Mum and baby

Your post-pregnancy body questions answered

It’s you… but different. Here’s how to get your head around the physical changes that pregnancy brings.

While you might be one of the lucky ones who’s totally relaxed about their post-baby bod, never feel bad if it’s not that easy. A lot of women struggle with the changes that happen to them after they go through labour.

Knowing what will happen in advance can make it easier to prepare. Here’s what you can expect…

Why do I still look pregnant?

ou may feel that way because your muscles have stretched during pregnancy so your tummy won’t ping back straight away to how it was before (NHS Choices, 2015). For a while, it’ll be a bit looser.

How can I recover?

It might seem odd but breastfeeding can help as it causes contractions that shrink the womb (NHS Choices, 2015). And it burns calories. Postnatal exercise can tone your pelvic floor and tummy muscles and of course resisting that cake and eating healthily will help (NHS Choices, 2015).

Issues to look out for

While you’re pregnant, your stomach muscles may become separated. They should return to normal by the time your baby is eight weeks old. If they are still separated, speak to your GP about getting a referral to a physiotherapist (NHS Choices, 2016a)

To tell whether your stomach muscles are still separated, put one hand on your tummy with your fingers on the midline of your naval. Press your finger down gently and bring your head up (shoulders on the ground) like you’re doing a mini-crunch. Feel for the sides of your muscles and see if they are still separated.

Will my pregnancy stretch marks fade?

During pregnancy you might have noticed stretch marks developing on your stomach, breasts and inner thighs. They look like narrow pink or purple lines. After birth these should fade.

How can I recover?

Stretch marks will become less noticeable although they’re unlikely to completely disappear. You can buy products aimed at removing stretch marks, but there is little evidence that these work (Liu et al, 2014; NHS Choices, 2016b). If you are particularly self-conscious about your stretch marks, you can have laser therapy but be warned, it can be pricey.

Is back pain after giving birth normal?

Yes, a lot of women experience back pain after giving birth.

How can I recover?

You should:

  • Keep your back well supported when breastfeeding.
  • Kneel or squat (do not bend your back) to do low-level jobs like bathing your baby.
  • Change nappies on a raised surface.
  • Keep your back straight and bend your knees when lifting.
  • Keep your back straight when pushing your pram or buggy, or carry your baby in a well-fitting sling. (NHS Choices, 2016a)

If back pain persists, speak to your GP.

Is fatigue normal?

Yes. It’s common to feel incredibly tired after you have given birth. Your body has been through a lot and your baby is likely to wake several times during the night. But it will get better.

How can I recover?

Try early nights and the old but true cliché of resting when your baby’s asleep. If you’re formula or combi feeding, share the night feeds with your partner (NHS Choices, 2016c). Find out more about tiredness after birth here.

Issues to look out for

If you are particularly irritable, stressed or down, speak to your health visitor. They might look at other underlying causes like postnatal depression (NICE, 2006).

Are headaches common after labour?

An estimated 39% of women will experience a headache in the first week after giving birth (Goldszmidt et al, 2005).

How can I recover?

Drink plenty of water and take paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Issues to look out for

Tell your GP if you have a severe or persistent headache, especially if you had an epidural. It could be a sign of eclampsia (high blood pressure), which might require further treatment (NICE, 2006).

And lastly, a couple of other post-birth worries…

Caesarean section scar

Keep your wound clean, wear loose comfortable clothing and take painkillers if you need to. See a doctor if you have any sign of infection, such as discharge or an unpleasant smell. Your caesarean section wound will scar, but it will become less noticeable over time and often your pubic hair will hide it (NHS Choices, 2016d).  

Deep vein thrombosis

Pregnant women and women who have had a baby in the past six weeks are at an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis. The symptoms are a swollen, painful leg and/or difficulty breathing.

Deep vein thromboses are caused by a clot developing in the deep veins of your leg. It can be fatal if the clot travels from your legs to your lungs. If you develop a swollen, painful leg or have breathing difficulties after a trip, see your GP urgently or go to the nearest A&E department (NHS Choices, 2015).

This page was last reviewed in February 2018

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

To prepare yourself more for what happens during and after labour, we offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.