Pregnancy is a beautiful and transformative experience. But for many women, your new baby comes with a new body that may feel foreign to you. Unfortunately, many women look down on these changes in their new body as being “less than.” But this is far from the case! Instead of thinking there is something “wrong” with your postpartum body, let’s shift our mindset to embrace the natural, normal, and perfectly beautiful new body that just did an AMAZING thing!
New Baby, New Body: Embrace the New You
So many changes occur during pregnancy and birth that your body adapts to by changing physically and hormonally. Some of these changes include:
- Stretch marks and loose skin
- Diastasis recti
- Breasts size and shape
- Vaginal size and shape
- Hair thinning post-pregnancy
Although it may be mentally tough to get over some of these changes in appearance, you should know that you are not alone. All women who go through pregnancy will experience some or all of these changes. Your new body is just as feminine, worthy, and healthy as it was before. In the United States alone, 85% of women will give birth at least once, making your postpartum body part of the majority.
The new skin you’re in
Stretch marks and loose skin are a top complaint of women after pregnancy. The reality is that almost everyone has them, whether they’ve been pregnant or not. Yes, even men!
When skin stretches due to rapid growth, fine lines appear that range from dark and purple to light skin color. They typically fade to a silvery sheen over time. This process is caused by collagen in the skin becoming disrupted and can occur whenever the skin stretches.
- Growing body parts, like breasts, during puberty
- Weight gain
- Bodybuilding and muscle gain
- Growth spurts during childhood
- Steroid use (including corticosteroid creams)
- Medical conditions such as adrenal related illnesses
There are no known preventions or treatments for stretch marks that work. Lotions, positions, creams, and procedures have not been proven to be effective at all, and some are even unsafe, such as tretinoin — which causes fetus malformations. Even natural products that claim to prevent stretch marks such as Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) are known to be dangerous.
You’re most likely to get stretch marks during your first pregnancy on your abdomen, thighs, and breasts during the sixth or seventh month. Rest assured that 50 to 90 percent of women see stretch marks in pregnancy, so you are not alone if you have them.
Mummy tummy and diastasis recti
During pregnancy, your abdominal wall and ribcage expand to make room for your growing baby, causing your abdominal wall to separate — called diastasis recti. This process is normal and occurs mostly during the third trimester. After your baby is born, you may notice that you have a pronounced poofing out of your tummy. When your abdominals weaken due to separation, your organs and uterus — which is still enlarged from your baby, will push against your abdominal wall.
Typically, your uterus will contract and shrink back to its normal size within six to eight weeks. You will most likely experience cramping like contractions as this occurs, especially during breastfeeding, which stimulates oxytocin and uterine contractions. But, there are some cases where you should see a physiotherapist to help heal your diastasis. Left untreated, DR can cause problems with your urogynecological and musculoskeletal systems such as urine and fecal incontinence and low back pain. There are also surgical options if necessary.
Sometimes this protruding abdomen can cause issues with body image. The physical appearance of diastasis recti won’t typically go away with diet or weight loss. Even more important is for you to feel strong and healthy without symptoms of pain. Luckily, deep core stability exercise can help improve the outcomes of diastasis recti. Speak to a trainer who specializes in postpartum training or a physiotherapist for tips.
Muscle weakness and flexibility
You might notice after giving birth or even while you are still pregnant that your muscles seem weaker and more flexible. It turns out there is a hormone released during pregnancy aptly called relaxin. It might seem like this would be a great time to take up yoga and finally nail some of those more challenging poses with your new-found mobility, but this isn’t a good idea. You could damage your muscle fibers and joints or even cause painful tears. Be careful pushing yourself and keep in mind not to ever go to the point of pain during stretching exercises. Relaxin can last in your system for up to 12 months after you stop breastfeeding, or even longer.
Breast size and shape
You probably already know that your breasts will change a lot during and after pregnancy. Hormones will cause your breasts to engorge and fill with milk whether you choose to breastfeed or not. Your breasts will typically get quite a bit larger, and their shape may change as well. The most significant changes will occur immediately after birth, with things settling out a bit after a few months. Your cup size may change for good, and you might need a different level of support in your bras.
It’s important to note that breastfeeding does not cause your breasts to become saggier than if you choose not to breastfeed. It is the changes that happen during pregnancies that cause any differences with elasticity. So don’t worry about breastfeeding or how long you breastfeed, causing any further sagging of your girls.
Like every other change your body goes through, your new breast size and shape is normal. Since most women have a baby in their lifetime, postpartum breasts are the norm. Our breasts offer a warm, safe space for cuddles and nurturing. Even though it’s difficult not to get caught up in body image negativity and self-criticism, remember there’s more to our breasts than how they look to others.
Vaginal size and shape
It’s no surprise that with vaginal delivery, your lady parts will undergo some pretty strenuous events. Our bodies are amazingly able to handle the dramatic stretching that childbirth requires due to the hormone we mentioned, relaxin, as well as estrogen. But even with help from hormones, there can be lasting changes to our vagina that can change how we go to the bathroom as well as affect our sexual health. You may find that you are disinterested in sex, which is common.
A long term study published in BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth showed that out of 832 first time mothers, 46.3 percent still did not feel like having sex at six months after birth. One reason for this is a lack of vaginal lubrication. Forty-three percent of the women thought that this was a problem for them, and 37.5 percent felt pain during intercourse.
Be sure to stock up on lube if and when you feel physically and mentally ready to resume sexual activity. Being aware of this issue ahead of time can help you prepare and feel less frustrated if it happens to you. If you experience pain during sex, you should speak to your doctor. If you are worried about vaginal “looseness” after a vaginal delivery, you shouldn’t be. Studies have shown that there’s no difference in sexual satisfaction after a vaginal birth for you or your partner.
Celebrate your new body
Your new body has just undergone a fantastic transformation! You’ve grown a tiny human being. Focusing on how much your body has accomplished instead of any changes that you’re struggling with can help you ward off depression and self-esteem issues after birth. Nourish your self with healthy food, participate in gentle exercise when you feel ready, and don’t forget to congratulate yourself on the miracle you just performed!