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  4. Your post pregnancy body – What people don’t really talk about!

There’s lots of information around about the changes pregnancy can cause in a woman’s body. But not every change is equally understood or discussed.

Emotional adjustment

As well as physical changes you’ll experience, your emotions will be up and down. Having a baby is a huge life event and most women go through a major adjustment.

Even if your baby was wanted and longed for, there’s bound to be days when you reflect on the enormity of having a small person to care for. Be kind to yourself and ask for help from your partner and other trusted adults.

See your GP if you are struggling emotionally or feel anxious and/or depressed. There’s lots of information and community support for new parents; all you need to do is ask for help. Check here for options.

Post pregnancy body changes

It can take weeks for pregnancy related symptoms and discomforts to settle. Around 30-50% of women who have a vaginal birth will have permanent changes to their pelvic floor. This often has an influence on their urinary continence e.g., ‘holding onto’ wee.

Pregnancy hormones, increased weight and changes to the ligaments and muscles in a woman’s body can all mean there’s work to be done to restore strength and tone. This is especially in the region of the pelvic floor – the ‘sling’ of supportive structures which hold the pelvic organs in their correct places. Without a toned and strong pelvic floor, the organs can quite literally head south! And you don’t have to have had a vaginal birth to experience pelvic floor issues. Women who have a caesarean section can also experience pregnancy related changes to their pelvic floor.

Stretch marks

Stretch marks are common during pregnancy and are related to the collagen fibres in the skin stretching and causing scar tissue to form. After birth, stretch marks on the breasts, belly, hips and bottom fade from red/purple and then become a silvery white colour. There’s not much you can do to prevent stretch marks, though excess weight gain doesn’t help. Check here for recommendations.

Vaginal changes

Often, women who’ve had a natural birth say that their vagina never fully regains its pre-birth tone. Vaginal stretching can cause permanent changes in the size of the vagina, causing changes affecting sex and intimacy. Pelvic floor exercises can help to rebuild tone and restore sensation.

Vaginal dryness can be common after childbirth, especially for women who are breastfeeding and still healing. Using a water-based lubricant can help with painful sex and reduce irritation. Speak honestly with your partner about how you’re feeling and don’t feel pressured to resume intimacy until you’re ready.

Weak bladder

Even if you’ve never had a weak bladder before having your baby, you may be in for a surprise. For women who’ve experienced pelvic floor weakening, it can be difficult to hold wee in the bladder until they’re sitting on the toilet. Leaking small to larger amounts of wee is common, until the tone and strength of the muscles and ligaments which support the pelvic floor work effectively again.

I need to wear pads in case I wee myself!

Almost all women benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and as soon as possible after their baby’s birth. And although you may struggle to tighten and hold for even a few seconds, with time and repetition, your pelvic floor will regain tone. Speak with a physiotherapist about the right way to do pelvic floor exercises.

5 top truths about after-pregnancy body changes

  1. If you felt your pelvic floor was weak during pregnancy, it’s still going to feel weak after your baby’s birth. Pregnancy body changes don’t all go away quickly once a baby is born.
  2. Time and self-care make a big difference in recovery after pregnancy and childbirth. Accept all reasonable offers of help and support and be kind to yourself.
  3. Avoid being critical about the changes in your body’s appearance. Growing a baby is a big deal, give yourself credit for what you’ve done.
  4. Avoid comparing yourself with images of the ‘perfect’ new mother and baby. Give yourself permission to be your own, unique self.
  5. It can take up to 12 months or longer to lose pregnancy weight and some women never lose it all. Speak with a dietician if you’re struggling and be realistic about a healthy weight for your height.

For more information check:

https://www.continence.org.au

https://www.poise.com.au/female-incontinence/pregnancy

Written for Poise by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse 03/06/2021

Whilst you are training your pelvic floor POISE can help keep you comfortable and dry and protected from leaks.

Get a free sample here.