Who knew having a baby could change your life in such dramatic ways? Well, maybe you’ve heard of the emotional “life-changing” feeling of learning to love and care for a new baby, but what about learning to adjust to the physical changes in your own body? Why are things out of place, drooping or “bigger but not better” than before? Questions such as these are among those frequently asked at a six-week check-up. Also, most importantly, women ask, “when will it return to normal?”
Well, the good news is most bodily changes are temporary and reversible. Even so, many postpartum body changes are annoying, frightening and oftentimes, embarrassing. Some of the many changes women experience include incontinence, bleeding, looseness “down there,” and back and hip pain, amongst others unmentionables.
Urinary incontinence is one’s inability to control her urine flow. For many women, this incontinence begins during labor as their baby’s head presses against the side walls of the vagina temporarily causing numbness. Once injured the nerves no longer communicate with the bladder to indicate fullness and the need to hold in urine. Thus, the bladder fills to capacity and begins emptying at inopportune times, without signaling the rest of the body beforehand. Luckily, nerve damage is generally easily reparable. Within a few days to a few weeks, the nerves around the bladder repair themselves and the incontinence discontinues. While you’re waiting for this repair, it’s best to use sanitary pads for leaks and practice urinating frequently, even if you don’t feel like you need to “go”.
Bleeding after childbirth is also a very common occurrence. Generally for six weeks following childbirth women experience bleeding; first, it’s very heavy, bright red and then it eventually tapers off to a yellowish or white discharge, and finally clears completely. This prolonged menstruation is known as “lochia”. The best advice for dealing with this is to use a sanitary napkin and avoid using tampons. Also, try to avoid any strenuous exercise as this might lead to increased bleeding.
Another uncomfortable problem is a feeling of looseness “down there”. Women often notice that their bottom half feels droopy or out of sorts. This feeling is due to the uterus, bladder and rectum being lowered during childbirth. The pushing and straining of delivery leads to a weakened pelvic floor. Kegel exercises can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Back and hip pain are also common complaints for women who’ve recently given birth. Although these issues may have arisen during pregnancy, unfortunately, they are often not immediately resolved after delivery. There are many reasons for these persisting discomforts. The most common explanation is that the ligaments that connect and support the pelvis, back and hips are stretched to allow the baby to pass through the vaginal canal. If this is the case, it may take a few weeks before these ligaments are strengthened and returned to the original taut nature. To assist in the process, women can practice light stretches at home and walking to strengthen the core muscles. Of course, any exercise should first be approved by your doctor.
Although uncomfortable and often embarrassing, most postpartum discomforts are short-lived. Try to focus on the unexplainable joy of being a new mom and allow your body time to adjust to its new found state of motherhood.