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Movies and TV try to show what it’s like for a woman to be in labor: a lot of pushing, sweating and screaming. While they’ve got that part (somewhat) correct, they fail in other ways. The mothers in these movies and shows always leave the hospital feeling 100% and looking like they did before they were pregnant.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not just that baby carrying all the weight and pushing your belly out; there are numerous things that happen during pregnancy that will take time to “fix” before you are looking and feeling like your old self again. Not to mention the potential complications and difficulties you may face.
1. You still Look A Little Pregnant
It is important to know that you will still have a belly. In fact, you may have that 5 months pregnant look for a few months after the delivery of your baby.
Your organs and muscles need time to move back into place, your uterus needs to shrink from the size of a watermelon to a pear, and all the skin that has stretched during those 40 weeks on your belly will need to find its elasticity again.
Now, you can expect to lose a bit of weight immediately after delivery. Within the first 24 hours, you may lose at least 12 pounds with the baby, placenta, and extra fluid no longer inside your belly. This may or may not make a big difference depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy.
It is not uncommon for mothers to lose up to 20 pounds within the first month after delivery, especially if they are breastfeeding (breastfeeding burns extra calories). You may start to notice a difference
By the 6-week mark when you see your OB for a follow-up, your uterus should be back to normal and you should be cleared to get back to any form of physical activity you wish.
2. You Will Have Heavy Vaginal Bleeding
You may think you hit the jackpot not having your period for 9 months, but you will be in for a big shock once the baby is delivered. There will be about 6 weeks of constant bleeding and fluid loss after your baby is born.
This bleeding, called lochia, is slightly different from your period. First of all, it is much heavier; ask someone to show you a picture of maternity pads just to get an idea! It is also a slightly different consistency. Where your period is just bloodshed from an unfertilized uterus, lochia is a combination of mucus, tissue, and blood left over after delivery.
While there is a lot of bleeding, there is the possibility of too much bleeding or abnormal bleeding. About 5% of women may experience a postpartum hemorrhage. These are characterized by the passing of large blood clots or bleeding more than a pint of blood within the first 24 hours after birth.
Thankfully, you are likely still in the hospital recovering during this time, so your doctor and nurses will be checking with you regularly. However, there is still the possibility of excessive bleeding or clots after you go home. If you notice anything strange, contact your doctor immediately.
3. Low or No Breast Milk
Believe it or not, your breast milk doesn’t come in immediately after birth. In fact, it takes about 2-3 days to start noticing your breasts feeling different. But what happens when you haven’t noticed a difference in your milk supply after those first few days? You may ask yourself, “Why am I not producing enough milk?”
First, you need to make sure you actually have low milk supply. Just because you don’t feel engorged (we will talk more about this shortly) doesn’t mean you have low milk supply. It just means that you’re lucky!
If you do have low or no milk supply, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant. This could be the result of a few factors.
Circumstances surrounding the birth of your baby may responsible. Experiencing high levels of stress can delay milk letdown. The use of pain medications can also be responsible as well as any sort of anesthetic such as an epidural.
Labors that are induced and C-sections can also play a role in delayed lactation due to the use of anesthetic and/or excessive IV fluids.
4. Breastfeeding May Be A Struggle or An All-out Nightmare
You may hear people say that breastfeeding should virtually be painless, but what they don’t tell you is that this is only the case after it’s been established and if you meet all the criteria for a perfect latch every time. The truth is breastfeeding hurts – a lot! – during the first few days after birth.
For many new mothers, breastfeeding will be a learning process for both her and her baby. You may need to help your baby learn to latch correctly, positioning their head just right and making sure their mouth is open nice and wide before inserting the nipple.
Some babies struggle to achieve and maintain a good latch causing a lot of pain for mothers and causing them to want to give up on breastfeeding. Talk to a lactation consultant if you are having struggles and still experiencing pain several weeks after birth.
5. Hard Breasts
Again, another thing that is not considered “normal” by most professionals is breast engorgement. However, it happens to most mothers, especially right after their milk comes in.
Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis, so until your body knows how much to produce for your little one, your body may go into overdrive and produce a lot to make sure your baby gets enough.
This can leave your breasts feeling very hard and uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t last long. Once your milk supply is established, you shouldn’t experience engorgement as long as you feed your baby or pump regularly.
