1: You have contractions
Contractions continue after the baby is born. This process is called involution and it starts with labor: First the shrinking and tightening of the uterus help push the baby, then the placenta, out, then it keeps going until the uterus is back to its pre-pregnancy size and shape. The contractions are usually only noticeable for the first few days postpartum, but can last longer. And they’re nothing like labor contractions; they don’t hurt first-time mothers, but can be uncomfortable after subsequent births. They may feel stronger when breastfeeding, as the hormone oxytocin, which is released during breastfeeding, also causes contractions.
2: You bleed
Women bleed for about 4-6 weeks postpartum. It’s kind of like having all those periods you missed during pregnancy in one long burst. Although it can be heavy at first, the flow tapers after 2 to 3 weeks. Hospitals and birthing centers provide large, absorbent pads for the first few days postpartum, but you’ll need to buy some more. No tampons allowed. Post-C-section bleeding is the same.
3: The first bowel movement is scary
After giving birth, pushing is not appealing. Be assured that if you have stitches, they can withstand a push. Try using a low footstool to raise your knees and put you in more of a squatting position rather than a sitting one. Hospitals offer stool softeners — take them. Drink lots of fluids and eat lots of fiber and simple meals. Enemas can be used if things get a little crazy, but this problem often resolves within the first few days.
4: Hemorrhoids happen
Hemorrhoids are varicose veins of the anus. They can start to swell in pregnancy and may “pop” out during labor. They will eventually “pop” back in, but in the meantime, bathroom visits can be a tad stressful. There’s often a little blood during a bowel movement — it’s typically not dangerous, but it can hurt. Try using witch hazel compresses and talk to your doctor if you’re concerned; there are treatments for severe cases.
5: Your hair falls out
During pregnancy, we stop shedding for 40 weeks and get a nice, thick head of hair. But after the baby is born, all that hair that didn’t fall out during pregnancy starts to shed. It takes a few months to notice the hair loss — which can be quite pronounced, especially around the hairline — and it’ll start to grow back at around 7 or 8 months postpartum. Though some women lose more hair than others, almost all will grow their hair back.
6: You sweat
Water builds up in your body during pregnancy and needs to be flushed out. Sometimes women wake up with soaking sheets on about day three postpartum. There’s absolutely nothing wrong, but it can be rather alarming, and the amount of sweat is even higher for women who took medications during labor — the IV adds a a lot more fluid to your system, and pitocin (the drug used to induce labor) is an antidiuretic. And if you had pregnancy edema on top of having medication during labor, there can be a whole lot of fluid to flush out. Usually the sweats take place over a day or more and then stop. Drinking lots of water can actually help flush out what’s there.
7: Breastfeeding hurts…at first
Even when you’re doing it perfectly “right” and just adjusting like every other new mom to this new bodily function, there can be some pain. When the milk comes in the first week, breasts can become engorged and quite sore. To help with the pain, use frozen cabbage leaves, warm water from the shower and ibuprofen. Feeding frequently will also help. Make sure that the baby doesn’t suck on the actual nipple (ouch!) but on the areola — the dark part around the nipple. It’s best to take a breastfeeding class and meet with lactation consultants after birth as soon as possible.
8: Breastfeeding will make you really hungry
Making milk for around-the-clock feeding takes a lot of energy, more than even growing the baby in the first place. It’s an appetite most women haven’t felt since childhood. All bodies are different, and the rate of weight loss varies postpartum, but a breastfeeding woman’s appetite can seem insatiable. You’ll also want (and need) to drink fluids constantly; women can feel especially thirsty the minute they start to nurse. So grab a glass of water before you settle in.
9: The postpartum emotional state may not be what you expect
The way post-birth emotions are discussed, you’d think your two options are complete bliss or catatonic depression. Though both of those emotional states are real for many women, there are many, many more. All women experience a wide variety of emotional states: euphoric, relieved, anxious, weepy, spaced-out, shocked, lonely, sad, worried, proud, confident and/or spent. All of these feelings are absolutely normal and all can happen in the first months (or days) postpartum.