LIFE

What To Realistically Expect From Your Post-Baby Body

Spoiler: Some changes are permanent.

19/07/2016 8:51 AM AEST | Updated July 19, 2016 13:04
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Love your body, both before and after pregnancy.

Women everywhere, take note:

Stop looking to celebrities for inspiration on how your body should look mere weeks after giving birth.

Yes, that includes Kimmy K, Chrissy Teigen, Beyoncé, Keira Knightley, Jessica Simpson, Mila Kunis, Olivia Wilde, the Duchess of Cambridge... ALL OF THEM. Stop it.

Because the fact of the matter is, regardless of shape, bodies go through some pretty radical changes throughout pregnancy, and these don't disappear overnight.

So, what should you realistically expect from your body in the weeks and months post-birth? The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Dr Penny Sheehan, Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Women's at Sandringham, to find out.

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"Womens' bodies go through such drastic changes in a short period of time in pregnancy, everything from enlarged breasts, varicose veins, stretch marks, getting a big tummy obviously, changes to the vagina... there is a huge range of changes and I think, in general, women cope with it really well," Sheehan told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I see so many examples of celebrities who do extraordinary things in a bid to get their bodies back -- insane training, cosmetic surgery -- and it's just not necessarily the right thing to do."

And that kind of pressure isn't limited to Hollywood, either.

"There are definitely women who, after the baby, expect to just get their old body back. In many respects, that just doesn't work," Sheehan said.

"I know of one GP who obviously deals with pregnant women all the time, and even she brought all her pre-pregnancy clothes into hospital with her to wear after she had the baby. She was horribly depressed when she realised she had to wear her maternity clothes home with her again. It was a very unpleasant thing for her, and she had totally unrealistic expectations of what would happen."

It takes at least six weeks for your uterus to shrink back down... You can't expect your tummy to just go back to being flat.

But why doesn't our body just snap back to pre-preggo form after the baby is out and about? After all, isn't that what's been causing your rounded tummy and puffy ankles all this time?

"During pregnancy you have gained an extra half of your normal blood volume," Sheehan explained. "Which means you have a whole lot of extra fluid around that you need to support the extra circulation.

"Although you will have some blood loss from the delivery and some with the placenta, there is still a whole heap extra and basically, it just takes time for it to do down.

"You might have nasty swelling from the fluid a few days after the birth, which might freak you out, but it's normal.

"Your tummy also takes time to go down. In that six week post-partum period, it takes at least that for the stretched tissue to start to regain its elasticity and come back to its normal size.

"It also takes at least six weeks for your uterus to shrink back down. It will be half the size it was after delivering the baby, but it still has extra shrinking to do, and that takes a few weeks. You can't expect your tummy to just go back to being flat."

Alex Mares-Manton
See that big pregnant bump? Yeah. That doesn't just disappear the moment you give birth. Soz.

Tummies aside, Sheehan also points out there's the added 'fun' of getting reacquainted with your body after 20-odd weeks of not being able to see the bottom half of it.

"Then you have all the fun of finding all the stretch marks and varicose veins and all the things you couldn't see because your belly was in the way," Sheehan said. "That can be quite confronting."

Changes to your breasts are also not disappearing any time soon, particularly if you are breastfeeding.

"Your breasts are going to be bigger while you are breastfeeding. On the third day, when the milk comes in, they will be very big, especially for someone having their first baby," Sheehan said. "This is something that will go away a bit with time, but they will always be a bit different than they were. Likely, the changes will be permanent. Many women go up a cup size with pregnancy and that won't go away. And even if that doesn't happen, they might be a different shape."

Sheehan also notes that darkening of the nipples, which typically occurs during pregnancy as a result of increased hormone levels, may "fade a little bit but they will probably always be darker than they were".

Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters
Kim Kardashian famously said her post-delivery vagina was "better looking than before." Eye roll.

Now, let's talk about the damage you can expect from your nether regions.

"The vagina itself has most likely stretched. Even if you have had a Cesarean, there are still hormone changes -- namely, relaxants -- that make the vagina more capacious in preparation for birth," Sheehan said.

"Post-partum you go into very low estrogen state, and something I want to point out is estrogen is what keeps the vagina nice and moist and plump. Lots of women who are breastfeeding note their vagina feels dry and irritated, and that's all normal, it's part of the hormonal process.

"From an evolutionary point of view, there is no energy expended on keeping the vagina moist immediately after having a baby because you're not meant to be thinking about reproducing at that time.

"Some women find that really quite disturbing and it's not often talked about. They'll say, 'why does my vagina feel so uncomfortable? It feels dry and it's not like it was.' In actual fact, it's completely normal and when you stop breastfeeding or come down to only a few feeds a day and start ovulating again, your hormones will come back up and it will all go back."

Two-thirds of women gain more weight than is recommended, which is unfortunate, because that weight just has to come off again.

Something else women might not be aware of is there is actually skeletal change that comes with pregnancy. (Yes. Your baby actually changes the shape of your skeleton. Then it will ask for a car when it turns 17. GEEZ.)

"Your ribs actually get pushed out by having a baby," Sheehan said. "It's one of the ways archaeologists can tell if an ancient skeleton is male or female, and whether or not the female is likely to have had a baby."

And as for that myth that breastfeeding will have you dropping weight like nobody's business?

Firstly, Sheehan notes the recommended amount of weight a woman should gain during pregnancy is 10 to 12 kilos.

"Two-thirds of women gain more weight than is recommended, which is unfortunate, because that weight just has to come off again," she said.

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Breastfeeding burns 500kj a day.

"The good thing about breastfeeding is it increases your oxytocin, which is what helps your uterus contract down," Sheehan continued. "Of course, your uterus will do that regardless but it is true it might do it a bit quicker [if you breastfeed].

"Also, you use 500 kilojoules per day just by lactating. This might mean your body asks you to eat a bit more, but it's not going to fat, it's going to your lactation.

"In short, I'm sure [breastfeeding] is a help when it comes to weight loss, but no, it's not a magic fix. If you're going to eat huge amounts of greasy food and fats, then nothing is going to make that weight come off.

"Plus you still have to look carefully at your diet. There are lots of requirements you still have to abide by -- you are the source of nutrition for your baby -- and if you go on a calorie restrictive diet when you are breastfeeding and your body thinks you're starving, your milk supply will dry up."

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Dads, this is your time to shine.

Last, but certainly not least, Sheehan encourages partners to be positive in their feedback, both during and after pregnancy.

"I just hope pregnant women get positive feedback, as they can really be affected by their partners saying negative things," Sheehan said. "Often how they view their bodies depends on that feedback.

"What I hope women are hearing is 'you look glowing, your tummy is nice and round', or 'I love you just as much as ever even if your breasts are bigger, smaller, saggier, sideways, slightly different coloured, whatever,'.

"Having that positive reinforcement can make the world of difference."

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