15 Things You Didn't Know About Your Pregnant + Postpartum Body
15 things you didn't know about your pregnant + postpartum body
Written by Jade | Midwife, Mama of 3 & Tiny Hearts Educator
1. you might feel phantom movements after bub is born
Phantom kicks are a well-known phenomenon where a mama feels sensations in the belly area, similar to what it feels like when bub moves inside the belly. It's often described as strong kicks, rolling sensations or flutters. They can occur days, weeks, months or even years after pregnancy.
While some researchers put it down to gas, natural digestion or postpartum recovery, others suggest it's from a heightened awareness of what's happening in your body from being so in tune with your bub's movements previously. Different researchers say it's similar to phantom missing limb pain, where people who lose a limb still feel pain in that limb, even though it's no longer there.
Phantom kicks don't usually indicate a problem and are so common that around 40% of mamas experience them up to 28 years after bub is born. However, if phantom kicks are causing you distress, anxiety or depression, particularly for mamas who have experienced a pregnancy loss, have a chat with your loved ones, a GP or psychologist for further support.
2. you could bleed for up to 6 weeks after birth
When your placenta comes away from your uterus after birth, the blood vessels that supplied blood to the placenta are still open, causing them to bleed until your uterus contracts down. For vaginal births, blood may also come from vaginal or cervical tearing, an episiotomy or a haematoma [bleeding into hidden tissue or space, usually in the vaginal or vulval area].
Blood loss after birth, which is called 'lochia', is normal! After a vaginal birth, you can expect to lose up to 500mls of blood while mama's who had caesarean sections can lose up to 1000ml [1L] of blood. If you lose more than this, it will be classed as a 'postpartum haemorrhage'.
Your bleeding will begin as red, similar to a heavy period, then settle to brown, pink and back to normal vaginal discharge. If you notice any of the following, it’s time to seek medical attention:
- Soaking more than one pad an hour during the first day.
- Soaking more than one pad every two hours after the first day.
- Bleeding increases suddenly or you pass large clots [keep them to show a midwife who will check it's not part of the placenta].
- Bleeding returns to bright red after changing to pink or brown.
- You feel faint, dizzy, light-headed, weak or have trouble breathing.
- Your bleeding smells or is an unusual colour. You are worried you are bleeding too much or that it isn't normal.
It's also important to know that you may not get a period before ovulating, so always use precaution because you can still fall pregnant after having a baby.
3. your breast may be sore + you might leak milk during pregnancy
Thanks to rising hormones and changing breast structure, one of your first pregnancy symptoms might be breast tenderness. Some mamas see breast growth in the early weeks, which might be rapid or gradual, while others won't see changes until later.
From 16 weeks, your milk-producing cells become active, which is why some mamas leak colostrum from as early as then. Your areola [circles around your nipples] become darker, grow bigger, and develop little bumps called Montogomery's tubercles. Veins often become more visible, stretch marks might appear, and the nipple might be larger, poke out more or invert. Usually, by the third trimester, the milk-producing cells grow bigger. It's more common to leak colostrum, and some mamas will feel lumps, which are usually related to pregnancy, but it's always best to get it checked by a GP if unsure. For most mamas, their breasts will grow almost 1.5x bigger than pre-pregnancy size.
4. after birth, your boobs may feel warm + full
Around day 2-4 after birth, your boobs will feel warmer, fuller and grow in size, which is your milk coming in. It's also caused by the increased blood circulating to your breasts, and lymphatic fluid in the area. When your placenta is delivered, it causes a sudden drop in pregnancy hormones. The sudden drop, along with your bubs sucking stimulation tells your milk-producing hormone [prolactin] to start producing milk.
During the first six weeks of breastfeeding, your boobs may continue to feel full. Your supply should settle to match your baby's demand around the six-week mark, which is when bubs go through a growth spurt and cluster feed too. So, just because your boobs aren't as full and bub is feeding more, it doesn't mean that you have lost your supply- it's NORMAL!
After weaning, your breasts should go back to pre-pregnancy size. Some mamas will have stretched skin from pregnancy growth, making them appear 'deflated' or smaller.
Melasma is known as ‘the mask of pregnancy’, and affects between 50-75% of pregnant mamas. Increasing levels of pregnancy hormones cause excess melanin production, called hyperpigmentation. The more melanin your body produces, the darker your hair, eyes and skin will be.
