This page talks about common problems you may experience during the first few months after giving birth. We also have some information about body changes within the first 6 weeks after giving birth.
Why do I still look pregnant?
Most women wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) expect their bodies to return to their pre-pregnancy body soon after giving birth. But some women are surprised that their stomachs still look around 6 months pregnant a month or so after giving birth.
This is because the womb (uterus), which has expanded slowly during pregnancy to make room for your growing baby, needs time to go back to its normal size. This can take around 6 to 8 weeks.
The extra fluid that built up in your body during pregnancy will also gradually decrease, which will help reduce swelling and bloating.
This may not bother some women, but some women have told us that they had negative feelings about their post-baby bodies. You may feel pressure to look like you’ve never had a baby, but the reality is that for most women their bodies will change after giving birth.
Try not to compare yourself to anyone else because everyone is different. Some women may have gained more weight than others during pregnancy. Others may find it takes longer to recover.
Diastasis recti (separated stomach muscles)
Diastasis recti is when the 2 muscles that run down the middle of your stomach separate during pregnancy. The amount of separation can vary.
It happens because your growing womb (uterus) pushes the muscles apart, making them longer and weaker. The muscles will usually go back to normal by the time your baby is 8 weeks old. If the gap is still obvious at this point, contact your GP as this can cause back problems. They can refer you to a physiotherapist, who will give you some specific exercises to do.
Regular pelvic floor exercises can help to reduce the size of the separation between your stomach muscles. It's also important to stand up tall and be aware of your posture.
You may have noticed some darker patches on your skin while you were pregnant. Skin pigmentation (melasma) may be due to hormonal changes in pregnancy. This is more common in women with darker skin types and less common in fair or very dark skin.
Skin pigmentation associated with pregnancy usually goes away by itself within a year. It may help to use high-factor sun cream to avoid sun exposure, which can sometimes make this worse.
Sometimes, skin pigmentation can be related to hormonal contraceptives (such as the pill) or other medications. Talk to your GP if you have any concerns.
Anaemia is a blood condition that develops when you don’t have enough red blood cells. Red blood cells contain haemoglobin, which is a protein that carries oxygen around your body. When you don’t have enough red blood cells, this can leave you feeling extremely tired, faint and breathless. Some women have anaemia in pregnancy.
Feeling tired is common after giving birth, but if you’re feeling very tired all the time you may have iron-deficiency anaemia.
Talk to your midwife, GP or health visitor if you feel unwell. They can give you advice about diet or you may need iron supplements.
It may help to eat more iron-rich foods such as:
- dark-green leafy vegetables like watercress and curly kale
- cereals and bread with extra iron in them (fortified)
- pulses (beans, peas and lentils).
It’s safe to breastfeed if you have anaemia. You can also take vitamin supplements safely while breastfeeding, as long as you don’t take more than the recommended or prescribed dose. You can check this with your GP, midwife or health visitor.
Anaemia can affect your milk supply. This can make breastfeeding difficult for some women, but not everyone.
Many women get back pain during pregnancy. This is because the ligaments loosen up and stretch to get your body ready for labour and accommodate the growing baby, which puts strain on your joints and causes back pain. Also, the natural curve in your spine increases because it’s trying to cope with the extra weight of your baby bump, which can cause pain.
Back pain may continue for a while after you’ve had your baby. Labour and the physical demands of life as a new parent can also contribute to a bad back. Some research suggests that postpartum back pain should ease after about 6 months, although for some it may be long-lasting. Some research has found that a history of back pain, back pain in pregnancy and being overweight after pregnancy can contribute to long-lasting back problems after having a baby. ,
The NHS gives the following practical advice on relieving back ache:
- While feeding your baby, sit with your back well supported and straight. Put a small pillow or cushion behind your waist to support your lower back. Make sure your feet can reach the floor
- Kneel or squat (do not bend your back) to do tasks that are near the floor, such as picking up toys or bathing your baby.
- Change a nappy on a raised surface. You could kneel on the floor next to a sofa or bed. Never leave your baby unattended on a raised surface, in case they fall off.
- Keep your back straight and bend your knees when lifting.
- Keep your back straight when you push your pram or buggy. Or, carry your baby in a well-fitting sling.
When you give birth vaginally, the entrance to the vagina stretches to let the baby out. This may leave your vagina feeling bruised and swollen. This is normal and should reduce after a few days. But your vagina probably won’t go back to its pre-birth shape. Pelvic floor exercises can help tone the vaginal muscles.
