When writing this article, I originally was just going to post about how I worked really hard to get my tummy back in shape after having a baby. It quickly became such a snooze to read and didn’t give the whole picture of what I went through with my new body changes. Therefore, quick disclaimer, this article will give you the full picture that no one talks about and it ain’t all pretty!!!! Trust me! It gets a bit graphic.
I decided to make a video of what my body looked like postpartum because when I was in my last trimester of pregnancy, I had no idea what to expect with my body changes. After having a baby, most new mothers I have seen all seem to be well covered up under loose clothes. There were barely any pictures on the web (let alone VIDEOS) showing the body after-effects from having a baby. So I decided to document this for myself and to share with expecting mothers who were also curious about what to expect with their bodies.
In the video (above), you can see I still look 6 months pregnant right after giving birth. I don’t know why, but I naively thought that your tummy just snaps back straight away. Maybe it was the unrealistic expectations of social media and celebrities or because I thought I didn’t put on too much extra fat during my pregnancy.
Disclaimer: This blog post has some pretty graphic written material in the section “Right after giving birth“. You can skip this section and jump to “24 hours after giving birth” if you want to keep reading…
***What labor was like with the epidural***
I had elected to do the epidural so I never felt any pain associated with labor. People ask me “What does labor feel like with the epidural?” and the best way I can describe it to wrap your hand around your other arm just before the elbow, not to lose but not too tight. Now slide your hand down your arm towards your wrist. You don’t feel pain, but you feel the sensation of something being there and moving. That is what delivering my baby with an epidural felt like. I almost never got the epidural because I read about having a dull ache in your back from it but I NEVER felt any discomfort from having the epidural. I guess you just want to make sure you have a really experienced anesthesiologist and you don’t move a muscle. I always request no training nurses or doctors to touch me or my son- EVER! I learned my lesson having a trainee nurse take my blood and ‘completely’ miss my vein and then try to tell me it’s MY fault that no blood was coming out because I was dehydrated. Not the case- the hole was nowhere near a vein! Ppffftttt!!!!
Right After Giving Birth:
When my son’s shoulders were out, my doctor told me to do something I never expected, to “reach down and pull my son out“. I felt this slimy soft little baby and grabbed him under his arms and slipped him onto my bare chest. He was crying and immediately soothed and fell asleep on me. I studied his face trying to see who he looked most like and my first thought was “He doesn’t look like me… he doesn’t look like my husband… gee.. he is hairy… wow, I’m a mom now”. I also thought he smelled really nice and his skin was so soft. Physically, I actually felt fine. I could not feel the doctor sewing me up and I had a peaceful 8 hours sleep right before I gave birth. I bet mothers who opt to go natural would be dying for a nap now though!
How did breastfeeding feel: When I breastfed my son for the first time immediately after he was born, it didn’t hurt but felt a slight little tugging sensation which was completely surreal. I have quite sensitive nipples, so I have hardly let my husband touch them in the past, and now there was this tiny little life clinging onto them and it was ok. Strange!
Secret Confession: When the epidural wore off and I was able to use my legs again, they took the catheter out. I actually sheepishly begged if I could keep it in longer because it was AMAZING not having to get up to go to the toilet. When I was full term, I was peeing almost every hour, so it felt like heaven to be able to stay in bed for hours on end. They said “No”. Dam!
My first time having to go to the toilet: Shit, that was scary as fuck! The best way to describe it is that it feels like your ass was going to fall out your vagina. It just feels sooooo loose down there. I had to have a nurse come in with me and show me how to squirt water on my vagina and stitches because the urine really stings everything and to help wash all the blood off. It was 10x heavier than any period that I have ever had and had to wear an adult diaper because no pad could handle this load. I swear all modesty goes out the window when you have a baby. I really feel for those nurses.
I panicked the first time I had to do a pooh, but the nurse reassured me it was possible. I had to take a stool softener when I got to the hospital so that I did not strain too hard.
What does it look like “down there? Wow, Messed up. (Shakes head reminiscing). Swollen like a nasty black eye (without the bruising surprisingly) and there is no hiding your vagina hole and its inside contents if you look in the mirror. I also had to get stitches on my labia because my sons head pressed so hard against my pubic bone (with my labia sandwiched between his head and my bone ) on the way out and grinded/tore a decent hole in it. Wow, I can’t believe I am making this bit public- I’m second guessing how revealing this blog post is meant to be. When the pain medication wore off, THAT was the painful part, not so much the fact that an 8.12lbs baby had come out of there.
