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Written by Jennifer Auer and originally published in Jersey Family Fun.
Are you having a baby? Do you know a woman who is expecting or just had a baby and want to be supportive? One of the most pressing concerns a woman has when she is pregnant is what kind of changes after pregnancy will she experience?
Yes, there's the obvious weight gain and growing belly during pregnancy, but beyond that what else?
Are the myths about mommy brain, hemorrhoids, shrinking and swelling breasts true? Are there other physical and psychological changes that come from pregnancy?
Pregnancy should be a time of great joy for expecting parents and their families, but we also know it can be a time of anxiety.
To help new moms - and those who may know a new mom - we've partnered again with Inspira Health. Dr. Neely Elisha, D.O., board-certified obstetrician at Inspira, is going to break down the myths about post-pregnancy and share ways giving birth changes a woman, both physically and psychologically.
"Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."
- Elizabeth Stone
How does your body change after pregnancy?
Pregnancy may only be 9 months, but the changes to your body can last much longer. Here again, Dr. Elisha shares with us which body changes from pregnancy are temporary and which ones can stay with you permanently.
Temporary Physical Changes After Delivery
Afterbirth pains, body aches, vaginal pain, hemorrhoids, night sweats, swollen breasts, and hair loss are temporary physical changes that come with pregnancy. Dr. Elisha discusses what you should know and how you can get relief from common postpartum pains.
What are afterbirth pains?
Afterbirth pains are the body's way of shrinking the uterus to get it close to its pre-pregnant size. The uterus is contracting as it shrinks back to its normal size and shape. The good thing is afterbirth pains usually last only 2-3 days after giving birth. And breastfeeding actually helps the uterus to shrink.
Body Aches, Vainal Pain & Hemorrhoids.. Oh my!
If you have stitches from an episiotomy tear or cut, it takes 7 to 10 days to heal. It can be helpful to cool the area with an ice pack and sit on a pillow for comfort. After urinating, it's best to clean the area with warm water while using a squeeze bottle to keep the perineum clean - this can also be done while urinating, which often helps ease any pain.
Hemorrhoids are caused by the pressure of the baby's weight during pregnancy, or stress during the delivery. Most hemorrhoids will clear up on their own within a few weeks, but can last up to several months.
To help avoid constipation, which will aggravate hemorrhoids, Dr. Elisha recommends eating a high-fiber diet that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans; drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day; and exercising. Relief can also come by using the squirt bottle on the bottom, alternating warm and cold treatments, and using a soft, unscented toilet tissue (as they tend to be less irritating).
Postpartum Night Sweats
Postpartum night sweats are very common and can last up to several weeks after birth - even as much as 6 weeks. These happen due to the changing hormone levels - specifically a decrease in estrogen - as the body readjusts to not being pregnant anymore. While night sweats are normal, fevers should never be ignored, especially after pregnancy - I will talk more about that later.
Painful, Enlarged Breasts After Birth
After giving birth, enlarged, painful breasts can be one of the most difficult changes for new moms. It is usually due to breasts being overfilled with milk. The body makes milk on supply and demand basis and it takes some time for your body to adjust to the needs of the baby, causing your breasts to be overfilled. In addition to offering breastfeeding support to women at their maternity center, Inspira offers moms a breastfeeding warm line they can call with questions after they leave the hospital.
What is breast engorgement?
While breast engorgement is normal until your milk supply meets - not exceeds - your baby's appetite, there are ways to get relief if the breasts do become engorged.
Tips for relief from breast engorgement:
- Use a warm compress or take a warm shower to allow milk to "let down" and release the extra supply.
- Feed more often and massage the breasts while nursing.
- An ice pack or cold compress can be used after feeding to relieve pain and swelling.
- Pump a bit of the milk out to relieve the pressure and allow for a softer breast, making it easier for the baby to latch on.
