Childbirth necessitates changes to your body, as does caring for your baby after.
Whether you had a vaginal delivery or a c-section, giving birth is no joke. Some people seem to snap right back into shape, but for most of us, having a baby is an experience that has major, long-lasting effects on our bodies—not to mention our lives.
I had some complications after having my baby, so my healing felt slow, but I think it probably feels slow for everyone. We get a six-week checkup with the doctor or midwife who usually tells us everything is fine—but many of us feel the effects of childbirth for years afterwards. The good news is, there are plenty of things we can do from home that can help heal a postpartum body.
Wherever you get it, whether it means your mother-in-law moves in, your partner takes parental leave, or you lean on the friend down the block has a little time on her hands, you need support. You basically have a dinner-plate-sized internal wound where your placenta used to be, and you need to be mostly horizontal for a while so this can heal. This isn’t easy with a newborn, so you need someone to cook or bring you meals, do the dishes, even diaper the baby in the very beginning. Don’t push yourself during this time.
Beyond the first few months, prioritize your rest. Having a baby or young child can be exhausting, and a rested parent is a good parent. If it’s a bad night, find time to nap at some point during the day, even if it’s just five minutes (see my post on the magic of a short nap.
Water. You need a lot of water, especially if you are breastfeeding. Take an iron supplement, especially in the beginning while you are still bleeding. It also benefits you and the breastfed baby to take omega 3s and vitamin D. Beyond that, eat lots of whole foods and fiber to help out with rehabilitating the pelvic floor and aiding digestion, which can get a little wonky with all the hormones and lack of sleep that come with having a new baby.
After having a baby, your body is going to feel different. Many of us gain a lot of weight during the pregnancy, and it can take time to lose it. Some of us never return to our pre-pregnancy weight, and that’s okay. We need to be soft and warm to comfort the baby, and it’s helpful to have some fat stores especially if you are breastfeeding. Keep in mind that, while breastfeeding burns a lot of calories and some people lose weight quickly, those same hormones can actually cause you to hold onto weight. Eat healthy (and for pleasure) and make sure you get some movement in. Get clothes that fit you well at your current size.
Having a young baby is surprisingly athletic: there is a lot of bouncing, carrying, picking up, and putting down, and it can all be hell on your back and shoulders. Yoga, walking, and other forms of gentle movement can be incredibly helpful. (In Part 2 I’ll discuss pelvic floor rehabilitation and ways to fit in movement around the baby.)
Above all, be kind to yourself. Practice mindful presence with the body you have now. Yes, it’s different, but it will continue to change, and if you care for it, your body will change for the better. Try to be with what’s happening today, and trust that that’s enough.
Have you given birth? Check out Julie Peter’s practices for loving your belly.