Trying to get pregnant? Make sure you know the bottom line on baby-making—what you don't understand can affect your bub-to-be's health.
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“Big” is probably the best word to describe your breasts during pregnancy and in the early weeks of breastfeeding (and for this reason many women wear a well-fitting nursing bra 24 hours a day). But what about later? They can lose some firmness after childbirth, according to Kathleen Huggins, R.N., M.S., author of The Nursing Mother’s Companion. When weaning occurs, your breasts may seem smaller after so many months of being full of milk. But every woman is different, and much depends on age and genetics.
Pregnancy stretches your urethra and the ligaments that support your bladder. A vaginal delivery stretches just about every muscle in your pelvis (a Cesarean section won’t affect them). As a result, you might find that you leak urine when you sneeze, cough or laugh. This condition usually disappears within several months, but Kegel exercises — the contracting of the muscles around the vagina — will strengthen the pelvic floor and help you regain bladder control more quickly. In the meantime, you may want to wear sanitary napkins.
Interest in sex usually takes a nose dive after childbirth. Your body has been nurturing a baby all day, every day, and you’re worn out; lovemaking is likely the last thing on your mind. “A pressure can develop from your partner,” says Lichtman, “but you should only have sex when you want to have sex and because you are ready.” Of course, when one spouse wants to resume sex and the other doesn’t, tension between a couple can arise, requiring a lot of mutual understanding and compromise. It helps to remember that intercourse is not the only path to intimacy; kissing, embracing, massage and pillow talk might be best in the early weeks. And staying close helps. When you are ready, you might be surprised by the pain of intercourse. An episiotomy or perineal tears might be partly to blame. And lowered hormone levels can cause vaginal dryness. Use foreplay, go slowly, and try over-the-counter lubricants. And unless you want another baby, don’t forget contraception!
The stretching of your abdominal-wall muscles will leave your tummy looking flabby in the weeks after childbirth. Breastfeeding often helps, because it stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which contracts the uterus, as does walking and, eventually (with your doctor’s approval), a more vigorous exercise routine that includes crunches (see our postpartum workout on page 111). Most mothers regain their abdominal muscle tone in about six months, says Lichtman. If you had a Cesarean section, the area around your scar may be numb for many months.