During pregnancy, a woman’s body drastically changes in a very short period of time. It is important for women to be aware of these changes so that they are better prepared to address them. Women should prepare for the following changes to occur:
Pelvic Muscles: It is important that women who want to become pregnant, are pregnant, or are postpartum understand the importance of strengthening their pelvic floor muscles. The weight from carrying a baby for 9 months places a lot of stress on a these muscles, causing them to become weak. Weakness in the pelvic floor muscles causes women to be at risk for experiencing incontinence while pregnant and postpartum; which is a sign of a much more serious problem called a vaginal prolapse. The only way to prevent incontinence and a vaginal prolapse is to exercise the pelvic floor muscles. It is never too late to start pelvic floor exercises. The most commonly known exercise that targets the pelvic floor muscles are kegals; but there are many more exercises that a woman can do prior to pregnancy, while pregnant, and postpartum to strengthen her pelvic floor muscles.
Diastasis Recti (split abs): Women who are interested in exercising postpartum should be aware of diastasis recti. Some women, including myself, experience a split in their abs while pregnant. To reconnect them, women need to do very gentle core workouts. Post delivery, I asked the nurse to check my abs and she confirmed that my abs were split three fingers wide. She then taught me how to measure my abs and explained that prior to engaging in ab toning exercises, my abs could not be any wider than one finger width apart. Women are not allowed to engage in any toning exercises until six weeks postpartum; so when I reached six weeks, I saw a physical therapist who taught me the exercises that I needed to do to strengthen my abs. I highly recommend going to see a physical therapist six weeks postpartum prior to exercising.
Vagina: Any change to your vagina will depend on the trauma it endures during delivery. Trauma includes first degree, second degree, third degree, or fourth degree tears or episiotomies; as well as tools used for assisted birth. Women who experience no tears or episiotomies; first degree tears or episiotomies; and who give birth without assistive birthing tools will most likely notice very little change about their vagina both aesthetically and sensationally.
Muscle Loss: Muscle loss is inevitable during pregnancy due to many factors. The experience of pregnancy is beautiful, but it is physically difficult. There are approved pregnancy workout programs that women can do; but even these workouts may be too strenuous for many women. If you are unable to workout during pregnancy, do not worry, any muscle loss during pregnancy can be rebuilt postpartum.
Breasts: If you produce milk, your breasts will change drastically; and they will change whether or not you choose to breastfeed. I exclusively breastfeed (meaning that all sucking needs, both for nutrition and comfort, are met at my breasts); and exclusive breastfeeding has not only impacted the physical appearance of my breasts, but my weight loss and fertility as well.
- Exclusive Breastfeeding and Weight Loss: I dropped my pregnancy weight at an accelerated rate. It is recommended that women consume an additional 500 calories a day if they are breastfeeding because women burn approximately 20 calories per one ounce of milk.
- Exclusive Breastfeeding and Fertility: Women who exclusively breastfeed may experience natural child spacing. For this to be effective, women need to be breastfeeding approximately every 3 hours to maintain the hormone prolactin; which is the hormone responsible for milk production. Natural child spacing is 98 percent effective for the first six months postpartum.
With the knowledge of these postpartum body changes along with setting goals, hard work, patience, realistic expectations, accepting and overcoming setbacks, being in tune with my body, embracing a positive mindset, accepting the permanent changes to my postpartum body and desiring to be the happiest me; my pelvic floor muscles are once again strong, I no longer have diastasis recti, and I have gained my muscle mass back. The female body is strong; and being informed about postpartum changes will allow women to overcome these temporary changes.