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The Mental and Physical Ripples in the Birthing Experience That No One’s Told You About (Yet)

October 9, 2023
Image Credit: Janko Ferlic

We’ve talked about postpartum depression, pregnancy side effects, postpartum periods, sex, and even birth control. But, let’s face it, this isn’t even close to the entire list of effects that your body will feel after having a baby. There are so many things that mothers are not told, so what are they? Here, we’ve compiled a list of every little thing that you may experience postpartum.

The Change: Bleeding

Though the many women in your life may have told you about post-birth bleeding, what they might have failed to mention is just how much you would or could bleed. Fact: the average woman could lose between one half to a full quart of blood after giving birth. That is four cups of blood!

In an article by The Everymom, one mom said,

“The amount of blood you pass after birth is nauseating. The toilet looks like a murder scene for days, and the nurses told me my bleeding was on the lighter side.”

So, while you may have expected bleeding to happen, now you know that there may be more bleeding happening than you had anticipated. However, if you are soaking through heavy pads, protective underwear, or super tampons in less than an hour it would be safe and precautious to call your doctor or head to the emergency room, as this could be a sign of hemorrhage.

The Change: Cluster Feeding

Whether you choose to breastfeed or formula feed your little one, it is important to familiarize yourself with cluster feeding. Some babies prefer to feed intermittently over a couple of hours, meaning that rather than taking all the milk in at once, they prefer to do it over a longer timeframe. While this is more than normal, it can be exhausting for mothers. This is very common during the first few days after labor, and as such moms will likely be fatigued from the act of giving birth; so, cluster feeding will only add on to that tiredness. Combat this by having a support system or a hospital personnel present with you to help with breastfeeding as well as being able to find the time to rest.

The Change: Night Sweats

Night sweats are the absolute worst! Unfortunately, this symptom not only happens when you have a cold, but also during postpartum as. A mom noted that,

“The night sweats were completely unreal. I didn’t know my shins could sweat buckets of water. I would wake up drenched every night for weeks.”

Night sweats are very common among postpartum moms. However, while these may be inevitable, you can lessen the discomfort by keeping your room cool with a fan or air conditioning, wearing light sleepwear, and refraining from thick blankets and bedding.

The Change: Swelling

Ojus Patel, another featured mom in The Everymom article, commented on another symptoms she didn’t expect post-birth:

“THE SWELLING. No one told me my legs would resemble those of an elephant and that my feet would be so incredibly swollen that even five days later, I’d have to wear my husband’s shower flip flops home. Even my mom was horrified.”

During the first week postpartum, you will likely experience the most swelling, but it should reduce as time goes on. The most common forms of swelling include breast engorgement and hemorrhoids due to the amount of fluids accumulating in these areas post-labor. In any case, by ensuring that you are staying hydrated and incorporating light movements throughout your day, swelling can be mitigated. If swelling begins to occur only on one side of your body, or if you experience redness, fevers, or chills along with swelling, you should seek medical care.

The Change: Degrees of Tearing

If you are planning on having a vaginal birth, you’ve likely heard that tearing in the vaginal and anal areas is possible. Almost 9 in 10 first-time mothers giving birth vaginally will experience tearing. There are different degrees of tearing which influence how you are treated after having your baby. A first-degree tear is one that is typically small, and can be healed on its own. A second-degree tear is a tear that affects the muscle in between your vagina and anus and will typically require stitches. 3.5 out of 100 women will experience a third or fourth degree tear; these are also referred to as obstetric and sphincter injuries (OASI) and will require an operation to fix as this type of tear involves tearing into part or all of the sphincter.

While giving birth, you can help prevent tearing by keeping the area warm and relaxed, and receiving a perineal massage by your doctor, nurse, or partner. If you do experience tearing, placing an icepack on the affected area, keeping the vaginal area clean, sitting in warm water three times a day for twenty minutes, resting, utilizing numbing spray or witch hazel from your doctor or midwife, and engaging in light exercise are ways in which your body can heal faster post-tear.

The Change: The First Bowel Movement

After pushing for hours upon hours, the last thing a mom will want to have to do is push some more. The first bowel movement may be scary and intimidating–but don’t wait! Delaying going to the bathroom will only make the first experience worse. It may hurt, your vaginal area will be sensitive, you may be anxious after just having a baby, and even more so if you have a tear and stitches. For this event, hydration is key! If there seems to be trouble, or if you are just too wary, ask for or purchase a stool softener as it will help with this first bowel movement.

