So much comes with the territory of getting pregnant. Body changes such as aches and pains, acid reflux, hair growth, and of course, weight gain are all part of the deal. It would be great if these unwanted symptoms would simply go away after a woman gives birth—after all, a new mom has enough to worry about—but that’s simply just not the case. Our bodies continue to change postpartum. It’s important that we are aware of these changes and continue to take care of ourselves along with our new bundle of joy.
We asked Marianne Ryan, PT, OCS, physical therapist, clinical director of Marianne Ryan Physical Therapy, and author of Baby Bod–Turn Flab to Fab in 12 Weeks Flat, what women can expect from their bodies after giving birth. Ryan runs a physical therapy practice in New York City dedicated to helping women recover postpartum, so she has plenty of advice to offer. Here, she shares five things women should know about their postpartum bodies:
1. Just because you gave birth, that doesn’t mean you lost weight.
Whatever you do, don’t even think of stepping on that scale for at least 30 days after you deliver your baby. I remember breaking down into tears after I weighed myself three days after I delivered my first daughter. I had only lost a few pounds! I asked myself, ‘How can that be?’ My daughter weighed 8½ pounds and the placenta and amniotic fluid weighed about 3 or 4 pounds, so I should have weighed at least 12 pounds less, right? Wrong! Right after giving birth, your body is still going through a lot changes. The amount of fluid you retain can fluctuate hourly, especially if you are nursing. It takes a few weeks for your body to lose the excess fluid you built up during your pregnancy and for your uterus to return to normal size. So as much fun as it may seem to find out how much you weigh, don’t do it; it can drive you crazy.
2. You can exercise, just take it slow.
As a general rule I advise women to protect their bodies during the first six postpartum weeks. For example, don’t lift anything heavier than your newborn baby. If you have an older toddler, try to teach them to climb up to you while you sit on a chair or bed. After your six-week postpartum check up, you can gradually return to pre-pregnancy activities as long as you do not develop pain or have other symptoms that indicate your pelvic floor muscles have not fully recovered.
3. You might still look pregnant.
This can be due to a condition called diastasis recti—it’s a separation of abdominal muscles, which can occur during pregnancy and remain afterward, resulting in a protruding belly. To keep it from getting worse, avoid activities that put pressure on your abdomen, such as getting out of bed by doing a sit up. Instead, get out of bed by rolling over onto your side and swinging your legs over the side of the bed before sitting up. And whenever you lift something heavy, such as a grocery bag or a large pot of pasta, exhale to reduce the strain on your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles.
4. You might feel a little leaky.
It’s common to experience incontinence right after childbirth, but it is not normal if it continues for more than a couple of months. When you leak urine, it means there is a fault in the system that supports your bladder, and you should seek help to get it fixed. The best way to approach it is to consider going for pelvic physical therapy with a women’s health specialist.
5. Expect some pain.
Pain in the back, pelvis, pelvic floor area, or abdomen is a common complaint of new moms, but it is not normal if the pain continues. Make sure to report it to your doctor or midwife. Most people assume pain is just a normal occurrence new moms have to learn to live with, but it shouldn’t be! If you have persistent pain, consider getting it treated by a women’s health care professional such as a physical therapist or chiropractor.