After bringing my newborn daughter home from the hospital, I didn’t think anything could dampen my baby joy — that is, until I tried stepping out for coffee sans bebe. “Congratulations!” said the barista. “When are you due?” That is a very awkward question to answer when you’ve already given birth. A month ago.
The truth was, I did still look pregnant. I also burst into tears whenever Adele came on the radio and couldn’t imagine ever wanting to shag my husband again. I wondered when, if ever, would things go back to normal?
In a society where the hospital kicks us out the day after we give birth, work expects us back within two to three months and Victoria’s Secret Angels are strutting down the runway a few weeks postpartum, it’s easy to get the wrong idea about how long it really takes to bounce back from pregnancy. For many of us, it takes longer than we think it will — and we should cut ourselves some slack!
So we asked the experts to explain exactly what’s going on with our bodies postpartum and when we can hope to feel human again. Here’s what they said:
When will my belly go down?
Even the flawless Kate Middleton was still sporting a baby bump when she left the hospital after giving birth both times. Most of us are. That’s because your uterus needs a good six weeks to shrink down, says Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, an ob-gyn in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, and it’s a long journey, from the size of a watermelon to its pre-pregnancy size of a pear. Other factors, such as the size of your baby, if you had multiples, and how strong your core was before pregnancy can determine how long it takes to regain your waistline. “Remember, it took nine months for your belly to get that big,” says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. “It’s going to take a while to get smaller.”
When will my hair grow back?
If your hair looked shampoo commercial-worthy during pregnancy, it wasn’t just the prenatal vitamins giving you a boost. “During pregnancy, the cell cycle of hair is interrupted, so you just keep growing more hair without shedding any,” says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. But once you give birth, the cell cycle restarts and a lot of hair is shed all at once, causing new moms to “freak out and think they’re going bald.” Plus, after you shed all that hair, there’s a delay of about three months before it starts growing again (at a rate of roughly a half inch per month), so it can take more than a year for your tresses to get back on track.
When will my shoes fit?
If you’ve been wearing flip flops for your entire third trimester because your feet are so swollen, take heart: swelling due to increased blood and fluids generally subsides within a week after giving birth, according to Shadi Yadegaran, DPM, a podiatrist in Burbank, California. However, even after the swelling goes down, you may find you can’t squeeze your feet into those pre-baby pumps anymore. “The extra weight women carry during pregnancy puts more stress and pressure on the feet, which may cause lowering of the medial arch and flattening of the foot,” says Dr. Yadegaran. Combine that with pregnancy hormones, which increase flexibility of the ligaments and relaxation of tendons, and you may find your shoe size has permanently increased, a phenomenon Dr. Yadegaran sees in about 60 percent of her pregnant patients.
When will I stop crying?
New mamas might want to stock up on Kleenex, because rapidly dropping levels of pregnancy hormones, combined with the stresses and sleep disruptions of new parenthood, can trigger mood changes known as “the baby blues,” says Jessica Nord, MD, a psychiatrist in Los Angeles. “Up to 80 percent of women will experience feeling moody, tearful, irritable, and overwhelmed in the days following delivery,” says Dr. Nord. “This typically resolves after about two weeks, leaving new moms feeling more like themselves.”
However, some women will experience a more serious depressive episode, which can occur any time in the first year postpartum. “Unlike the ‘baby blues,’ postpartum depression can persist for months to years without treatment,” says Dr. Nord, who emphasizes how important it is to get help right away for this very treatable condition.
When will sex feel normal again?
Doctors typically give the go ahead for sex at six weeks postpartum, but that doesn’t mean sex will feel normal right away, especially if you’re breastfeeding. “Estrogen levels are low, which creates irritation and dryness. So for the first three to six months you’ll likely need a lubricant,” says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. And since many new moms aren’t having frequent sex, it can take a while for intercourse to truly feel comfortable. “It’s a little bit use it or use it,” says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. Once you get into a regular groove with sex again, it will quickly improve.
Also, some women worry that after a vaginal birth, they’ll be all stretched out “down there” and that their partner will notice a difference. But Dr. Gilberg-Lenz says not to get hung up worrying. “A baby is supposed to come out of a vagina,” she explains. It’s going to be fine.”
When will I get my period again?
Most women who breastfeed don’t get a period while they’re nursing frequently, says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz, though she noted that 10 to 15 percent of breastfeeding women in her practice do get their periods sooner. Those who don’t breastfeed can expect their period to return six to eight weeks postpartum. Since breastfeeding is not a reliable form of contraception, it’s a good idea for new moms to discuss birth control options with their doctors at the postpartum visit.
Will my varicose veins ever go away?
If unsightly varicose or spider veins have appeared during pregnancy, you can expect some shrinkage right after birth, since fluid and blood volume decreases immediately, says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. But if you continue to see residual veins, it’s due to permanent damage to the valves—kind of like a blown-out tire—so they won’t go away without treatment.
When will I stop leaking pee?
Keep sporting those maternity undies as long as you can, since most women will leak a bit of urine for up to three months after the birth, says Dr. Gilberg-Lenz. As you get your core and pelvic strength back, the situation should improve, but if you’re still leaking urine three months postpartum (and not just when you sneeze), you need to see your doctor. Pelvic floor therapy can often solve the problem without having to resort to surgery.
Is there any hope for getting rid of my stretch marks?
Stretch marks are caused by rapid weight gain during pregnancy, and genetics play a role in determining who will get them. “Initially stretch marks are red and can be itchy,” says Dr. Parrish Sadeghi, MD, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. “But within the first year after the birth, they tend to fade and become white and shiny.” A new treatment known as microneedling has shown promise for reducing stretch marks, though they cannot be completely eliminated. (Blame your mom.)
Will I always have a stripe on my belly?
No one knows exactly why pregnant women develop the linea nigra, a dark line that stretches from belly button to pubic area, but it shouldn’t prevent you from wearing a bikini again. Though it won’t disappear right after birth while your hormones are still settling down, the linea nigra should fade within six months to a year, keeping in mind that the darker your skin, the longer it takes to fade, says Dr. Sadeghi.
I lost all the baby weight, so why don’t my clothes fit?
Even if you get into amazing shape after pregnancy, you may find that you’re simply a different size. For instance, your hips may be wider and your bras might be too tight around the rib cage.”Due to the relaxin hormone, which helps our bodies expand for the growing baby, sometimes the ligaments and soft tissue are forever stretched and do not go back to their previous size,” says Alison M. Hanson, PT, MPT, OCS, CAPP-OB, a physical therapist and postnatal specialist. We say that means mama deserves to go shopping for new clothes.