While breasts being overfilled is normal, if the breasts feel firm, hard, swollen, painful, and you have a fever greater than 100.4°F, you should seek medical advice. These symptoms may be a sign of mastitis - which is an infection of the breast. You should try to feed your baby often so that your breasts do not become overfilled and develop into a mastitis infection.
Postpartum hair loss or thinning - thank your hormones!
Most women love their hair so the changes pregnancy brings can either cause excitement and/or frustration. New moms tend to lose very little hair during pregnancy as hair goes into a resting phase due to the rising hormones, and many women are excited at their full hair while pregnant.
Hair loss a few months after pregnancy is very normal due to the falling estrogen levels after giving birth. Expect hair to return to pre-pregnancy levels around 3 months after giving birth and hair cycles go back to normal.
Possible Permanent Body Changes After Pregnancy
New moms should expect that some body changes from pregnancy can last beyond the birth experience. Dr. Elisha explains how all of these body changes have the potential to be permanent and that's completely normal.
Lasting Vaginal Changes After Birth
The coloring and shape should return to normal after birth, but sometimes there are permanent changes. For example, the labia may be longer and hang differently. The vagina probably will not return to its pre-pregnant shape, but this should not be an issue.
Sagging/Shrinking Breasts (Plus Side - Lower Breast Cancer Risk!)
Due to the weight gain and fullness of breasts during pregnancy, breasts may not go back to their original size or shape. The normal aging process also causes breasts to sag. New moms should wear a supportive bra (without a wire) during pregnancy and while breastfeeding - including at night - and try to lose pregnancy weight slowly after delivery. There is also a chance that breasts may become smaller after delivery.
The good thing is there is a lower chance of getting breast cancer if you decide to breastfeed. With 12 months of breastfeeding the risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3% - this can be with one child or over the course of breastfeeding several children.
Wider Hips are a Thing After Having a Baby
It's true! This phenomenon is due to the hormones of pregnancy causing a loosening of the cartilage the connects the pelvic bones, as well as a loosening of the ligaments. This allows more room for the baby to fit during the delivery. However, your body may not go back to its pre-pregnancy shape with respect to your hips, so they may stay slightly wider after giving birth.
Varicose Veins, Stretch Marks & Skin Discoloration
Pregnancy stretch marks develop because of the rapid weight gain and growth of the baby over a short period of time. Even though they do not go away completely, stretch marks should fade to a pale gray or white from the reddish or purple a pregnant woman experiences from 6 to 12 months postpartum. You can proactively talk with your obstetrician or midwife during your pregnancy about safe ways to reduce the effects of these changes if you are concerned.
How long does it take a woman's body to adjust after childbirth?
One of the things a new mom under the care of Inspira's maternity care team will learn is that she owns her pregnancy.
There will be many changes to a woman's body and brain as she experiences pregnancy and childbirth. Some changes happen to every mom and others only to some moms. Some moms may recover quickly, while for others it may take more time. Every mom is different and that's okay.
How long does it take to get a period after pregnancy?
Most new moms experience their first period by 6 months postpartum - this is the amount of time it takes for estrogen and progesterone hormones that have risen during pregnancy to go back to their pre-pregnant levels.
Women who breastfeed may not have a period for even longer. Keep in mind, even if you do not have a period you could become pregnant again. It is important to talk with your OB/GYN or midwife about birth control concerns.
How long does it take a woman's body to fully recover from pregnancy?
Most women feel fairly recovered 8 weeks after giving birth, but it can take many months to feel completely yourself after having a baby. Inspira's OB/GYNs and midwives work with moms to help them feel comfortable with the pace of their own individual recoveries.
When should I call my healthcare provider after delivery?
If you (a new mom) experience heavy vaginal bleeding that soaks more than one pad per hour, passing clots larger than a quarter, vaginal bleeding that is increasing (it should decrease each successive day), or if you have a temperature of 100.4°F or higher, you should reach out to your provider. In addition to physical concerns, you may need to call your provider if you are experiencing certain psychological symptoms.
