7 Unexpected Things That Happen To Your Body In The Month After Giving Birth
The body goes through so many changes and stages during pregnancy, that it makes sense a lot would happen after giving birth, too. As your body recovers from propelling a human being into the world, you might experience pains, some bleeding, and a multitude of other unexpected changes. But however different or odd it may feel, these things are to be expected.
All you can do is enjoy this period of your life, while also giving your body time to heal and adjust. "You cannot rush the recovery process," Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN and Women’s Health Expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells Bustle. "Realistically, it takes at least nine months to feel [...] like you did before you embarked on the pregnancy journey."
Your body just went through a lot physically. But there are often other things going on in the background, too, that can affect how you feel. "There are so many major physical and emotional changes happening in a relatively short period of time during the postpartum period and it definitely counts as a major life milestone," Dr. Ross says. "Life usually gets back to normal as everyone adjusts with an open mind, patience, and understanding."
You might be in the pain. You might be in (temporary) emotional turmoil. And your body might look and feel different. But it's all common, and you're definitely not alone. Here are a few things that can happen to your body a month after giving birth — and beyond — according to experts.
1. Your Uterus Will Shrink Back Down To Size
As you recover from giving birth, you might experience something called "afterbirth pain," which can go on for several weeks.
"Beginning in the immediate aftermath of birth, and continuing on sporadically for several weeks postpartum, women should expect to experience 'afterbirth pains,' which are essentially continued contractions, whose purpose is to shrink the uterus back down to its pre-pregnant size," Natalie Telyatnikov, certified postpartum support practitioner and founder of Better Postpartum, tells Bustle. "Afterbirth contractions experienced by second- (or more) time-mothers are usually stronger (more painful) than for first time mothers."
They will go away eventually, but may be intense in the meantime. "Some will make you feel like you are momentarily back in labor again," Telyatnikov says. "It is also worth noting that these contractions can be stimulated during nursing or pumping sessions."
2. You Could Pass A Tomato-Sized Clot
You may also experience bleeding, as if you were having a really heavy period. But that's not necessarily what it is.
"Afterbirth bleeding is more than just a 'heavy period,' and it can happen daily for the first [four to six] weeks postpartum," Telyatnikov says. "Many women during this time will also experience the passing of a blood clot — a congealed mass of afterbirth blood (called lochia), which can range anywhere from the size of a grape to that of a tomato."
Your doctor will let you know if your bleeding is common. But if you're still concerned, don't hesitate to ask more questions.
3. You Might Develop Hemorrhoids
"Pressure on the rectum from the growing uterus, and then pushing the baby out can cause constipation and oftentimes hemorrhoids," Patricia A. Evans, NP, CNM, a nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells Bustle. "These can sometimes be large and painful and bleed."
It's definitely not a fun side effect of pregnancy, but try not to worry too much about them. "Using hemorrhoid creams and/or suppositories and witch hazel pads consistently for sometimes as long as a few weeks will help to shrink them," Evans says. "Avoiding constipation will help to ease pain during bowel movements." So ask your doctor for advice as to how you can keep things moving.
4. You Might Experience A "Fourth" Trimester
Pregnancy is broken down into three trimesters, but many women experience what feels like a fourth trimester after giving birth, all thanks to the changes going on in the body.
"The postpartum period or 'fourth trimester' is known to be hormonal, emotional, and physical chaos," Dr. Ross says. "Between not getting enough sleep, baby blues, stress, fatigue and not eating regularly or well-balanced you will be prone to postpartum headaches. Postpartum headaches are common in during this time of hormonal transition."
One of the best ways to feel better in general, while also avoiding these headaches, is to get plenty of rest. "No doubt about it, sleep is crucial for every aspect of recovery," Dr. Ross says. "Sleeping well at night or taking naps during the day will help you to maintain your sanity and patience, as well as give you the strength for all your new (and old) routines."
Eating well also helps. "Eating a colorful and well-balanced diet [...] keeps your blood sugar levels consistent," Dr. Ross says. "Drinking a lot of water, at least 10 to 12 eight ounce glasses a day, would also be a priority, [as well as] continuing to take your prenatal vitamins, extra vitamin D, and omega 3 fish oil to help ensure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals during this stressful time."
5. Your Hair May Start To Fall Out
If it seems like your hair is thinner than usual —or even if it's falling out in clumps —you're definitely not alone. Hair loss after pregnancy is common, and is often due to something called telogen effluvium, which can occur after a stressful event. (Like making a human.)
But the good news is it's not permanent. "This is [...] a temporary hair loss that follows childbirth [...] surgery, or a traumatic emotional event," Ken L. Williams Jr., DO, FISHRS, surgeon and founder of Orange County Hair Restoration, tells Bustle. "Telogen effluvium can begin about six weeks to three months after a stressful or traumatic event."
If the hair loss is stressing you out, don't hesitate to tell your doctor. They can confirm whether or not it's due to this type of hair loss — or whether something else is to blame, such as hormonal changes — and point you in the right direction in terms of treatment.
6. Your Boobs Will Be Different
As your body changes and prepares for breastfeeding, you might notice that your boobs look different than they usually do. Your nipples and areolae might get bigger or wider. And they can also get bumpier.
But more pressingly, your boobs may also develop a few complications, so keep an eye out for that. "One of the most common postpartum complications is a bacterial infection of the breast called mastitis," Evans says. "Symptoms include fever, swelling, redness, and tenderness in an area of the breast."
But never fear, as there are several ways to feel better. "Breastfeeding and/or pumping and [over-the-counter painkillers] will help to relieve some of the tenderness," Evans says. "Most often antibiotics are necessary. If you think or know you have mastitis, call your healthcare provider."
7. Your Vagina Will Repair Itself
It's to be expected that your vaginal area might hurt for a while after giving birth. And there are quite a few reasons — beyond the obvious — for why that might be.
"The area between the vagina and rectum (perineum) stretches, swells, and oftentimes tears as the baby is emerging into the world," Evans says. "After the birth, the tears (or episiotomy) are repaired. This does heal quickly, usually within a week or so."
And the pain can be to varying degrees. "Pain levels vary from person to person and depend greatly on individual pain tolerance," Evans says. "Vaginal pain also varies in intensity and depends on the amount of repair after birth. Ice and pain medication help to relieve this is a few days to a week."
Your body will change in a lot of ways during pregnancy, as well as afterward. It may shift back to it's normal shape and size, while it heals. Or it may morph into something new. This is all part of the pregnancy process, and it's all to be expected. But if something is bothering you or seems out of the ordinary, let your doctor know.