How to take care of a postpartum body

Postpartum body care

Last Updated November 3rd, 2022

Some women may experience loneliness, anxiety, mood swings, and restlessness after the baby’s birth. This is known as “baby blues”. However, if your mental health is getting worse and you are feeling an increased sense of helplessness, depression, or anxiety, it may indicate postpartum depression. You must consult a doctor immediately.
Yes, it is normal to feel cramps after the baby’s birth. It happens as the uterus contracts and tries to return to its pre-pregnancy size. The cramping lasts for a few days.
Your stomach and uterus may take time to shrink and go back to their pre-pregnancy size. Your body may get back to normal size within a few weeks or may take a few months.

Overview

The first six weeks after giving birth are termed as the post-partum period and it is vital for both the child and the mother in terms of care and attention. The human body undergoes a lot of changes during pregnancy and it keeps on changing even after giving birth. While many women want to get back their normal body shapes after giving birth, the process is not a simple one. The body has to recover from the stress of labour, heal any injured tissues and also focus on milk production in this stage. So, it will take time for it to get back to its original stage after getting through this healing as well as recovering stage. While these changes are not always easy to deal with, it tells a lot about the fantastic nurturing mechanism that nature has provided us with.

The postpartum period during which the body undergoes change can last for up to six months in some cases. In this time, the system recovers and deals with various other factors like tackling breastfeeding, stress due to sleep deprivation, and handling the overall impact of motherhood. The recovery period also varies depending on the individual. The age, number of children, and the total time of labour are important factors that determine that. So, if you are hoping to slip on your pre-pregnancy dresses after giving birth, you are in for a surprise. There have been some changes in the body including a swollen uterus, disarranged organs, and stretched skin that will need time and energy to return back to their normal states. Nurturing a baby inside the body and giving birth is an incredible process and even though it is complete, there are a few more changes that are to be handled effectively.

Changes that happen after delivery

Postpartum bellyThere are quite a few alterations that happen in a postpartum body that you need to know and understand. This will help you to deal with it more effectively and take the right steps.

The healing of the vagina

For those who have a normal vaginal delivery, the vagina will be swollen and bruised for a period that can last up to a week. The uterus contracts after giving birth and goes back to its original small size. This contraction happens right after birth and it helps in the prevention of blood loss. The uterus sheds its lining during the process of contraction and this bleeds out through the vagina. During the first week, the blood will be bright red and then it will turn into a yellowish liquid. While for some women, the discharge reduces after two weeks, for others it may continue for around six weeks. Urinating during this period can cause some discomfort as the sensitive perineal tissues around the vagina are affected by the flow of urine. Once the area starts getting dry and the healing process starts, there can be some itchiness.

During this period, cold packs can help to ease inflammation and pain. In addition, comfortable underwear and organic pads can be used to help with the discharge. Lying down can help in reducing discomfort and relieve any pressure on the internal organs and tissues. Avoiding hard surfaces and using cushions can also be helpful. For those who had a C-section, or caesarean delivery, movement can hurt during the first week and the incision along with the stitches will feel painful. By the second week, the healing process will have started and physical movement will be easier. To deal with the whole process you can ask for painkillers from the doctor that will not interfere with breastfeeding. It is natural to look five or six months pregnant even after giving birth and the body will take some time to adjust itself.

The breasts will change

It is normal for the breasts to enlarge after giving birth and they will get bigger than they were during pregnancy.  This is due to the effect of the hormones that trigger the process of milk production. During the first few days after giving birth, the breasts produce colostrum, which is denser than milk and rich in nutrients. The substance is packed with essential antibodies and immunoglobulins and other than providing nutrition, it also protects the baby from bacteria and viruses. The colostrum also has a mild laxative effect that helps the baby to pass out the first stools easily. The actual milk will come at a later stage and it is slightly yellow in colour. During this period, the breasts may swell with milk which is called engorgement.

The milk generally comes after three days and this stage can be painful for most women. Cold packs can help in relieving the discomforts at this stage and once the baby starts consuming the milk, the pain generally eases. The feeding routine will also allow the body to regulate the amount of milk that it produces. There can also be stretch marks on the breasts at this stage which are generally temporary. In some cases, a clogged milk duct can result in a condition called mastitis. This can lead to fever, soreness, and red streaks on the breast and it deserves medical attention. There can also be milk leakage from the breasts even when there is no feeding. This usually goes away with time as feeding continues.

There will be weight loss

There will be weight loss during the first week after delivery, which is a good piece of news for most mothers. There were a lot of fluids that accumulated in the body to support that baby and after giving birth, this extra volume will be removed. A lot of water will be lost in the first week through increased urination as well as perspiration. Breastfeeding also results in weight loss and it can burn anywhere between 300 to 500 calories in a day. As a side effect, you might feel hungrier to compensate for the loss of energy. However since the abdominal muscles have been stretched for a long period of time, they will not return back to normal easily even as you lose weight.