Becoming a new Mom Causes Lasting Changes in a Woman's Brain
Here are some of the changes pregnancy can have on the brain. Your Inspira doctor or midwife can be a source of information and support should you have concerns you would like to discuss in more detail.
How does your brain change during & after pregnancy?
Is mommy brain a real thing?
It turns out mommy brain is real! In a study published in 2016 by Nature Neuroscience, it was found that there were gray matter changes in a woman's brain that allow for increased empathy - that is the ability to understand the feelings of another. This has been dubbed the "Mommy Brain" as it helps moms bond with their babies and handle the demands of being a mother. These changes can last up to 2 years after giving birth.
What psychological changes occur with having a new baby?
Women feel a wide range of emotions during and after pregnancy, most of which will normalize once they develop a routine with their new baby.
Due to constantly changing hormone levels, women may experience a difference in the way they feel and act. The drop in estrogen, progesterone and other pregnancy hormones can lead to mood swings or the "baby blues".
Many women love being a mother. You can love holding, touching and even just watching the baby. You can also feel very protective over the baby.
Alternatively, some can also feel a little overwhelmed. You may have feelings of guilt over not spending the time you are now with your new baby with either your partner, other children, family, etc.
New moms can also experience exhaustion, sleepiness, depression, excitement, and anxiety among other feelings. While she may feel more changes in her mood than before she was pregnant and sometimes have a more difficult time coping with everyday stressors, it's important to remember that most often these feelings are normal and will subside, However, new moms should seek medical help if they have extreme thoughts of hurting themselves or their baby as this may be a sign of a more significant issue called postpartum psychosis.
Postpartum Depression & Anxiety (Temp or Permanent Changes)
After giving birth, there is a significant change in hormones that affect moms and may lead to postpartum depression. Every woman's experience is different - some can experience effects of decreased hormone levels temporarily lasting 4-6 weeks, while others up to a year after giving birth. If you or a new mom you know are experiencing long-lasting, strong symptoms of depression or tiredness it may be postpartum depression. You can learn more about it here: Inspira Health Postpartum Depression Services for South Jersey Moms.
Can childbirth trigger mental illness?
There are some disorders such as depression or anxiety that may become evident during or after pregnancy due to the increases and then fluctuation in hormone levels. These usually are not significant, but the condition known as postpartum psychosis needs to be attended to so that moms and their babies remain safe.
People who experience postpartum psychosis have described feelings of being in a dream or losing touch with reality. They may have extreme feelings of depression and experience feelings of wanting to hurt themselves or their baby - these feelings need immediate medical attention. Regardless of where you delivered your baby in New Jersey and who your doctors are - if you need help for postpartum depression, the New Jersey Department of Health has a warm line for wellness issues at (856) 675-5295.
How does having a baby change your relationship?
A baby changes everything This new bundle of joy may change how you feel about yourself, your partner, your friends, and your family. It may not. You may sleep less. Others in your home may sleep less. Your body will experience changes. Be patient with yourself as you navigate this journey through motherhood,
"You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance."
- Franklin P. Jones
How can you and your partner get used to being new parents?
The best way for you and your partner to get used to being new parents is to be prepared. Learn what each other is going through and how they are reacting to being a new parent - and be empathetic to their feelings.
Spend time with each other when you can - take advantage of the opportunity when the baby is sleeping to either rest yourself or to pay attention to each other.
It is difficult in the beginning with the demanding schedule of a newborn, the lack of sleep, and the changes a woman's body is going through. It is important once the body has recovered (usually 4-6 weeks postpartum) to regain your intimacy - but make sure your body is healed and you have been cleared by your provider.
Where can new moms go for more help in New Jersey?
Download the "First Days Home with Baby" maternity guide on Inspira's website for a helpful guide to assist families that are bringing home a new baby.
If you're pregnant and concerned about the coronavirus learn what the providers at Inspira Health Medical Centers are saying about pregnancy and COVID-19. Watch this video below and then read Pregnancy and COVID-19, What You Need to Know.