November 21, 2017 November 21, 2017

Getting Your Head Around Your New Body

Who'd have thought your boobs could actually get bigger?

Well, you have a new baby and, surprise, surprise, you have a new body too. If you're more than a little shocked by the woman that you see in the mirror, reassure yourself that this is merely your transitional body as, inside and out, the havoc wreaked on your person slowly but surely dissipates.

The good news is that you will get back in shape one day. For the vast majority of women, a beautiful, strong, healthy body is possible with a little desire, a little knowledge, and a little effort. In fact, depending on where you started from, you may even end up in better shape than before you got pregnant. But even if you were in amazing shape before you conceived, you probably won't ever return to your exact pre-pregnancy shape.

Many of the changes that occur during pregnancy reverse themselves within the first few weeks after the birth of your baby. Other pregnancy changes are more permanent. Here's what you can expect to stay with you for life and what you can look forward to saying goodbye to.

The things that change.

Your tummy. Your abdominal muscles stretched and thinned throughout your pregnancy to allow for the growth of your baby, and they'll stay that way - weak and unsupportive - unless you take steps. These muscles are responsible for forward and lateral extension of the spine; they help keep your spine erect; they're what you need if you want a flat(-ish) stomach. In short, these muscles are pretty darn useful, so you'll want them to be in good working order. Without them, you'll find yourself hunching forward as your body shifts its load to your less capable shoulders and upper and lower back. If you had a cesarean birth, you're probably even more reluctant, shall we say, to engage these muscles.

Your pelvic area. Your pelvic floor muscles are responsible for supporting your abdominal and pelvic organs against gravity. It comes as no surprise to learn, then, that they have an additional workload during pregnancy. Plus, they stretch significantly during a vaginal birth and may be additionally compromised if your perineum tears or you undergo an episiotomy. Like your abdominal muscles, they require gentle progressive exercise to return to their supportive state. The alternative, should you still need convincing, is a future of potential urinary incontinence and painful sex. 

Your uterus. Throughout the six weeks following the birth of your baby, your uterus works hard to shrink down to its pre-pregnancy size. This is accomplished by contractions (more noticeable in a second or subsequent delivery), accompanied by a vaginal discharge as your uterus sheds the lining that formed during your pregnancy. Known as lochia, this discharge starts off bright red in color before changing to brown and then a clearish yellow. While you may have a few other things on your plate right now, keep an eye on the color of the lochia. If, after changing from bright red to brown or yellow, it returns to a red color, take it as a sign that you are doing too much and that you should try to relax more.

Your weight. No matter how much weight you gained during your pregnancy, proper diet and exercise can help you return to a healthy weight. You'll shed the excess water weight in the first few weeks postpartum. Night sweats and, for that matter, day sweats are common. You'll also pee a lot and for a lot longer than you ever could later in your pregnancy, as your bladder can now hold more.

 

The things that may or may not change.

Your skin. While chloasma or the mask of pregnancy-the result of an overproduction of melanin by the pituitary gland-often fades, it's still very important to wear sunscreen. The linea negra-the pigmented line that runs down the center of your abdomen-may or may not fade over time.

 

Your feet. During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin loosens the ligaments in your feet, causing the bones in your feet to spread, so it appears that your feet have grown a half size or so. They may or may not revert to their original size. If they don't, at least you have a great excuse to go shoe shopping.

 

The things that you are likely stuck with.

Your rib cage. This expands during pregnancy and may never return to its original size. (The upside being that a larger rib cage creates the fortunate illusion that your waist is actually smaller than it is.)

Your breasts. If you are breast-feeding, your breasts will become, suddenly and quite amazingly, much heavier and fuller than ever before. Your fulsome pregnancy chest (which, just a few days ago, may have seemed quite impressive to you) pales by comparison. For all kinds of reasons, your new breasts might take some getting used to, as you and your infant occupy yourselves with the intricacies of breast-feeding. They may leak milk when you least expect it (your breasts, not your baby, although infants do this too). And, useful though they are, your new breasts may also exacerbate a tendency to hunch your shoulders. All of these changes may be noticeable for as long as you breast-feed, after which time your breasts will most likely be the same size and shape as they were before you got pregnant. If you decide to bottle-feed instead, your breasts will usually return to their normal size within a few weeks.

Your varicose veins. If you suffered from varicose veins during your pregnancy, know that while they will fade, they will always be there. The same goes for hemorrhoids (a type of varicose vein). They'll shrink but never disappear entirely. (Sorry about that.)

Your stretch marks. These will fade and eventually turn into silvery streaks.

Your cesarean scar. If you delivered your baby via cesarean, your abdominal or uterine scar will be with you for the long haul. The same goes for a perineal scar from an episiotomy or perineal tear.

The impact of these changes, temporary or otherwise, on your posture.

Over the last nine months, your whole abdominal and pelvic area slowly rearranged itself to accommodate your steadily growing baby. Quite suddenly, your baby is taking up space in the outside world. Now, your abdomen and pelvic area have the thankless task of returning your major organs to their original locations, something that usually takes about six weeks. You can't feel this happening, fortunately, although you may develop a not so attractive tendency to hunch forward¾a tendency that is not helped by the new and frequent demands of your baby. Whether you are feeding your baby, changing his diaper, or lifting him into a bassinet or stroller, you will find yourself leaning over your child for what seems like hours every day. And while this is, of course, the best way to view your accomplishments and congratulate yourself on bringing such a splendid child into the world, your back will most definitely be less appreciative.

Remember, giving birth to a baby is a huge physical change that can have far-reaching consequences. While your body had nine whole months to get used to carrying your baby, childbirth gives it mere hours to adapt to your new, no-longer-pregnant state. Rest assured, however, that while you may not recognize the body you now have (I still have a belly! My boobs are beyond big!), the changes you notice are to be expected. Best of all, they are mostly temporary. With proper diet and exercise, your body-internal organs, posture, and all-can return to one you know and love (or at least like) within several months.