Before having a baby, many women correctly anticipate that it will take time to "bounce back" from pregnancy and delivery. During the postpartum period, though, most moms have a moment of thinking, "Wait a minute! Why didn't anyone tell me that this could happen?"
As it turns out, bodies before and after pregnancy are different in ways that aren't always obvious. Your postpartum body has grown and birthed a human, so it only makes sense that it would be different. When you know what to expect, you'll know how to handle it—and how to feel good about your body after having a baby. Here are six ways your body can change after birth.
Your midsection may look and feel different.
Your newborn is finally here, so why does your belly still look pregnant? There's a simple explanation. In the days following birth, your uterus begins to shrink to its usual size and shape, but it may take a few weeks for the process to wrap up.1 You'll feel some abdominal cramping (aka afterpains2) as it happens, but you may still have a residual bump in the meantime.
About 60% of women also find that after having a baby, their bellies continue to protrude—even months after giving birth.3 (You may hear people talk about "mom pooch" or "mummy tummy.") This could be a sign of a common condition called diastasis recti, in which the abdominal muscles separate, and the stomach protrudes. Fortunately, your doctor or a physical therapist can recommend exercises to help.4
One more note on the midsection: Your skin stretched to accommodate your pregnancy baby bump, so it may have stretch marks. Those purplish-reddish marks don't go away, but they do fade in time, and they're completely harmless.
You may experience incontinence.
One of the less-discussed postpartum issues is the possibility of stress incontinence, aka the involuntary loss of urine. For example, when you laugh or sneeze—surprise—you might pee a little. Or you may feel the urge to urinate but holding it until you reach the toilet may be a challenge.
About one in three5 new moms experience this phenomenon, but stigma and embarrassment keep it a not-so-fun surprise for many. Stress incontinence is a side effect of pregnancy; the weight of your uterus and baby can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, causing urine to leak. The good news: Treatment is often as simple as doing Kegel exercises to build back your pelvic muscles' strength.6 In the meantime, invest in panty liners.
You might need new shoes.
If your shoes feel tighter than they did before baby, you're not imagining things. Pregnancy may indeed make your feet larger and longer. Researchers believe this may be a result of stress placed on the feet due to the increased weight of pregnancy, or possibly a factor of the hormonal changes that make joints and ligaments more flexible.7 Whatever the cause, the change is thought to be permanent—which is a great excuse to pick up a new pair of shoes.
Some hair will almost certainly fall out—but don't panic.
Remember that lush, thick hair you enjoyed during pregnancy? Don't get too attached to it. Postpartum hair loss is affected by hormones, and you'll probably lose some hair. Again, though, there's good news: Hair grows back.
Your scars may hurt.
Whether you had a C-section or had a vaginal tear, you may have some literal scars from childbirth—and those can be itchy, uncomfortable, or even painful. In the case of serious discomfort, ask your doctor about pain-relief options; some pain medications can be taken even if you're breastfeeding.8
Your breasts will change. (Guaranteed.)
Whether you're feeding your baby by bottle or breast, you can expect your breasts to change after childbirth. In the first few days, your breasts will become engorged as they begin to produce milk. If you aren't breastfeeding your baby, they'll return to their usual state soon thereafter. If you are breastfeeding, the size and shape of your breasts may be different after you wean your baby.
Obviously, your body after pregnancy isn't the same body it was before you got pregnant. How could it be? It's been busy creating a human! So whenever you start to miss the way things were, think about all that your postpartum body has done for you and your beautiful family. Appreciating what your body has done, not just what it looks like, has a way of putting things into a healthy perspective.
How you take care of your body during pregnancy may impact how it changes after birth. Read up on all things pregnancy here.
Remember, no matter where you are in your pregnancy and childbirth journey, there's a fitness plan that will help you feel your best. Learn how to develop a prenatal fitness routine you'll love—and will be excited to continue after baby arrives.