Ever had a 'phantom kick' when you're not pregnant any more, or did you find your bath full of hair after giving birth? Parentdish asked mums how their bodies changed after birth, and found there's all sorts of post-pregnancy body weirdness nobody tells you about.
No one ever talks about these, but many mothers recognise them. They're little flutters and kicks in the womb, just like you have mid-pregnancy. The only thing is, you're definitely not pregnant any more - so why do you still feel like there's a baby kicking away occasionally?
There's no officially agreed reason for this, but there are two theories. One is that the uterus can take a long time to stop contracting and settle down after giving birth. The other is that because once you've been pregnant and come to recognise sensations in the uterus for the first time, you are then able to notice random twitches there which happen even when you're not pregnant. Which makes you wonder if all the kicks you felt in pregnancy really were kicks.
"I still get these nine years after giving birth," says Kelly.
Ellie agrees: "I had them from when my daughter was about seven months to about 13 months. I knew I wasn't pregnant but started to doubt myself as they felt so like kicks."
Mouthfuls of blood
Bleeding gums and wobbly teeth are common post-birth, which is why you get free dentistry for a year after giving birth on the NHS. While breastfeeding, the baby uses so much of your calcium that you need to keep your calcium levels topped up.
Lyn, who hates drinking milk or yogurt, lost a tooth with each of her two children. If you don't like dairy or soya products, try leafy green veg for calcium.
Women's health specialist and nutritionist Marilyn Glenville says: "The government's now saying all pregnant women and children under five should take vitamin D supplements. If vitamin D levels are good then you will absorb calcium efficiently and stop losing teeth. If you do have bleeding gums and wobbly teeth, get your vitamin levels checked."
Of course, there's all the post-birth bleeding, too, which is often forgotten amid all the excitement of preparing for labour. Some women don't realise that you bleed like a very heavy period for a week or two - you'll want lots of big sanitary towels, not tampons, and some women pads piled on top of each other.
Discharge (lochia) can continue for two to four weeks post childbirth. "I would suggest that if you're still bleeding heavily and not as part of a regular bleed two to three months post-birth, you need to see a GP just to be checked," advises Marilyn.
If you lose a lot of blood at the birth, you can become low on Iron and feel very tired and prone to infections. An iron-rich diet can help.
Bathtubs and brushes full of hair
Hair loss sometimes occurs after pregnancy. Marilyn explains: "For some women this can be frightening because it seems like a lot of hair is falling out. But it only looks a lot because in pregnancy you lose less hair due to higher levels of oestrogen. After birth, when oestrogen drops, this hair is lost quickly. But after a few months, this evens back out to where you were pre-pregnancy."
One of the surprising things about lactation is that it can start in small amounts during pregnancy. Then, when you see your baby for the first time, you may find yourself leaking milk without even realising. And some women can continue to have achy breasts and produce a few drops many months or even years after they have stopped breastfeeding and after their periods have returned. It's all normal.
Bigger, aching feet and hands
Marilyn explains, "Changes in your hormone levels will have caused muscles and ligaments to become more relaxed ready for labour and this causes the pelvis to be unstable, creating pain and inflammation. These changes can continue after birth."
This explains why, after pregnancy, your feet may never return to their previous size. For some women, hands change size too. Katie says, "My hands got bigger, despite losing all my pregnancy weight and more!"
Plus some women report getting achy or 'restless' feet and legs in late pregnancy which continues after birth - this could be sciatica, which occurs when inflammation or compression happens as the sciatic nerve leaves the spine. It can sometimes impair nerve function, causing pins and needles in the legs and pain down the back of your leg.
Jodie describes it as "aching feet, legs and ankles when you get up in the night as if you've had pins and needles. It hurts to stand up just for a few seconds till the sensation comes back."
Carpal tunnel syndrome - loss of sensation in the hands caused by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist - is also possible after birth as well as during late pregnancy. Nicola says: 'I had carpal tunnel syndrome and couldn't feel my fingers and part of my hands for three months after giving birth - not the best for feeling bath temperature or leaky wet nappies.'
Periods after birth
It can take some women months to get their periods back after birth, even after they have stopped breastfeeding. Periods after birth can be heavier or lighter; longer or shorter, or more irregular than before. Marilyn says, "This is very common - it is the body getting back to having a period again after nine months or longer without one. But these changes may continue indefinitely so the periods are not the same as before childbirth." Changes in cycles, she adds, "will vary from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy as the hormones normalise."
Sex post-birth can feel different, as some women experience vaginal dryness, increased sensitivity (especially if they've had tears during the birth) and of course stretching. Marilyn explains that vaginal dryness "can happen because of the drop in oestrogen after the birth, but it can continue longer if the woman is breastfeeding".
If you're fully breastfeeding, ovulation is suppressed so you become less fertile, but if you're not breastfeeding much or at all, watch out - you're more fertile just after birth. Marilyn says, "It is a bit like coming off the Pill. The ovaries have been dormant for nine months (or years if on the Pill) and suddenly they kick start into action after birth (or stopping the Pill) and the woman can be more fertile. Many women have got pregnant before their first period came back thinking they would be less fertile just after birth."
A different size and shape
It's not just that you gain 'baby weight' - your whole body, but especially your chest and tummy, seem to metamorphose post-childbirth. Once you've experienced maternity jeans, you never really feel comfortable in normal jeans again - you always look for a nice elasticated or expandable waistband (why can't someone invent post-maternity sections in shops?). You eat the same and are always on the go and exhausted, but you're a size bigger from chest to calf - even old bras no longer do up - and nothing seems to make any difference.
Rachel agrees: "My ribcage expanded after my first pregnancy, and some of my bras and dresses are too tight across there now."
Cate says: "My body looks like a jumper that's gone through on the wrong wash - it's all misshapen with bits now in the wrong place!"
The emotional impact of having a first baby is so much bigger than most of us imagine, and this, coupled with the changes in hormones after pregnancy, can cause rocky, tearful emotions and make us feel unusually confused.
Marilyn says: "Post childbirth, oestrogen and progesterone drop dramatically. It is thought that this sudden drop may be the cause of postpartum depression for some women who seem to be more sensitive to this sudden change in hormone levels. But this is still only a theory."
Cathryn recalls: "After Eva was born I sat up in bed feeding her - except she was still asleep in her Moses basket. My husband woke to find me sat there with my arms cradling 'her'. Another friend in a dreamlike state was searching under her bed covers for her baby because she was convinced he'd fallen under them during a night feed. The baby was in fact her teddy bear!"
For Rachel, a mother of two, the hormones resulted in postnatal night sweats. She says: "I had them both times with mine for weeks after the birth."
Sara also remembers the post-baby night sweats, saying: "I used to wake up drenched - that and the uncontrollable crying were the weirdest things. I would literally burst into tears for absolutely no reason whatsoever and couldn't stop."
Sorry, ladies, but while the common loss of bladder control in late pregnancy normally improves after birth, there is the possibility you might never regain full bladder control. Amy says: "Even if no one else will admit to it, I think it can affect us all towards the end of pregnancy and after!"
If you had acne before you fell pregnant, it may well disappear during pregnancy and never return.
Some women report being able to wear contact lenses for longer without discomfort after giving birth.
Your taste for certain foods can change after pregnancy as if you're still slightly haunted by what made you feel sick in the first three months.
The list of strange symptoms is endless and individual, but if there's one thing that's for certain, it's that having a baby changes you.
If ageing doesn't come naturally, it will through exhaustion in the first year...but look what we get in return for all this.
It's all worth it for our beautiful babies.
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