Your body after birth
Some new mums are relaxed about their post-birth body, seeing the changes as simply part of becoming a mum and even proud badges of motherhood while others can find it more difficult.
Having realistic expectations of your post-baby body can help you feel more comfortable about the way you look.
In the early weeks and months, it is common for:
- Your tummy to be larger and looser (you may still need maternity clothes for a while) and you may find your shape has changed in different areas of your body too.
- Your breasts to be bigger and more tender with visible veins. If you’re breastfeeding, you may also be prone to leaking breasts.
- You may have pregnancy stretch marks on your tummy, breasts, thighs, and bottom (these will generally fade).
- The linea nigra – the dark line some women develop vertically down their tummy during pregnancy – could take several months to fade.
- Your body to be more prone to sprains and strains in the first few months after birth.
Other physical changes that may be experienced by some new mums include bruising, backache, weaker and more tender joints, piles (haemorrhoids), constipation, period-like pains due to your uterus contracting back, painful stitches and possibly a sore caesarean scar.
However you feel after birth, it’s not surprising that your body will take a while to recover and this will probably take longer if you had any surgery or stiches. Here are some suggestions which may help you feel better physically after birth:
- Discuss any problems, concerns or questions you have with your GP at your six-week check-up — but if you are at all worried or in pain, make an appointment immediately.
- If you needed stitches after birth, these should generally have healed within the first couple of weeks. To aid this recovery you may find bathing in warm water and/or using a Valley cushion (a specially designed inflatable cushion to make sitting down much more comfortable) can help. If you find the discomfort continues after a few weeks, speak with your GP.
- Continue any relaxation exercises you started antenatally, or through your antenatal classes if you did them, and restart your pelvic floor exercises.
- After the first couple of weeks walking for 10 to 30 minutes a day can really help aid the healing process.
- Try to eat well; frequent, small, nutritious meals help to keep up your energy levels.
- A broken night’s sleep is often part of the experience of being a new parent, however, if you find you are not managing to get at least one four-hour stretch during the night, research suggests it is important to rest for at least an hour during the day. If you are not able to actually sleep during the day, then use this time to relax and recharge your batteries.
You will most likely experience some blood loss after pregnancy from your uterus (womb) until the lining is renewed. This blood loss, or lochia to give it its medical name, usually lasts between two to six weeks and can vary in colour throughout that time. Lochia can also contain mucus and placenta tissue so you may see some clots or lumps. This is normal and they should be less than the size of a grape. If you are concerned, talk to your midwife or health visitor.
During pregnancy your body produces relaxin. This hormone makes your ligaments stretchy and elastic in preparation for childbirth. Relaxin affects every joint in the body and it can take up to five months for your ligaments to get back into their original positions and stabilise. As a result, your joints may be weaker than usual, increasing the risk of your ankles, knees, hips, pelvis and spine weakening under impact.
If you are wondering how long after giving birth you can exercise: seeking advice from your GP, physiotherapist or midwife before starting an exercise programme is a good idea. It’s generally advisable to wait for your six-week postnatal check-up before you start to exercise seriously again. If you had a caesarean birth you will probably need to wait a little longer for your body to recover.
High-impact exercise is generally best avoided for at least three to six months after the birth of your child because of the effect on your joints. Whatever type of exercise you choose to do and whenever you choose to do it, listen to your body and try not to overexert yourself.
A small but significant number of women find they lose some bladder or bowel control after birth. These bodily functions are controlled by your pelvic floor, a group of muscles and ligaments, which are across the base of your pelvis. It is important to look after your pelvic floor as it:
- Supports your internal organs, such as your bladder, intestines and uterus.
- Maintains bladder and bowel control including when you sneeze, cough or lift heavy objects.
- Plays a vital role, along with other muscles, in supporting your spine.
- Helps you enjoy sex more.
Continuing with pelvic floor exercises can make a huge difference.
It is normal to have concerns and questions about resuming your sex life after having a baby. You and your partner may feel ready within weeks or you may not be ready for months. It’s important to take things at your own pace.
When you do have sex for the first time, you may want to take things gently, as you might both be nervous. You can experiment to find a position that puts least pressure on any parts that are still sore and try to avoid deep penetration.
If you do start having sex again and don’t want to get pregnant immediately, you will also need to think about your choices for contraception.
Take your time
It takes nine months to make a baby and generally as long to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Even if you do return to the same body weight you had before pregnancy, it is likely that your body may look different.
Take your time and don’t feel pressured to look or feel a certain way too soon.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's 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.
You might also like to try one of our Relax & Stretch with Baby classes, which are friendly yoga inspired sessions for mums and their babies. The classes are a great way to get back into exercise after the birth of your baby.
NHS Birth to Five guide offers information on Health and Fitness for new parents.
For more information on postnatal exercise see the Guild of Postnatal Exercise.
Your local YMCA, leisure centre or gym may offer special classes for new mothers and babies.