VIDEO: Your body after childbirth
Having a baby changes your body. You may not like the changes, or you may enjoy feeling different and feeling like a mother. If you’re happy the way you are, that’s great.
If you feel uncomfortable with your body, though, you’ll want to make some changes. Some things will never be quite the same again. For example, your stretch marks will fade but will never go away completely. But other changes don’t need to be permanent.
You can tighten a saggy tummy with exercise and any weight you’ve gained will gradually drop off if you eat sensibly and exercise. It won’t happen overnight. It took nine months to make a baby and it could take at least that long to get back into shape again.
In the meantime, give your body some little treats to cheer you up. It could be something as simple as painting your toenails. If it makes you feel good, then taking time to do it might be more important to you than getting 20 minutes extra sleep.
The postnatal check
You’ll be very busy looking after your baby, but do remember to go for your postnatal check with your GP at around six to eight weeks after the birth.
It’s a time to talk to your GP about any health problems you’ve had since the birth, such as perinatal pain or pain following episiotomy, backache, piles or incontinence.
It’s also a chance to talk about how you’re feeling and to discuss family planning. You can get pregnant again within three weeks of giving birth so it’s important to sort out your contraception before you start having sex again (see Sex and contraception in Useful links).
A lot of women experience physical problems as a result of labour and birth or because of the kind of work involved in caring for young children. Problems like recurring infections, back pain, a leaky bladder and painful intercourse are more common than people may think.
For some problems, you can do a lot to help yourself. For example, if you’re suffering from a leaky bladder or getting that ‘falling out’ feeling, you may need to strengthen the muscles around your bladder, vagina and back passage (perineum). Pelvic floor exercises can help. A bad back can also be helped by exercise and by learning to use your back carefully.
If something’s really bothering you, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your GP may be able to suggest treatment or refer you to a specialist or an obstetric physiotherapist, who can help with back and bladder problems and painful stitches.
Pelvic floor exercises
You can do this exercise either sitting or standing. It can be done anywhere and at any time, for example when you’re washing up, queuing in the supermarket or watching TV.
- Squeeze and draw in your back passage at the same time. Close up and draw your vagina (front passage) upwards.
- Do it quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately.
- Then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can (but not more than 10 seconds) before you relax.
- Repeat each exercise 10 times, four to six times a day.
You may find it helps to imagine you’re stopping a bowel movement, holding in a tampon or stopping yourself passing water. In fact, the best way to find the muscles is to try stopping and starting (or slowing down) the flow of urine while you’re on the toilet.
Deep stomach exercises
This exercise will help to firm your stomach:
- Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent.
- Let your tummy sag and breathe in gently.
- As you breathe out, gently draw in the lower part of your stomach like a corset, narrowing your waistline.
- Squeeze your pelvic floor at the same time.
- Hold for a count of 10 then gently release.
- Repeat 10 times.
Easing back pain
The following tips will help relieve an aching back:
- While feeding, always sit with your back well supported and straight. Place a pillow or cushion behind your waist.
- Kneel or squat to do low-level jobs like bathing your baby or picking things up off the floor. Avoid bending your back.
- Make your knees work instead. Change nappies on a waist-level surface or while kneeling on the floor.
- To lift heavy objects, like a carrycot or an older child, bend your knees, keep your back straight and hold the object close to your body. Make your thigh muscles work as you lift.
- Keep a straight back when you push a pram or buggy. Alternatively, carry your baby in a sling.
Deep vein thrombosis
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a serious condition where clots develop in the deep veins of the legs. It can be fatal if the clot travels from the legs to the lungs.
Flights that last over five hours, where you sit still for a long time, may increase your risk of DVT. Pregnant women and women who have recently had a baby are among those who are more at risk, so if you intend to travel by air, it’s important to consult your GP or health visitor before the trip. They can give you advice on in-seat exercises to keep your circulation moving.
If you develop swollen, painful legs or have breathing difficulties after a trip, see a GP urgently or go to the nearest Accident and Emergency department.
Published Date 2010-12-15
Last Review Date 2009-07-28