As if your body didn’t freak you out enough while you were pregnant (hello tiny alien spawn pushing elbows into my stomach), now you officially have a postpartum body. You look damn good in it, but there are things your postpartum body does that will freak you out, even if they are totally normal.
OK, you were probably already a little apprehensive about this body of yours. It’s like realizing your hands could detonate bombs — knowing your body can birth an entire new human being is pretty crazy. What else can your body do? A lot, for starters. But the postpartum healing process is especially cool when you realize that everything your body is doing, no matter how freaky, is to basically put your body back to its pre-pregnancy state so you can do the miracle of childbirth all over again. Biology, right? And although you might not be anywhere near ready to give birth to another baby, your body’s going to keep chugging along, which means there are nine things your postpartum body will do that will totally freak you out. But try to relax — it doesn’t mean anything’s wrong. In fact, these things actually mean your body is healing just like it should and you’re totally normal, even if you don’t feel that way.
1. It Cramps
Cramps never feel like a fun, happy thing to go through. In fact, every cramp I’ve ever had meant I was rushing to Google to make sure nothing was wrong. But your postpartum body is definitely going to go through some of those abdominal aches and pains. According to Dr. Kameelah Phillips, an OB-GYN in New York City, the cramping is more than just normal, it's also kind of necessary. "The uterus is a large muscle that grows to accommodate the baby, placenta, and fluid," she says. "After labor is completed, it begins to return to its normal size — the passage of the placenta and the initiation of breastfeeding signals mild uterine cramping that helps the body achieve this goal." She notes that while it's not as intense as labor, the cramping can be uncomfortable, but it also helps to minimize postpartum hemorrhage by constricting the blood vessels running though the uterus. Never been so happy to feel an abdominal twinge, right?
2. It Bleeds
After nine months of being wary of blood, it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that it’s OK to bleed after giving birth. According to Phillips, regardless of what kind of delivery you had, some amount of bleeding is normal after a delivery. "Postpartum bleeding resembles a light to moderate period with small clots or occasional spotting and can last from days to weeks," she says. But your bleeding shouldn't be active, heavy, or bright red and you shouldn't be passing very large clots either. If these things occur, it's time to call your doctor. Otherwise, stock up on some heavy duty pads and expect to go with the flow. (You’re welcome.)
3. It Leaks Breast Milk
Yep, whether you intend to breastfeed or not, your breasts are still going to leak some breast milk after delivery. According to Phillips, the first stage of breast milk is immediately after delivery, but three to five days later, the transitional milk develops — this is what many consider "their milk coming in." "After this time, the breasts can leak if you go too long between feedings, in the shower, when touched, if you hear a baby cry, or smell a baby," Phillips says. "They can leak for no particular reason at all, hence nipple pads. If you are breastfeeding, especially in the beginning, regular and frequent breastfeeding can help you avoid leaking." She also notes that if you choose not to breastfeed, you can experience some leaking about two weeks out from delivery as your mature milk officially comes in. By minimizing stimulation of the breast, Phillips says you can help stop the leaking.
4. Its Boobs Become Boulders
Again, whether you intend to breastfeed or not, you may get porn star boobs — that you can’t do anything with. Phillips says that when that transitional milk comes in a few days after delivery, many women may experience full or "engorged" breasts. This means they can feel larger, heavier, warmer, and even have a shiny appearance as the skin is stretched. It’s freaky — I won’t lie to you. But as your milk supply regulates itself, they should go back to normal.
5. It Gets Rid Of A Lot Of Fluid
Seriously, you just thought you were sweaty during pregnancy. Think of all those fluids you’ve retained during pregnancy. They didn’t magically evaporate after you gave birth and, according to Phillips, hormonal changes can make you experience night sweats and even hot flashes. "As your hormones fluctuate, changes in estrogen and progesterone can cause some menopausal-like symptoms such as night sweats," she says. But don't worry, your internal thermometer will return to normal within a few days and the night sweats will stop. You may wake up in a puddle of your own sweat, but it just means your body’s getting itself back to pre-pregnancy standards.
That's not the only way your body rids itself of extra fluids though. Phillips noted that it is normal and common to use the bathroom frequently after delivery. "Before delivery, the body stores a lot of extra fluid in the tissues — remember your shoes suddenly not fitting anymore because of the swelling in your legs, ankles, and feet? You then receive more fluids during and after labor. The body needs to get rid of this excess by making frequent trips to the bathroom," she says. "This resolves when all the extra retained fluid is removed."
6. It May Have Trouble Using The Bathroom
After months and months of peeing, now you’re halted in the toilet (or you're suddenly leaking urine on the couch). Talk about freaking out. But Phillips noted that transient bowel and bladder issues are common in the immediate postpartum period. "Stress incontinence (leaking when you laugh, sneeze, or cough) or urge incontinence (feeling like you have to use the bathroom, but not much comes out or leaking before you get to the bathroom) are very common after having a baby," Phillips says. "Pregnancy is a risk factor for bladder leakage irrespective of how you deliver. Woman who pushed for a few hours may have complaints more acutely, but this is not a reason to schedule a C-section." You'll just have to arm yourself with panty liners and practice those Kegels if leaking continues.
But what if you're having difficulties urinating? Is that normal? "Swelling around the urethra, the tube that carries urine out of the body, can cause obstruction and urinary retention," Phillips says. "This typically clears up in a few days as the swelling resolves and the bladder recovers from labor." But you also could have some issues having a bowel movement after delivery. Again, normal.
"Constipation is a very common complaint after delivery. Hormones, anesthesia, and not eating while in labor can cause bowel movements to be delayed," Phillips says. "It is helpful to minimize constipation by drinking lots of water and increasing your fiber intake keep the stool moving through your system. Stool softeners are also helpful."
And finally, you might just have a huge mental block about using the bathroom. "Vaginal swelling, repair of vaginal lacerations, and the abdominal pressure along the C-section incision can make you feel like your uterus and/or vagina are going to fall out," Phillips says. "It is understandable that this sensation can make going to the bathroom and the need to bear down intimidating and painful, but please know that nothing will break and this feeling will resolve with time."
7. It May Still Look A Little Pregnant
Not going to lie, this one seriously freaked me out. Did I expect washboard abs after giving birth? No. But did I expect to still look several months pregnant? Um, no. Turns out, it can take a while for your tummy to go down after birth. "The uterus is muscle that grows to the size of a watermelon and sits just below your rib cage. Immediately after delivery, the top of the uterus reaches around the navel," Phillips says. "Because your abdominal muscles are relaxed, the pressure and size of the uterus makes you look at least six months pregnant." She notes that your age, genetics, and how many babies you've had also factor into how "pregnant" you continue to look after delivery. But according to Phillips, after about six weeks, your uterus will return to normal, so don't panic too much.
8. It May Feel Seriously Touched Out
You’ve had your baby and now you’re freaking out because your partner touches you — what gives? Shouldn’t this miracle of life bring you two closer together? Look, it’s normal to feel touched-out. According to La Leche League, taking care of a baby (especially if you’re breastfeeding) can make you feel like your body doesn’t belong to you, so when you don’t have an infant in your arms, the last thing you want is your partner to hug you or try to snuggle. It’s normal and after some alone time, you’ll feel better, but it can be seriously confusing in those first few sleep-deprived weeks.
9. It Manages To Survive On Very Little Sleep
Let’s be real — this is the freakiest thing of all. How does it do it? How does it keep chugging along when you’re awake every two hours feeding a tiny human? The body is amazing and totally freaky, you guys.