Your Postpartum Body: What to Expect

You just had a baby. You are sore. You are swollen. You have all kinds of fluids leaking from all kinds of places. And after all of it, you somehow still look pregnant.

Let’s start over.

You just had a baby. I repeat: You JUST HAD A BABY. Allow yourself some grace and time to recover. In the meantime, let’s talk about your physical self in those early postpartum days and what you can do to support your body in its recovery.

The baby is out of you, so why do you still look pregnant? Well, your uterus stretched to about 500 times its pre-pregnancy size. It will take some time for it to return to that size, and during this process, you will experience cramping and bleeding (and this cramping gets worse with each birth). In addition to reducing the size of the uterus, these contractions also assist in healing and reducing the size of the wound left by the placenta-which is the size of a dinner plate, by the way.

Postpartum bleeding, known as Lochia, can last from 4-6 weeks after birth, getting progressively lighter in color as time passes. Make sure you are prepared with a stockpile of large pads or adult diapers/period panties. Do NOT use tampons or menstrual cups at this time. If you pass large clots or bleed through one pad in an hour, contact your care provider.

To add to that “still pregnant” look- You may be swollen. Your body retains extra fluid during pregnancy. In addition, if you received IV fluids during labor you may be even more swollen. It will take your body time to shed all of this additional fluid. Your body does this through urination and sweating. So much sweating. Make sure you are staying hydrated to assist your body in processing these extra fluids. And maybe have a fan close by at all times.

Another part of your body that may be swollen and producing fluids: Your breasts. Whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed, your breasts will need to regulate the amount of milk they are producing. Through this process, you may experience engorgement. For breastfeeding parents, use a warm compress and massage to soften the breasts before feedings. You may also hand express or pump a bit to soften the breasts (baby may have difficulty latching to engorged breasts) Let your baby nurse often and let them finish on one breast before switching to the next. You may also use a cold compress or ice packs to relieve pain and swelling.

Exclusively formula feeding moms trying to dry up milk-try to avoid any methods that remove milk from the breasts. Use a cold compress/ice packs. You can also express milk to relieve pressure, but only express just enough to bring comfort in order to avoid making your body think it needs to produce more milk.

As your milk supply regulates you will also deal with another inconvenience-leaking. There are a variety of options when it comes to breast pads and it is largely personal preference. You can use disposable, reusable cloth, silicone (yes, these sounds weird, but they exist!) and so on. Explore your options to find something that suits you. At night time, you will want to make sure you have a mattress protector or simply order waterproof washable incontinence pads that can be easily swapped out if soiled by leaking breast milk.

And then there are more direct injuries from childbirth. A sore bottom. Perineal tearing (stitches) Cesarean incision. For that sore bottom/perineal tear try taking a Sitz bath. This is a very shallow warm bath that can relieve pain and encourage healing. Avoid submerging yourself in water (you just need a few inches) You don’t want water going into places it doesn’t need to be right now (remember that dinner plate-sized wound I mentioned?). You also have the option of buying a fancy gadget that sits in your toilet bowl. Some other helpful things to keep on hand are witch hazel pads and ice packs. Many people opt to make homemade “padsicles”- just make sure you aren’t using any ingredients that will be harmful or irritating to this sensitive and healing area. Be sure to use your peri bottle and avoid wiping, just gently dab the area dry. And for the sake of pain avoidance-take your prescribed stool softeners!

For those who had a cesarean birth- Follow your physician’s incision care instructions. Typically this will include gentle washing daily with warm soapy water and pat dry. It is important to make sure the incision stays clean and dry. Support/hold your incision site when you sneeze or cough. Avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby. And keep an eye out for signs of infection- fever; redness, swelling, or pus at the incision. Contact your physician if you experience any of these symptoms.

For any soreness, pain, or discomfort you can also take pain medications at your physician’s direction. You do have options available to you (even if you are breastfeeding) and you do not have to suffer through the pain.

No matter how your baby came into this world, your body has gone through a lot! Take the time you need to REST (as much as possible with a newborn). Don’t rush into an intense workout routine to regain your form. Light exercises- walking, yoga, pelvic floor exercises-are fine right now. Keep it simple. Make sure you are nourishing your body with nutritious foods and keep hydrated. And I can’t emphasize this enough- REST. This may seem difficult, or nearly impossible, to do but it is so important for your recovery. Consider creating a Postpartum Plan. Creating one can help prepare you for this transition and aid in your rest and recovery. I would love to assist you in creating one. Contact me to set up a planning session. Have your partner, close friends, and family around to assist you at this time. Or hire a postpartum doula :)

Look at your body. Now, look at your baby. You did that. You are amazing.

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