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      Your postpartum body and mental health

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      Your postpartum body and mental health

      You’ve just brought a new baby into the world. As you adjust to life as a new parent, it’s only natural for you to experience a mix of emotions. You might start to have questions about your postpartum body.

      Here you’ll find lots of information about the physical and emotional changes you might be going through after the birth of your baby. We’ll be looking at what you might experience in terms of your postpartum mental health, as well as how your body changes after pregnancy.

      Most importantly, you’ll find all the encouragement you need to embrace and accept your postpartum body and open up about any worrying thoughts and feelings without feeling judged.

      Mental health postpartum


      It’s not unusual to feel tearful and down following your baby’s birth. You might have heard this described as ‘baby blues’. Usually, this period doesn’t last for very long and improves as you start to recover from pregnancy and birth.

      Sometimes, however, these feelings can be difficult to overcome.

      If that’s the case, it’s possible that you have postnatal depression.

      Friends


      What is postnatal anxiety?

      Whereas the baby blues tend to be short-lived and manageable, postnatal anxiety is more intense, distressing, and longer-lasting.

      Some of the signs and symptoms include being unable to control your feelings of anxiety, feeling tense, and worrying that something bad is going to happen1.

      Feelings of overwhelm and anxiety are very common after giving birth. If you’re feeling this way, know that you’re not alone. It doesn’t make you a bad parent and you should never be judged for how you feel.

      However, it is important that you speak to your midwife and GP, as well as leaning on your friends and family for support where possible.

      Postnatal PTSD

      When it comes to labour and birth, things don’t always go according to plan. If your experience is in any way traumatic, it’s possible to experience postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder.

      Signs and symptoms include2:

      • Flashbacks.
      • Pain, feeling nauseous and sweating.
      • Intrusive thoughts and repetition of distressing thoughts.
      • Nightmares.

      Postnatal PTSD isn’t something to deal with alone. You should always discuss any negative feelings you have about your birth experience with your midwife and doctor. This will enable you to get the support you need and provide a level of closure around what took place.

      Do postpartum intrusive thoughts go away?

      Intrusive and unwanted thoughts after the birth of your baby can be very distressing. Varying widely, they can include worrying that something terrible is going to happen to your baby. They may even include thoughts of harming them or yourself3.

      Speak to your GP as soon as possible. Whilst you might be feeling guilt and shame about having these thoughts, know that it’s not your fault and you’re not alone.

      Emotional stress after giving birth and dealing with postpartum emotions 

      A big part of managing those post-birth emotions is figuring out exactly what it is you’re feeling.

      Is it a case of the ‘baby blues’ that you’re able to manage with support from family and friends? Or are you experiencing postnatal depression? In which case, you may need additional support. The only way to know for sure is to open up and speak to your midwife or GP to help you navigate your postpartum emotions.

      Other things that might help you feel like yourself again are:

      • Getting enough rest. Accept offers of help and never feel judged for taking time out when you need it.
      • Avoid drinking alcohol. It’s a depressant and can affect your mood even further if you’re feeling anxious or depressed4.
      •  Talk to other new parents, and perhaps explore some local baby groups to help you get out and about with your baby.

      Postpartum psychosis

      Although rare, there’s also the possibility that you’re dealing with postpartum psychosis. Symptoms include feelings of confusion, hallucinations or delusions following the birth of your baby.

      This is a very serious condition. If you start to experience symptoms, seek urgent medical attention4.

      Your postpartum body

      What happens to your body after pregnancy varies greatly from person to person. You might notice any number of physical changes after the birth of your baby, for example bleeding, piles and back and knee pain.

      Whilst it might not feel like it just now, your postpartum body is something to be proud of. Whatever changes your postpartum body goes through, we’re here to explore them with love, pride and no judgement.

      What permanent body changes will I have after birth?

      Every birth experience is unique. It’s difficult to say for definite what changes you’ll see in your body after pregnancy, and whether or not they’ll be permanent.

      Some postpartum body changes can be altered by following medical advice and using exercise. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles to reduce any incontinence and exercising your core in the right way to help with back pain are just two examples5.

      Accepting your postpartum body

      With images of perfect post-baby bodies across social media, and endless articles promising to help you get your pre-baby body back, is it any wonder that many women struggle to accept their postpartum body?

      Bear in mind that it can take some time to adjust to body changes after pregnancy. Try to focus on the incredible feat your body has achieved in bringing your baby safely into the world.

      How long do you bleed after giving birth?

      It’s completely normal to bleed after giving birth. It can take a few weeks before the bleeding stops entirely, with the blood turning a brownish colour as it reduces6.

      If you’re wondering whether it’s normal to stop bleeding and then start again, it’s always best to seek advice from your midwife or GP. Any irregular bleeding should always be checked out to put your mind at ease.

      No period after pregnancy - when should I worry?

      There’s no way to pinpoint exactly when your periods will start again after pregnancy. If you’re exclusively breastfeeding, they might not start again until you reduce or stop altogether. If you’re combination or bottle-feeding, you could have your first post-baby period within 5-6 weeks of giving birth6.

