You've finalized every detail of your birthing plan, from choosing which CDs will help you relax to deciding whether you want an epidural to ease your pain. But have you thought about how you'll cope after your baby is born? "New moms often are surprised by how long it takes to heal and feel like themselves again," says Judy Chang, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "I know I was."
But knowledge is power: Knowing what to expect when you're no longer pregnant and how to rev up your recovery will help you through this vulnerable--but mercifully temporary!--time. And once you're feeling more like your old self, it may be time to look like her too. That's where our gentle, progressive workout to strengthen and flatten your abdominal muscles comes in. Here's our guide to handling some of the most common postpartum body shocks, and, as a bonus, our super-effective ab routine to begin when you're ready.
1. Vaginal Soreness
Why it happens During delivery, the birth canal stretches, then stretches some more. As the baby emerges, your peri-neum--the area between the vagina and the anus--may tear or be cut by the doctor (an episiotomy) to facilitate delivery.
Feel-better advice Apply ice packs to reduce inflammation and swelling, says Amy Murtha, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C. Take a sitz bath (sit in a tub filled with a few inches of warm water) a few times a day, use refrigerated Tucks pads, and try anesthetic sprays containing a numbing agent such as benzocaine (often offered at the hospital and available at drugstores too). Taking pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen also can ease discomfort. While urinating, squirt your perineum with warm water to lessen stinging. When sitting, using a "donut"--a round cushion with a hole in the middle--can take pressure off this sensitive area.
2. Vaginal Bleeding
Why it happens The uterine lining thickens enormously during pregnancy. After delivery, the lining is shed along with a bloody discharge, together known as lochia.
Feel-better advice Bleeding for several days to a few weeks is normal, explains Murtha, but it should stop by your six-week checkup. Wear pads, since tampons raise the risk of infection at this time. Consult your doctor if you are soaking a pad or more an hour; this may be a sign of postpartum hemorrhage. Also seek medical attention if the bleeding slows down a few weeks after delivery and then suddenly increases.