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14 ways in which your body changes after giving birth

9 min read
Cycle Care

Approved by

Fransje van der Waals - GP
Immediate hot beach body after giving birth? Yeah, nah. That only happens in the pretty but oftentimes misleading world of Instagram. Pregnancy has an immeasurable effect on the female body. Cycle prepared the ultimate list of postpartum changes.

It’s honestly not that surprising that you’re going to look different or that your body will function differently after giving birth. And that’s not a bad thing. Remember that you just managed an amazing feat, and any lingering scars, you can wear with pride! So, forget all those picture perfect Instagram posts, it’s time to get authentic. Getting fit after giving birth is not impossible, but it’s good to remember some changes are there to stay. 

Postpartum belly

How does your belly change after pregnancy? We’ll have to infuse this with some Dutch directness: it kind of feels like your tum is a wrinkly empty bag. Sorry, there’s not really a better way to put it. Your waist needs some time to get back into its original shape, but your stomach muscles and your skin will likely never go back to the way they were before. We mean, you did have a full-blown (though small) human grow in there for 9 months. Some people keep a bit of a swollen tum for years after giving birth, because of a condition called diastasis recti. The tissue that connects the stomach muscles on both sides of the belly button stretches so much that it can’t connect properly anymore. The organs behind the muscles and tissue aren’t supported as they should be and protrude a little, creating a rounder-looking stomach. If you have diastasis recti yourself, you can learn more on what to do about it here.

Hips don’t lie

As your pregnancy progresses, your body changes in strange ways. You become wider. Not just your hips, so your baby pops out a little more comfortably when the time comes (not that anything could make popping out a baby feel comfortable), but your ribcage expands as well, to make some extra space for the growing baby. Not all women return to their original shape after pregnancy and that is completely normal! 

Your vagina widens

To put it mildly, your vagina is put through the wringer during a natural birth. Obviously that leaves behind its battle scars. Kim wonders if sex after childbirth is like ‘throwing a hot dog down a hallway’ in Keeping up with the Kardashians. And while that couldn’t be further from the truth, it can sometimes feel like you have a black hole down there after childbirth. Fortunately, your vagina is quite the trooper besides having great circulation, so it won’t be long before it heals. It depends on the size of your child and your genetics whether it gets exactly back to the way it was before or not. The elasticity of your vagina changes as you get older/get more children as well, which adds to the feeling of a ‘wide’ vagina. 

Discharge with an odor and other slimy situations

Thick remnants of blood and mucus or vaginal dryness. All lovely gifts from your body as a thank you for giving birth. Let’s start with the vaginal dryness: pregnancy throws your hormonal balance through a loop and makes your estrogen levels drop. This leads to temporary vaginal dryness. This generally fixes itself in a few weeks, and in the meantime you can get this great lube on this website called Cycle, don’t know if you’ve heard from them (wink, wink). That said, if you feel up for sex at all, because that’s not always the case (and you’re not the only one, read more here). 

Have you ever heard of lochia? You can lose blood, mucus and uterine tissue up to 8 weeks after giving birth. It’s a natural and quite an important process, the uterus cleans itself by secreting the innermost lining, used during the pregnancy. This goes hand in hand with secreting a slightly sweet-smelling liquid. But it’s always good to contact your GP if your discharge starts smelling different, just to check if you don’t have an infection instead. 

Bigfoot

Pregnancy makes you heavier, causing the arch of your feet to drop. Meaning flatter, and as a result, larger feet. Up to a whole size larger! This change is permanent. Time to say bye bye to your shoe collection. The upside is that you’ve got a perfect excuse to shop for a whole new collection. This only affects the first pregnancy, your feet won’t grow every time you have kids, bless. 

Stretch marks

During your pregnancy, some parts of your body grow so quick that your skin can’t keep up. Red marks appear on your stomach, thighs and/or breasts: striae aka stretch marks. This happens because the layers underneath the top layer of skin aren’t as stretchy and rip when pulled too quickly or too far. Pregnancy stretch marks are life’s battle scars. You can wear them with pride. They don’t truly disappear, but they do fade a little. The color changes from an angry red, to pink, to skin color with a sheen. The younger you are, the worse the pregnancy striae are. Pregnancy after 35 is somewhat of an advantage in this case.