      Even if you’re breastfeeding and your periods haven’t returned, you can still get pregnant in the early weeks after your baby is born. Your midwife will discuss this, along with your contraceptive options, soon after your baby’s birth and at your postnatal check7.

      Your vagina after giving birth

      What happens to your vagina after giving birth all depends on the type of birth you have. For example, whether you had an assisted birth, episiotomy or tear.

      To help your vagina heal after giving birth, be sure to8:

      • Keep the area clean. Try rinsing with water after going to the toilet and pat the area dry.
      • Change your sanitary pads regularly during any postpartum bleeding.
      • Avoid sitting for long periods.
      • Exercise your pelvic floor as soon as you feel able to.

      Your pelvic floor after birth

      Your pelvic floor muscles are located around your vagina, bladder and bottom5.  After birth, your pelvic floor can be weakened, and you may find that you sometimes lose control of your bladder  when you cough or sneeze.

      Doing your pelvic floor exercises can really help here. The best part? They can be done anywhere at any time. And if it starts to cause you distress, don’t hesitate to speak to your GP, as there are a number of options out there to help.

      Stitches after birth

      During birth, it’s possible to experience a ‘tear’ to your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus), or that you need an episiotomy due to an assisted birth that involves using forceps or ventouse. If this happens, you may require stitches after birth to help your body to heal properly.

      Every birth is different. Try not to worry and instead focus on preparing for your birth in a way that’s right for you.

      Piles after birth

      Piles are a common symptom of pregnancy. They’re the result of your changing hormones causing your veins to relax9. It’s not unusual for you to get piles after birth as well.

      Try to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and drink plenty of water. This should help you to poo more easily and avoid straining6

      If you find that your piles aren’t going away, talk to your doctor for advice on the best course of treatment.

      How to poo after birth?

      The first poo after the birth of your baby can feel like a big deal. It may not happen for a few days after giving birth, but even the thought of it might make you feel anxious, particularly if you’ve had stitches.

      There’s no set rule on how to poo after birth, but there are some things that you can do to help make it easier:

      • Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
      • Hold a pad over any stitches and try not to strain.
      • If you’re struggling to poo, talk to your midwife who may advise a gentle laxative.

      Your belly after giving birth

      After all the stretching it’s done to accommodate your growing baby, it’s only natural to wonder about your belly after birth. How will it look after carrying my baby for nine months? How long after birth will my stomach go down? These are all common questions for new mums.

      Because your skin has grown and stretched for the past nine months, it may be that you have some loose skin around your stomach after the birth. Whilst this is very common and not harmful, it may affect how you feel about your appearance.

      Once you feel up to it and it’s safe to do so, you could try doing some gentle exercises, and start exercising your pelvic floor muscles. This will all help your body to recover after birth. You may have to wait a little longer to do this if you’ve had a C-section.

      How long after birth will my stomach go down?

      Your stomach muscles can separate during pregnancy, making them weaker. After about 8 weeks, these muscles will usually go back to normal, depending on the size of the separation5.

      However, everyone’s experience is different. If you’re worried about your stomach after birth, talk to your GP for some advice. Try not to put pressure on yourself and remember that your body has just done something amazing.

      Stretch marks after pregnancy

      Do stretch marks go away after pregnancy? If you’re asking yourself that question, then you’re not alone.

      Stretch marks are streaks or lines across the skin and they’ve very common both during and after pregnancy. They occur as a result of your skin stretching and getting thinner as your baby grows10.

      Do stretch marks go away after pregnancy?

      There’s nothing you can do specifically to treat stretch marks after pregnancy. As time passes, your stretch marks may fade, becoming paler and less obvious10.

      Although they’re generally harmless, stretch marks after pregnancy can affect your confidence. Try to see them as a sign of what your body has achieved as you get used to being proud of and accepting your postpartum body.

      When does postpartum hair loss stop?

      Postpartum hair loss usually happens 2-3 months after you’ve given birth11.  But how long does postpartum hair loss last? There’s no definitive answer here, but as a general rule, this may start to settle down anywhere between 3 and 6 months postpartum.

      Back pain after pregnancy

      Experiencing back pain after pregnancy is common. Pregnancy hormones can help to relax your muscles in preparation for birth, leaving you more prone to injury, aches and pains.

      To ease any discomfort, try to5:

      • Keep your back supported and your feet on the floor whilst you’re feeding your baby.
      • Use a sling that properly supports your back when carrying your baby.
      • Keep your back straight and bend your knees when bending to lift anything.

      Knee pain after pregnancy

      Just like back pain after pregnancy, knee pain is also something you might experience. And for the same reasons, your ligaments have become more relaxed as a result of those pregnancy hormones.

      To help ease knee pain after pregnancy, try putting your feet up as and when you need to, and speak to your doctor if the pain starts to become unmanageable.

      How long does postpartum preeclampsia last?

      Postpartum preeclampsia can occur soon after the birth of your baby. It happens when you have raised blood pressure and increased protein in your urine12.

      When this occurs, you may be required to stay in the hospital a little longer than planned so that you can be monitored. Your blood pressure will be regularly checked and you may be prescribed medication to manage your condition13.

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