Your Body after Baby: What to Expect

young couple with new baby in swing

If you’re like most new mothers, you may wonder how long it will take to get your body back to what it was before baby. Will the effects of pregnancy be long-lasting or just temporary?

Well, things won’t change much before your six-week checkup. Whether you are able to get back into shape soon after your checkup or if your body takes longer will depend on many factors, from your unique pregnancy to genetics. Here’s a general list of what to expect:

Your Body After Giving Birth

After you’ve delivered your baby, you’ll have a discharge of blood (lochia), and this happens because the lining of your uterus is shed. This discharge will continue, and eventually will turn from red to pinkish-color to brownish, and may finally fade to yellow before stopping completely. It will likely stop completely by the time of your six-week doctor’s visit.

Vaginal changes. Will your female parts be the same now that your vagina has been stretched to allow for the baby’s passage through the birth canal? Will your labia be the same? Will your parts work as well as they did before? According to Mayo Clinic certified midwife Mary M. Murry, R.N., you may even be among the women whose sexual response is greater following pregnancy and birth.

Whether you had a regular vaginal delivery or a C-section, the pressure from the baby on your pelvis caused a few changes—some of which may end up being permanent. For example, you may discover that you dribble a bit of urine when you can’t get to a bathroom quickly enough, or when you sneeze or cough. Practicing Kegel exercises daily, even after giving birth, will help improve this situation.

A Different Shape

Breast changes. When your milk comes in, your breasts become enlarged. If you’re breastfeeding, your larger cup size will remain for as long as you continue to nurse. You’ll need to make sure you’re nursing often and regularly to avoid getting engorged with milk—a painful experience. Here’s a tip: Bring a portable breast pump with you to express the milk if you’ll be away from your baby for many hours. (And be certain to pump enough milk ahead of time so you can leave it at home on the day you plan to be out—so the baby will have plenty while you’re away.)

You may also have some leakage. Don’t be surprised if you sometimes find milk dripping down your shirt! Wear breast pads until your milk flow is established.

new parents with baby in crib

Extra fat and flab. In addition to your larger breasts, another part of your body that may have temporarily enlarged is your rear end. In contrast, your previously rounded belly may now be flatter, but withered and flabby.

Chances are you can get back in shape within a reasonable time-frame by working out at home or at the gym. Be patient with yourself. Your body won't change magically in a few weeks, though media coverage of several Hollywood moms might make you think otherwise. With regular exercise, your body could start transforming in just a few months—or it could take the same length of time as your pregnancy, or longer.

Metabolism boosts. You may notice an increase in energy and weight loss while you’re nursing. This is because nursing burns more calories and you’re likely eating a variety of healthy foods to replace the nutrients used in breastfeeding. By including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy in your daily diet, you’ll be on your way to a a healthier, slimmer you. (Check the USDA 2013 food pyramid for details.)

Skin changes

Stretch marks. Nearly 90 percent of pregnant women will experience stretch marks, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The stretch marks often show up as pink or reddish streaks on your breasts, hips, or tummy. This pinkish color will fade to a more neutral skin color with time.

How can you get rid of stretch marks? Try applying creams containing vitamin E, cocoa butter, and alpha hydroxy acids. (These remedies have not been medically proven to have a direct effect on stretch marks, but some women swear by them.) Take comfort in the fact that stretch marks usually fade gradually.

Pimples and acne. Your skin may have become irritated during pregnancy due to the extra hormones coursing through your body. If you’ve had any issues with acne, it may have gotten more noticeable during pregnancy. That’s because your oil glands tend to secrete extra oil, resulting in breakouts. Try to stick to a daily cleansing routine, using a fragrance-free soap. Avoid medicated astringents because they could contain ingredients not recommended around newborns.

varicose veins

Varicose veins. These are thick, bluish veins that show up on some women’s legs during pregnancy. This occurs because the body is making up for the increased blood circulation traveling to your growing baby. To prevent or decrease signs of the varicose veins, try to avoid standing for extended periods, prop your legs up on a stool, get enough vitamin C, and avoid excessive weight gain. Remember to walk as often as possible to help blood flow back to your heart. Most often, the varicose veins (unless there is a hereditary factor) will fade a short time after delivery.

Hair loss. Are you losing tresses to the point that you’re starting to worry about getting bald patches? Don’t worry, this is completely normal for new mothers, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s the result of falling estrogen levels after pregnancy. Your hair will return to its normal fullness—most likely on or before your baby’s first birthday.

Allow yourself the time your body needs to recover from the experience of giving birth. You’ll change what you can about your body, and begin to embrace the subtle changes that stay with you because of the amazing miracle of birthing a baby.