Giving birth to a baby is a miracle–or so they say. While it’s certainly life-changing to deliver your own bundle of joy, there are a lot of biological changes that occur to your body after all is said and done. The majority of them aren’t so pleasant. These freaky biological occurrences shouldn’t put anyone off from procreating; however, it makes for a smoother transition into motherhood if you know what to expect in the days, weeks and months after coming home from the hospital.
A Lot of Bleeding
If you thought having a period every month was bad, get ready for the mother of all Aunt Flows in the weeks after having a baby. After giving birth, it’s perfectly normal to bleed what’s known as lochia for up to six weeks. If you think you will avoid this by having a Cesarean section, or C-section, think again–this happens despite the delivery process. Some lucky ladies will find that the bleeding disappears or lightens to nearly nothing after just one to two weeks, while others will experience it for weeks on end. This is particularly true if you over-exert yourself physically by trying to keep a clean house or start up an exercise routine–you just had a baby, so give yourself a break. In most cases, this postpartum bleeding is no reason to be concerned because your body’s blood volume increases by 50 percent during pregnancy. Therefore, it’s equipped to handle so much blood loss in the weeks following birth.
Even More Contractions
After months of false contractions and hours–or even days–of real contractions, the fun isn’t over once you’re doing giving birth. Before pregnancy, the uterus is the size of an orange. However, it stretches to the size of a watermelon throughout the course of a pregnancy. After giving birth, it needs to contract back to its normal size. This process that can take up to six weeks, and during this time, you might feel what’s colloquially known as “after-pains.” These can feel an awful lot like actual contractions or, for some lucky gals, more like milder menstrual cramps. While you’re still in the hospital, the nurse will likely come by to torture you by giving you a “uterine massage” periodically. This helps contract the uterus and reduce the risk of postpartum hemorrhage, which occurs if you have excessive blood loss–more so than previously discussed–in the 24 hours after childbirth.
Up to 50 percent of women will get tension headaches or migraines within days of giving birth, and not just from all the crying that their newborn is bestowing upon them. The potential for these headaches can occur up to eight weeks post-partum. The powerful cocktail of hormonal fluctuations, side effects of from an epidural or spinal block, stress and lack of sleep add up to one painful headache that won’t seem to go away. Only acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken if breast-feeding; otherwise, new moms need to “pump and dump” their milk for two hours after taking more powerful medication, such as anti-migraine meds. If your headache is the result of an epidural or a spinal block, given for a C-section, one way to combat the pain is by pushing caffeine into your system in the form of tea, coffee or cola–as if new moms aren’t already throwing back the coffee to treat sleep deprivation.
Mind-Boggling Hair Loss
You’ve heard about the lush, thick hair that a pregnant woman develops–it’s one of the few perks that a pregnant woman gets to enjoy. While the average person loses 100 hairs a day naturally, pregnancy hormones keep hold on those strands, so the locks are fuller. When the hormones go away after a few months, however, the hair comes out in droves–when you brush your locks, when you shower or when you run your fingers through your hair. The good news is that you’re not going bald, and taking a prenatal vitamin can minimally help stave off the loss.
Simply put, neither pregnancy nor child birth is easy on your body. During the 40 or so weeks of pregnancy, the baby pushes down on your bladder and pelvic floor muscles and weakens them. The birthing process does even more damage to the pelvic floor muscles, along with the nerves that control the bladder, potentially creating urinary incontinence. In other words, you might have a little trouble holding in your pee, particularly when coughing, sneezing or picking up heavy objects. Once again, give yourself a break and don’t attempt to do any heavy lifting in the weeks after childbirth. However, barring any more serious injuries during birth, the muscles should regain their strength by the six-week postpartum checkup.
Really, Really Embarrassing Incontinence
What could be worse than urinary incontinence? How about anal incontinence? In the period of three to six months after delivering, about 38 percent of women report a new experience with anal incontinence, such as involuntarily passing stools. One in five women said this incontinence interferes with caring for her new baby. Just like with urinary incontinence, this situation has to do with childbirth’s effect on pelvic floor muscles and nerves, as well as tearing of the anal sphincter during delivery–another frightening possibility during delivery.
On the Other Hand, Painful Constipation
Don’t be surprised if a nurse asks you repeatedly to pass gas or have a bowel movement before allowing you to check out of the hospital, particularly if you had a C-section. In the latter case, it can take three to four days for your bowels to start functionally normally again. Additionally, narcotic pain relievers, or even the natural hormone progesterone, can slow down your digestive system, causing painful constipation. Some new moms feel tempted to hold it in to avoid the hurt, particularly if you had an episiotomy during delivery, but that only makes things worse. Going for a walk, eating a lot of fiber or dried fruit or drinking plenty of water can help flush things out.
A little-talked about side effect of pregnancy, hemorrhoids can also rear their ugly heads after giving birth. It’s terrifying to think about it, but these stretched, swollen veins–aggravated both by pregnancy and often by pushing during labor–can be anywhere from the size of a raisin to the size of a grape. The problem is even further exacerbated by constipation. Pain is managed by eating a high-fiber diet, drinking tons of water, kegel exercises and not waiting to have a bowl movement. The hospital might also give you a sitz bath, a small basin that you fill with water and sit in to provide relief.
If you’re breastfeeding, you might get a lengthy break from your period–up to six months, or even longer before once again experiencing the joy of menstruation. However, it’s not a guarantee it won’t pop up unexpectedly, so don’t find yourself unprepared in the middle of the workday. If you’re not nursing, or if you cut back on breastfeeding to supplement with formula, your periods can come back anytime between three and 10 weeks after giving birth–and it’s hard to know what to expect. You might have it one month, and then skip another month. It could be much heavier or way lighter than you’re used to. And even if you were the most even-keeled of women in the past, PMS could hit you like a ton of bricks after having a baby. However, don’t forget that even if you are nursing and haven’t had a period yet, you can still get pregnant during this time.
Your Mind is Not Your Own
Whether it’s the lack of sleep playing tricks on your psyche, the baby blues or full-blown post-partum depression, having a baby can be a challenge for your brain as well as your body. You might expect to be basking in the bliss of having a new little one to hold, but instead find yourself weeping, anxious and exhausted. The baby blues can last for a few weeks after giving birth, while post-partum depression is a much more serious condition that requires the aid of a health care professional. It’s more common in women who have a previous history of depression or severe PMS, don’t have support from family and friends during this challenging period in her life or who had medical complications during pregnancy or delivery. In very rare cases, a new mother can develop postpartum psychosis. This typically develops within two weeks of delivery and includes having hallucinations, delusions, extra agitation, suicidal thoughts, rapid mood swings and thoughts of harming the baby.
Bonus: You Still Get A Baby as the Ultimate Reward
Childbirth might sound terrifying, but don’t forget the end result: a baby. Despite the work that delivering entails and the weird things that happen afterward, your body eventually returns to normal and you will feel like yourself again.