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Your body after baby

  • Your body changes a lot after having a baby.
  • Now is a good time to get to a healthy weight.
  • Go to your postpartum checkup 6 weeks after giving birth.
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Your body after baby: The first 6 weeks

During pregnancy, your body changed a lot. It worked really hard to keep your baby safe and healthy. Now that your baby is here, your body is changing again. Some of these changes are physical, such as your breasts getting full of milk. Other changes are emotional, such as feeling extra stress. Here's what you can expect.

What is perineum soreness?

The perineum is the area between your vagina and rectum. It stretches during labor and vaginal birth, and it may even tear. It often is sore after you give birth. You may be even more sore if you had an episiotomy (a cut made at the opening of the vagina to help the baby out).

What you can do

  • Do Kegel exercises. These strengthen the muscles in the pelvic area, which helps the perineum heal. To do them, squeeze the muscles that you use to stop yourself from passing urine. Hold the muscles tight for 10 seconds and then release.
  • Put a cold pack on your perineum. Use ice wrapped in a towel. Or you can buy cold packs that you freeze in your freezer.
  • Sit on a pillow.
  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • Wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom. This can help prevent infection as your episiotomy heals.
  • Ask your provider about medicine to help ease the pain.

What are afterbirth pains?

These are cramps that you feel as your uterus shrinks back to its regular size. Right after you give birth, your uterus is round and hard and weighs about 2 ½ pounds. By about 6 weeks after birth, it weighs only 2 ounces. The cramps should go away in a few days.

What you can do
Ask your provider about over-the-counter medicine you can take for pain.

What body changes can happen after a cesarean section?

A cesarean section (c-section) is major surgery, so it may take a while for you to recover. You may be really tired for the first few days or weeks after a c-section. This is because you lost blood during the surgery. Also, your incision (the cut on your belly) may be sore.

What you can do

  • Ask your provider for pain medicine. Check with him before you take any over-the-counter medicine for pain.
  • Ask your partner, family and friends for help with the baby and around the house.

What is vaginal discharge?
This is bodily fluid that comes out of your vagina. It is also called lochia. Vaginal discharge may increase during and after pregnancy. After your baby is born, your body gets rid of the blood and tissue that was inside of the uterus. For the first few days, it’s heavy, bright red and may contain some blood clots. Over time, the flow gets less and lighter in color. You may have discharge for a few weeks, or even for a month or more.

What you can do
Use sanitary pads until the vaginal discharge goes away.

What is breast engorgement?
This is when you breasts swell as they fill with milk. It can be painful. Once you start breastfeeding, it should go away. If you’re not breastfeeding, it may last until your breasts stop making milk.

What you can do

  • Take a warm shower or lay warm towels on your breasts.
  • Tell your provider if your breasts stay engorged and are painful.
  • If you’re not planning to breastfeed, wear a supportive bra (like a sports bra).

What is nipple pain?
If you are breastfeeding, you may have pain in the area in and around your nipples during the first few days, especially if your nipples crack.

What you can do

  • Use a special cream on the nipples. Ask your provider what kind to use.
  • Let your breasts air dry.

What is swelling?
Lots of women have swelling in their hands, feet and face during pregnancy. It is caused by extra fluids in your body that helped you get ready for labor and birth. It may take time for the swelling to go away after you have your baby.

What you can do

  • Lie on your left side or put your feet up.
  • Try to stay cool and wear loose clothes.

What are hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids are painful, swollen veins in and around the anus. Lots of women get them during pregnancy. They may get worse after giving birth.

What you can do

  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • Use an over-the-counter spray or cream to help relieve pain. Ask your provider which ones are OK to use.
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads and cereals.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Try not to strain when you’re having a bowel movement.

What is constipation?
This is when you have painful gas or trouble having a bowel movement. It may happen after you give birth.

What you can do

  • Eat foods that are high in fiber.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Ask your provider about medicine to take.

What urinary problems can happen after giving birth?
You may feel pain or burning when you urinate. Or you may try to urinate but find that you can’t. Sometimes you may not be able to stop urinating. This is called incontinence.

What you can do for pain, burning or if you have trouble urinating

  • Drink lots of water.
  • Run water in the sink when you go to the bathroom.
  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • If the pain continues, tell your provider.

What you can do for incontinence
Do Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles.

