With all the drastic hormonal changes, the postpartum period is often challenging for many new mothers. Here’s what every mama needs to know about their bodies.
Every woman’s body is different, and therefore, every woman’s experience after giving birth will be different. What works for one woman, might not work for the next.
While one woman might go through postpartum and adjust to newborn life quite seamlessly, another woman might find it much more difficult. She might need the support of medication, therapy, extra help and many other things. And the most important thing to remember:
One way is not better than the other – they are simply two different ways of navigating the postpartum period.
Postpartum brings about drastic shifts in your hormones, body and emotions. Couple that with sleep deprivation and the unrealistic expectations of our media and culture, and you’ve got a recipe for a hard transition. And what many women will express is how challenging, intense, and overwhelming it can be. If you feel that way, you’re not alone.
Considering the hormonal shift (which can be more accurately described as a sudden drop) that occurs postpartum is the most intense sudden hormonal swing any one human will experience, it makes sense that the transition can be tough.
So what happens to all those hormones during the postpartum period? Let’s take a closer look at all the main players.
ESTROGEN & PROGESTERONE
While pregnant, your estrogen and progesterone levels increase significantly. So if you felt emotional and unlike your “normal” self while pregnant, that’s OK. Your body was and is going through a lot. If you’ve ever been on hormonal birth control, imagine taking handfuls of birth control per day. That’s how much your estrogen and progesterone levels rise during pregnancy.
During a normal menstrual cycle, your body already experiences a hormonal drop right before a period begins. This is the reason you might feel moody, tired, bloated and not like yourself the week before your period. If these symptoms interfere with your day-to-day life, that would be something to explore. However, having different body sensations, thoughts, or feelings before your period can be normal. Postpartum, the hormonal drop is even more drastic. This drop post-birth takes about 1-2 weeks to begin settling back to levels similar to pre-pregnancy. By this time, another hormone comes into play – oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a hormone released by the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. It causes contraction of the uterus during labor, as well as after birth so the uterus shrinks back to its original size and stimulates milk to move into the breast ducts.
Oxytocin is a feel good hormone or the “love” hormone, helping to play a huge role in mother-infant bonding. Outside of pregnancy it’s released when we hug, kiss, have sex, and during other intimate moments. So while the oxytocin level is expected to rise and lift a new mom’s mood to make her feel better after the drastic postpartum hormonal drop, enough hormones need to be released to help facilitate this effect.
One of the ways in which more oxytocin can be released is through breastfeeding, which tells your brain to release more of it. And as baby latches and feeds, the oxytocin pushes breast milk out of the ducts and nipple and into baby’s mouth. As baby feeds, more oxytocin is released.
Another hormone called prolactin helps determine how much milk a mom may produce. This increased production in prolactin is also why many (but not all) women don’t get their period, or experience irregular periods, while breastfeeding.
Prolactin inhibits the release of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) and therefore, LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) aren’t released; when you don’t ovulate, you don’t get a period. This is what we call physiologic amenorrhea, meaning menstruation is ceased for normal reasons – those two reasons being pregnancy and/or lactation.
Of course, it’s important to note that every woman is different, and may or may not choose to (or is able to) breastfeed. Whatever that is for them, she is doing her best to care for her baby and that is what matters. A fed and nourished baby is best.
Given all of these hormonal shifts and body changes, it’s normal and expected for life to feel challenged and disrupted.
Each mom will experience this period differently depending on the level of support she has, the stressors in her life, and many other environmental and genetic factors. Even in the best case scenario, most new moms (and veteran moms) are sleep deprived, experiencing some level of anxiety, and dealing with many emotions.
Unfortunately, many women don’t speak up out of shame or guilt, or believe they “should” know how to cope with and navigate this season of life. Just remember to be gentle with yourself: mentally, emotionally, and physically. In addition to nourishing your body with all of the nutrients and adequate energy it needs, here are a few key steps to care for yourself after birth.
1. MOVE YOUR BODY IN WAYS THAT FEEL GOOD.
Be gentle, stretch, and go on walks with your new baby. Do some light yoga and whatever else feels good and that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy it and it doesn’t feel good to your body, it’s doing nothing beneficial for your health. Also be sure to get medical clearance from your health care provider before participating in any movement.
2. GET THE BEST SLEEP YOU CAN.
Everyone is going to have a different baby, so sleep the best you can even when you feel restless. Napping when your baby naps may feel impossible, but remember, you’re doing the best you can. Your body doesn’t need the extra stress. It won’t be perfect, and that’s okay.
3. WEAR CLOTHES THAT FEEL GOOD ON YOUR BODY.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding are supposed to change the size and shape of your body. If your “pre-baby” clothes don’t fit, that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with your body. Your body is not the problem, the clothes are.
4. REMEMBER THIS IS YOUR STORY AND YOUR JOURNEY.
You are your own person, and your journey isn’t going to look like another woman’s journey. Focus on your health, your baby’s health, and reach out to your safe people for support. It might not always be easy to soak up this season of life, but remember –
You’re right where you need to be.
Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: KELLY SIKKEMA
Robyn Nohling, FNP-BC, RD is a Registered Dietitian and Family Nurse Practitioner who believes that eating cupcakes and kale are both equally healthy to the body and mind. With a passion for women’s hormonal health and nutrition, Robyn cuts through the irrational noise of diet fads and unrealistic beauty expectations to help others find joy in food as it’s meant to be celebrated. Learn more about Robyn at The Real Life RD.