Having a baby is like being in a horrific car accident with another passenger, where you get badly injured but you’re told to go home right away and go look after the other person who is hardly injured (yet completely reliant on you). And all they give you is a squirt bottle. My cousin Jess heard this funny quote which could not be more true.
I also remember walking with my legs a little separated because I had stitches down there and everything became a bit tender when the painkillers wore off. I eventually mastered a walk where my thighs stayed still but did all the walking from my knees bent walking.
I wish I documented with a selfie or something of what my body looked like immediately after giving birth but I never even thought about it honestly. My full attention was on my new little baby and I did not even give it a second thought about how I looked.
The first night: I knew I should ‘get some sleep’ but I just could not stop staring at my new little baby sleeping in my arms. He just looked so beautiful!
24-48 Hours After Giving Birth:
Utilizing the help: I stayed in the hospital the extra day because I figured that it would be much easier for me to relax with so many more helping hands around (nurses), and I could ask any questions as they came to mind, being a first-time mother and it was included in the price of admission, so why not take advantage of it.
Killer breastfeeding pain: Over the two days, I had to see multiple lactation consultants because breastfeeding became frigging AGON-IZ-ING and making my nipples red-raw. Breastfeeding had left me feeling like a torture treatment of 100 nipple-cripples with an exfoliator glove on. The lactation consultant helped correct my son’s latch and offered me nipple shields to relieve me temporarily from the friction but it did cause confusion for my son trying to feed. I wanted to persist because I heard that your nipples harden up and get used to it.
Body change examination: When I got home from the hospital, I took a selfie video in my bathroom because it was quite fascinating seeing my body looked like this and I felt that It’s a small window of my life where my body will not look like this again (unless I have another baby).
Looking at my belly 24 hours after giving birth, it went down to of the size it was at 9 months pregnant. My baby is out along with lots of fluids, amniotic fluid and blood and what is left is a large uterus and lots of bloating. My belly was quite soft (almost like a breast) when I push down on it.
To help my belly go down, the two things that I tried when I got home were:
- Wearing a belly band to essentially shrink-wrap the tummy: These girdle-like garments apply a gentle compression on the abs, support and align your abdomen, which may ease the swelling of the uterus to return to its normal size quicker. I wore mine until my abdominal organs and muscles could do their normal jobs again- for about 6 weeks. It was actually quite comfortable and made me feel supported. Without it, I felt like Jello.
- Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding also releases a hormone called oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. My breastmilk came in, which luckily burns lots of calories to make. It made me pretty hungry late at night, so I tried to have healthy snacks in the side pocket of my nursing chair as I wanted to maximize this window to lose a bit of weight while I still was not able to hit a gym for quite a while.
A secret confession… I did take a nude selfie of my ‘whole’ body when I found out I was pregnant. I think the old 70-year-old version of myself with multiple kids would find it very fascinating to reminisce that photo of my unstretched, young and perky body that felt like a lifetime ago. But don’t worry, that photo is locked away very securely… shit, I hope! Fuck!
Almost A Week Later:
Belly going down: What an amazing difference my belly has made 5 days after giving birth. All the cells in my body that swelled during pregnancy has release 70% of the extra fluid, which is eliminated from my body through urine and other body secretions. I look about 4 months pregnant now.
Less sleep at night: My son woke up every 2-3 hours at night for feeds, so I really relied on a few power naps during the day to feel ‘normal’. It was not always easy because I’m not a natural day napper. On a positive note, I did not turn into a monster getting up so frequently because I was a little used to the frequent wakings up when I had to get up to pee every hour during my 4th trimester. My husband looked after me so I could look after my son, making sure I was fed, slept and so forth.
The real low emotions: During my first week, I had a crazy surge of high and low emotions (called the baby blues that can last from a few days to a few weeks). Mine luckily was just a few days.
