Ah, the postpartum body. It’s your body, but different. Right? Pregnancy is an amazing thing. Your body makes room to grow a whole new human being. Your uterus stretches, your organs move and rearrange, and your baby is able to grow inside you for 9-ish months. During that time, your blood pressure changes, hormones alter every part of your body (both inside and out), and you’re totally transformed. If you ask any mom if she felt the same after childbearing — they’ll say no way! It truly changes you.
It changes your skin. You might have wrinkles, stretch marks, extra squishy places that weren’t there before. Your skin will be loose — very loose, in those early postpartum times. And it might not go back to the way it was.
It changes your shape. Your pelvic bones and hips literally move and stretch during pregnancy to carry and birth the baby. Though it will be more noticeable on some than others, women’s hips and overall pelvic shape changes after childbirth.
It changes you. Not only your body changes during pregnancy and childbirth, but so does your mind, emotions, attitude, and perspective. Becoming a mama is a huge, beautiful, transformational process that changes us from the inside out. Every pregnancy is unique, just like every birth is unique. How childbirth and pregnancy impacts you will be different from how it impacts someone else. You might experience birth trauma, or go through postpartum depression or anxiety. It might be light and manageable, or it might be worse and require some extra support. Though we all experience motherhood differently, we’re in this together. Something we do have in common is that someone calls us “mom.”
We know that motherhood changes us — it’s obvious! What isn’t so obvious, however, is exactly when some of these postpartum changes occur. So, to better explore this, we’ve broken the postpartum period down into four phases.
The Phases are:
- You will still look pregnant.
- You don’t look pregnant, but you don’t look normal, either.
- The in between.
- The new normal.
Without further ado, let’s jump into each of these phases of the postpartum body and what they mean (or might mean) for you.
You still look pregnant.
Immediately after giving birth, you will lose approximately 10 lbs, depending on how much your baby and placenta weigh. This weight loss happens whether you gave birth vaginally or had a C-section, because it’s directly related to the weight of what’s being removed from your body: your baby, the placenta, and some fluid.
However, even though you’ll technically lose these pounds, you’ll likely still look pregnant at first. This still-pregnant look can last several days, weeks, or even months. Imagine your belly is a balloon when in its pregnant state. When you give birth, the balloon isn’t “popped,” causing it to shrink back to normal size immediately.
But instead, the act of birth starts something of a slow leak. Your “balloon” starts to shrink slowly starting at the very moment your baby is born. Instantly, your body releases hormones that signal your uterus to start shrinking. And shrink it does! In about six weeks, your uterus will shrink back to its normal size.
When your uterus shrinks, you’ll definitely be able to feel the cramping that comes along with it! But don’t worry — the cramping disappears around that same 6-week park, once your uterus has returned to normal. If you’re concerned that your uterus isn’t shrinking, or it’s taking longer than 2 months, make sure to speak to a pelvic floor specialist. After 6 weeks or 2 months, you should no longer look pregnant.
You don’t look pregnant, but you don’t look “normal,” either.
Okay, moving on to phase two. In number two of the phases of your postpartum body, you no longer look pregnant. Congratulations! At around 6 weeks postpartum, or by the 2-month mark, your uterus should be completely back to its pre-pregnancy size. But that doesn’t mean everything is back to normal, of course. What is “normal” anyway, am I right?
Nope, the old normal makes way for a *new* normal, and all mamas get to discover exactly what that normal is for them throughout this process. Phase two of the postpartum period means that you don’t look pregnant anymore, but you don’t quite look “normal.” In fact, your body isn’t done changing yet. Your uterus has shrunk, but your abdominal muscles and connective tissue has a long way to go before they’re healed completely.
Some women’s ab muscles won’t heal completely, resulting in diastasis recti. This means that your abdominal muscles don’t come completely back together after separating for nine months, leaving a gap between your abs. Around this gap, you might see a “pooch” where fat or excess skin sticks out or doesn’t lay flat. Diastasis recti cannot be cured, but it can be helped with physical therapy and/or cosmetic surgery.
Having a squishy tummy that lacks definition and core strength is normal after having a baby. And even when your body does completely heal from pregnancy and childbirth, it still won’t be the same. It will be a new normal. The new you, mama. And we think this new you is absolutely beautiful!
The “in between” phase.
Phase three is what we call the “in between.” How fast you transition from the completion of your abdominal healing to being completely normal depends on many different factors.
How much exercise are you getting? Your level of activity pre-pregnancy is an indicator of your level of activity postpartum, as well — barring any major complications or changes with your health or fitness. If you were active before you became pregnant, it’s likely that you will go back to being active sooner than others postpartum. Returning to exercise soon (but not soon) after giving birth increases your healing time. The sooner you go back to business as usual, the sooner your body begins to find its new version of normal.
How much sleep are you getting? The fact of the matter is: some babies are just better sleeper than others. While some babies sleep through the night rather quickly, getting mama back to a normal sleeping schedule sooner, it might take longer for others. Or maybe one mama has a little extra support, like a parent or a caregiver who can watch their baby while they nap. Finding a normal sleeping schedule postpartum can be tough.
Whether you’re one of the lucky ones who finds their rhythm sooner, or you’re up with your little one more, this definitely impacts your postpartum healing process and how rapidly you progress through each phase. A postpartum body that’s getting more sleep will heal much faster than one that isn’t sleeping well. If you’re reading this and thinking, “oh no! I’m not getting enough sleep at all, am I healing?” You’re definitely healing.
The human body, the female human body, is powerful and intuitive. Your body will still heal if you’re feeling like a mombie (mom zombie) postpartum. This is all completely normal and expected!
Did you have a traumatic birth? Any birth injuries? Don’t forget: you don’t have to be physically injured to have had a traumatic birth. Birth and the events that surround it can be traumatic in that they impact someone in a deep and negative way. What might trigger a traumatic event in one person might not do the same for another. Every woman is different, every baby is different, and every birth is different.
If you had a physical injury during the birth in some way, this can impact how quickly your postpartum body heals. Did you have an episiotomy? A tear? A hemorrhage, hernia, emergency C-section? Any of these events, or any combination of events could cause a physical issue that results in slowed postpartum recovery.
If your wounds are not the visible kind, but you experienced a psychological trauma during the birth, this can also impact how quickly you heal postpartum and how soon you move through the phases of your postpartum body. If you are experiencing postpartum depression, for example, you might be less inclined to be active and getting exercise. This directly impacts your ability to heal and get your core strength back after giving birth.
Additionally, the existence of mental health struggles during the postpartum period is associated with the lack of sleep we mentioned earlier, as well as how well you’re eating. Women suffering from postpartum depression are more likely to eat imbalanced meals: whether overeating, undereating, or generally suffering from a lack of proper nutrition.
The new normal.
Then finally, at long last, you will discover your “new normal.” You probably won’t know it the moment it happens, because it will be so gradual. It’s more like one day you’ll look in the mirror or look down at your body, and you’ll just know. This is it. This is me.
It might not even be something you can see, just something you can feel. Maybe you’re able to do the same things athletically that you could pre-pregnancy. Maybe you can do your downward dog again in yoga, or something like that.
In Phase 4 of the postpartum body changes, you’ll find your new normal. And if not, don’t worry! It will find you :)
How did you feel at each stage?
Find more stories about what to expect and how to heal and recover during your postpartum period. Check out our blog: www.coddle.co