Hair…

Lots of people have luscious locks during their pregnancy. This happens because usually you’d lose about 100 hairs a day. Thanks to the hormone estrogen you shed a lot less during pregnancy. It seems like your hair grows thicker but in actuality you just shed less. Too bad that this benefit comes back to bite you in the butt after giving birth. It’s like your hair suddenly has something to prove by shedding even more than usual, like those super fluffy cats in spring. It might feel like you’re about to go 

bald, but no stress, in about six months your natural hair cycle of 4 years of growth, 3 months of rest, shedding and growing will return. 

…Hair everywhere!

Hair, hair, hair. On your back, chin, areolas, between your belly button and pelvis. Not amusing, all this extra fur during and after pregnancy. But in about 6 months after giving birth you can rest assured that most extra fur will stop growing. This is related to your circulation, which causes your hair follicles to go into overdrive. The placental growth hormone influences this as well. 

Breasts

During and after pregnancy you can suddenly grow a cup size or more. Under the influence of pregnancy hormones circulation in your breasts increases and milk ducts grow in preparation for breastfeeding. Once you’ve given birth your body will start producing milk. Because of a combination of that milk production, increase in circulation and lymph fluid, it might feel as if your boobs are exploding. They’ll be so tender they’ll feel like they’re made of glass. Rest assured, that feeling is just temporary. The pain fades when you stop breastfeeding (or when you don’t breastfeed at all, of course). Some fat tissue might disappear and the rest of the connective tissue weakens a little too. Your boobs get softer and weaker and could decrease in size. And yes, they might sag a little. 

Discolorations 

Strange things happen to the body of a pregnant woman. Sometimes, dark spots appear on your face (melasma or mask of pregnancy) or a stripe (linea nigra) of about a centimeter (a few inches) in width might stretch over the length of your stomach. These spots usually disappear postpartum but sometimes they only fade a little instead of disappearing completely. What about the color of your nipples or your vagina? They might suddenly change color after giving birth. It’s all a result of extra pigment, which is produced under influence of pregnancy hormones. It’s not harmful, so there’s no need to worry about it.

Hemorrhoids 

Number one on the list of embarrassing ailments: hemorrhoids. But again, you’re definitely not the only one. About 85% of all pregnant or postpartum people struggle with hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins near the anus, usually peeking their heads around the corner near the end of pregnancy or after giving birth. All thanks to, drumroll…pregnancy hormones. The hormones cause the blood vessel walls to become thinner and the hemorrhoids appear with the help of increased circulation and the baby’s pressure on the anus. In addition, another common ailment you can get while pregnant is constipation and hemorrhoids also appear as a result of pushing with too much force. All in all, a recipe for anal disaster. Hemorrhoids aren’t harmful, just really itchy and painful. They disappear on their own, so time and sedative salves are the best remedy, until your hormonal balance gets back on track.

Episiotomy

Sometimes the vagina needs a little extra snip to make it easier for the baby to come out and (though it doesn’t happen often) sometimes that snip doesn’t get stitched together right or it doesn’t heal properly. This makes peeing, having sex or cycling quite uncomfortable or painful. One describes the sensation as if ‘my panties got stuck between my labia’ and others describe it like ‘a strange flob of meat hanging out of my vagina.’ Nothing to be embarrassed about, but if it really bothers you there’s no shame in contacting your GP about it. They can remove it with cryotherapy (freezing it like they also do with warts).

Bad breath

The hormonal roller coaster better known as pregnancy, results in your mouth becoming plaque-paradise. This causes a stinky breath and inflammation of the gums. After giving birth, especially if you’re also breastfeeding, you might feel dehydrated, which gives bacteria the chance to find refuge in your mouth. These bacteria cause bad breath. There’s not much you can do about it, except for keeping up with your dental hygiene. Though, an extra visit to the dental hygienist never hurt anyone. 

