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Motherhood changes you inside and out. After having a baby, your clothing size, breast shape, hip width and even your shoe size might be different. These changes are evidence of the work your body has done. As you adjust to your new life with baby, it’s important to remember that your mind and emotions are also changing, so be sure to give yourself the support you need.
Realizing you’re responsible for another human being can be scary. New moms struggle with anxiety over a number of things, from fear of something happening to the baby to not making enough breastmilk. Disrupted sleep and being overtired can amplify these feelings. The best thing you can do is accept help from your partner, family and friends — even if they’re not doing things exactly the same way you do — and then rest and recharge while someone else is caring for your baby.
It’s normal to be frustrated with your postpartum body (especially compared to what you see in magazines), it’s also important to put it in perspective. Your body changes over time; it takes a while to get close to your prepregnancy shape and size. What’s reasonable? Expect to naturally lose some weight before your first postpartum doctor’s visit (usually around six to eight weeks after giving birth). After that, if you stayed within your doctor’s recommendation for pregnancy weight gain, it’s still normal to have 10 to 15 more pounds to lose in the months ahead.
Breastfeeding your baby has so many benefits: It protects infants from illness, offers them perfectly balanced nutrition and lowers your risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. But you require energy (read: calories) to make breast milk. Nursing moms should eat an additional snack, such as a piece of fruit or a cup of yogurt, to get an extra 300 calories a day. Even with this additional food, breastfeeding will help you lose the baby weight as long as you’re eating a healthy diet and not overdoing it.
In addition to moderate cardio, a postpartum workout should focus on building up the muscles of your torso (which took a beating when you were pregnant). Every new mom can benefit from core strengthening. The rectus abdominal muscles are stretched during pregnancy in a way that makes it impossible to exercise them during that time. Some women also experience a separation of the abdominal wall muscles, which is called rectus abdominis diastasis. Exercises that target this condition can bring the muscles back together again.
Don’t shelve your prenatal vitamins just yet. Keep taking them, especially if you’re breastfeeding. You need to restore the nutrients you may have lost during pregnancy, and support your body while it’s producing breast milk. Your doctor may also recommend you take an iron supplement and vitamin C (to help with the absorption of iron).
The changes in your body that you can see might be causing you some stress, but hidden changes can be anxiety-producing as well. After delivery, it’s relatively common to have some bladder leakage caused by prolonged pushing or a forceps- or vacuum-assisted childbirth. This is usually temporary. Typically, you’ll see improvement over several weeks to months as you heal. Performing Kegel exercises can help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles so you can regain bladder control more quickly. If leakage is really bothering you, ask your gynecologist if seeing a pelvic health therapist would be of benefit.
Slathering on creams and oils to prevent stretch marks during pregnancy is always your best bet. But you still may develop deep purplish or pink lines. If you’re worried about permanent scarring, there’s good news: Retinoid creams derived from vitamin A can minimize the appearance of new stretch marks — any that are less than a few months old. This is something you need to move on quickly, though. Once the marks have faded to white, it’s too late for the retinoid cream to work.
The elastic walls of the vagina stretch quite a bit during childbirth, but they do spring back into place. So you can resume sexual intercourse when you feel ready and have gotten the go-ahead from your doctor. If you’re breastfeeding, you may experience less lubrication because nursing causes your body to produce less estrogen. Having a vaginal lubricant available can help if you feel discomfort.
You helped create another human being and might still be providing sustenance for your baby. Recognizing the physical changes as a part of an amazing time in your life is an important part of respecting the new you. It’s also normal to go through some emotional ups and downs as you adjust to parenthood. The responsibilities that come with keeping a tiny person alive — frequent feedings, night wakings and dealing with poop-splosions — can be overwhelming. It’s natural to feel tired, let down, frustrated or sad in the days following childbirth as your hormone levels fluctuate. Life after a new baby is not going to be the same. There is a steep learning curve in parenthood, but your new life will be filled with thrills and wonderful memories.