After my first child was born, I expected to get home from the hospital and wear all my pre-pregnancy clothes. Instead, I was horrified to discover that I still looked pregnant and had to wear maternity clothes for a few more weeks. I’m an optimist, though, so I took some deep breaths and focused on the basics—nursing my new baby, trying to get some sleep and taking walks.
After about six weeks, I was able to run, do yoga, go to dance class and get back to swimming. Little by little, the weight came off. However, there were other changes I hadn’t anticipated that many women experience.
Here’s the full scoop on your postpartum body and what to expect after you give birth.
Losing the baby weight
Your body worked hard for nine months to support a growing baby, gaining weight gradually. It can take just as long to lose the extra pounds. Many women report a quick drop in weight a few weeks after giving birth, but still others hit plateaus throughout the first months of their babies’ lives. I lost a huge amount of weight both times I gave birth, but it took much longer to lose those last few pounds and to feel like my body looked leaner.
A few of my mom friends—particularly those who have multiple children—have expressed dismay over their slightly softer bellies. Stretched abdominal muscles and weight gain during pregnancy can result in a flabby looking belly. Exercise and a diet full of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins can return that tummy to its pre-pregnancy state, but trust me: Those moms at the pool who look as lean as they were in high school probably work incredibly hard at it.
Simple exercise, like taking the baby for walks or doing yoga together, and simple healthy food rules, like eating fruit first before snacking on anything else and skipping dessert, can help you make quick progress.
Pregnancy stretches your skin, but genetics also help determine whether you develop stretch marks during pregnancy. Moisturizing with cocoa butter or shea butter a few times a day during and after pregnancy may help, since hydrated skin is more pliant.
Hormonal shifts after pregnancy can cause some of your hair to fall out. If you see actual bald spots, consult your doctor. For more run-of-the-mill shedding, brush gently and consider a haircut (and possibly donating hair to Locks of Love).
Unfortunately, urinary incontinence (leaking) is a fairly common occurrence following vaginal deliveries. Kegel exercises and frequent trips to the restroom are the best ways to deal with this until further studies are conducted on the topic.
Tendonitis and pulled muscles
After the birth of my first child, I developed DeQuervain’s Tendonitis, a painful inflammation of the tendons in the wrist, which causes sharp pain and tingling. It began during my last month of pregnancy and was exacerbated by the physical demands of having a newborn—carrying him in his infant carrier, holding him a specific way when breastfeeding and pushing his stroller. I went to physical therapy for several months to alleviate my symptoms and was able to return to work on schedule and pain-free.
I also noticed a lot more pulled muscles after both of my children were born, probably as a result of hormonal changes and upping my physical activity after having cut back on intense workouts for a few months.
Easing back into physical activity with walks, yoga, and light swimming and cycling can help avoid injuries. Make sure to use care when lifting, moving and feeding your baby to keep your wrists safe. Don’t hesitate to touch base with your doctor if you have wrist pain—it is incredibly common.
Skin pigmentation and texture
Skin pigmentation can increase during pregnancy, and this doesn’t always go away. The same goes for skin texture. Your best bet is to limit your sun exposure, which is a good idea anyway to protect yourself from skin cancer.
If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll probably notice that your breasts are larger by a cup size or two. Some women report a decrease in cup size after weaning their babies, but others don’t see much change, except that their breasts look more flaccid. Two words: supportive bra.
Your doctor will probably clear you to resume sexual intercourse after your postpartum checkup, but be aware that, particularly if you’re breastfeeding, vaginal dryness may be an issue. Consider a lubricant or ask your doctor for other suggestions.
My shoe size went up a half size after each one of my children was born. Your feet can actually spread out—and stay that way—due to pregnancy hormones that relax the ligaments. High-quality shoes with great arch support work wonders.
If you experience foot pain, see a podiatrist, because there are other treatable foot ailments that can result from the combination of postpartum foot changes and high-impact exercise.
In my experience, it’s a lot easier to deal with postpartum changes to your body when you value your brain and physical strength more than your appearance. If you have recently delivered and are feeling depressed about your appearance or are experiencing pain or discomfort, speak with your doctor or another trusted source about it.
Postpartum depression can impact your feelings about your body and everything else you’re dealing with, and lack of sleepdoesn’t help, either. Reach out if you’re having issues. Regardless, focusing on your new child, your family and friends, and how fortunate you are to have a strong, capable body and a new baby will go a long way toward helping you process postpartum physical changes.