You’d think after all it takes to make a baby, a woman’s body would return to normal after giving birth. I mean, why shouldn’t that be the expectation, after all? Conception (pretty effortless for some and far more difficult for others); three trimesters of exhaustion, morphing body parts and strangers asking questions about what’s none of their business; labor and all the hard work that it requires – all of this adds up to “Okay! I did it! Now I’d like my body back, please and thank you!”. But we need time and rest and lots of support before we can begin to feel like ourselves again.
How much time exactly? That depends on a lot, and the experience is different for every birthing individual. One of the things everyone can count on is some leakage – and not just from the orifice that delivered your precious one into the world.
Of course the vagina gets all the attention, and for good reason. A postpartum woman will have what basically boils down to an extended period of bleeding – up to six weeks after birth. It makes sense when you consider that an expectant mamma’s blood supply increases by 50% at Week 28 in order to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Once the pregnancy is over, the body doesn’t need to retain it – hence, the call for some mattress-sized maxi pads (or, as some prefer, adult diapers. Yes, I’m serious). Reach out to your midwife or OB if the bleeding doesn’t decrease over time, or if it turns darker and then returns to a brighter red. That may be an indication that you’re doing too much too soon – let your provider guide you. And of course, always call them if you have any other concerns. A woman might also have some postpartum vaginal discharge, which is totally normal.
Next up? Your nipples. You may begin to leak milk even if you’ve decided not to breastfeed. It can be miraculous or annoying, depending upon your mood and sleep deprivation levels! Nursing pads can be very helpful (they come in both disposable and reusable options) and if you do choose to nurse, you’ll get a sense of when your breasts “let down” (start the flow of) your milk so that you can be more prepared. Some women experience this nipple leakage during their pregnancies, too.
Lastly – but ABSOLUTELY not least – are your eyes. Crying pretty much comes with the territory of new parenthood. You might cry tears of joy – which is wonderful, but it’s also normal to cry for no apparent reason (it’s just the hormones knocking on your tear ducts’ door). However, a lot of women cry because they are sad, confused, exhausted, anxious, scared or depressed. 1 out of 5 women report a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder (PMAD) during their pregnancies and/or partum period. If the crying lasts for more than 2 weeks, or if you feel like you need support – please let your provider know, or reach out to Postpartum International.
After a period of time, you will steady the ship, and postpartum leakage will ease up. As noted, if it doesn’t resolve, call your provider.
Remember to ask for help, rest as often as possible, stay hydrated, and give yourself grace as you transition into this wildly profound time in your life.
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