Why may you sweat after giving birth?
This happens a lot to new moms, especially at night. It’s caused by all the hormones in your body after pregnancy.

What you can do

  • Sleep on a towel to help keep your sheets and pillow dry.
  • Don’t use too many blankets or wear warm clothes to bed.

Why may you feel tired after giving birth?
You may have lost blood during labor and birth. This can make your body tired. And your baby probably doesn’t let you sleep all night.

What you can do

  • Sleep when your baby sleeps, even when he naps during the day.
  • Eat healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and pasta, and lean meat and chicken. Limit sweets and foods with a lot of fat.
  • Ask your partner, family and friends for help with the baby and around the house.

When do you get your period again?
If you are not breastfeeding, your period may start again in 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth. If you are breastfeeding, you may not start again for months. Some women don’t have a period again until they stop breastfeeding. Be careful – if you have sex, you can get pregnant even before your period starts again, breastfeeding or not.

Can you lose weight after giving birth?
Now’s a great time to get to a healthy weight, no matter how much you weighed before you got pregnant. You feel better and are less likely to have health conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure, if you’re at a healthy weight. And just in case you get pregnant again, or if you plan to have another baby sometime in the future, it’s best to be at a healthy weight before your next pregnancy.

What you can do

  • Talk to your provider about your healthy weight. If you were overweight before pregnancy, you may want to lose more weight than you gained during pregnancy.
  • Eat healthy foods. Limit sweets and foods with a lot of fat.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Do something active every day. Walking and swimming are great activities for new moms.
  • Breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding helps you burn calories. This can help you lose the weight you gained during pregnancy faster than if you weren’t breastfeeding.
  • Don’t feel badly if you don’t lose the weight as quickly as you’d like. It takes some for your body (and your belly) to get back into shape.

What skin changes can happen after giving birth?
You may have stretch marks on your belly, thighs, breasts and bottom where your skin stretched during pregnancy.

What you can do
Use creams or lotions on your skin.

What hair changes can happen after giving birth?
Your hair may have seemed thicker and fuller during pregnancy. After your baby is born, your hair may thin out. You may even lose hair. Hair loss usually stops about 3 to 4 months after your baby’s birth.

What you can do

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. These may help protect your hair and help it grow.
  • Be gentle with your hair. Don’t wear tight ponytails, braids or rollers. These can pull and stress your hair.
  • Use the cool setting on your hair dryer.

When can you get pregnant again?
It’s possible that you may ovulate (release an egg) before you get your period again. This means you could get pregnant.

What you can do
Use birth control to help make sure you don’t get pregnant again until you’re ready. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your provider about which birth control to use. Not all kinds of birth control are safe to use when breastfeeding.

Last reviewed July 2012

Losing baby weight

  • Ask your provider about your healthy weight.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Do something active every day.
  • Breastfeed your baby.

Most common questions

Can I get pregnant while breastfeeding?

Yes. Breastfeeding may decrease the odds of getting pregnant by delaying the return of a woman's menstrual period. However, breastfeeding does not prevent pregnancy, even if the mother is not getting a period. Many women ovulate before they see their period return. If you want to be certain not to conceive again until you and your partner are ready for another child, talk with your health care provider about when to return to using birth control. Note that some oral contraceptives that contain estrogen may decrease a woman's milk production. If you think this might be a problem for your milk supply, discuss different birth control options with your provider.

I just had a baby. How soon can I get pregnant again?

Most experts recommend that, after the birth of a child, you should wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. This applies both in the case of a vaginal or cesarean birth. Waiting 18 months gives your body the time it needs to fully recover from the last pregnancy. It also helps prevent health risks during your next pregnancy, like premature birth or having a low-birthweight baby. Spacing pregnancies too close together also has been associated with sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Frequent pregnancies can have an impact on the mother's health.
Sometimes it's not possible to wait so long, either because of your age or other reasons. The best thing to do is to talk with your health care provider about what’s best for you.

However, if you're planning to have more than one child, it's best to wait no more than five years between pregnancies.

What is a cesarean wound infection?

A cesarean (c-section) wound infection is caused when bacteria get inside the incision (cut) from a c-section. A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your health care provider makes in your belly and uterus. Bacteria can cause the cut to get infected.