In pregnancy, melasma usually looks like dark, blotchy, brown like spots on the skin. The most commonly affected areas are the cheeks, nose, forehead and upper lip. If you do develop this pregnancy mask, you may have also developed a linea nigra [the middle line down the belly], darker areolas and darker freckles and moles.
While the best treatment for melasma is delivering bub or once you’ve finished breastfeeding, you could also try:
- Protecting yourself from the sun as exposure will make it more pronounced [think sunscreen, hat, shade etc]. -
- Consider a topical Vitamin C cream
- Concealing it using makeup
There are several other treatments for melasma, however many of them aren’t recommended during pregnancy, or while breastfeeding, so always chat to your Doctor or beautician and let them know you’re pregnant before commencing treatments.
6. weight gain
Every mama and bub is different, but as a guide, a mama will gain weight from:
- Her growing bub, who will weigh approx 3300g at the end of pregnancy.
- The placenta, which weighs around 700g at the end of pregnancy
- Amniotic fluid, which weights approx 800g.
- Her uterus which grows and will gain around 900g compared to when not pregnant.
- An increase in blood volume, equaling around 1200g.
- An increase in fluid, weighing around 1200g.
- An increase in breast tissue of approx 400g.
- An increase in body fat of around 4000g, which the body purposely stores in preparation for breastfeeding.
Grand total= 12,500g [12.5kg]
The recommended amount of weight to be gained during pregnancy is based upon a mama's pre-pregnancy BMI. For more info, chat to your Doctor or Midwife.
Constipation during pregnancy is really common, particularly in the first trimester. While it can occur at any stage of pregnancy, it’s said to be less likely to occur as pregnancy progresses. Increased levels of a pregnancy hormone called Progesterone slows down the movement within the intestines leading to constipation. Iron tablets or strong pain relief after birth can also have the same affect, as well as not drinking enough water, not eating enough fibre and bub putting extra pressure on your gastrointestinal organs. Constipation may lead to painful bowel movements, abdominal discomfort, long periods of straining and haemorrhoids from straining.
Symptoms of constipation in pregnancy:
- Pooping less frequently than normal
- Passing hard poo
- Abdominal cramps [be mindful that the abdominal cramps aren’t caused by contractions]
- Farting [p.s. pregnancy farts are a thing]
- Pain when doing a poo
To try and manage constipation, drink plenty of water, eat lots of foods high in fibre, use good positioning when doing a poo on the toilet and avoid straining. If you’ve tried these strategies and they’re not working, you’ve got blood in your poo, are vomiting or have other concerns, chat to your Doctor or Midwife, who may recommend laxatives or other strategies.
Haemorrhoids are painful, engorged veins around the anus [bum-hole]. Unfortunately, they're common in pregnancy, with around 25-35% of pregnant mamas experiencing haemorrhoids. But there's good news; they're mostly treatable and usually resolve after birth.
Symptoms of haemorrhoids:
- Painful bowel movements.
- Anal bleeding.
- Pain around the bum hole made worse by bowel movements and straining.
- Anal itching.
- Small to large lumps around the bum hole.
During pregnancy, the treatment aims of haemorrhoids focus on controlling the symptoms and relieving pain. There is medication available to apply to the area, which you can buy over the counter, but the Department of Health says there is no evidence of the effectiveness or safety of creams used in pregnancy as the studies were completed on non-pregnant participants. However, because the doses are small and will be minimally absorbed into the bloodstream, they are unlikely to cause any harm to bub in the third trimester. Chat to your GP or Pharmacist using taking any medications in pregnancy.
Instead, it's advised to:
- Focus on avoiding constipation [so tricky when pregnant, I know].
- Increasing high-fibre foods.
- Avoid straining for long periods.
- Increasing your water intake.
- Avoid squatting for long periods of time.
- Lie on your side to avoid sitting directly on them, causing further pain.
- Changing your diet to encourage regular bowel motions.
- Taking pregnancy safe stool softeners.
In extreme cases, surgery may be required to remove the haemorrhoids, but this doesn't often happen for pregnant mamas, as they often resolve after bub is born. Just another unflattering side-effect of pregnancy to add to the list of things I don't like about pregnancy. Luckily for us, there's a sweet reward to snuggle at the end of it all. The things we do for love, hey?
