Your Postnatal Body: What to Expect

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There is a lot of misinformation out there about the realities of your postnatal body, and how quickly you can expect to “bounce back” and “get your body back” (Such an unhelpful phrase!!)

In this article Mel describes what is normal in the postnatal period – this isn’t going to apply to everyone and you may not experience any of these symptoms. But if you do, please know that it’s normal, you aren’t alone, and take it easy. It took 9 months to grow your baby and it takes at least that time again for your body to feel like it did before.

Your body after birth – what you should, and shouldn’t, expect. By Mel Lewis

However it happened for you – remembering and respecting that all our birth experiences are as individual as we are – we all know that pregnancy and giving birth is a major life event and has significant impacts on your physical and mental health. 

With the elation of having our little miracles finally here, straight after birth we place all our attention on our children, but equally have a subconscious expectation of ourselves to automatically adjust, instantly switch on to being a mummy and for our body to just deal with it. 

But the reality isn’t that easy.  With all the joy that comes with having a new addition to your family, we also know comes a whole load of worry and anxiety too.  So no surprises that it can be hard to remember to think about you during the first few months after having your little one.

But, for your long term health and wellbeing it is so important that we take some time to heal, and are aware of our own needs and how we must also look after ourselves as best we can.  That’s why it’s important you have the best support network around you as possible, people you can talk to and help comfort, reassure and support you. 

That’s why Suffolk Babies exists, to help each and every new mum know they are not alone, doing the best job and experiencing things that are totally normal. 

Here are just a few things to remember about what to, and not to expect of your body in those first few months after birth – but always remember to be kind to yourself.  Don’t expect too much, don’t try to do too much, and don’t place too much pressure on yourself to ‘get back to how you were’.  It’s early days and you have time! 

Birth to 6-8 Weeks After Delivery

Remember your body has performed a miracle, and so the best thing you can do for you and your baby is REST AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.   You may not be happy with how your body has changed (but then again you may embrace these changes and see them as a memory of what you have achieved), but it’s important to give yourself the opportunity to heal and let Mother Nature do her job!  Instead focus on the best way to rehabilitate and nourish your depleted body with rest, hydration and optimum nutrition/good food. 

The following are all very normal experiences for early post-birth bodies:

  • You’re tired and generally not feeling like your old self yet.
  • Stitches and tissue damage/tears may feel tender.
  • Your post birth bleeding may have ceased.
  • You may be a little fearful of or cautious when performing bowel movements.
  • Your pelvis might be feeling very unstable and loose or conversely you might feel a general tightness in your pelvic region.
  • Your abdominals may feel loose and unsupported.
  • Your muscles may be tight and achy especially around your hips, shoulders neck and backs of your thighs.
  • You may have some degree of incontinence – urinary, gas or faecal.
  • You may have difficulty mentally connecting to your Pelvic Floor muscles.
  • You might be experiencing some neck, bicep and shoulder pain and general tightness in your upper body due to the demands of breastfeeding.
  • You may have difficulty straightening up/standing tall especially if you birthed via C-Section.
  • Your C-Section scar is still healing and may be tender. You will have to modify getting up and down from sitting and lying down positions.

Resist the urge to worry about getting back into shape.  You can however spend time gently reconnecting to your body through focused breathing techniques which will help establish a sense of reconnection to your core and pelvic floor.  You can take some gentle exercise like walking and begin light stretching, but don’t push yourself into lifting anything heavier than your baby or any impact work. 

8+ Weeks Post Delivery

As you start to get use to how life and your body has changed after pregnancy and birth you may begin to feel slightly stronger both mentally and physically.  But being a new mum is still a taxing job, and elements like sleep deprivation will still have an impact on your wellbeing.  So it’s still important to prioritise your self-care and the care of your baby.   Take advantage of ANY opportunity to be still, quiet and rest, and continue not to expect too much – it is still early days.   

You may have had your first health check with your GP who has given you the go-ahead to begin exercising – recommendations in the UK typically state that after uncomplicated vaginal births women are ok to return to exercise after the 6-8 week check, and with c-section delivery it is best to wait until the 10-12 week period.

However, regardless of the guidelines, what is paramount for your long-term health is ensure you begin with exercises appropriate to your level of recovery.  It is highly advisable to find a postnatal fitness specialist who can offer you a thorough health assessment, and talk you through an accurate picture of your individual recovery in areas such as abdominal separation and pelvic floor stability (read our earlier article on this here).   

They should then be able to provide you with relevant and valuable support and guidance regarding what exercises are right for you now, and what your progression for long term sustainable health and wellbeing might look like. 

In the main your body should now be getting back to normal function, but may still be experiencing a few remaining aches and pains.  The following may still ring true for you, and may be of use to remember:

  • Your bowel movements should be easier and have returned to a normal rhythm, if not take a few teaspoons of linseeds soaked in hot water before bed to help re-establish a good rhythm.
  • Your pelvis may still be feeling very unstable and loose or conversely you might feel a general tightness in your pelvic region.
  • You may still be experiencing some degree of incontinence – urinary, gas and possibly faecal.
  • You may still have difficulty connecting to your Pelvic Floor muscles.
  • If you are still feeling exceptionally tired (beyond what we can all expect from little sleep and multiple night wakings!) you can check with your HCP whether you need to take an Iron Supplement.
  • Ensure you include a high quality Vitamin and Mineral Supplement in your diet and also supplement with Omega Fish Oils.
  • Apply the principles of high level optimum nutrition to replenish your body after pregnancy.
  • Keep well hydrated

Always go and see your GP if you have any concerns about your health (both mental and physical), and if you are feeling ready to get back to exercise, Jo is taking over teaching Fitmumas while Mel is on leave. We have classes on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings, and they are really great for helping you gain strength and fitness in a safe, non-judgmental way so you can be fit for life with a baby!

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