Unlike the adorable new moms you see cradling their newborns on TV, real life labor and delivery is a lot less pretty. It can take hours longer than you expect. You might poop yourself. Your beautiful baby may come out kind of smooshed and misshapen. Oh, yeah, and your vagina may lose it completely.
Most new moms expect some kind of life adjustment after having a baby: stress, sleepless nights and a few dirty diaper blowouts. But it's this total body overhaul (often with a few unpleasant surprises) that we're less likely to hear about from the moms we know on Facebook. In a 2013 TODAY Moms survey, 31 percent of new moms said they hated their bodies. And a BabyCenter survey from the previous year yielded similar results — 64 percent of women said they had worse body image after becoming a mother.
While there's no quick fix for the way pregnancy can change your body and even your lady parts, it helps to know that you're not alone. It also helps to put your body changes in context with what is the "new normal" for all the other moms who have gone before you. We've asked the medical experts to share what really goes down downtown after you have a baby:
Say it ain't so! According to Dr. Michael Ingber of the Center for Specialized Women's Health, an expert in sexual medicine and fellowship trained in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, "The muscles around the vagina (pelvic floor muscles) which typically provide support to 'keep things up' loosen during and after pregnancy/delivery. Things can actually drop or even fall out (e.g., bladder, bowel, uterus) the vaginal canal. This may need to be surgically fixed if bothersome."
Besides a lifetime supply of diapers, the one thing every new mom needs is a good lube in her nightstand. Dr. Jonathan Schaffir, OB/GYN at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, explains that plenty of women notice decreased lubrication or dryness after having a baby, particularly when breastfeeding. “Lactation inhibits the production of estrogen, the hormone that helps with vaginal blood flow. The problem can be even more noticeable in women using progesterone-only birth control such as the birth control shot or implant. The use of a lubricant may be helpful in women with this complaint,” he explains.
In what may be every new mom's greatest fear, Dr. Ingber describes another common postpartum vagina woe: feeling "loose" after delivery. He explains, "This is often due to the loss of support [from the vagina muscles]. This can be fixed surgically, or with office-based procedures to 'tighten' things up." Practicing Kegel exercises during pregnancy can also help to tighten and strengthen the pelvic floor, with the added bonus of preventing the post-baby sneeze-and-pee phenomenon.
Okay, this may be the part you really don’t want to hear, especially if you just had a baby. Dr. Angela Jones, the board-certified OB/GYN of AskDrAngela.com, says it’s incredibly common to “lose that lovin’ feelin’” after squeezing out a baby. And when you’re finally ready to try the act that got you into this mess in the first place, it’s likely that it’s going to feel uncomfortable and may hurt, at least a little. Dr. Angela says, “To be totally frank, it hurts like all get out! This may be even worse for my breastfeeding moms. Most of the pain with sex post-delivery is due to the fact that the vagina hasn’t quite returned to its pre-pregnancy form, specifically with regards to tissue elasticity, discharge production, etc. Most of this is due to hormonal imbalance, which will, not to fear, resolve on its own. Just make sure you have a heavy lubricant handy.”
You may feel like you lost all your dignity on the birthing table, but after the baby is born, the fun is far from done. What the laymen call “queefs,” the medical professionals describe as “air discharging from the vagina” after pregnancy — something that’s considered totally normal, especially during sex. Mary Jo Podgurski, RNC, EdD, CSE, CSC, Lamaze-Certified Childbirth Educator at Lamaze International, says, “A concern after giving birth is where the air is coming from. Gas can escape from the rectum and slide into the vagina. Pelvic floor exercises can help if the organs in the pelvic floor (the bladder or the rectum) are prolapsing (protruding into or pushing on the vaginal walls).”
If you're already thinking, "Yikes," you would be right. As if pushing a watermelon out of a keyhole wasn't punishment enough, vulvar varicose veins are likely to affect 10 percent of pregnant women, normally occurring during the fifth month of a second pregnancy. While alarming to the eye, most of these cases of varicose veins are painless and should disappear a month after delivery.
Pregnancy is the one glorious time in your life when you not only feel uncomfortable in any sleeping position and cry at the drop of a hat, but you are also more prone to yeast infections. The American Pregnancy Association says yeast infections are more common during pregnancy than in any other time in a woman's life, most often in the second trimester. Yeast infections during pregnancy are uncomfortable but not dangerous, but it’s still important to visit your doctor to treat any noticeable changes in discharge. (Yippee.)
Now that you’re thoroughly terrified (who ever said fear wasn’t a valid form of birth control?), there is some good news for the millions of moms crazy enough to have one or more babies. Dr. Schaffir describes the vagina as an “amazingly elastic organ” that can stretch to accommodate a baby’s head and return to its normal shape and caliber, with a catch. Dr. Schaffir says, “Although it returns to normal, most women will notice some change following their first vaginal delivery.” Dr. Angela adds that vaginas are rock stars with the ability to push out a 10-pound baby and then “pretty much” return to normal, though the vaginal opening may be a little wider than it used to be. “All things considering, not bad,” she says.
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