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Understanding Postpartum Phases for Better Physical Recovery

  • Author: Lucy Xia
  • Published On: Apr 23, 2024
  • Category: Postpartum Care

When it comes to postpartum physical changes, you often hear about the weight gain that lingers, or the shoe size that went up, or the hair loss that seems never ending. The list goes on and on and there is no shortage of resources that talk about each specific side effect in detail. Just acknowledging that they will definitely occur can be crucial in your preparation for postpartum physical recovery. Like pregnancy trimesters, it might also be helpful to think of the postpartum physical changes happening in three distinct but continuous phases. This can help you frame how you’ll tackle each one and understand them for what they are, no matter how temporary or permanent.

Phase 1: The initial phase (first 6-12 hours up to 24 hours postpartum)

This is a time of rapid change where your body is recovering from a massive physical strain. It’s likely going to be the most hazy phase for you. Doctors often refer to this period as the acute phase because of the potential complications that can arise. However, rest assured that your medical and birth team will be closely monitoring you during this phase regardless of your risk levels. While complications are possible, it’s important to note that most birthing persons experience a smooth transition.

Some common physical changes during this period of time include:

  • Postpartum bleeding: also known as lochia occurs when the uterus sheds that lining that supported the pregnancy.
  • Abdominal swelling: your abdomen may still appear as if you were pregnant due to the presence of fluid and gas, see uterine contractions next.
  • Uterine contractions: after giving birth, your uterus contracts and expels the placenta. After this, the uterus gradually contracts back to its pre-pregnancy size although this process often takes several weeks. As this happens, menstrual-like cramps are very common.
  • Perineal soreness: people who have a vaginal birth may experience discomfort, swelling, and pain in this area due to the stretching that occurred and especially if there was tearing and prolonged pushing.
  • Sweating and increased urination: fluid shifts occur in the body right after childbirth leading to increased urination and sweating as excess fluid accumulated during pregnancy and IV fluids during labor are eliminated

Know that how your body physically feels during this phase is temporary. Plus, you’ll just have had a baby, which means a wave of emotions and fatigue will inevitably also wash over you.

Phase 2: The subacute postpartum period (2-6 weeks postpartum)

During this phase, your body is going through a lot of internal physical changes – think: blood flow, metabolism, continued perineal changes, not to mention emotional changes and exhaustion as well. Unlike the initial phase, these physical changes are less rapid and birthing persons are often able to self-identify these issues which makes it a much more vivid experience as well.

In addition to a continuation of physical changes from the initial phase, some additional common physical changes during the subacute postpartum period include:

  • Breast changes: The breast tissue prepares to produce milk whether or not someone is going to breastfeed. Within a few days of giving birth, the breasts will increase in size and sensitivity as the milk supply develops. Leaking of milk is very common, especially after stretches of time between feeds or even when the baby cries. Nipples also become tender and sore but should only last for a few days. A lactation expert can be very helpful for any lactation questions or concerns, especially if pain continues.
  • Pelvic floor changes: The pelvic floor muscles may be weakened or stretched as a result of the stress and strain of labor and delivery. This weakening can lead to issues such as urinary incontinence.
  • Constipation: fear of pain, hemorrhoids, stress, lack of sleep can all affect bowel movements weeks following birth. Stool softeners are often recommended in addition to prioritizing hydration and nutrition to alleviate constipation.
  • Joint and ligament changes: Relaxin, a hormone produced during pregnancy, continues to affect joints and ligaments postpartum, potentially contributing to joint instability. This may persist for several weeks as hormone levels return to normal.

Just remember your body is still actively healing. Nutrition and rest are key for recovery during this time. The Yuzi retreat specializes in tailoring to your specific needs during this postpartum period. Our goal is to provide comprehensive support and assistance to new mothers during this phase focusing on your physical and emotional recovery to promote optimal bonding between parents and baby. We offer guidance on newborn care, breastfeeding and provide a supportive and restorative environment where parents can recuperate and gain confidence in their new roles.

Phase 3: The delayed postpartum period (6 months or more)

Overall this phase represents a transition period between the immediate postpartum period and the long-term postpartum period. It is characterized by ongoing physical and emotional recovery, adaptation to parenthood, and a focus on the well-being of both the mother and baby as they settle into their new lives together. It’s a time where birthing persons experience restoration of muscle tone and connective tissue.

Some common physical changes during the delayed postpartum period include:

  • Weight loss: many people gradually lose weight as their bodies adjust to life after birth. The increased energy expenditure of breastfeeding can contribute to weight loss as well. Don’t worry if this does not happen right away. Afterall, it took nine months to create your new body and longer to properly return to a new normal.
  • Skin changes: continued hormonal fluctuations postpartum can lead to breakouts, dry skin, pigmentation changes, decreased elasticity and new skin sensitivities.
  • Menstrual cycle: Menstrual cycles may resume within a few months after childbirth, although they may be irregular initially. Breastfeeding can delay the return of menstruation for some women due to hormonal influences. An absence of periods does not necessarily mean you are not ovulating so make sure to consider this with your family planning journey.
  • Hair loss: this is a normal physiological response to hormonal changes and typically resolves on its own within a few months.

Change can be subtle during this time and it’s best to not think about postpartum physical recovery with the goal of your pre-pregnancy physical state in mind. Birth changes the body in temporary and permanent ways. By prioritizing self-care, seeking support, and staying resilient, you can navigate the challenges of the delayed postpartum period with grace and confidence, while also embracing the joys and rewards of motherhood.

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