After childbirth, the physical changes, feelings of discomfort, and emotions experienced during pregnancy and labor don't just mysteriously reset in an instant. There are major shifts that occur as the body fights to heal and recover. At the same time, if you breastfeed, your body is also working hard to make and regulate the production of milk. These changes can occur in a few days, weeks, months, or even sometimes years. Yet, most healing does occur within what I call the 'Fourth Trimester' or three-ish months after labor. To heal that fast from producing a human being is remarkable to me.
I am NOT trying to scare anyone by listing what happens in the 'Fourth Trimester.' Children are worth everything we go through for them. That said, I believe that knowing beforehand what your body may go through empowers you to be able to more easily handle what happens. Plus, I've also listed what I've found to best help/remedy these things below.
Here are things that my friends, myself, or other women have experienced after labor and many remedies for them.
Night sweats- I never knew I could sweat so much until after the births of both my son and my daughter. I would wake up quite wet. You may not experience these, but many mothers do. I put a thick towel down under my sheets to help protect my mattress topper.
Swelling- This is very common—esp. if you have had an epidural. I wore stretchy yoga pants like these and slippers like these to accommodate for the intense swelling. I also sat in a recliner with my feet up/elevated to help reduce the inflammation.
Emotions- You will be on an emotional roller coaster for awhile. So hang on. Do your best to go easy on yourself if one minute you are crying in joy over your beautiful baby and the next you are in tears. Let loved ones around you know that the next few months could bring out the best and worst in your moods, attitudes, and emotions. Your hormones are readjusting. It's normal not to be emotional normal during the 'fourth trimester.' If you start to get really down, and it seems like there is little you are happy about, or if others mention they are truly worried about your moods, you may want to go to a professional. The typical 'baby blues' may have progressed into postpartum depression. I had PPD after my son, more info on my experience with PPD here. Luckily, I didn't have it after having my daughter.
Back pain or misalignment- This is also very common esp. if you had a VBAC. Your pelvic bones did a lot of shifting and moving around. You may have had back labor. Perhaps the epidural left soreness. After I felt 'healed up' enough, a trip or two to a very good chiropractor helped me feel less back and joint pain.
Headaches- Headaches can come from an epidural, hormone imbalances, lack of sleep, stress, etc. So don't be too surprised if you experience them. Over-the-counter pain killers helped me.
Neck pain- This is also a result from the stress of labor, holding a new baby, and if you are nursing, you probably look down and lean forward more than you are used to. Icing the neck and/or taking over-the-counter pain killers helped me.
Dry skin, eczema, and/or PUPPS- After having my son, I had horrible PUPPS which is a crazy-itchy rash. Here is a blog post someone else wrote about postpartum PUPPS and how to treat it. With treatment the postpartum PUPPS went away in about 2 weeks. Later on, I developed bad eczema on my hands that caused my skin to peel off. UGH. After a trip to a dermatologist I was given cream that helped heal it. The good news is, that after a few months the eczema disappeared altogether. Even better news, after having my daughter my skin did not have these issues.
New allergies- I developed an intolerance to milk and a latex allergy after having my son. After having my daughter, I no longer am lactose intolerant; the latex allergy has all but gone away as well. The body does interesting things. So just be aware that you can develop or lose allergies to certain things with each child.
Stress Urinary Incontinence- During pregnancy and labor our muscles that support and hold the bladder wall often get stretched, torn, and injured. The result can be that after having a child, or two, or four, etc. the ability to hold the bladder tight under stress (jumping, laughing, running, swimming, sneezing, coughing, etc.) is lost. The solution for thousands of other women is simply using Poise Impressa. Poise Impressa is a product that helps manage SUI by supporting the bladder wall from within. You'll use a sizing kit to determine which size. Start with size 1 and insert similar to a tampon. If size 1 isn't holding your bladder wall tight enough, size up until you find the right fit. Once you've found the size that holds your bladder wall tight (like your muscles used to), then continue wearing that size.
