sacs and ducts to contract, propelling the milk to your nipples. (This is the so-called "letdown" reflex.)
If those first breastfeeding sessions cause some abdominal cramping, it's because oxytocin also triggers uterine contractions. When your milk comes in, usually two to three days after you give birth, your breasts may get swollen, tender, hard, throbbing, and uncomfortably full. This is called engorgement and it should get better in a day or two.
Nursing your baby often is the best thing you can do for relief. (In fact, frequent nursing right from the beginning sometimes prevents engorgement altogether.) For others suggestions, check out our advice on treating engorgement. If these measures don't help and your baby seems to be having trouble latching on correctly, talk to your caregiver or lactation consultant.
What will it be like if I'm not breastfeeding?
If you're not breastfeeding, you'll still begin to produce milk, and a few days after you give birth, your breasts will become engorged. This may cause considerable discomfort that lasts for several days. The pain tends to peak three to five days after you give birth.
In the meantime, wear a supportive bra around the clock and put cold packs on your breasts, which will ease the swelling and help inhibit milk production. (Be sure to cover the cold packs with cloth to protect your skin.) It can take several weeks for your milk to dry up completely.
If you need to, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief. If you're extremely uncomfortable, you can express just enough milk to make the situation more tolerable. This may prolong the process, however, because stimulating your nipples and draining your breasts signals your body to make more milk. Avoid applying warmth to your breasts since this, too, can encourage milk production.
Why am I feeling so moody?
Mood swings may be due to a number of factors, including hormonal changes, discomfort you may still be experiencing from labor and birth, sleep deprivation and the other demands of caring for a new baby, as well as the emotional adjustment to motherhood. Whatever the cause, it's common to feel a little blue, usually beginning a few days after giving birth and lasting for a few weeks.
If the feeling doesn't go away on its own in the first few weeks or you find that you're feeling worse rather than better, be sure to call your caregiver and tell her your symptoms. You may be suffering from postpartum depression, a more serious problem that requires treatment, and she can give you a referral for help. If you think you might hurt yourself or your baby, or if you feel incapable of caring for your newborn, seek professional help immediately.
Why am I losing my hair?
If your hair got thicker during your pregnancy, it may now start to shed in handfuls. This happens to some new moms in the first few months after having their baby. Don't worry – you won't go bald.
During pregnancy, high estrogen levels may prolong your hair's growing phase, causing less to fall out than usual. After you give birth, your estrogen levels plummet and you begin to shed more. Over time, usually within a year or so, the rate of new growth and shedding will return to what it once was.
On the bright side, if you suffered from excess facial and body hair during pregnancy (the result of a rise in hormones called androgens), you will likely lose most of that hair within six months after having your baby.
What's going on with my skin?
Hormonal changes, stress, and the fatigue brought on by new parenthood may affect your skin along with the rest of your body. Some women who had perfectly clear skin during pregnancy will have more breakouts in the months following delivery. On the other hand, if you suffered from acne during pregnancy, you may begin to see some improvement now.
If you have chloasma (darkened patches of skin on your lips, nose, cheeks, or forehead), it'll begin to fade in the months after giving birth and probably go away completely, as long as you protect your skin from the sun. Any stretch marks you developed will gradually become lighter in color, though they won't disappear altogether.