What really happens to your body after you give birth

Becoming a mother is an incredible, life-altering experience. From seeing the first ultrasound to feeling the first kick, your child has a profound effect on your emotional being, far before he or she is even born. But for anyone who's been pregnant, it's no secret that having a baby also comes with some pretty crazy physical changes — and we're not just talking during the nine months before your little bundle of joy makes its debut. 

Yes, there are all kinds of physical changes that happen in the days, weeks, and months after childbirth that can be completely alarming — even for moms who've been through the entire experience before. That's why I took to the experts to find out what really happens to your body after childbirth. 

Engorged breasts

Larger breasts might sound like a fun side effect of motherhood but the truth is, post-pregnancy breasts aren't at all like a free set of implants. Once you give birth, your breasts fill up with milk, which can be painful. According to the March of Dimes, the pain should subside once you begin breastfeeding. If you aren't breastfeeding, however, the pain could continue until your body stops producing milk. 

While symptoms are typically the worst in the early postpartum days and should decrease the longer you are breastfeeding, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee also suggests treatments such as breast massage, hot and cold packs, and breast pumping in their 2016 clinical protocol for engorgement.

Nursing consistently day and night can help your breasts be less engorged, but if your breasts become too painful, try taking a warm shower. You can also try wearing a sports bra for the added support. 

Constipation

Pregnancy hormones can affect your gut, as can some of the medications that are prescribed to new moms. "All of those things play into the constipation" that's common after you give birth, Dr. Shannon Clark, associate professor in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said in an interview with US News & World Report

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center's Obstetrics Division, bowel movements typically resume within the first few days following your baby's birth. If you do find yourself constipated beyond that, however, make sure you are drinking at least eight to ten large glasses of fluid a day. You can also try eating prunes as they are a natural mild laxative.

Hair loss

Pregnancy can do wonderful things for your hair. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true when it comes to childbirth. When most women get pregnant they "will have a massive mane of hair that grows," Clark told US News & World Report. But that goes away, she explained, thanks to a significant decline in estrogen. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), many new moms see noticeable hair loss after having a baby. The good news: this isn't really "hair loss" but rather "excessive shedding," that usually peaks about three months before returning back to normal. If the shedding bothers you, use a volumizing shampoo. "These shampoos tend to contain ingredients like protein that coat the hair, making the hair appear fuller," the AAD shared on its website. 

Soreness in your lady parts

It comes as no surprise that pushing a tiny human being out of your body is painful. It's also a huge physical undertaking that, according to Clark, can cause tears in the perineum (the area between the vagina and the anus). Ouch! In fact, Clark told US News & World Report that "about 65 percent of women who delivery vaginally will need stitches to repair laceration in the vaginal canal, on the side of the urethra or in the labia."

While swelling and stinging are a given, an article in Parents magazine reassures new moms that recovery is fairly rapid. "Sutures are gone within ten days, and swelling should subside over the same period. In the meantime, apply an ice pack several times a day."

Sweats

If you find yourself a little sweatier than normal after having your baby, don't worry — you aren't alone. According to the March of Dimes, this happens to a lot of new moms, especially at night. It happens because of all those pregnancy hormones that are still in your body. Until your body gets back to normal, sleeping on a towel can help keep your sheets and pillows dry. You may also want to avoid sleeping in bulky pajamas so that you don't get too hot at night. 

Swelling

During pregnancy, your body holds on to extra fluids to help you through labor. This is why, the March of Dimes says, many women experience swelling in the feet, hands, and face while they're expecting. Even after having the baby, this swelling can take some time to go down. 

Luckily, according to an article on Healthline, there are plenty of things you can do to help ease swelling. These include drinking plenty of water to help flush your system, wearing comfortable shoes, and avoiding process foods and excess sodium, which can cause bloating and aggravate postpartum swelling.

Discharge "down there"

After your baby is born, the body gets rid of all types of blood and tissue that was inside the uterus during pregnancy. "For the first few days, it's heavy, bright red and may even have some blood clots," March of Dimes explains on their website. "Over time, the flow gets less and lighter in color."

According to the experts at What to Expect, the website that builds on the popular What to Expect books, post-labor discharge, also known as lochia, should stop flowing around four to six weeks after delivery. "If you see very large clots or experience very heavy flow — enough to soak through a maxi pad every hour — give your practitioner a call," the article shared, adding that a foul smell coming from the discharge is also a sign you should call a doctor because "normal lochia smells like a normal period."

Bladder issues

Your baby might not be the only one who finds it hard to control their bladder. "Urinary incontinence can happen [to many new moms]," Dr. Ronald D. Blatt, the chief surgeon and medical director of the Manhattan Center for Vaginal Surgery, told me in an interview. So if you find yourself running to the restroom more often than you used to, this is why. "Childbirth weakens the pelvic floor muscles, which causes this. This will generally correct itself within a year," he said.

You might feel different "downstairs"

It isn't just the need to run to the restroom or feeling pain that might change when it comes to your lady parts. Dr. Blatt told me, "You may feel loose down there after delivering a baby." Given that you've pushed a baby out, it isn't totally surprising. 

"This is due to the loss of support of the vaginal muscles," Dr. Blatt explained. While your body can usually return to normal with time, Dr. Blatt said that many woman elect to have surgery to help tighten things downstairs. 

Skin darkening

According to Dr. Blatt, many new moms may also notice that their vagina is a different color after giving birth. This is referred to as skin darkening. 

"The pigmentation around the labia and the perineum will darken after delivering a baby," he told me. "It may return to normal once that area and your hormones stabilize. If the pigmentation never returns to its pre delivery color and that is a concern for you, there are options like laser treatments, surgery, and certain whitening creams."