I felt happy and loved being a new mother but I did get the surges of real low emotions. I remember two nights in a row balling my eyes out so hard- harder than if my own mother had died… over nothing. I knew it was the hormone imbalance happening, so I was really gentle on myself and told myself this is normal and not to worry. And sure enough, it went away.
If your Baby Blues are lasting longer than a couple of weeks or are becoming more intense, you could be experiencing post-partum depression, which should not be confused with Baby Blues. If your experiencing loss of motivation, sleep disturbances, disturbing thoughts, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide, this should be addressed right away.
2 Weeks Later:
I didn’t get a photo of my body during this time (only a video) as I was in the thick of the “baby blues” period and didn’t even want to deal with how my body looked. I do remember that I found it hard to tighten my tummy back in. Not only did my tummy grow during pregnancy, but what I didn’t know was that my uterus takes time to deflate, a whole 6-8 weeks).
3 Months Later:
What the hell!!!! Chunks and I mean CHUNKS of hair have started falling out of my head in the shower, when I run my hands through it and just malted everywhere through the house as if we have a dog. I even found them in my son’s diapers.
I’m so lucky that a girlfriend of mine told me about it when she was experiencing it after her baby a year ago. Otherwise, i would never have known about this and simply thought I had some disease or was secretly getting chemo or something.
Don’t stress! During pregnancy, an increased number of hairs go into the resting phase, which is part of the normal hair loss cycle. This condition is not serious enough to cause bald spots or permanent hair loss. Most women will return to their usual hair growth cycle between 6 and 12 months after birth.
6 Months Later:
New body insecurities: I have always been pretty body confident and loved any excuse to get on a bikini and now I had new body insecurities that i had to work around. My skin on my tummy was very loose (and still is to this day).
My bones were spread wider: I found it quite challenging looking at my body around this stage. I had lost a reasonable amount of the weight but my clothes all sat differently on me. I have always been a perfect hourglass figure and now I have changed to be a pear shape- very bottom heavy. My hip bones had spread a few inches wider and my ribs somehow moved up a size too. I don’t have the longest looking legs, so I felt frustrated trying on clothes because I felt I looked even shorter.
My abs were very weak: I went back to the gym. My muscles were quite weak and I could barely manage to do any of the ab exercises I used to be able to. I also noticed an ugly bulge in my tummy when I used my abs. It turns out that I had Diastasis Recti (Separation of the ab “6-pack” muscles that run along the midline or center of the stomach) because the connective tissue got thin and weak and stretched sideways, which causes the waistline to widen and my belly to bulge forward. I had to start from scratch to build up my muscles. It was frustrating because there were a lot of exercises I loved to do and had to avoid. Instead, I was restricted to doing small micro-movements such as core compression exercises that draw the belly into the spine to build up strength and close up the gap before moving on to other ab exercises. I also had to relearn how to use my muscles correctly and engage my transverse abdominal muscles just to do day to day activities like picking up my baby.
Please note: Not all women snap back straight away unrealistically like you see on social media so you will need to manage your expectations. Patience is key. You need to remember that it took nine months for your abdomen to stretch to accommodate a full-term baby, so it makes sense that it would take at “least” that long to tighten back up to begin to get rid of the “pregnancy pouch” – and sometimes it never goes away entirely. I have had to work really hard on my tummy to get my body back, It was not until about 18 months I started seeing results, although I still have a little pouch when I am relaxed. I am learning to control my angles and sucking in for photo times.
Diet Advice: Don’t go on a severe diet – rapid weight loss affects your ability to breastfeed. Wait at least six weeks or preferably a few months – before cutting back on calories, especially if you’re nursing. Extreme dieting puts your body in starvation mode, and the stress and fatigue can reduce the amount of milk you produce. Also, when you diet too much, you may not eat enough nutrient-rich foods, which means your baby may not get all the fat and vitamins needed from your breast milk.
Ab separation: If your post-pregnancy belly is not squidgy, or jelly-belly like, but rather hard and protruding, as if you were 5 months pregnant again. You may have ab-separation.
2 Years later:
This is my body today, almost two years post-partum. It’s been a long journey to get here and I am going to the gym 5 days a week. I eat ‘reasonably’ healthy food but I do have a sweet tooth so I eat a fair bit of chocolate. I have a fitness section on my blog that you can check out for some work out ideas using weights and bands.