9. leg cramps
Changes in circulation, weight gain, dehydration and magnesium or calcium deficiency can contribute to leg cramps during pregnancy. Leg cramps themselves may only occur for a couple of seconds up to a minute, but the ache from the cramp may last a few days afterwards. The best thing you can do during a leg cramp is to try and stretch the affected muscle out. While they’re more common at night and towards the end of pregnancy, they may occur any time.
To prevent them, you could try:
- Stretching your legs regularly, particularly before bed
- Drinking lots of water
- Gentle pregnancy exercise
- Heat packs to muscles
- Avoid long periods of standing or sitting with crossed legs
- Elevating your legs
If the leg cramps are disturbing your sleep, are very painful or you’re concerned, chat to your Doctor or Midwife. I’d also advise checking in with them before commencing any supplements during pregnancy.
10. Braxton hicks
Braxton Hicks can be strong and uncomfortable. Your whole tummy will go tight for a short time [usually around 30sec], and then go soft again. It can be tricky to know if it's the start of labour, or just Braxton Hicks because the same thing happens when you have a contraction.
Braxton Hicks can happen during any stage of pregnancy; however, they usually begin around 16 weeks. For mamas who already have babies, they may happen earlier, and you may be more aware of them.
The key difference between Braxton Hicks and true contractions is that Braxton Hicks strengthen your uterus for labour and DON'T open [dilate] your cervix. True contractions DO open [dilate] your cervix in preparation for your baby to be born soon. Braxton Hicks contractions will settle with a change of position or activity, like getting in the shower. You could also try laying down, relaxing or going for a walk. True contractions won't settle without medical intervention - this is important to note if you are preterm.
Braxton Hicks will be irregular and have no pattern. They can be uncomfortable, but not painful. True contractions will get closer together, become stronger and last longer. If you're ever unsure if your tummy tightenings are Braxton Hicks or true contractions, contact your doctor or midwife, especially if you are preterm or have risk factors, like a previous c-section. They'll monitor you and bub closely, and perform a speculum or vaginal assessment [depending on the circumstances] to see if your cervix has changed. If it has opened, you're having true contractions. If it's still long and closed, your tightenings are just Braxton Hicks.
11. sweating after birth
Postpartum sweating is really commonly experienced by new mamas, and even more so at night. Once again, you can thank your pregnancy hormones for the postpartum sweats. A rapid drop in oestrogen happens naturally after birth but may continue as breastfeeding keeps oestrogen at low levels. Low levels of oestrogen can cause hot flushes and sweating. But more than that, after birth, your body is trying to get rid of all the extra fluid it was storing in pregnancy by making you sweat it out. I'm happy to say that once that extra fluid is gone and your hormones start to go back to normal, the sweating should settle down, but how long that takes is different for every mama.
Here are some things you can try in the meantime to help you through it:
- Wear loose, lightweight, cotton PJs to bed.
- Get some breathable sheets or bamboo sheets [they're said to be good for sweating at night].
- Keep a change of clothes in your nappy bag for you too, incase you need a quick change while out and about.
- Sleep on a towel or place it [or a mattress protector] under the sheets to protect your mattress and save you from changing your sheets every morning.
- Crank the fan or AC and monitor bub incase you need to add another layer to keep them warm while you enjoy the cool.
- Bring an ice pack and a hand towel to bed to keep you cool and wipe off the sweat.
- Drink lots of water during the day and keep an eye on your wee colour to make sure you don't become dehydrated in the process.
While postpartum sweating is normal and common, it's also really important to make sure there's not another reason you're sweating. For example, some mamas sweat when they're unwell with mastitis. So, keep an eye out for any other concerning signs like unexplained weight loss, low blood sugar, fever, pain or infection indicators just incase.
12. bleeding gums
Once again, you can thank your pregnancy hormones for this side effect of pregnancy that between 60-75% of pregnant mamas will experience. Swollen and more sensitive gums with an increased blood flow to the area can cause the bleeding, particularly during the second and third trimester. In fact it can even be caused by something as small as brushing your teeth. The condition as a whole is known as ‘pregnancy gingivitis’.