The stomach will look saggy

It is normal for the stomach to have stretch marks after delivery and look saggy. The process of breastfeeding helps in tightening the loose skin and as the uterus contract, the stomach will return back to its normal shape. This may take up to six weeks of time. The right diet along with the correct forms of exercise can help in the overall recovery process. If the muscles of the abdomen and back have been kept strong during pregnancy, it will help the stomach to return to shape faster. Mothers who have undergone C-sections will be allowed to participate in mild exercises after around six weeks. This is also the period that is required to fully recover from the process of surgery and to prevent the scar from hurting.

Another aspect in this regard is taking care of the perineal stitches if any and preventing any infection from occurring. Since most modern stitches are soluble, you need not go through the trouble of taking them out. For those who have undergone C-section, the area can remain puffy and slightly raised. It is necessary to watch out for any signs of infection like redness or inflammation. While keeping the stitches clean is necessary, avoid using products that can lead to an infection.

The pelvic muscles will demand attention

postpartum exercisesA group of muscles in the pelvic area, also termed the pelvic floor, supports the various organs in this region. Some women may experience some leakage of urine in the period after delivery which is normal. This can also happen during any stress on the abdominal muscles like sneezing and laughing hard.  While the right amount of rest can help in the recovery of these muscles, once the fitness has reached the right levels, there are specific exercises that can be used to strengthen them. However, it is not right to plan an overambitious exercise regime after childbirth. The best idea will be to stick to the advice given by the doctor. In addition, there can also be some difficulty to perform normal bowel movements during this period. The intestines and stomach have got used to extra pressure from the uterus which has suddenly been relieved. So they will take some time to get back to normal. A diet that prevents any chances of constipation is a good choice during this period.

Emotional changes

Many mothers experience emotional fluctuations and a range of fragile emotions during the first few weeks after giving birth. Statistics show that around 8% of mothers feel irritated or weepy during this period. Some women also feel confused and forgetful in this period and research has confirmed that pregnancy can lead to some amount of memory loss.  The stress of giving birth, handling the baby, and multitasking can be some of the reasons behind this state. The drastic changes in the body and in life, on the whole, do have an impact on the mind. In general, these feelings subside within 10 to 12 days after giving birth. In case emotional fragility continues, it might be necessary to seek expert help. This is also the period during which couples can support each other and work together as a family.

Recovering from a postpartum body

The three important factors that are needed for recovery are rest, good nutrition, and help as needed.

Rest

Since babies have different natural clocks than adults, it can be exhaustive for the parents to take care of them. The following steps can be taken by a mother to ensure sufficient rest.

  • In the first few weeks, you should concentrate on feeding the baby and taking care of yourself and not concentrate on any other responsibilities.
  • It is best to try to get some sleep when the baby is sleeping. This may not match with your own system but even a few minutes of rest can be helpful.
  • Minimise your movements so that you can get as much rest as needed. Keep the baby settled close to your bed so that you can take the right care without much movement.
  • It is best not to handle social or professional pressure during this period and divide your time between the baby and yourself.
  • Head outside to feel the sun and the breeze and walk around as much as possible. The postpartum exercises can be started as directed by the physician.

Good nutrition

It is important to follow a simple and healthy diet plan that will help in the recovery process. The best food items that can be chosen include grains and vegetables. Whole wheat, brown rice, and oatmeal can be an ideal choice as grains and dark green, red and starchy vegetables can be added. Other than that, fresh fruits that deliver a lot of nutrients and fibre are also a good choice. When it comes to dairy products, fat-free or low-fat products that are rich in calcium are a good choice. The consumption of protein is to be limited and low-fat or lean meats are the best choice. Healthy fats should also be a part of the diet.

Help

Since handling the baby can consume a lot of time and energy for parents, external help can be taken to deal with the various household responsibilities. In this way, you can focus on the baby instead of other tasks. The help can come from family members or a paid home care provider. It is important to communicate properly with the helpers so that your fragile emotional state does not create any sort of misunderstanding.

Embracing the postpartum body

Postpartum body careEmbracing the postpartum body is the first step any woman can take to get back to the right level of fitness. Note that the changes in the body are normal and it will get back to shape with the right steps. It is also important that during the postpartum period, you should focus on recovering and staying healthy rather than weight loss and getting back to shape. Trying to achieve too much too soon can lead to adverse side effects and hence dedication and patience are the keys that are to be followed. Apart from the right amount of rest, following the correct form of exercise that does not stress the body is also an important step in the postpartum period. Make sure that you communicate with the doctor in case of any concerns regarding the baby or the overall healing process.

 

Some women may experience loneliness, anxiety, mood swings, and restlessness after the baby’s birth. This is known as “baby blues”. However, if your mental health is getting worse and you are feeling an increased sense of helplessness, depression, or anxiety, it may indicate postpartum depression. You must consult a doctor immediately.
Yes, it is normal to feel cramps after the baby’s birth. It happens as the uterus contracts and tries to return to its pre-pregnancy size. The cramping lasts for a few days.
Your stomach and uterus may take time to shrink and go back to their pre-pregnancy size. Your body may get back to normal size within a few weeks or may take a few months.

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