There are a lot of surprising things that can happen to your body during pregnancy. Swelling that occurs there? Bloody noses? Morning sickness that actually lasts all day? Perhaps surprising, but also completely normal. Not to freak you out, but the surprises keep coming even after the baby has arrived.
Many pregnant people put a lot of focus on labor and delivery, after all it’s a big and unpredictable event. There’s less focus on what happens after the delivery, and there are some big bodily surprises that can come in the days, weeks, and even months following the experience of childbirth.
To take away some of the shock and surprise, we’re sharing some incredibly common things that you might encounter after childbirth. And for tips to help manage through this time, I spoke with Suzie Devine, RN MSN, a women’s health nurse and the founder of the women’s health company Binto.
Here are five surprising things you might experience after birth, plus simple ways to manage them.
1. Constipation and Hemorrhoids
One of the most common pieces of recovery advice I was given was to take the stool softeners that the hospital prescribes. And I can now join the chorus that says, “take them!” Many people experience constipation following childbirth due to anesthesia and pain medication. “Keep up with Colace at the hospital and when you can, get up and move around. Movement is the best way to get your bowels going and release gas,” said Devine.
In addition to the pains of constipation, it’s common to experience hemorrhoids, in part from the stress of your body carrying a baby for nine months and also in part caused by pushing during childbirth. To reduce pain and help hemorrhoids heal, consider applying ice (often hospitals will give you ice packs), ask your doctor to recommend an over-the-counter topical treatment, keep the area clean (Tucks pads work well), eat plenty of fiber, and add sitz baths to your daily routine.
2. Excessive Sweating
If you felt hot during pregnancy, get yourself ready for some night sweats following birth. “After birth, your body goes through a major physiologic shift and this includes a shift in fluid in the body. When pregnant your blood volume doubles. So naturally after delivery, the blood volume needs to get back to its natural state,” said Devine. And thus begins the excessive sweating. It can be shocking to sweat through your clothes and sheets, but it is very common and normal.
To combat this, make sure to drink plenty of water. Also make sure to take your postnatal vitamin that helps your nutrient intake in those first weeks. Use sheets that are breathable and made from natural fibers like cotton and linen, and maybe even put your good sheets away for a few weeks.
3. Breast Engorgement
Your body doesn’t know if you plan to breastfeed or formula feed, so no matter what your approach is, you may experience breast engorgement as your milk comes in. If engorgement is left untreated it can lead to mastitis. Once you get into a good breastfeeding or pumping schedule, engorgement will likely subside.
“To prevent engorgement, try to stick to a feeding or pumping schedule that will allow you to release your breasts of milk fully so they don’t get to the point of being engorged,” said Devine. Sometimes you don’t realize until it’s too late, or you may wake up with engorgement. You can use a warm compress on the breast to help decrease inflammation.
4. Back Pain
Your body goes through a lot over the course of pregnancy and then the immediate postpartum period. Back pain after childbirth can be caused by a number of things; the relaxin hormone still in your body (which loosens your ligaments), weak abdominal muscles, time spent in the hospital, breastfeeding with a hunched back, not to mention plenty of bending, lifting, and baby holding. All of these things combined can lead to back pain.
Because there are so many reasons you might be experiencing back pain, there are a number of things to keep in mind to alleviate the pain. Some key points: sit with good posture when breastfeeding (you can use pillows and a good chair to assist), slowly introduce gentle postpartum exercises and stretching, consider your posture when carrying your baby and switch which side of your body you’re holding them on to keep things even, and treat yourself to a relaxing warm bath (when approved by your doctor). If you are also experiencing a heaviness in your pelvic floor, consult your doctor and consider sessions with a women’s health physical therapist.
5. C-Section Scar Soreness
It’s not surprising that you will feel aches and pains after going through abdominal surgery. Depending on the type of incision and your C-section experience, it’s common to have scar soreness and sensitivity following birth. It’s important to care for your C-section incision. Keep the incision clean, avoid tight clothing, and you can may want to apply heat therapy to ease pain and soreness.
You also may want to consider scar massage therapy, which can help the tissues to be less restrictive and therefore less painful and can increase mobility. It’s important to wait until at least six weeks postpartum to begin this and you should consult with your doctor to ensure your body is ready and your scar has properly healed. You can use different materials and movement techniques to massage your scar, which your doctor or a physical therapist can assist you with.