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This Is What Happens When You Recover After Giving Birth

Changes to Your Body After Pregnancy

It is a common myth that pregnancy is over after giving birth, when in fact giving birth is the beginning of a major transitional period for your body. You may be wondering, “how long is recovery after childbirth?” This transitional period is beginning to be recognized as the 4th trimester, which means your recovery after giving birth takes place during the first 3 months after delivery.

After delivery, it isn’t uncommon to feel distant or confused by your body because IT IS STILL CHANGING. And your health & wellness is something that should continue to be a focus during this time. Change now takes on a different meaning after delivery. What your body is actually doing is pregnancy recovery. Read more to learn about what recovery can consist of during the postpartum period and for some after birth recovery tips. Remember, pregnancy recovery is different for everyone!

lose-up photo of a woman’s belly and stretch marks as she holds her baby, whose legs dangle

How Does Your Reproductive System Recover After Giving Birth?

The organs that are part of your reproductive system include your uterus and genitals. These organs have undergone many changes over the past months and need time to recover after giving birth. Here are some things you may experience while you’re healing:

  • As the uterus and genital organs heal, intermittent bleeding may occur for 6-8 weeks after giving birth, often referred to as postpartum. Bleeding that occurs past 8 weeks may be a friendly reminder from your body to respect its recovery process and reduce activity levels.
  • The perineum, or area the area between the vaginal and anal openings, can be inflamed and sensitive anywhere between 1-3 weeks after a vaginal birth.
  • Your menstrual cycle usually resumes in about 2 months for people who do not breastfeed/chestfeed and within 8 months for those who do breastfeed/chestfeed. The hormone prolactin that allows for breast/chestfeeding suppresses ovulation which is why these time frames differ.
  • Your breast/chest size increases within the first week of postpartum to prepare for breast/chestfeeding.
a color diagram of a woman’s outer genitals from the view of below her

Talk to a health care professional if you experience:

  • Excessive bleeding, which can be a sign of hemorrhage.
  • A foul smell from your genital region or near an incision, which may indicate an infection.
  • Pain with breast/chestfeeding, which may indicate an infection, milk duct blockage, or skin/nipple irritation.

Bladder and Bowel Recovery

Pelvic recovery after birth is another aspect of your body’s recovery after giving birth. You may experience some or all of the following:

These symptoms and changes in your body may be challenging, but there are always people who can support you. If you are worried about any of these symptoms, talk to your health care team or find a pelvic floor physical therapist you trust .

Talk to a health care professional if you experience:

  • Urinary or fecal incontinence after 3 months postpartum, which can mean you may have some pelvic floor dysfunction.
  • Bothersome symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse, such as heaviness, which may indicate there is more that could be done to support pelvic organs.

Muscle and Joint Recovery

Your whole body has had to change to support the growth and weight of your baby. That means that the muscles of your stomach, back, and hips may be recovering too. You may experience some or all of the following:

  • You may have back, pelvic girdle, muscle, and joint pain. It may get better on its own, but it should not last longer than 1 month after it starts.
  • The diastasis rectus abdominis, or the spreading of the “6 pack” muscles, due to the connective tissue stretching that is located vertically between these ab muscles. This can get better anywhere between 1 day to 8 weeks postpartum.
  • C-section incisions can take up to 6 weeks to heal. It is important that the healing process of the incision is respected by reducing overexertion during your daily activities and avoiding heavy lifting.
  • Most women are “cleared” by their doctor to begin exercise at 6 weeks postpartum. But you can start exercising slowly as soon as it feels ok for you.
two rounded metal grey dumbbells lay on the floor

Talk to a health care professional if you experience:

  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing at rest. These may be symptoms of a blood clot that may have traveled to your lungs.
  • Muscle pain that lasts for longer than 1 month. This can be a sign of muscle imbalance or movement dysfunction.
  • If your abdominal muscles have separated and continue to bother you 8 weeks after you gave birth, you may require treatment if it is reducing your quality of life.
  • Pain over or around your C-section scar after 6 weeks, which can indicate poor healing or hypersensitivity.
  • Pain or incontinence with exercise may mean you have a musculoskeletal issue and/or pelvic floor dysfunction. It may also be a sign that your body hasn’t fully healed enough to meet the demands of your current level of exercise. Talk to your health care provider about what kind of exercise program would be best for you as you begin to increase your activity level.

Sexual Recovery

Many people wonder about having sex after childbirth and when it is okay to start again. The following information can help you decide when it is right for you. If you have questions about when to have sex after giving birth, talk to your doctor.

  • The majority of women can resume vaginal intercourse within 18 months after having a vaginal birth.
  • There may be reduced sexual desire after having a baby . This may be due to a number of things, such as hormone levels, fatigue, relationship dynamics, and mental health.

Talk to a health care professional if you experience:

  • Pain with intercourse. Pain can occur because of scar tissue, vaginal dryness due to breastfeeding or hormonal levels . It may also be due to not waiting until the pelvic floor muscles have recovered, infections, or be related to depression and/or anxiety.
  • Reduced sexual desire or function that impacts your quality of life.

Your Recovery Process

With doctor visits occurring less frequently postpartum and attention predominantly focused on the baby, some find it easier to ignore the changes that are occurring and push through the postpartum phase. It can feel like there is less support during postpartum recovery, which is why there are health professionals out there to guide people through postpartum recovery! If any of the changes above last for too long, are painful, or are simply bothersome, do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified health professional. Postpartum time does not have to be an isolating experience. It can be an empowering experience that supports connecting with the body and allowing it to heal!

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