Despite the bleeding, the current advice is to continue looking after your teeth as morning by brushing gently, at least twice a day, flossing each day, and limiting the consumption of sugar. It’s also recommended to see a dentist at least once during pregnancy. If you’ve had gum disease before, it’s recommended to see a dentist before falling pregnant for a management and treatment plan too.
13. increased vaginal discharge [leukorrhea]
Leukorrhea is the medical name for the increased vaginal discharge that occurs during pregnancy. It looks like a thin, and milky-white discharge, that is different to bub’s waters. It’s caused once again by increasing pregnancy hormones, and increased blood flow to the pelvis area. While it can be annoying, it’s actually really important by removing dead cells from the vagina, protecting bub from infection and helping to maintain normal levels of healthy bacteria in the vagina.
Sometimes leukorrhea can be so heavy that you need to wear a liner, which can make it tricky to be able to tell the difference between leukorrhea and bub’s waters. However, when your waters break, it may be constant, a big gush or an ongoing trickle, may be pink, bloody, yellow, green or clear, usually smells similar to semen, may require proper pads and usually won’t stop. If you think it’s your waters, it’s a good idea to call your Doctor or Midwife and get checked out. Also have a chat with your Midwife or Doctor if:
- You think you’ve broken your waters
- You get burning or stinging when doing a wee
- You’re experiencing discomfort during sex
- Your vaginal loss is smelly
- You’ve noticed other red flags of pregnancy
- You’re concerned
14. tears during a vaginal birth
Despite what you might hear, not everyone tears or has an episiotomy during birth.
Tearing is less likely to occur/ be as severe if:
- You’ve had bubs vaginally before
- You’ve been practicing perineal massage antenatally
- You have a water birth or use warm compress on the perineum
- You listen to your body instead of directed pushing
- You avoid positions that put increased pressure on the perineum, such as a deep squat
If you do tear during a vaginal birth, it will be classified based on the depth of the tear and which part of your vagina or bottom has torn. Let's break it down so you can understand more about your tear.
The area between your vaginal opening and anus is known as the 'perineum'. When the perineum tears, the classifications are:
- 1st degree
- 3rd degree [3A, 3B or 3C]
- 4th degree
1st-degree tears are shallow and involve the skin layer only. If the area comes back together easily and is not bleeding, it generally won't require stitches. However, in some cases, stitches may still be recommended.
2nd-degree tears involve the skin and muscle layer of the perineum. Evidence suggests that 2nd-degree tears heal better when sutured, so these will be sutured in the large majority of cases.
A 3A tear is when the tear has gone through the skin, perineal muscle and less than 50% of the external ring-shaped muscle surrounding the anus, called the anal sphincter. A 3B tear is when a tear goes through the skin and perineal muscle and has torn more than 50% of the external anal sphincter, but the internal anal sphincter remains intact. 3C tears occur when a Mama tears through the skin, perineal muscle, internal and external sphincter, but the rectum remains intact.
A 4th-degree tear occurs when the tear extends through the skin, perineal muscle, anal sphincter and all the way into the rectum.
Sometimes, a mama may tear the other way. This can result in:
- Labial tears or grazes [that absolutely sting when you wee]
- Urethral tears [which may result in you having a catheter inserted during repair and potentially for a little while afterwards].
- Clitoral tears [which can be extremely painful].
15. you may have thick hair during pregnancy, then shed like crazy after birth
During your pregnancy, hormones go crazy and dramatically increase. As a result, your hair stays in the growth phase longer and falls out less, giving you that thicker pregnancy hair.
After bub is born, those hormones [in particular, oestrogen] fall back to normal levels, and unfortunately, this means your hair will fall out too. The drop in oestrogen levels can cause notorious fly-aways or thin hair, but this should stop around 3-4 months after birth. For some unlucky mamas or mamas who are breastfeeding, they will experience postpartum hair loss a bit longer than that and will continue to lose hair within the first year after birth. While it's annoying, it's part of the trade-off for having a beautiful baby.
If your hair growth hasn't returned to normal by your bub's first birthday, or it is excessive, see your GP to make sure there isn't another reason for losing those locks. But don't worry mama, I can say from experience that it all grows back, usually by around 12 months postpartum, and in the meantime, there's always hairspray.
On the original post, I'd love to know; what did you experience during pregnancy or after birth that you didn't realise was related to pregnancy. Looking forward to reading all your experiences! 💗
bump, birth and beyond
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