Your Body's Physical Changes After Childbirth

During pregnancy and birth, your body underwent some tremendous changes. Immediately after birth, you'll experience several more. Your uterus will begin shrinking rapidly in an effort to control bleeding and return to its pre-pregnancy state. Your body may feel sore from the delivery, and your back may ache. You may perspire more.

The good news is that these body changes are all temporary! Quite soon, you'll return to your normal physical state, and each of these changes will soon be merely a memory.

In the meantime, though, here are some details about the particular physical changes your body may go through: bleeding after childbirth, perineum pain, afterpains, engorged breasts, urine and bowel changes, and changes in nutrition and exercise.

Bleeding After Childbirth
You'll experience a discharge of blood, called lochia, which occurs as the lining of the uterus is shed. The discharge gradually turns from bright red to pink or brown and finally to yellow or white before it stops. It's heavy at first but becomes lighter with time.

This bleeding will occur whether you had a vaginal delivery or a cesarean, although it's not quite as heavy with a cesarean. It should stop altogether by the time you go for your six-week postpartum checkup.

The bleeding shouldn't cause you any concern unless it suddenly becomes heavy again or you begin to pass blood clots larger than a silver dollar. If either occurs, call your healthcare provider immediately.

Perineum Pain
You may have some pain between the vagina and the rectum. This is caused by the stretching, tearing or cutting of the area that allowed for delivery of your baby.

If you received an episiotomy, the area where the incision was made may be quite painful, but it will heal very quickly. To ease your discomfort, you can take a shallow bath (sitz bath) that soaks your lower body and thighs.

These contractions of your uterus, which may occur for several days after the birth, signal that the uterus is shrinking to its pre-pregnancy size. Applying warm compresses to your abdomen or lying for a short time on a warm (not hot) heating pad can help.

Engorged Breasts
As the milk for nourishing your baby begins to flow into your breasts, they may feel sore. To ease this pain, you'll want to stimulate your breasts so that milk production can begin in earnest.

The best way to do this is by encouraging your baby to breastfeed often. The more often (and longer) she nurses, the sooner your milk production will become established.

If your breasts are painfully engorged and your baby doesn't need to feed again, you may need to apply cold compresses and hand-express small amounts of milk frequently. You can also try expressing milk in the shower, a little at a time.

If you don't breastfeed, you may still feel the discomfort of engorgement. To relieve any pain, wear a supportive bra, and use an ice pack to numb the area and help dry up the milk flow. Avoid rubbing the nipples or running warm water over the area, as both will stimulate your breasts.

Urine and Bowel Changes
You might experience incontinence for a short period. If this happens, empty your bladder frequently and do your Kegel exercises. As your bladder muscles contract and grow stronger, the incontinence will pass.

You may also experience constipation, uncomfortable bowel movements and hemorrhoids. The process of delivery can slow the movement of food through the intestines, which may cause you to feel bloated or constipated. Changing your diet, taking pain medicine and spending more time in bed are other contributing factors.

When you do have a bowel movement, it's important not to strain. It can help to drink plenty of fluids, add bran and prunes to your diet and take stool softeners as recommended by your doctor.

Changes in Nutrition and Exercise
You may be surprised at how ravenous you'll feel if you're breastfeeding. It's essential to have good nutrition for this important task, and your hunger ensures that you'll receive the nutrition you need.

If you breastfeed, the amount of nutrients your baby receives depends on the quality of the food you eat. Because breastfeeding places more demands on your body than pregnancy did, you need to eat an extra 500 calories a day.

And whatever you do, don't try to diet at this point! Be good to yourself -- eat the foods that will provide you with the energy you need. Avoid junk food or empty-calorie foods, and drink plenty of water.

Exercise, too, is important to your feeling of well-being. You can begin doing very light exercises -- stretching your muscles, doing Kegel exercises and walking around -- while you're still in the hospital. But check with your doctor before you start any postpartum exercise program.

You'll probably be told to be careful with your activity if you had a cesarean. You need to be cautious about lifting objects and carrying heavy things. Avoid any activities that may strain your abdominal muscles. And take care of your incision, as you've been shown how to do.

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