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Five Things to Expect From Your Body Postpartum

Pregnancy and childbirth are two of the most intense physical experiences a human being can have.

Whether you have a vaginal birth or deliver via Caesarean section, the body goes through a lot to bring life into the world.

Following birth, you will likely go through an intense time of bonding, healing, and adapting.

The postpartum experience can be a challenge, so it’s good to know what to expect and that it will get better.

What we’ll be deep diving into:

  • Bleeding after pregnancy and what to look out for.
  • The uterus and how it heals post-pregnancy
  • Toilet challenges and how to address them
  • Postpartum haemorrhoids and treatment
  • How to cope with perineum tears

Every ‘body’ copes differently post-pregnancy

Even though it’s the genesis of our civilisation, it might feel a bit weird to grow a human being inside you and then give birth to them.

Many factors impact your body and how it copes with the pregnancy and postpartum journey – including your health, the birth itself, and how the body heals.

We want to encourage new mums to share their stories so we can begin to demystify the realities of postpartum life.

Every ‘body’ will respond differently to the different stages of healing, but if you know what is likely to happen, you can prepare.

Prepare using our 5 expectations for your postpartum body.

Here are five things to expect from your body postpartum.

1. Postpartum bleeding – what you need to know

After you give birth, you will bleed for a few weeks – this bleeding is called lochia.

The womb is simply getting rid of everything that made it hospitable for the baby.

Lochia is blood, tissue, white blood cells, and mucous from the womb that will be discharged through the vaginal opening, regardless of how you delivered the baby.

Expect heavy bleeding initially that changes colour and consistency during an average of four to six weeks after the birth.

However, lochia can go on for as long as 12 weeks, and there are some complications you need to look out for.

What the researchers say:

The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) advises ongoing contact with your midwife about lochia, especially if you are passing blood clots.

They say, “Save your maternity pads to show your midwife if possible. Passing lots of large clots or more than a pint of blood in the first 24 hours are symptoms of primary postpartum haemorrhage.”

Seek immediate medical help if that happens and keep an eye out for the symptoms of secondary postpartum haemorrhage.

The NCT says these include “feeling shaky, feverish or generally ill, having lochia with an offensive smell or heavier than expected bleeding or bleeding that becomes heavier rather than lighter over time.”

For lochia, use thicker pads than your usual menstrual ones. Also, don’t use tampons as they may carry bacteria into your genital tract or uterus.

2. The uterus and how it heals post-pregnancy

As far as protective packaging goes, the uterus is humanity’s gold standard effort.

During pregnancy, your baby will hopefully get everything it needs via the placenta and enjoy the cosy growth chamber for as long as it needs.

Once your baby is born, you might expect the bump to disappear fast because several lbs of weight are now gone.

But the reality is that it takes around six weeks for the uterine fundus – the top part that goes across the cervix – to go down.

It can take longer still for the ‘baby bump’ to reduce further – and that can cause many women anxiety as they worry about being overweight.

Say it with us, ladies – this is normal!

What the researchers say:

In their paper Physiology, Postpartum Changes, authors Gaurav Chauhan and Prasanna Tadi talk about the ‘involution’, which is the ‘process of the reproductive organs returning to their prepregnant state’.

Writing about the uterus after delivery, they say, “At this point, the uterus has increased tone, feels firm and weighs 1000gms (1 kg). At the end of the first week, it weighs 500gms, and by six weeks, it weighs approximately 50gms.”

In their medically reviewed postpartum guide, BabyCenter explains that:

“Even after your uterus shrinks back to its normal size, you may continue to look pregnant for several weeks or even months.

“That’s because your abdominal muscles get stretched out during pregnancy, and it takes time – and regular exercise – to get those muscles back in shape.”

3. Going to the toilet after you give birth

There’s plenty of anxiety around how it’ll be the first time you go to the toilet after giving birth.

Understandably so, as A LOT has happened in the pelvic arena since your the last visit.

But while we can’t promise it won’t be uncomfortable or a bit painful, we can reassure you that it’s quite normal to worry, and there are a few things you can do to make it easier.

If you’ve had a vaginal tear and repair, it’ll likely exacerbate those fears. So, let’s turn to the experts for some advice.

What the researchers say:

God bless the NHS, who have some sage wisdom to share on passing urine and faeces postpartum.

They say, “Drinking plenty of fluids to help keep the urine diluted helps. If you have problems passing urine after birth, then a warm bath or shower might also help.”

“Constipation is very common and can be made worse by haemorrhoids. A high fibre diet including fresh fruit and vegetables and adequate fluid intake can help resolve [bowel motion] problems.”

The NHS also recommends holding a clean maternity pad to the perineum (where you may have stitches from a vaginal repair) when moving your bowels.

Don’t worry, it’s unlikely that passing faeces will result in popping your stitches, as most women don’t have a bowel movement for several days after giving birth.

4. Postpartum haemorrhoids and how to treat them

Postpartum haemorrhoids and anal fissures affect around 40% of women who go through childbirth, according to research.

They often occur in the later stages of pregnancy when the weight of your growing baby puts pressure on the vein connecting your legs to your heart.

During birth, where you may need to push and strain to deliver your baby, that pressure can cause post-partum piles.

There’s no getting around it, haemorrhoids are uncomfortable and irritating. But they can be treated quickly and eventually reduce or disappear.

What the researchers say:

Studies show that women who give birth vaginally are more likely to develop haemorrhoids.

In the paper Perianal Diseases in Pregnancy and After Childbirth, researchers Bužinskienė et al. found that haemorrhoids and anal fissures ‘usually occur during the third trimester of pregnancy and 1 – 2 days after giving birth.’

They wrote: “Constipation during pregnancy, perianal diseases during previous pregnancy and childbirth, instrumental delivery, straining duration of more than 20 min, and weight of the newborn more than 3,800g are associated with haemorrhoids.”

How do you treat haemorrhoids? Eat a high-fibre, fruit and veg-rich diet and drink plenty of fluids to ease constipation.

Buy topical creams from the pharmacist to shrink haemorrhoids and keep the anal area clean by bathing in warm water regularly.

5. Dealing with a perineum tear

According to the American College of Obstetricians, more than 53% of vaginal births cause tearing around the vaginal opening.

This occurs either naturally as the size of the baby tears the perineum skin, or when the medical team delivering your baby need to create extra space for them to be born.

For a small, first-degree tear, you might not even require treatment. In the case of second-degree tears, where the muscle of the perineum is impacted, you will need stitches.

In the case of third and fourth-degree tears, you might need surgery as the affected area will likely include the anus.

Be reassured that only a tiny percentage of women (around 3.5 in every 100) will need surgical intervention.

What the researchers say:

Writing about perineal wounds, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advises that new tissue will grow and fill the gap where the stitches in the perineum are.

They write: “This process varies in women and depends on where the wound is, how deep the gap was, and how long any infection was present.”

“Usually, when the healing process is complete, there will be a red scar for a short while. This will eventually fade like any skin scar.”

You’ll find the soreness of your bruised or torn perineum will improve within four to twelve weeks, plus the midwife will keep checking how it heals.

Celebrate your miraculous body

The postpartum period is a complex one, both physically and emotionally.

Healing is a journey, and it does take time, so treat yourself with compassion, care, and kindness.

What you have achieved physically by giving birth is incredible, so keep reminding yourself of that as you move forward with your baby.

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