Gall bladder pains- A sharp pain in your mid back that comes after eating (especially anything high in fat), could mean that you have developed gall stones and are having a gall bladder attack. Gall bladder surgery postpartum is a fairly common procedure. I talk about my emergency gall bladder surgery at one and a half months postpartum here.
Hernia- Luckily I have not experienced these. But some women get hernias during pregnancy or labor which need to be repaired afterwards.
Hair loss- Hair has different growth stages. The hormones during pregnancy typically cause hair to become thicker and not fall out as much. After pregnancy and the drop of those hormones, typically hair falls out and can for some, become very thin. The hair loss stage could go on for more than 3 months but in my experience it does level off. My good friend who is an excellent hair stylist recommends this hair oil for moms who are losing lots of hair postpartum.
Change in libido- Of course wait the allotted time after delivery to have intercourse. Once cleared, some women reportedly have a stronger libido after child birth, others find their libido has returned to normal, and some experience a drop. I believe these changes are due to hormonal shifts. Be patient with yourself and be communicative about any changes with your husband so he understands as well.
Constipation- The pain medication from the epidural, or C section, hemorrhoids, and/or other factors can cause constipation. Try prune juice or dried prunes, suppositories, Miralax, or medication prescribed by a doctor.
Hemorrhoids- With each child they can become worse. Luckily these painful embarrassing side effects many women get from pushing their baby out or while pregnant go away in a month or so. Witch hazel wipes help a lot.
Cramps/ Uterus contractions- After having a baby your uterus is trying to shrink back down to size. My body did so much better when the nurses kept me on pitocin after having my daughter. The pitocin helped shrink my uterus down much better and much less painfully then I experienced with my first baby (when they didn't use pitocin to shrink my uterus). Maybe you can ask your doctor or nurse to keep you on a small dose of pitocin to help your uterus shrink back down.
Breast pain engorgement- Whether you breastfeed or not, engorgement is a painful thing that can occur as the milk comes in. Cold cabbage leaves worked wonders for me.
Sagging skin- Women's skin can vary from very elastic skin to skin that doesn't stretch well. Using a girdle like this has really helped my not-so-elastic skin return to his normal place.
Stretch marks- Although stretch marks will fade, they won't disappear entirely. That said, don't be ashamed. For example, wouldn't you find a scar on your man attractive if he were to have earned it by saving someone's life? I know I would. You gave a human life and your stretch marks are the scars to show that. Men I have asked or overheard don't have a problem with stretch marks, in fact many find them attractive. If you are feeling uncomfortable about yours, ask your husband what his opinion is. I bet you'll be surprised. If he is one of very few who doesn't like them explain that they are a direct result of you bearing his kids and then see what he says. Though there are creams that seem to help (such as this one here). Usually time and weight loss help the fading the most.
General Pain and looseness 'downstairs'- If you had a VBAC the vaginal area will be quite sore (for at least a few weeks). I used these amazingly soft pop-to-cool ice packs to help numb the pain. Dermoplast (with the blue lid) helped significantly as well. After I was all healed up, Kegel exercises helped to strengthen and tighten the area up.
Ovulation cramping and period cramps increase in intensity- Once your cycle begins again, you may notice that you can actually feel yourself ovulating, when before pregnancy you may not have been able to. This was a shock to me because before pregnancy I never felt ovulation. After pregnancy I can really feel the "Mittleschmertz." My period cramps have gotten more intense as well. I used to not have to take tylenol or ibuprofen, but now it is a must.
And last but certainly not least: Intense love, happiness, and joy- It is truly amazing how much love you will feel for your baby. I was so surprised after having my son how instant and special our bond was. After having my daughter, the love doubled. I'm amazed how much joy children can bring. I'm often moved to tears. Children really are worth all of these things we go through as women to bear them. So please use this list to help you prepare for what may occur in the 'fourth trimester' and not let it scare you.
What did you experience during the "Fourth Trimester" recovering from labor? Is there anything about your post-childbirth body that I failed to mention? If so please comment below.