Postpartum bodies: Things you should know and how you can prepare
Our bodies go under some intense and powerful changes to produce a baby. Muscles separate, organs drop, and things tear. It might sound impossible and equal parts scary, but there's something you need to be aware of: women's bodies are resilient and remarkable and are capable of transforming and healing itself.
There's a lot of information about postpartum life once your baby arrives but not many people speak about the ways in which your body changes. And while our bodies are incredible at healing themselves, there are a few things that you can do to help the process along:
- Read up on what's really going on with your body (this article should help you with this)
- Know who to call for help - you just gave birth! That's no easy feat. Give yourself a break and call for help from your friends, family, and health care providers.
Postpartum bodies are full of just as many mysteries as pregnancy bodies; however, many of us are still in the dark about the realities of what having a baby does to their bodies. Postpartum bodies are leaky, swollen, bulgy, saggy, scarred, and incredible. But, what’s really going on after giving birth and how can you prepare?
1. Tears and stitches
More often than not, giving birth results in some vaginal tearing. While this doesn’t happen to everyone, it's normal to experience small tearing, or in some cases, tearing all the way down to the anus. Doctors will stitch these tears which will help you to heal; however, these stitches can make post-pregnancy pooping, peeing, and even sitting feel sore.
Don’t panic though! These tears and stitches often heal quickly.
The good news? A perineal massage is an excellent way to reduce the risk of perineal tearing during your delivery as well as potentially reduce the duration of delivery.
Massaging your perineum can start a few weeks before you deliver as it helps to prepare your perineal muscles to accommodate your baby. Don’t fear! It’s relatively easy to conduct a perineal massage yourself.
- To begin with, you should sit in a comfortable position that gives you access to your perineum.
- With clean fingers gently massage the perineum (area between your vagina and rectum).
You might also slowly want to start applying pressure to the opening of your birth canal (which is about an inch into your vagina) and slowly stretch it out to prepare it for delivery.
However, it may not always be easy to know exactly how to conduct a perineal massage, so it would be best to first talk through the steps with your pelvic physical therapist or doctor. You can also ask your partner to assist you with a perineal massage.
2. Weakened pelvic floor
The pelvic floor is the muscular sling that supports the major pelvic organs (including the bladder, bowel, vagina, and uterus) and maintains the everyday functioning of the bladder and bowel.
Whether giving birth vaginally or by cesarean, your pelvic floor muscles will be impacted by the hormonal changes and the weight of the growing fetus. During a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor muscles undergo considerable stretching and strain. During a cesarean, surgery through multiple muscle layers can lead to a slower recovery generally and a weakened abdominal wall.
The benefits of a healthy pelvic floor before are numerous. Exercising these muscles before and during pregnancy can decrease the weakening of the muscles caused by the strain of carrying a growing baby, decrease the risk of injury during vaginal birth, and speed up recovery afterwards. A strong pelvic floor can also increase sexual pleasure for people and has even been shown to reduce the length of time spent in active labour!
Practicing your Kegel exercises throughout your pregnancy is highly recommended and if you haven’t been doing so, now's a great time to start! To assist with a quicker recovery, preventing tears, and incontinence after delivery, we highly recommend Kegels exercises in order to strengthen your pelvic floor.
It's important to note that while the Perifit Kegel trainer does help guide your pelvic floor training, we don't recommend that you use it during pregnancy. We recommend that you perform manual Kegel exercises or work directly with your physiotherapist during pregnancy and recommend the usage of the Perifit for postpartum pelvic floor recovery at 6 weeks postpartum.
3. The mummy tummy
For days, and even weeks, after giving birth you may still look like you’re pregnant. Even once this bump goes down, most moms will have skin that’s saggy and feels thin and soft.
Many moms also get stretch marks during and after pregnancy which can show up in several different places - boobs, stomach, back and hips, inner thighs - as well as range from white to dark purple in color.
Some also experience Diastasis Recti which is the separation of the tummy muscles from having been stretched and are now thin and weak. During pregnancy and the early postpartum period, generally doctors say that it's best to avoid the following things in order to reduce the look and feel of Diastasis Recti:
- Sit up type motions ie. when getting out of bed. Try rolling to the side and then pushing up as a safer alternative
- Constipation and straining on the toilet
- Heavy lifting
- Crunches or sit-ups
Gentle abdominal exercises that don’t involve ‘crunching’ can increase the strength and function of the abdomen, and reduce the visual concerns of the abdomen as well as the risk of developing other back or pelvic pains.
4. Changes in mental health
There are several physical changes that your body experiences postpartum, but it would wrong not to mention the mental and emotional changes that many new mothers experience.
While there are endless stories of parents instantly connecting and loving their newborns, some don't feel this instant connection to their child after giving birth, often resulting in feelings of shame and guilt. Between 50 to 75% of new mothers experience a shift in their emotions called the “baby blues” after delivery.
Up to 15% of the above-mentioned mothers will develop a more severe and longer-lasting depression, called postpartum depression, after delivery. Postpartum depression is still misunderstood, but luckily there’s a lot of support out there to help you if you or anyone you know is experiencing postpartum depression. Your doctor may be a good place to start. Or you may reach out to a dedicated postpartum depression foundation for help and support.
Many mothers go into pregnancy assuming that the "baby blues" and postpartum depression wouldn't affect them. As these are due to hormonal imbalances, it's not always easy to control and eliminate from the beginning. However, there are many ways that you can prepare for the "baby blues" and postpartum depression ahead of giving birth.
- Get your meds/medical team in order: Often times it's difficult to find the energy or motivation to want to take a shower, let alone find a therapist that you can speak with. Being able to set up any potential medications that you'll need as well as having a therapy sessions lined up can really make a difference.
- Create a close circle of go-tos: Now is the time to find support where you can. Don't get us wrong, moms are super human, but it's still extremely important to have support when you can get it. Setting up an educated and prepared circle of friends, family, and loved ones can make a big difference. Whether you're having a difficult time getting out of bed or if you don't have someone to watch your baby, it's easy to want to give up. Have a handful of people that can be ‘on call’ that you can call on at any hour for support.
- Prepare a flexible feeding plan: Even if you're team breastfeeding all the way, it could be helpful to prepare a Plan B just in case. Finding yourself in the middle of the night with a crying baby and no way to feed them is daunting.
- Research baby-bonding: For some new mothers, it can take time to form an attachment to the baby. This happens to so many people for many different reasons. One thing you can do to increase your connection post birth is skin-to-skin contact with the baby (this goes for both parents).
You've got this mama!
As we said previously, mothers are super human! Your body is going to change in many ways that you may not think is even possible and that's okay (and beautiful!). Creating a human is a miracle and your body is going to work in ways in order to bring this miracle to life. So yes, your body is going to change and there are many ways that you can prepare for some of these changes before giving birth to aid in a quicker postpartum recovery. But just remember to be kind to yourself and to seek help when you need it.