Signs of infection are fever and painful, red, swollen skin around the incision. Call your health care provider if you have any of these signs. Your provider may drain the incision to release the trapped bacteria.

Most c-section incisions heal without any problems. You’re more likely to get an infection if you:

  • Abuse alcohol
  • Have type 2 diabetes
  • Are obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.

What is deep vein thrombophlebitis (DVT)?

Deep vein thrombophlebitis (DVT) is a blood clot inside a vein. DVT is rare, but it can be a serious health problem if it’s not treated. Without treatment, the blood clot can travel to your heart and lungs and block blood flow. This can cause chest pain, breathing problems and, in rare cases, even death.

Blood clots also can happen in the veins around your pelvic area. This is more common if you’ve had a cesarean birth (c-section). A c-section is surgery in which your baby is born through a cut that your health care provider makes in your belly and uterus.

Signs of DVT include a high fever and tenderness, pain or swelling in your leg, especially around your calf.

Hormonal changes make all women at risk for DVT after giving birth. Other risks for DVT include:

  • Having a c-section—Your chances of having a DVT in your leg is about 3 to 5 times greater after a c-section than after a vaginal birth
  • Being obese
  • Being older than 35
  • Not being able to walk around after surgery as much as your provider wants you to

If you think you may have DVT, call your health care provider immediately. You may need to go to the hospital. Your provider may give you a blood thinner to treat the clot and prevent any new clots.

What is endometritis?

Endometritis is infection of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus (womb). Bacteria that cause endometritis grow in the uterus lining, at the spot where the placenta breaks away after birth. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies your baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord.

Endometritis can spread through the uterus. Sometimes it reaches blood vessels in the ovaries and pelvis.

Endometritis usually happens 2 to 3 days after birth. If the infection isn’t treated, it can cause more serious health problems, like infertility.

Signs of endometritis include:

  • Abnormal or vaginal discharge that smells bad
  • Backache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • General discomfort
  • Headache
  • Tenderness or pain in your lower belly

Call your health care provider if you have any of these signs.

If your health provider finds that you have endometritis, antibiotics (medicines that kill infection caused by bacteria) can help clear up most cases.

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is a breast infection that’s caused by bacteria. Bacteria usually get into the breast during breastfeeding.

Bacteria from your skin and your baby’s mouth can get into the breast through a crack in the skin of your nipple. Bacteria also can enter your breast through the opening to milk ducts in your nipple.

Signs of mastitis include:

  • One or both of your breasts feel sore, hard and hot.
  • One or both of your breasts swell and get red.
  • You have a fever.

Mastitis can be painful, but it usually doesn’t lead to serious health problems. Your provider may give you antibiotics (medicines that kill infection caused by bacteria) or acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to reduce your fever and help you feel better.

Even though it may hurt, it’s best to keep breastfeeding or breast pumping if you have mastitis. This helps empty your breasts and takes away some of the painful pressure. You can’t pass the infection to your baby through breast milk, so it’s safe to keep breastfeeding.

What is postpartum bleeding?

Postpartum bleeding is bleeding from the vagina after giving birth. It’s normal. However, heavy bleeding (hemorrhaging) can be a sign of other health problems. The most common causes of serious, heavy bleeding after birth are:

  • Uterine atony: This is when the muscle in your uterus (womb) doesn’t contract (tighten). When your uterus contracts, it helps manage bleeding. The placenta grows in your uterus and supplies the baby with food and oxygen through the umbilical cord. If you have twins or a large baby, or if you are in labor for a long time, you may be at risk of having uterine atony.
  • Retained placenta: During the third stage of labor, you deliver the placenta. If the placenta doesn’t pass within 30 minutes after your baby is born, you may have heavy bleeding.
  • Tearing: If your vagina or cervix (opening to the uterus that sits on top of the vagina) is cut or torn during birth, you may bleed heavily.

If you have serious bleeding after birth, it most likely happens when you’re still in the hospital. Your health care provider may massage your uterus or give you fluids through an IV needle into your vein. This can help stop the bleeding. She also may give you oxytocin (a hormone that can help your uterus contract). In very rare cases, a woman may need surgery or a blood transfusion.

When will my period return after the baby is born?

Your period may start again 6 to 8 weeks after giving birth if you're not breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, your period may not start again for months. Some women don't have a period again until they stop breastfeeding.

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