So many of the changes that I experienced to my body and mind after pregnancy and childbirth were surprising, unexpected, and explained to me after the fact. Here are some changes I wish I had known to expect.
From the moment I found out I was pregnant, the way I see and understand my body and its function completely changed. I had a good sense of what would happen: I would immediately grow a bump and wear cute dresses and sometimes my feet would swell.
So, I thought it might be helpful for me to throw together some common, but confusing, postpartum physical and emotional changes. From night sweats to hair loss to Mom Brain (yes- very real), I’m walking you through the wide range of changes to your body that accompany having a baby.
All women will experience some change to their body after pregnancy. Some of the most common of which are hair loss, blood or urine leaking (why does no one tell you about the diapers you’ll have to wear?!), and breast size changes.
But plenty of women have also reported:
- Night sweats (happened to me)
- Pelvic pain or pelvic floor issues (happened to me)
- Constipation (happened to me)
- Shoulder pain as a result of trapped gas (happened to me)
- Rib cages expanding (happened to me)
- Teeth shifting
- TMJ – (happened to me- during pregnancy too- so much jaw pain)
- Numbness or twitching in their hands
- Phantom kicks (happened to me)
- Becoming lactose-intolerant
- Skin improves … or worsens (got worse, then better)
- Vision worsens (happened to me)
- Shoe size changes
- Hair changes: texture, amount, and color
- Diastasis recti: the separation of your abdominal muscles that’s estimated to affect as many as 60% of women within six weeks of giving birth.
Of course, most of these changes are due to massive hormonal shifts that drop dramatically from all-time highs during pregnancy to all-time lows postpartum. Fluctuating vitamin and mineral levels may also contribute to shakiness, dizziness, and a lack of energy (in addition to the sleep you’re not getting). For this reason, doctors often recommend continuing taking your prenatal vitamins and iron supplements if you need them to help your body re-regulate itself after pregnancy. I didn’t do this, I wish I had.
It’s not just the physical changes- your emotions change after pregnancy too.
While Baby Blues and postpartum depression (PPD) are not unheard-of emotional symptoms, many women are nevertheless surprised if they experience lingering sadness. Disinterest is also common in the weeks following delivery. It’s estimated that as many as 80% of women do experience at least some symptoms related to depression, even if it doesn’t rise to the severity of a clinical diagnosis.
If you’ve seen any of my Instagram posts or other blog posts, you’ll know that my postpartum experience was far from peachy. I felt a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear in the first weeks postpartum, which improved over time with the right mental health support.
One interesting emotional change after pregnancy, which I thought I would never suffer from was mom guilt. Constantly worrying about your baby or about if you’re doing the “right” thing happens to a lot of new moms. While these feelings are fairly common, if your anxiety or guilt feelings can become intrusive. This interview I conducted with perinatal psychiatrist, Dr Nichelle Haynes explains the symptoms of perinatal anxiety and mom guilt.
Ok here is one that took me by surprise: intrusive — and upsetting — thoughts. I would be preparing something in the kitchen, and out of nowhere, I would have horrible images of a knife falling and hurting me or my baby. Even when he was sleeping on the other side of the house. It went on for months. It was not only distressing to think about, but at times i really felt like I was “losing it”. This is actually very common and usually goes away, and luckily it did in my case. But these images and thoughts are rough- if you’re experiencing them, you’re not alone. Of course, it’s important to talk to an experienced professional if these thoughts become increasingly distressing to you and impact your functioning.
Though less common, some women do experience postpartum psychosis, which means having hallucinations of some sort — seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there. A few things could trigger this, from a history of mental illness to severe sleep deprivation. It’s always important to reach out for professional help if you experience any of these symptoms.
Finally, Mom Brain — two years out and I’m still not fully recovered. From not being able to find the word you want to say to spacing on appointments or forgetting why you came into a room, that brain fog or inability to think clearly happens to most women postpartum. It certainly happened to me. But reasons are completely understandable: you’re not sleeping, you’re adjusting to life with a newborn, your eating patterns are likely erratic, and you’re going through massive hormonal changes.
The reality is, I’m telling you the things I wish someone had told me about. Perhaps the most important thing that I wish someone told me is that not enjoying this phase has no bearing on your ability to mother. Nothing you are feeling or not feeling is your fault. If you’re beating yourself up for struggling postpartum, like I did, don’t. It will get better, you will get stronger, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. But for now, nap when you can, ask for help (and take it), and know you are not alone.