Your uterus goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy, moving and growing to accommodate your little baby. Understandably, it needs to shrink and contract again after birth, but while it had 40 weeks to grow, it is expected to shrink again in only 6 weeks.
All of this rapid shrinking can cause cramping and lower back pain that feels similar to your premenstrual aches. For some, these cramps can be very painful, and if you had a C-section, you can expect to feel some moderate discomfort every time you breastfeed.
Some mothers don’t always feel this cramping though. In fact, I didn’t even know how bad it could be until after I had my third child! Unlike the mild discomfort I felt with my first two, the pain I felt with my third was unbearable.
I spoke with the nurse at the hospital, and she reassured me that the pain would lessen after about 24 to 48 hours. She also informed me that the pain is known to either get better or worse with subsequent pregnancies explaining why the pain was so much worse with my third child.
It did eventually go away, especially as I continued nursing my little one.
7. Urine Leakage
Not only is your skin stretched to its limit during pregnancy but your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor go through a lot. Their weakening can result in some unexpected incontinence.
Most cases of urine leakage are stress induced, meaning they happen when you do something that puts strain on your bladder. This could be something as simple as lifting something slightly heavy or even a sneeze or laugh.
With weak pelvic floor muscles, you may also notice a “looser” vagina. This doesn’t necessarily affect you day to day; it is mostly something noticeable during sex or if you are using a tampon during your period.
Since no woman wants to live with the effects of weak pelvic muscles, you will want to exercise those muscles using what are known as Kegel exercises. These can strengthen those muscles and firm them up again to prevent urine leakage.
8. Unpleasant First Bowel Movement
Poop is one of those things that seems weird to talk about but also very important especially after you’ve given birth. You may just be thinking about passing that baby, not about passing your first bowel movement.
Constipation after delivery is very common, and certain circumstances surrounding the birth may make matters worse such as anesthesia use, IV fluids, and how often you were able to eat solid foods. You can also expect a few days before your first poop if you underwent a C-section (which is actually a major surgery).
If you have any stitches from a C-section or vaginal birth (we will talk about tearing next), this will also make it difficult. Pain and weak abdominal muscles make it impossible to push for your first bowel movement – which you shouldn’t be doing anyway.
You may experience discomfort from constipation and feeling like you have to go but just can’t, and then when you eventually go after a couple of days, it may be a mixture of discomfort and relief.
Don’t stress; focus on your baby. In the meantime, drink lots of water and eat healthy, fiber-rich foods to help move things along a little quicker. Moderate movement is also ideal, but don’t push yourself as overexertion can delay healing.
9. Vaginal Tearing
Every woman probably wonders how an entire baby is supposed to fit through such a small vaginal opening. While the female body is amazing and most babies get through just fine, the truth is not every baby does so perfectly.
The skin between the vaginal opening and the anus is very thin and prone to tearing if it is too tight for your baby’s head to fit through.
I tore during delivery with all 3 of my babies. The first was the worst, but I had to have stitches for all of them. It was nearly impossible to sit for more than 5 minutes while I was healing. Most of the time I simply laid on the couch or took warm sitz baths to find relief.
Thankfully, after about a week I started to notice relief. All this to say if you tear during delivery, it will be painful during recovery, but you will heal and find relief soon. Just be patient.
10. You Might Hate Your Husband/Partner
Let’s face it: men don’t experience the same amount of hardships as women do when it comes to being a parent. Not only does the woman carry and birth the baby, but she is likely the primary caretaker and provider of food.
The combination of these things, postpartum hormones, and feeling too busy and tired to connect with your partner can leave you feeling a bit of resentment toward them.
It is important to communicate and make sure you have time for each other to stay connected emotionally, making sure each other’s needs are met.
11. You Might Cry A Lot
It may seem strange to feel sad after the birth of your baby. You should be feeling nothing but joy, right? Not necessarily. Many women are actually prone to experience baby blues after birth.
The belief is that hormones may be responsible. Your body has been raging on hormones throughout the entire pregnancy and now there has been a tremendous drop after the birth of your baby. That coupled with the increased responsibility and decrease in sleep can leave you feeling very weepy.
It’s okay to feel this way, but make sure you have someone to talk to. Also be sure to discuss any increase in severity with your doctor or loved ones as this may be a sign of postpartum depression.
What do you think now? Was there anything you didn’t know? If you are already a mother, is there anything on this list you wish you had known before you gave birth?