Not to worry: There are expert territory surveyors—doctors, trainers and physical therapists—who can help guide you, body part by body part, through this strange new land.
The problem: Many moms-to-be don’t stick to a regular upper body workout during pregnancy, leading to flabbiness and weakness. Additionally, your body produces the hormone relaxin in larger amounts during pregnancy, and this can weaken the joints afterward. As a result, out-of-shape arms are ill-equipped to lift a baby from car seat to crib to stroller to changing table and back again several times a day, while wrists and shoulders may hurt and feel weak.
The solution: Toning and strengthening the arms, back and shoulder muscles can also help relieve strain on the wrists. The best time to start is during pregnancy, says Megan Flatt, a trainer and fitness educator in San Francisco and creator of Bump Fitness, a prenatal and post-baby workout program. After giving birth, wait six weeks before starting to exercise, says Flatt.
"For most women, once pregnancy is over, you’re suddenly in unfamiliar territory. Here, objects in the mirror were once smaller than they appear and the roadblocks can be bumpy, flabby and, most of all, saggy."
Swollen Fingers and Ankles
The problem: “During pregnancy your body produces roughly 50 percent more blood and other fluids than normal to accommodate your growing baby,” says Lyssie Lakatos, R.D., C.D.N., C.F.T., a personal trainer and nutritionist in New York. Hormone fluctuations can also contribute to edema, or swelling of the hands, face, ankles, neck and other extremities. It can take weeks for all the extra fluids to leave your system.
The solution: “Choose foods rich in potassium, such as fruits and vegetables; it helps counteract the waterretaining effects of sodium [salt],” says Lakatos who also suggests drinking more than the recommended eight glasses of water per day, especially if you are nursing.
The problem: Immediately after delivery, the breasts become larger as they fill first with colostrum and then with milk; most will stay that size for a few weeks. Breastfeeding mothers will experience enlarged breasts for as long as they nurse exclusively. The whole process, including being pregnant, causes most women’s breast tissue to stretch, whether they breastfeed or not.
“Once pregnancy and nursing end, most women lose breast volume, retain stretch marks and experience some sagging,” says Robert Brueck, M.D., a Fort Myers, Fla.-based board-certified plastic surgeon with 30 years of experience in mommy makeovers: a package of cosmetic surgery procedures that includes a tummy tuck, breast work and liposuction. The nipple may also look displaced.
The solution: Most women accept the changes in their breasts as a rite of passage to motherhood. Some may want to do exercises to firm up the chest wall behind the breasts, “lifting” them a bit. But depending on a woman’s level of discomfort with how her breasts look, the most satisfactory solution may be surgery.
The problem: Your belly undergoes more changes during pregnancy than any other body part. Depending on your age, genetics and the amount of weight you gain, this can mean stretch marks and excess flab, or a “pooch,” postpartum. It can take as long as six weeks for the uterus to revert back to its old size, which will decrease the size of your belly. But since the abdominal skin has been stretched and pulled, it may never again be as taut as it was. Additionally, some women will be left with stretch marks.
The solution: “Keeping the core muscles [abdominals and back] strong during pregnancy helps the abdominals recover faster,” says Flatt. As for that extra pooch, most experts recommend Pilates-based abdominal work. Targeted abdominal exercise will get most women the results they want. If working out doesn’t do this for you, a tummy tuck will.
"I now have love handles that never used to be here. They’re not that bad, but I’ve definitely made some adjustments in my wardrobe as a result."— Julie Pierno Nogueira, Mother of one, Baltimore