You may also have some vaginal dryness. Some research has shown that this can be worse for women who are breastfeeding because they have lower levels of oestrogen (the female sex hormone). Again, this should get better over time or when you stop breastfeeding.
Vaginal changes may affect your sex life (when you are physically and emotionally ready to start having sex again). Find out more about sex after pregnancy.
Up to 9 in 10 first-time mums who have a vaginal birth will have some sort of tear, graze or episiotomy. An epsiotomy is when a doctor or midwife need to make a cut in the area between the vagina and anus (perineum) during childbirth to make the opening of the vagina a bit wider so they baby can come out more easily.The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists says that, for most women, these tears are minor and heal quickly. Find out more about recovering from a perineal tear.
Varicose veins are veins that have become swollen. They may be blue or dark purple, and are often lumpy, bulging or twisted in appearance. They can be uncomfortable but aren’t harmful. You may have noticed that you developed varicose veins during pregnancy, but most women find that these improve a lot after their baby is born.
However, there are other things that cause varicose veins, such as genetics (if varicose veins run in your family) being overweight and being female.
Varicose veins are rarely a serious condition and they do not usually require treatment. But speak to a GP if they are causing any pain, discomfort or irritation.
Any red skin, swelling or tenderness in the leg may also be a sign of deep vein thrombosis. This needs immediate medical treatment. Find out more in your body after the birth.
If stretch marks developed on your skin during pregnancy, they won’t go away completely after your baby is born. But they should gradually fade from a pink or purplish colour to white and become much less noticeable.
Read more about what may help with stretch marks.
Research has shown that breasts can sag and change in size and shape after pregnancy, whether you’re breastfeeding or formula feeding.
Some women have said that their nipples went a little darker during pregnancy, which may be permanent.
Changes to breast size and shape be difficult for some women, especially if they enjoyed having bigger boobs during pregnancy. But it’s natural for breasts to change at different stages of life.
If you are breastfeeding, you’ll likely be wearing nursing bras for now. But it may help to get measured – wearing a well-fitted bra can help improve the shape of your breasts, make you feel comfortable and give you confidence.
Changes in foot size
Many women get some swelling in pregnancy, particularly in the legs, ankles, fingers and feet. This swelling will ease after giving birth. However, some women say that their shoe size changed permanently after having a baby.
Some research has suggested that yes, pregnancy can increase the length and width of women’s feet permanently. This may be due to the extra weight women carry around during pregnancy, which puts stress on the feet and flattens the arch. Also, pregnant women produce hormones that increase the looseness of the joints and ligaments, making the foot structure softer.
Most women shed around 100 hairs every day. Because of a change in hormones, women shed a lot less hair during their pregnancy. As a result, many women notice that their hair appears thicker or fuller.
But after pregnancy, a woman’s hair starts to shed again and so a lot of the excess hair may begin to fall out. This is known as postpartum hair loss or ‘Telogen Effluvium’. Research shows that this can happen around 2 to 4 months after childbirth. If this happens to you, you may notice it more along your hairline at the top of your forehead.
Postpartum hair loss is common, but it can be a bit of shock. It can also, understandably, affect some women’s self-confidence.
Postpartum hair loss is temporary, so you should find that the hair grows back in time. Some research suggests the hair loss rarely continues beyond 15 months after having a baby.
There are lot of shampoos on the market that promise to help with postpartum hair loss. But there is no enough evidence to prove that they work.
There are causes of temporary hair loss including stress, illness or iron deficiency. Speak to your GP if you have any concerns about your hair loss (for example, if your hair is coming out in clumps or if you have large bald patches).
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to plaque, leading to inflammation and bleeding. If you had bad morning sickness, the acidity could have damaged your teeth.
Many women have dental problems after having a baby. It is very easy to put off going to the dentist after having a baby, but your dentist can help to treat gum disease and prevent further problems. Dental care is free for 1 year after your due date.
To get free dental care, you need to apply for a maternity exemption certificate (MatEx). Ask your doctor, nurse or midwife for form FW8.
How you feel about your body after the birth
It may not bother some women, but others may have negative feelings about their post-baby body. You may feel pressure to look like you’ve never had a baby, but the reality is that for most women their bodies will change after giving birth.
Doing some gentle exercises may help you feel better and increase your confidence. If you had a straightforward birth, you can start gentle exercise as soon as you feel up to it. This could include walking, gentle stretches, pelvic floor exercises or swimming.
If you have had your your six-week postnatal check you feel confident to start any high-impact exercise, such as aerobics or running, if you want to.
Whatever you do, try to focus on how you feel right now, rather than how you look. Your health and looking after your newborn baby is far more important.