If you're busy growing a baby right now, then you're well acquainted with the weird and wonderful ways your body has changed to accommodate the development of a tiny human. But once your baby is here, you can expect to come across a few more physical changes ... some of which may surprise you.
The good news is, while these body changes might be surprising, they are all completely normal and typically short-lived. In fact, by knowing what's going on, you'll likely find them much more bearable.
1. You might feel battered and bruised
Whatever type of birth you have, you are likely to feel S-O-R-E, particularly around the - ahem - exit area. The process of labour can leave women feeling very tender around their downstairs parts, and if you tear or need an episiotomy, this area can be extra sensitive while it heals. Same goes with your C-section stitches.
Be prepared for feeling very stiff and uncomfortable for a few days while your body repairs itself. This should all get better very quickly, and if it doesn't, be sure to let your GP or visiting midwife know asap.
2. Postnatal bleeding
Whether you have a vaginal birth or a C-section, you can expect some postnatal bleeding as your uterus gradually sheds its lining, which will resemble a heavy period for a few days, before tapering off to a lighter flow that could last several weeks, and should also fade in colour along the way.
Be sure to stock up on maternity pads – and steer clear from tampons, as these can introduce bacteria into your uterus.
3. Your tummy will shrink...slowly
You might still feel pregnant for a while after having your baby, and even still have the bump to show for it. But once your baby's finished being in utero, your clever body knows to start the process of gradually shrinking your uterus, which can take up to four weeks to return to its pre-pregnant size.
Known as involution of the uterus, this process can be helped along by breastfeeding frequently, which causes faint contraction-like sensations known as afterpains, which is all completely normal.
4. Pelvic floor weakness
Your pelvic floor – the layer of muscles and ligaments that support your uterus, bladder and bowel – gets a major workout during pregnancy and labour. All that stretching and straining caused by your growing baby and the birthing process can mean that incontinence is a potential issue after birth.
Now, don't freak out. Stress incontinence (when pee leaks out when you sneeze or laugh) affects lots of new mums, and can usually be thwarted with some daily pelvic floor exercises. If this doesn't sort the problem out, get in touch with a physiotherapist that specialises in women's health.
5. Breast size and sensitivity
Your breasts will have changed with the progression of your pregnancy, but there are more changes in store for you once you have your baby. Prepare for some big growth in that department once your milk comes in, which can cause your breasts to feel hard and very tender initially. Your nipples may also become sensitive as you and your baby get used to feeding.
Some stretchy, comfortable bras will help keep you comfortable until things settle down, and within a few days, you should feel no discomfort at all while feeding your baby – if you do, get in touch with your midwife or lactation consultant asap.
6. Hair loss
When you're pregnant, the growth phase of your hair slows down, so you shed less than you normally would – which for some of us, can result in thicker, shinier locks. However, once you're no longer pregnant, this growth phase returns to normal and you may find your hair shedding in greater amounts than usual.
This can be quite alarming when you're watching copious amounts of your hair disappearing down the plughole every time you shower. In fact, you'll probably notice your hair all over the house when you've had your baby. It's kind of a nuisance, but it's all normal and shouldn't last too long.
7. Skin changes
Skin changes are very normal during pregnancy, and can include pigmentation changes (known as melasma), which are usually noticed on the face. This is due to your body producing extra melanin, the hormone responsible for skin pigmentation. Once you've had your baby, you can expect the dark patches to fade away gradually, however some mums say the patches never quite disappear.
You may also find that due to the fluctuating hormones, stress and fatigue associated with becoming a parent, your skin takes a while to settle down in general. By being kind to yourself, eating well and getting fresh air, you'll bounce back in no time.