The Postpartum Body: Real Talk
Photo: Nicole Lapierre Photography
I'm sure at some point you have seen those women that have the perfect "pregnancy glow" with the stretch mark free baby belly and their bikini ready bodies days after giving birth. That's how all pregnancies go right? Yeah right! In a perfect world we all would have the pregnancy/labour experience that Brooklyn Decker's character (Skylar) did in the movie "What to Expect When You're Expecting" but the reality is that often the "pregnancy glow" eludes most of us and we are left with a postpartum body that is foreign to us. Here are a few truths about the postpartum body that I wasn't expecting to experience.
Your nurse will press down on your uterus (postpartum) every few hours (Ouch!). It is very painful when they have to press down on the uterus, especially with everything that your body just went through to deliver you baby. This is done to ensure that your uterus is contracting and shrinking back to its pre-pregnancy location and size. If your uterus is not contracting at the appropriate rate then you are at risk of haemorrhaging. You can also expect to feel some gushes of blood the first few times they do it because it will promote your body to pass any clots that may have formed after birth. I remember thinking this has got to be a joke, after an emergency c-section the last thing I wanted to have was someone coming in and causing me more pain, but I guess it is all for the greater good.
You will bleed a lot and for a long time postpartum. Whether you had a vaginal birth or a c-section you can expect to bleed quite a bit (especially the first few days of using the washroom). TMI alert... but you will go to the washroom to have a pee and look to find a toilet bowl full of blood, and yes that is normal. It will also be considered normal if you pass large size clots for the first few weeks...yikes! I guess that was why I packed those ridiculously long, large, and heavy duty pads with those adorable granny panties in my hospital bag. Your body has to get rid of all that extra fluid and blood volume that it accumulated during pregnancy somehow. However, do keep an eye on it and make sure that the volume of blood is continuously less and less as the days and weeks go on, otherwise it is a good idea to contact your physician.
You will still look five months pregnant when you and baby are discharged to go home. I knew that I wouldn't look like my former self again right away, but I sure didn't expect to look about 5 months pregnant when I left the hospital. My body was pumped with so much Oxytocin (to induce contractions) that I was still bloated for over a week after I was home and here I thought the swollen/bloated body days would be behind me. Have no fear, eventually the uterus contracts back up to its original position and shrinks back to its original size and you will feel more like your old self again.
When the milk comes in, so does the pain. I was not prepared for how fast and furious my milk supply came in. I was 4 days postpartum and within 12 hours my breasts went from large and tender to painful (large) bowling balls. I remember being in the shower and just sobbing because the water hitting them was so painful and the need to just try and get Mía to drain them a bit with a feeding. Thankfully I had the encouragement and guidance of a dear friend (who also happens to be a labour and delivery nurse) that told me exactly what to do and most importantly not to do. It takes roughly 10 days for your body to establish your milk supply for your baby, so it is very important that you do as little pumping or manual manipulation as possible (given that your baby is latching and feeding well) so your aren't giving your body a skewed perception of how much milk it needs to produce. Remember that it is a supply and demand system.
The hairy and not so hairy truth. If there was one thing from the pregnancy that I would want to hold on to, it was the beautiful thick hair that I enjoyed whilst carrying Mía. Around 2-3 months postpartum I noticed my hair was falling out like crazy and it would be normal if I ran my fingers through my hair in the shower and see a clump of hair tangled in my fingers. When we are pregnant our hair doesn't fall out at the normal rate so at some point the postpartum your body remembers it has to regulate that and starts to shed strand after strand of those beautiful locks. When I was 6 months postpartum I started to notice that I had so many baby hairs growing in to replace the strands I was losing, which is great... aside from the fact that I have the strangest baby bangs and frays now so styling my hair (on the days I actually do) is a game of camouflage to try and blend them all in together. It is worth mentioning that I love a plain ball cap or a handy lulu lemon hairband on days when I just don't feel like attempting to tame that mane.
Postpartum and breastfeeding sweats, yes, that is a thing. Remember all of that fluid that your body made and stored throughout your pregnancy? Well, once baby is out, your hormones start to do a dance to help you establish milk production and signal your kidneys and your pores to get rid of that extra fluid. Night sweats (unaccompanied by a fever or other symptoms) is typically normal for several weeks postpartum, and even longer in breastfeeding moms. I breastfed so immediately I noticed a huge increase in thirst throughout the day and night, I was getting up to urinate almost as much as I did in the first trimester. Even the slightest brisk walk or increase in activity made me sweat like I had just run 10km race, great, exactly what I needed on top of sleep deprivation, sore nipples, and the need to hold a pillow against my c-section incision at the slightest hint of a cough.
At the end of the day it does not matter what I had to go through during pregnancy or postpartum because I would do it all over again in a heartbeat because my little girl was worth every minute.