If you're pregnant with your first child, you may not know what to expect after your baby is born. Your body doesn't just bounce back to normal in a few weeks, and it's not supposed to (despite what the tabloids and celebrity news magazines may have you believe).
New mom Dr. Laura Ramsay of Novant Health WomanCare in Winston-Salem, North Carolina gave us the lowdown on what happens to your body after baby.
Post-baby belly can be a six-month affair.
Abdominal muscles are made up of many layers that separate and weaken during pregnancy to allow the belly to stretch.
"The muscles that hold everything together get really stretched out," Ramsay said. "They don't go back immediately. It can take up to six months to recover. It's important to know not to expect to walk out after delivery looking like you did before you were pregnant."
Treat exercise as if you've had a sports injury.
Ramsay noted that when it comes to exercise after delivery it's important to gradually work your way back to where you used to be. "You should treat your body as if you've had a sports injury," she said.
Buckle up. Your breasts are going to continue to change.
Your breasts change significantly throughout pregnancy and continue to change during breastfeeding. "Although it's by far the best thing a new mom can do for her baby, breastfeeding can be tough for a lot of women in the first days after delivery," Ramsay said.
"You're already fatigued from delivery, and then you continually have to stimulate the breasts by pumping and feeding. It's a lot of effort, and certainly worth it considering the multiple benefits for the baby."
Your breasts may be twice their normal size if you continue to breastfeed. After breastfeeding, most women's breast size decreases, sometimes to a smaller size than before pregnancy.
If you cannot or choose not to breastfeed, your milk will still come in. Some people experience flu-like symptoms when this happens, including aches, low-grade fevers and breast tenderness.
It can take a long time to return to your version of "normal."
Hormonal changes can continue for almost six weeks after delivery. These changes, combined with caring for a newborn and attempting to get your pre-baby body back, can make it easy to be overwhelmed.
"It's normal for people to break down from sheer exhaustion and from not understanding what's going on with their body," Ramsay said. "A lot of women feel these feelings, even if they can't explain them. It's frustrating but totally normal."
She noted that postpartum depression is different from feeling tired or frustrated, and any new mom experiencing mood swings, anxiety, irritability or trouble sleeping should consult her doctor as soon as possible.
Preparing your body for baby took some time and returning to your version of "normal" will too, Ramsay reminded. "Don't expect to feel like a switch flips at six weeks and things go back to normal," Ramsay said. "It takes months or even up to a year for the body to get back to normal. It will never quite be like it was before, but you have a baby to show for it."