Women may bleed for six weeks, says Barbara Negelow, founder of Ready Birth LLC. "It will eventually go from red to brown, and then pink and creamy yellow the last week." Megan Hunt, a mom from Nebraska, says her discharge, known as lochia, was heavier than a "heavy period." Women who have C-sections still have lochia, but it may be lighter. If you're saturating more than a pad an hour or if the discharge has a foul odor, call your doc.
For most women, doctors recommend gaining no more than 25 to 30 pounds. "How fast you lose the weight depends upon how much weight was gained in pregnancy," says Negelow. "Just like any other fat, you have to lose the extra through diet and exercise." Focus on a healthy, balanced diet and get your doctor's permission before starting a postpartum exercise program.
The uterus returns to normal in six weeks, but your belly may never be as flat as it was. Dr. Robert O. Atlas, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says you should begin to see a reduction in your belly within a week or so as the uterus shrinks. It takes longer with a C-section, because the incision and the muscles have to heal. As with weight loss, diet and exercise are the key.
Incontinence is a common side effect of childbirth. Negelow says to tighten those muscles with Kegels, which can be started almost immediately. Beyond incontinence a healthy pelvic floor is crucial to support your pelvic organs and increase sexual satisfaction. Andrea Joyce, of Toronto, Canada, who founded a website to address pelvic floor issues, says if incontinence persists, or if something just doesn't feel right "down there", consult with your doc.
Even if you're not breastfeeding, your breasts will produce milk. As milk comes in, they may feel swollen, tight, and sore. Wear a snug bra, even at night, and relieve the pain with ibuprofen or ice packs. Milk production reaches its peak at three to four days. By day five, the pain and swelling should be easing. Your breasts should be back to normal size in a week to 10 days.
Thinning hair, also known as telogen effluvium, is one of the most common complaints heard by Dr. Atlas. He says the hair is "resting" after being in an active growth phase and will resume its active growth in a few months. It's rarely severe enough to cause bald spots.
Hunt is not prone to skin problems, so she was surprised to experience a bout with acne shortly after giving birth. Again, this is common and is caused by fluctuating hormones. "The best treatment for me is to go without makeup as often as I can stand—keeping my face clean and 'naked' helped it clear up more quickly than saturating it with products aimed at acne," says Hunt.
No, there's no magical cream, gel, or machine that will get rid of stretch marks. The good news is that stretch marks will eventually fade to light silver, says Negelow, and be barely noticeable. Think of them in a positive way, says Amanda Smith, of Pittsburgh, who has lots of stretch marks and a C-section scar. "I alternate between thinking of them as badges of honor or battle scars, depending upon my mood."
Hemorrhoids will clear up on their own as the rectal area recovers. In the meantime, ease discomfort by soaking in a tub of plain, warm water; applying ice packs to relieve swelling; avoid sitting for long periods; applying cotton pads soaked in witch hazel to anal area; using white toilet paper or pre-moistened wipes; using an OTC remedy; eating plenty of fiber-rich foods; and drinking lots of water.
Women who deliver via C-section have the added challenge of recovering from both childbirth and abdominal surgery. Typically, Mom and Baby stay in the hospital for three days. You'ill be sore and on pain meds the first 48 hours or so. Use pillows and try different positions to find what's comfortable for you. As your incision heals, it will start to itch—probably after the first week. Avoid the urge to scratch, as that can inflame the incision.
Ah, the postpartum in-betweens. Your pregnancy clothes are too big and your real clothes too tight. Hunt recommends a dedicated, but inexpensive, postpartum wardrobe with a focus on comfort and washability. "Get lots of XL cotton underwear, solid colored yoga-type pants, solid-colored nursing tanks, and knit cardigans and shawl-type sweaters," says Hunt. "Things that wash easily and can be mixed and matched."
Mood swings are common after childbirth. Negelow says these "baby blues" generally start on day three and last until day 14. They tend to be fairly mild, just an occasional bout of not being able to get a handle on your emotions. Anything more serious—or that lasts longer than 14 days—should be treated as a possibly serious issue and your doctor should be informed. You may be suffering from postpartum depression.
Dr. Atlas suggests waiting until the six-week checkup to resume intercourse. Once sex is resumed, plenty of foreplay and lubrication will help ease the transition. On the emotional side, Anne Wilson, of San Bernardino, California, says she felt conflicted when she and her husband first started having sex again, like she couldn't separate her "mom body" from her sexual self. Her doctor told her those feelings were normal, and to just give it time.
Dr. Atlas says he often gets calls from women at the four- to six-week mark who are worried because their bleeding has increased. It usually means their periods have resumed. "Periods will resume in four to six weeks and it often overlaps lochia," he says. Because of this, it's important to discuss birth control with your doctor and use it the first time and every time you have sex. Unless you want to do it all again in nine months, of course.
There's no doubt that having a baby changes you physically and emotionally. Enjoy your new life and revel in what your body has created. Hunt says she's accepted that she won't ever be the same woman. "I don't subscribe to the 'I want my old body back.' attitude," she says. "This is my body, it's the only one I'll ever have, and it is beautiful and strong. It supported and bore life and now it is nourishing my daughter."
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