After childbirth you will notice changes to your body's shape and size. You may also have stretch marks or scars from a Caesarean section or episiotomy.
The extra weight gained in pregnancy is energy stored for pregnancy and breastfeeding. This weight usually reduces naturally, particularly with breastfeeding. If you want to lose weight more quickly, try to get some regular exercise and reduce your intake of fatty and sugary foods. Crash dieting is not a good idea as it may reduce your energy levels.
If you are breastfeeding, dieting changes the fat content of your breastmilk. Doing a lot of exercise can also affect your breastmilk. You may like to talk to your Plunket nurse or health professional who understands about diet and breastfeeding if you are thinking about dieting. When you are busy with your baby or other children it can be hard to make time to look after your own diet. It is important to look after yourself by eating regular meals, having healthy snacks and drinking when you're thirsty.
Your pelvic floor muscles (the muscles that support your bladder, uterus and bowel) may have become weakened during pregnancy and childbirth. This can cause some women to wet their pants when sneezing, coughing or exercising. To help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, try squeezing and tightening your bottom, vagina and bladder openings (imagine you are stopping yourself from passing urine). Squeeze and hold for a few seconds, relax and then repeat approximately five times. Do this several times a day. If you are experiencing problems talk to your midwife or doctor.
Stomach muscle tone can improve with time and exercise. Stretch marks will fade but they will not go away completely.
Take care of your back when lifting, especially in the first 3 months after delivery. Lift bending your knees rather than your back.
Sometimes vaginal bleeding can continue for over six weeks after the birth. If your bleeding changes back to a bright red colour or is smelly, talk to your midwife or doctor.
If you are breastfeeding, your period can return to normal any time from the first couple of months to when you stop breastfeeding. If you are formula feeding your period is likely to return in the first 1-3 months. The first periods after childbirth are often irregular, with heavier or lighter bleeding than usual, as hormone levels are settling. Your doctor may discuss with you when to have a smear for the detection of cervical cancer.
Many women do not enjoy sex for some months after the birth of a child. They may feel tired and be sore from the birth. Caring for baby and perhaps other children places demands on both parents’ time and energy. Talk to your partner about your feelings. You may decide as a couple to find other ways of sharing your love, eg cuddling or a massage can be relaxing and loving. Sex may be uncomfortable at first for the woman, especially if she has had stitches. Lubricating jelly or a different position may help. If sex continues to be painful, talk to your doctor.
Some breastfeeding women find that milk leaks from their breasts when having sex. This is quite normal; it may help to have a towel handy. It is possible to become pregnant even before you have had a period after childbirth. Breastfeeding can delay fertility, but is not a reliable method of avoiding pregnancy. Discuss contraceptives with your midwife, doctor, family planning, Plunket staff or other well child health provider.
In most cases spina bifida (a serious birth deformity of the spine) can be prevented if women have enough folic acid (a B vitamin) before and during early pregnancy. Your normal diet is not likely to have enough folic acid. If you are planning on becoming pregnant again or could become pregnant, you need to have the right vitamin supplements and be eating extra foods high in folic acid such as fruit, vegetables, bread, cereals and soaked and cooked dried beans. Talk to your Plunket nurse, other well child health provider or doctor for more information.