After the initial cuddles and cuteness of the first few weeks, the postpartum period can seem like it’s all about the downs. If you’re anything like most new moms, you’ll probably find yourself experiencing a range of emotions – from joy and excitement to exhaustion, loneliness, and anxiety. The physical changes in your body after giving birth are obviously a big part of it all. From stretch marks to sagging breasts and everything in between. But what you may not know is that several postpartum symptoms often go unmentioned by friends, family members and even medical professionals.
Giving birth is one of a woman’s most emotionally trying events. It’s a big transition from your previous life and it’s normal to feel a bit lost at first. Some experts say that up to 80% of women have postpartum depression (although less than 10% of them actually seek help). This mental health issue can develop at any time during the childbearing years. It can occur after a miscarriage or even during infertility treatments. Although it’s normal to feel a bit blue during the postpartum period, this doesn’t mean you have postpartum depression. The main difference between the two is that postpartum depression is a serious, persistent, and sometimes debilitating condition that requires treatment. Postpartum blues, however, are short-lived and tend to go away on their own after a few days or weeks.
The first few weeks after giving birth are a time of intense bodily changes. Your immune system is already being run ragged with all the new demands. So you can expect to be more susceptible to infections than normal. Your immune system will react by producing antibodies that travel to your breastmilk and then on to your baby, helping to protect them from harmful pathogens. However, all of this activity can cause you to feel quite sick. You may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Soreness and swollen lymph nodes (tiny glands in your body that help fight infection)
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
These are normal in the postpartum period. Typically, all of these symptoms will pass within a few days. If they last longer, it could indicate a bacterial or viral infection and you should see your doctor.
After giving birth, it’s common for your digestive system to slow down. This happens for a few reasons: Toxins accumulated during pregnancy are released into your body during labor and delivery through your blood and lymphatic system. Afterward, many will be filtered by your liver and excreted through your kidneys. Also, your bowel movement may be slower due to increased progesterone levels. However, if this is a prolonged (longer than two weeks) or pronounced issue, talk to your doctor. They can recommend some dietary changes that may help with the situation.
The pelvic floor muscles are responsible for keeping all your private bits from falling out. During pregnancy, they stretch and shrink back to their original size after birth. Unfortunately, these muscles are often overworked during pregnancy and/or labor, so your pelvic floor may be a bit saggy. Additionally, your hormone levels may have shifted, meaning that you have less control over your pelvic floor muscles than before. All of this adds up to a higher risk of urinary incontinence. You may leak a little bit of urine when you sneeze, cough or laugh, or even walk up the stairs. It’s also common to leak during exercise or sex. Most of these issues will resolve on their own after a few months. However, you can improve the situation with these simple tips: wear looser underwear, avoid strong odors and don’t hold in your pee. Also, avoid the following during the first few weeks after giving birth: squats, heavy lifting, sex and running.
Giving birth is tiring! However, you’re likely to suffer from insomnia, fatigue and sleep apnea due to the extra weight and pressure on your body. Fortunately, these three temporary conditions will be resolved once you recover from the delivery. If you’ve had a C-section, you’ll probably experience insomnia related to pain and discomfort. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll have to deal with interrupted sleep due to the baby’s feeding schedule. Many new moms also experience postpartum anxiety. This can manifest in many ways, but often results in insomnia.
After birth, due to breastfeeding and lack of sex, the vagina can begin to atrophy. This is when the vaginal walls thin, dry out, and become inflamed. This is due to a combination of two factors: First, the skin’s elasticity after the stretch of pregnancy is gone. Second, you may not be as sexually active during the postpartum period. Your vaginal muscles may feel tired after the delivery, and you may be too tired (or unmotivated) to have sex. There are many ways to tackle this issue, including Kegel exercises and vaginal tightening sprays, creams and pills. Avoiding episiotomies and excessive amounts of antibiotics will also help.
The postpartum period is often a time of mental, emotional and physical challenges. It’s natural to feel exhausted, worried or even depressed after your child’s birth. Fortunately, most of these feelings will disappear within a few weeks or months. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your partner or a friend or doctor. They can help you identify and overcome any issues you’re experiencing.