The Change: Loss of Bladder Control

Stretching, pushing, and having a baby (and more) emerge from your vagina cause your pelvic muscles to stretch, and they are also weaker after delivery due to the amount of labor they just put in. Because of this, you may lose control of your bladder. Moms often note that they experience a complete loss of their bladder for a few months. Recovery differs from person to person; however, engaging in pelvic floor PT during and after birth can aid in more efficiently regaining control of your bladder.

The Change: Hair Loss

A postpartum change shocker is the possibility that you may lose some of your hair. It may not happen immediately, as the average peak hair loss occurs between four and five months postpartum. Estrogen levels stabilizing after being heightened during pregnancy is what causes hair loss among ½ of new mothers. Not to fret! Your hair will return to normal, typically within a year post-birth.

The Change: Postpartum Contractions

We hate to tell you this–but, the contractions continue. They firstly occur due to your uterus returning to its original size before becoming pregnant. Secondly, the act of breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which reminds your body and uterus to continue contracting to return to its normal size. Postpartum contractions are a part of the process called involution, which not only reduces the size of one’s uterus, but also contracts blood vessels which will help you to reduce the amount of blood you may be losing. These contractions should disappear within a few days, and can be alleviated through pain medications.

The Change: Cesarean Section Incision

Deciding to or having to receive a cesarean section doesn’t take the edge off all of the changes listed above. In fact one mom noted in The Everymom,

“That IMMEDIATELY after a C-section, you have a nurse pushing on your incision to get air and blood out. Yes, it’s necessary, but you aren’t prepped for that pain.”

Alongside this uncomfortable experience, if you had a cesarean section you will be awarded with the badge of honor: a scar on your midsection. Whether you planned for this type of birth or not, it will take some getting used to. You may have to adjust the way you do certain tasks, the scar may itch, you may feel phantom pains, and it may be intolerable to wear certain clothing. Attuning yourself to this change comes with time, but just know that your scar is a symbol of your strength and ability not only as a mother, but a woman.

The Change: Baby Blues

After giving birth, the movies often show a happy-go-lucky mother immediately enjoying all the free time with her partner and new baby. However, being content and care-free isn’t always the case. Oftentimes, moms find themselves experiencing the baby blues. Here are some comments from The Everymom below:

“Every night around 6pm, I’d uncontrollably cry for about an hour. I think it was just anxiety leading up to the night and feeling nervous it’d be hard (which it never was!). But this happened every evening for the first two weeks. I’d just sob over my dinner and then after an hour or so, I’d feel fine again!”
“Loneliness! I had an entire tribe of first-time mom friends and veteran moms, so I thought I would be OK, but I was SO lonely in the first three months postpartum.”
“The baby blues — they’re no joke. So much random crying.”

If you’re experiencing the baby blues, postpartum depression, and matrescence, you are not alone! You may have mood swings, randomly cry, feel irritable, lonely, or sad, and that is totally okay. You just went through a major procedure and need time to recover, relax, and recoup. While the baby blues are common and understandable, if these emotions persist for more than two weeks, or if you feel that you need extra emotional care, you should reach out to your doctor or psychiatrist as you may be experiencing postpartum depression.

The Change: Anxiety

While baby blues is the major psychological change you may endure, anxiety is a close second. Whether it be about maternity leave, returning back to work, leaving the house for anything, caring for your new baby, and hearing phantom cries, just know that this is completely normal and happens to many mothers. One mom recognized,

“That postpartum [mood disorders] can present as EXTREME anxiety instead of sadness. Of course, everyone worries about their child, but I was completely preoccupied with scary thoughts about all the things that could happen to my baby – for the rest of her life. And the separation you feel from the former version of yourself and how in the world to adjust to this completely new life. It was a very hard few months.”

Having a baby is not only an exciting milestone, but also a life changing one. You never know how your body and your mind will react to transformative events, and you may experience bouts of anxiety as you navigate this new journey.

Giving birth and welcoming home a new baby is the big picture, but the changes you will personally experience, both physically and mentally are the ripples of this image that go in different directions at different times and in different ways. These changes listed above are the things no one tells you about when it comes to giving birth. Not because they aren’t important–because they are! But, because everyone’s birth experience is different. Now you know what to expect after delivery, and most importantly, how to prepare yourself in your mind and body.

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