It’s no small thing, growing and carrying a human being inside your body for nine months. So it’s no surprise that your postpregnancy body takes a while to recover from the effort. While you may be surprised or even a bit freaked by the head-to-toe changes that’ll happen after your baby arrives, don’t forget to feel amazed. And rest assured that you will feel like yourself again after a couple of months. In the meantime, here’s a guide to how your body changes after pregnancy:
YOU’LL LOSE AT LEAST TEN POUNDS IN ONE FELL SWOOP.
Immediately after birth, you’ll feel about ten to 20 pounds lighter, depending on the weight of your baby. Besides unloading a newborn, your body also expelled a roughly one-pound placenta and several pounds worth of amniotic fluid and blood. But your breasts will be heavier than ever before (see more on that later) and the extra weight you gained in other parts of your body will take a little longer to drop. Expect to look like you are still about six or seven months pregnant for the first few weeks. Most experts say, as a rule of thumb, that since it took nine months to put the pounds on, it can take that long to take them off. So be patient — and help melt off the pounds with some light exercise as soon as your practitioner gives you the green light.
YOU’LL LEAK FLUIDS.
During pregnancy, the cells in your body hoard extra water, and that can lead to chubby fingers, fat feet, and oh-so-sexy “cankles.” During the first week postdelivery, though, you’ll start to lose all that fluid you retained. That means you’ll be peeing even more than you did when you were pregnant and you’ll be especially sweaty, especially if it’s summertime. But it’s all for a good cause: You’ll lose another four to six pounds of water weight alone by the end of the first week. Along with the pee and perspiration, you’ll be oozing blood and leftover mucus from your uterus — mostly from the place where your placenta was attached. Expect this bloody discharge, called lochia, to last between four and six weeks.
YOUR STOMACH WILL TAKE A WHILE TO DEFLATE.
Even if you didn’t gain much excess weight during your pregnancy and even if you shed most of your postpregnancy pounds in the hospital, your post-baby bump will stick out for at least a month after birth. And that’s okay — after all, your skin is elastic, but it’s not spandex. And your uterus just stretched from the size of a pear to that of a watermelon, so it’s going to take a while to get back to stone-fruit size. In fact, for the first few days after childbirth, you’re likely to feel abdominal cramping; that’s your uterus contracting as it starts to shrink. Plus, your abdominal muscles distended to make room for the baby, so you’ll have a bit of a pregnancy pooch unless/until you do some tummy-toning moves. Just remember, hold off on the crunches until you get a go-ahead from your doctor, especially if you had a C-section.
YOU’LL NEED A BIGGER BRA.
About two to three days after childbirth, your milk will come in. Your breasts will feel swollen, hard, and tender, and you — and perhaps your partner — will gaze in amazement at your magically morphing breasts that seem to grow before your eyes. If you’re breastfeeding, your baby will drain your engorged breasts and relieve the discomfort — once he gets the hang of latching on and sucking. (You may need to pump a little milk after each nursing session in the beginning to completely empty them.) If you’re not breastfeeding, expect the engorgement to last for about five days until your body gets the message to turn off the milk machine. Wear a supportive bra during this time and apply cold packs to ease the aching (don’t use warm compresses as they could cause milk expression, which would only prolong the process). One word of warning about getting too used to your bigger breasts: After you wean your wee one, they may be smaller than before.
YOU’LL LOSE YOUR HAIR.
During pregnancy, extra estrogen elongates the growth cycle of your hair, causing less to fall out. You might have noticed that your locks were fuller and more lustrous than ever during your last trimester. But now your postpregnancy body’s estrogen levels dive back down to their normal amount, and that means you’ll need a hair-catcher in the shower drain as your mane thins back out. You won’t have less hair than you had before you got pregnant, but pulling a clump out every time you run your fingers through your curls can be disconcerting. Don’t worry — you won’t go bald. Your hair growth/loss rate will get back to normal in about nine months to a year.
YOUR STRETCH MARKS WILL FADE…
But probably not go away completely, sorry to say. After about six months to a year, the color of your marks will fade from purplish to silver to a shade just lighter than your skin color. No cream, lotion, or magic potion has ever been shown to completely eradicate stretch marks — which about half of all women get during pregnancy. And although retinol is the ingredient that shows the most promise in reducing these marks of mamahood most quickly, you can’t use it while pregnant or breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist about whether it’s worth it for you to try any expensive treatments — and remind yourself that time (the cheapest alternative) will fade those stretch marks.
IF YOU HAD A C-SECTION, EXPECT A SCAR.
If you gave birth via cesarean, you’ll have an angry-looking incision mark that’s been stapled or sewn shut and covered in a dozen little pieces of surgical tape, like a white railroad track across your abdomen. Don’t freak out. Though it seems huge now, most section scars are only about four to six inches long and are typically below your bikini line. Depending on the type of sutures you had, they will be removed anywhere from three to seven days afterward (staples are generally removed before you leave the hospital). But you will need to bandage the site probably until your first postpartum appointment with your doctor. About six weeks after the surgery, your scar and any incision pain will have improved dramatically (though it might itch as it heals). By one year, the scar will be a simple line that’s a shade or two darker than your skin. And by then, you’ll regard it proudly as your badge of honor.
SOME OF YOUR POST PREGNANCY BODY CHANGES ARE PERMANENT.
If your feet got bigger when you were expecting, you’ll probably be wearing larger-sized shoes for good. Other long-term post-baby body changes: Your hips may be forever slightly widened, too, after having expanded for childbirth, and your nipples may be darker and bigger as well. Try to be happy with the thought of new shoes to splurge on — as well as your curvier, sexier figure. Or at least remind yourself that your body will experience a lifetime of delights because you gave birth — from the sweetness of your baby’s head on your shoulder to your toddler’s delicious hugs to your child’s hand in yours.