You probably expect your post-pregnancy body to look and feel different after you have your baby, but it can be hard to know if what you are experiencing is normal, or concerning.
Unfortunately, far too many women feel like they need to tolerate symptoms and issues that they shouldn't have to, believing that they are the normal and expected consequences of having babies. Please know that you deserve a body that works, and that feels good for you and that with the right help, most postpartum symptoms can be alleviated.
Leaking, pain or lack of confidence are not factors you need to just accept as "as good as it gets" because you decided to have babies. You deserve so much more!
You have a right to understand when your new body is normal and okay, how you can heal and strengthen, and when you should get checked out by a healthcare provider.
Whether your most recent birth is your first or your fifth, no experience is ever the same. Remember that however your birth played out, and however strange it all feels right now, your body is a wonder which can heal and strengthen given time, rest and love.
Let's discuss what's normal and what's not—and what you can do about it.
Five perfectly normal (if not entirely awesome) symptoms and feelings your early post-pregnancy body may experience:
1. Postpartum soreness
Your body may feel sore and tender, especially in your pubic area, hips, back, neck, tummy and around your scar if you had a C-section.
Your healing remedies? Sleep and rest, hydration, great nutrition and (very) gentle stretching and massage. Nourishing self-care will facilitate healing, and your body needs time, rest, water, nutrients... and plenty of TLC.
Don't remain in an uncomfortable position, even if you're feeding your baby (we've all been guilty of this!). Use plenty of pillows, shift position or stretch, have someone bring you water, tea, or a snack, so you can both settle in comfort.
Bathe any stitches with plain warm sitz bath water every day, and if stitches are sore, check in with your doctor or midwife.
2. Worrying about going to the bathroom
When you go to the bathroom in the first few days after birth, you may feel like your insides are going to fall out. They won't! But they may feel like they're going to.
Tenderness and lack of sensitivity mean that you can't quite feel what you're doing, so using the toilet may feel frightening or out of control. Drink plenty of water to keep your urine diluted, and eat fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure adequate fiber intake and avoid constipation.
Try not to strain when pooping, and if you have stitches that feel sore, holding a pad of clean tissue over the stitches as you go may help.
3. Postpartum baby blues
You might cry a lot—happy crying, sad crying and even why-am-I-crying crying. Mama, this can be normal. You had a baby—it's a hormonal and emotional ride. Get support, ask for help, and talk about how you're feeling to your partner, friend, therapist or medical caregiver.
If you think you might be experiencing more serious symptoms such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks or flashbacks, then please seek professional help. If you ever feel like hurting yourself or the baby, call 911 or go to an emergency room right away.
4. Mild postpartum bladder leaking
Your ability to control the flow of urine, stool and gas may be less than ideal. You may leak or fart without warning, or when you cough, sneeze or laugh. In the very early days, this can be a normal result of a lack of sensitivity and tenderness.
However, lack of pelvic floor control is not something you need to put up with or accept. Gentle restorative breathing exercises to help you reconnect to your core and pelvic floor muscles will help you to regain control and strength.
5. Difficulty getting comfortable
You may find that it is difficult to get comfortable. You will need to shift your body about when you sit or stand. Be patient with yourself, and use pillows, gentle stretching, rest and support as you need it.
What you should do during this period of healing and beyond to help heal your body
Release your muscles with these stretches:
- Stretch your calves and hamstrings by squatting down a little, holding onto a heavy table leg or stair rail for support. Only go as low as you can while keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Clasp your hands behind your back and lift your hands towards the ceiling to relieve your shoulders.
- Try lying on your back with your legs in the air and shuffle your bottom right into the wall, then let your legs drop gently to one side, then the other.
These stretches are super beneficial to improve circulation and encourage muscle release.
2. Pelvic floor exercises
Very gently draw your belly button inward on a long, slow exhale while lifting your pelvic floor. Try to think of it not as a squeeze only at the front, but a deep lift, right in the middle. Imagine you're drawing a tampon up inside you as you breathe out. As you exhale and lift, also focus on your rectum, as if you're stopping yourself from passing gas. Keep your shoulders and chest relaxed.
Take a few deep breaths like this whenever you remember, relaxing everything as you inhale, then contracting again as you exhale. Note: Don't push away on the inhale, just let go.
3. Nourish your body
Your body needs excellent nutrition and plentiful hydration to heal and gain strength. If you're breastfeeding your baby, it needs these even more. Drink lots of water and focus on real, natural foods like vegetables (especially green leafy ones), fruits (berries are perfect) and high-quality proteins.
The vital nutrients most often missed are fats, and your body needs a ton of good fat right now! Oily fish, nuts, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil and seeds are all great sources.
4. Rest, rest, rest.
Recruit other people to bring you food and tea. They will, you just have to ask.
Every day, take a walk outside if you possibly can. Fresh air and movement stimulates healing and improves your mental wellbeing.
You can't strengthen muscles until you have found and connected with them, and this connection is the vital first stage. The exercises and stretches above are exactly where to start.
What symptoms are not okay post-pregnancy?
Although it takes up to a year to heal from pregnancy and birth, by the 8-week mark, your body should feel much better.
At that point, and with your provider's blessing, you can gradually start to increase your levels of activity—but nothing should hurt when you do. You should have stopped bleeding, you should have stopped hurting, and you should be able to pretty much control your bladder and bowel.
If any of these issues are still going on, it's time to see your doctor or midwife.
These symptoms are sadly widespread, and so many women just live with them. They're common—but not okay. You don't have to put up with this stuff, and the right corrective exercise and strategies can make a BIG difference.
Once you get to the 6- or 8-week mark postpartum, the following five symptoms require medical attention—though please note: You do not have to wait that long. If you are concerned, call.
1. Leaking urine when you sneeze, laugh or cough or leaking as you're rushing to the toilet
While in the very early days, these symptoms may be normal, know that you do not need to endure pelvic floor weakness or dysfunction beyond this immediate post-birth period. Whether you are a few months postpartum—or even years—these symptoms can be improved with the right foundational core and pelvic floor exercises. Build your core and pelvic floor strength with the right restorative exercises before you return to any more intensive or high impact exercise. Ask to be referred to a pelvic floor physical therapist to assist with this.
Pain in your back, pelvis, abdomen, hips or legs could be a sign that something is wrong. If something hurts, you should seek professional medical help, period. A women's health physical therapist may be a great resource or you, as muscle imbalances or alignment issues could be hindering your efforts to strengthen and causing discomfort.
3. Bulging in your abdomen or pelvic floor
If you feel any bulging in your belly or pelvic floor, feel internal pressure like you're bearing down, or can't keep a tampon in, you could be experiencing a pelvic organ prolapse. Consult with your provider to determine your situation and to get guidance on exercise and movement adaptations as well as treatment options.
4. Painful sex
Intimacy shouldn't hurt so don't suffer in silence. Talk to your partner and see a women's health physical therapist. Painful sex may be caused by hypertonic (too tight) pelvic floor muscles or by a whole spectrum of interconnected physical and emotional issues, including trauma.
Communicate and connect—with your partner and with a physical therapist who can help.
5. Lack of confidence or self-esteem
You deserve better, mama. You deserve zero judgment and zero pressure. You deserve support, guidance, communication and credible, evidence-based information about your body and how you can feel better. Find your village, and get the help and boost you need. If you're concerned about depression or anxiety, seek the help of a therapist.