My postpartum body
I don’t know about you but after giving birth I felt like I had been through a natural disaster!
Now that I think of it, that’s a good way of putting it…’a natural disaster’. And by the way, there is nothing NORMAL about a normal delivery!
It was worse than a 48hour on call shift from hell. The rollercoaster of emotions, the numerous times the situation went from looking good to looking like an impending emergency were countless, the snippets of information people forgot to tell you until the very last minute…actually this sounds like an average on call shift for me but the difference being the physical exhaustion you are left with along with the mental exhaustion. And nope, you can’t sleep it off the next day either!
The very ‘special’ moments other then the above is obviously the feeling you’ve been ripped apart, lost your dignity and probably the function of your bowels!
What were the bonus moments for me?
1. Understanding EVERY medical term being used in labour suite. The midwives often desperately tried not to look at me when discussing their concerns with each other. All to keep me stress free! Little did they know that I also wished I didn’t know what fetal bradycardia and fetal hypoxia meant! But I did and there was no way of stopping me from panicking. Even CD tried the poker face with me to prevent me from getting worked up but that didn’t work either!
2. My colleagues having the opportunity to visit me on the ward straight after I had Alyvia and I mean STRAIGHT after – needless to say, they were shocked to see a sweaty, messy, bloody and stressed mummycleverdoc.
3. Being expected to master breastfeeding instantly as I was a doctor.
I was struck with unconditional love as soon as I set eyes on Alyvia and I didn’t really have much time to think how my body would change following birth.
I fell pregnant again with Sophia when Alyvia was 5.5 months. Although it felt like I had been pregnant for 2 years, I was intrigued to see how my body would change following baby number 2.
Other then the cosmetic changes that we all experience (to be honest, those didn’t concern me), loose stomach, stretch marks, body shape generally much more lax, I went through a few symptoms that affected me physically.
This is also known as Oedema. I experienced this straight after birth and it lasted about a week. I had puffy extremities such as my feet, ankles, and hands. The fluid disappears as you pass urine. Also elevating your legs at nighttime helps to disperse the fluid.
One thing to be aware of is asymmetrical calf swelling (one calf being more swollen than the other). Along with mild calf pain, there is a possibility, well a higher one than the average person, that this could be a DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis). Please get this looked at by a qualified healthcare professional.
Lower Back Pain
I had an epidural while in labour and noticed that a few weeks to months after giving birth, the area where the needle was inserted, was uncomfortable and sore. I hoped this wouldn’t last too long as some ladies can experience this indefinitely post labour. Luckily this dispersed after a few weeks.
I’m sure we all try to remember to do our pelvic floor exercises regularly during pregnancy but the reality is, we just don’t! When I coughed or sneezed, I would experience a slight leak of urine. This wasn’t the nicest feeling in the world, especially as you also have vaginal bleeding to deal with.
The trauma of giving birth and having your uterus grow to the size it does, causes significant weakening of your pelvic floor muscles and in turn can lead to weakening of the sphincters that help you to control passing urine voluntarily. The best way to resolve this issue is to continue to do pelvic floor exercises to re-strengthen them and your pelvic floor. I’m sure you’ll be happy to know, I no longer have ‘accidents’ when sneezing.
Having not exercised like I used to for almost 2 years now, getting back into doing any activity was difficult for me. My joints would ache following the activity but it seemed only my knees were affected.
While pregnant, the hormone Relaxin allows for the muscles and ligaments around the pelvic floor and weight-bearing joints to expand slightly to allow for the extra pressure and weight they will be enduring during pregnancy. After birth, it takes time for the muscles to re-strengthen and this in turn can feel slightly painful. This is best managed with simple pain killers and possible topical agents such as Ibuprofen gel etc.
I have stopped the running temporarily and am now doing basic body conditioning to try to ease my muscles into getting back into shape.
I found this particular symptom tough to deal with. At about 3 months postpartum, my hair started to shed a lot!!! It was the symptom that surprised me the most as I did not find many people spoke about it.
During pregnancy, your hair is fuller as you have very minimal hair loss due to high hormone levels and greater circulation around the scalp. Once those hormone levels drop after birth, the hair loss occurs but it almost amounts to how much you would have lost over a 9 month period all in one go!
This symptom should settle after 6 months or so and I am noticing far less hair loss nowadays.
Postpartum Blues/Baby Blues
This is something I would like to dedicate an entire post to so will not delve into too much here. I just want to mention that I had times where I was sad, fearful, tearful and felt hopeless. This could happen for no reason and had nothing to do with the amount of support I had around me. It is very common in first time mothers and I must admit my symptoms were a lot worse after Alyvia than with Sophia.
Although it felt like months, these symptoms finally settled after 2-3 weeks.
Other then the above symptoms that I personally experienced, here a few others that you may go through.
Diastasis Recti – also known as divarication- this occurs as the muscles running over your stomach loosen and separate as a result of pregnancy (in particular the womb pushing against the muscles and weakening them). It should resolve within 6-8 weeks but it is best to get the ‘all clear’ from the GP before you exercise.
Skin changes – hypo/hyperpigmentation, acne, melasma is the term used to describe darker patches over the skin, which occur during pregnancy. This appears typically on the face in particular the chin, nose, upper lip and forehead. They usually disappear a few months after giving birth.
Sweating- this can occur typically at night. It happens as the fluid accumulated during pregnancy is expelled through the body. Some ladies experience severe night sweats. Please be aware that if you are feeling flu-like symptoms along with sweats, this may be a sign of an infection.
Constipation – things may start to slow down with your bowels following birth. Some people also find it hard to pass stool following episiotomies or stitches. A diet high in fibre and plenty of water should help naturally with constipation but if that doesn’t help, buying some stool softeners over the counter such as fybogel may also solve the problem.
Postpartum Depression - These symptoms can occur anytime up to 12 months after having your baby. Along with feeling 'negative' symptoms, you experience insomnia, poor concentration and focus. You lose your appetite and can even feel suicidal. This is more common than you think and I urge women to seek help. There are online forums such as www.mothersformothers.co.uk and www.mind.org where you can obtain a wealth of information and support.
Postpartum Psychosis - This is a severe mental health illness and an emergency and usually occurs within the first 2 weeks of giving birth. Symptoms can occur out of the blue and include confusion, hallucinations, hearing voices in your head, paranoia and delusions. You should seek help urgently as this can be a very frightening experience.
So that’s it folks! That’s not a long list is it???!!
If you do experience some or all of these symptoms, don’t worry, most will disappear after some time. But as always, if you are unsure, please do seek medical advice.
Remember that you have just had a baby! You are a lot stronger than you think and you WILL overcome these smaller obstacles!