Giving birth is truly a wondrous achievement. And the physical changes that a woman will experience after birth are amazing. If you have to think about it, for nine months your body has been undergoing important changes to support and nurture the growing baby in your womb.
Now that baby is born, your body will naturally have to undergo new changes as it returns to its pre-pregnancy form. Experts believe that it will take the body an average of six weeks to return to its former state. This period, which is referred to as the post-natal period, or puerperium, is an important time in which a woman transcends into motherhood.
What to expect
Once the baby is born, the uterus starts to shrink back to normal size and position (by the time you go into labor, your uterus is about 15 times heavier). Research has suggested that this occurs as the muscle fibres of the uterus breakdown. After birth, you may experience lower abdominal pain, or afterpains, as the uterus contracts. Many moms have said these pains feel like mild labour contractions. However, it’s a normal occurrence and is the body’s way of controlling bleeding. It is believed that breastfeeding induces afterpains as it releases the hormone oxytocin, which encourages your uterus to contract.
Your breasts will also undergo changes soon after birth. Within hours you will start to produce colostrum, which is the rich, creamy first milk, and your breasts will at first feel soft. However, as your breastfeeding hormone levels rise, an increased blood supply will flow to the breasts to stimulate production of milk as your body prepares to breastfeed. Within a few days you may feel sensitive and tender and your breasts may be enlarged. At first it may be uncomfortable but, as a routine of breastfeeding is established, these discomforts will soon fade.
You may feel swollen and bruised for a couple of days after the birth. This is your body’s way of protecting itself. Giving birth will cause some minor grazes and bruises. As they heal, the tissue swells to protect these abrasions. An episiotomy may take slightly longer to heal and stitches may be painful for a few days or even weeks. Some woman may find that essential oils and homeopathic treatment are helpful in dealing with the sore tissue.
You may also start to lose large amounts of hair. This is no cause for panic. Remember, a normal person loses on average 100 hairs a day. However, during pregnancy, changes in hormones generally prevent this hair loss from occurring. Now that the pregnancy is over, your body needs to get back to its pre-natal state and you may find you are losing extra hair for the first few months. However, your hair will return to its normal growth cycle so do not fret.
A weighty issue
The question on most women’s lips is “how long will it take to lose the weight?’ Although it could take several weeks for your body to shift back to its pre-pregnancy state, you will lose weight rather quickly in the first few days after giving birth. During pregnancy, your body retained a great deal of fluids. And, now that baby is born, your body will be looking for a way to get rid of those excess fluids. It’s normal for a woman to pass urine more than usual, or to perspire a lot in the first few days after the birth. This is just another amazing way in which your body is returning to its former state. And the good news is that all those fluids weighed quite a bit and, now that your body is excreting them, you will find you are already kilos lighter!
It’s important to remember that although your body is losing the excess weight, it did take nine months to get to where you are now. So be gentle on yourself and realize that it may take several months to recover – your body won’t magically snap back to its pre-pregnancy state. Following a healthy eating plan and combining it with gentle exercises will help you shed any lingering and excessive weight and, in time, you will rock your pre-pregnancy body.