Night sweats

Drowning in a pool of your own sweat, sounds like something that’s usually associated with menopause. But excessive sweating is a symptom often experienced postpartum as well. And although it’s annoying as hell, it does serve its purpose. Your body has all this retained water from the pregnancy it needs to get rid of. Your body fixes this by sweating and peeing way more than usual, the easy way out. In a few weeks, most of the extra fluids are gone and you stop sweating like a pig. 

Varicose veins and water retention

Another result of all the water retention in your body: swollen feet, ankles and legs. Just lovely… even worse if the pressure causes varicose veins. Drink lots of water and take plenty of walks. Simple advice often works best. In about 3 or 4 months it shouldn’t be noticeable anymore and it should definitely be gone in 6 months. If that’s not the case, you can get them removed.

Acne

Finally a proud mom, but looking like a spotty teen… The after effects of the famous pregnancy glow… acne, ugh. Sadly, troubled skin tends to stick around for quite a while after giving birth. Again caused by hormones, which makes your body produce extra sebum. 

Last but not least, a short list of invisible symptoms… you can’t see them but they’re definitely there!

A feeling of pressure at the bottom of your tummy after giving birth

That strange feeling like there’s a brick between your legs? This could mean you have a prolapse of the pelvic organ. During a pregnancy, your pelvic floor experiences quite a lot of pressure, this could cause the muscles to weaken and prevent them from being able to properly support the bladder, uterus and small bowel in their usual places, which makes them sag down into the vagina. This feels heavy on the lower stomach. Fortunately, it usually doesn’t take much longer than half a year to strengthen the pelvic floor, as long as you do the right exercises. 

Painful tailbone

Natural birth can suck for your tailbone. The immense power on the area caused by pushing can cause the tailbone to bruise or break. The tailbone could also shift a little and it usually takes quite a while to shift back. It’s usually more painful during menstruation. If it keeps hurting and doesn’t fade over time, we definitely recommend contacting a physical therapist with experience in pelvic treatment. This treatment is fairly painless and helps lessen the constant ache. Lots of these specialized physical therapists would say that a standardized check-up 3 to 6 months after giving birth should be way more normalized. 

Weak bladder

Forget about carelessly peeing after popping that baby out. The tissue surrounding the urinary tract swells after giving birth and thanks to our good friends, pregnancy hormones, as well as little cuts and stitches in the vagina, the muscles that control your bladder are weakened as well. Going for a quick pee burns like crazy. The pelvic floor muscles are weakened too, which doesn’t help with keeping the pee in either. Laughing, coughing or sneezing might leave a wet situation in your underwear sometimes. Most of these symptoms fade in about half a year as the pelvic floor strengthens again, the wounds heal and the tissue becomes thicker. Contact your GP if you lose large amounts of urine at once or if the symptoms don’t fade after three months. 

Constipation

Doing a number two after giving birth is no laughing matter. Understandable, because after a natural birth you’ve probably pushed enough for the rest of your lifetime and you might feel apprehensive to use those muscles again on the toilet. Not to forget that another postpartum symptom is constipation. Fortunately, it gets better. 

Feeling lethargic 

Pregnancy, giving birth, and a billion sleepless nights. It’s no surprise you’ll feel like you could crash down on the nearest semi-soft surface and not wake up for a week or longer. Take some time to recuperate and put your own health first. If you don’t feel in good condition, it will not only affect you, but your baby as well. 

Let’s not forget about mental health

Don’t be fooled, the postpartum period can have quite the impact on your mental health as well. Your emotions are stuck on a roller coaster. You’ll feel overstimulated a lot quicker and the feelings of insecurity and worry whether you’re doing everything right are overwhelming. There’s a chance that parenthood is not as fun as you expected it to be. Take the time to get used to the new member of your (very own) family. Contact your GP immediately if you keep feeling sluggish or unstable. Not feeling on cloud nine after giving birth is nothing to be embarrassed about, lots of people feel that way!

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Cycle is a community where all aspects of the female body are discussed freely. From menstruation to menopause: we'll help you understand your body, mind, cycle and sexuality better, with the help of our Cycle Experts.