When they tell the story of the Nativity, they don’t tell you that Mary was a martyr to her haemorrhoids. Well, she must have been. Riding a donkey heavily pregnant wasn’t going to do her any favours.
That’s because our society doesn’t really talk about the normal experiences of parenthood and life postpartum. Here are two important things to know.
1, even though your post-baby body can be disorientating, experiencing birth is an extraordinary thing. Lots of women say it makes them think ‘my body is AMAZING!’.
And 2, knowing what to expect in terms of body changes can help you deal with it. Studies have shown that women who feel unprepared for the changes to their physical health after birth are more likely to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed.
Here are some things you might experience as your amazing body readjusts to life after pregnancy.
Oh, your poor brain. After the birth, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically. This can give you the ‘baby blues’ (mood swings, anxiety, sadness, irritability) for a few weeks, or postpartum depression (when these symptoms last longer and interfere with your daily functioning).
In fact, it’s possible that you will feel like your mood is all over the place for a couple of months. Be patient, it’s your hormones returning to balance. Talk to your GP if it is feeling overwhelming.
Weight gain is part of pregnancy. Most women lose weight gradually after the birth.
Loose skin and saggy stomach muscles
The taut pregnant tummy skin becomes soft and floppy after the birth. Whether or not it because firm again depends on how stretched your skin was, and your genetics.
Your pelvic floor
Carrying a baby, labour and delivery, can put a lot of stress on your pelvic floor. After childbirth, some women experience bladder incontinence, some experience fecal (poo) incontinence, and sometimes women may experience a prolapse. (That is when a weakened spot in the vaginal walls allows the bladder, rectum or uterus to drop out of position.) The good news is that you’re not alone, and there is an entire profession – pelvic floor physiotherapists – out there who can help you deal with this.
Stretch marks on your stomach, breasts, hips or thighs
Stretch marks aren’t harmful. Over time they will fade to white. Some creams claim to remove stretch marks, but there is no evidence these work.
A pain in the bottom. These usually go away soon after you give birth, especially if you’re careful to avoid constipation.
Episiotomy and caesarean scars
You might emerge from childbirth with a scar from a caesarean, from an episiotomy or from a perineal tear. These can take some weeks to heal fully and years to fade to white. Some scars need gentle massage for a period after birth to help their healing. And you need to monitor them for pain or discomfort; seek advice if you are experiencing any.
Changes in your breast size
They can get much bigger after the birth because of extra blood flow and milk. This will settle down but your breasts might not go back to the size they were before the birth. They might be bigger. Or smaller.
Changes in your skin
Some women develop dark irregular patches on their face during pregnancy. This is chloasma, ‘the mask of pregnancy’, and it’s thought to be due to the stimulation of pigment-producing cells by female sex hormones. These patches usually fade over the months following birth, but for some women can last several years.
For other women, their moles, birthmarks or freckles can get darker.
Some women develop a dark line down the middle of their stomach, called the ‘linea nigra’.
Hormonal changes can also make women’s nipples go darker. For some, this change is permanent.
Changes to your teeth
They used to say a woman lost a tooth for each baby she had (before modern dental care). Pregnancy can lead to dental problems for some women, including gum disease and tooth decay. Try to visit the dentist while you’re pregnant for a check up.
Changes to your hair, or hair loss, due to changes in hormone levels.
It’s normal to lose a lot of hair after giving birth. But it’s ok, you’ve got a lot spare. Rising hormone levels during pregnancy cause you to grow a lot of hair. The hormone levels drop, you lose those locks.
Changes to your eyesight
Hormones again. Women sometimes get blurry vision or dry eyes while they’re pregnant. If you’re breastfeeding it can continue after the birth. (See an optometrist).
That’s a lot of change! What helps you feel good about your body after birth?
- Take care of yourself with good food and gentle exercise. This is always an important part of life but do it as a new mum because it’s good for your mind and body, not to lose weight. And please don’t go in for high impact exercise to get your ‘pre-baby body’ back. Vigorous exercise could actually reduce your pelvic floor strength. Talk to your GP or midwife before starting vigorous exercise after the birth.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s ok and normal that your body has changed. Remind yourself that your body has just produced a human being. You are strong and you are amazing.
- Be kind to other women. It’s great to see women sending each other positive messages about women’s bodies in all their diversity.
Look at this website https://ashluna.com/#/4thtribodies/ This is a photodocumentary project on women embracing their bodies and parenthood. There are women with stretchmarks, with separated abdominal muscles, women surviving mastectomies and new parenthood. You name it.
And check out these Instagram pages
#4thtribodies – a positive page that includes people of different races, sexualities and abilities.
#stopcensoringmotherhood – a supportive, positive source of honest information about postpartum and parenting.