From stinky pits to hair loss (not to mention anxiety and uncontrollable tears), the postpartum physical and mental changes you may experience can be surprising. We’ll give you the scoop so you’re not so shocked.
No matter how much you read, how many mom friends you talk to, or even how many doulas’ brains you pick, it’s tough to know exactly how your labor and delivery will go down.
Beyond that, no new mom has a crystal ball that shows her what life will look like a day, a week, or several months after giving birth. Along with the joys of welcoming your little one into the world come an individualized variety pack of postpartum challenges. Can we get a heads-up next time, please?
Hear what these 20 moms have to say about the postpartum symptoms that surprised them the most.
1. Literal chill
“I had these uncontrollable shakes [postpartum chills] right after my daughter was placed on my chest. My midwives said all of the adrenaline in your body while you’re pushing can cause it once you stop. It was wild.” — Hannah B., South Carolina
Pro tip: Try to relax, as attempting to control the shivering only makes it worse — and ask for extra blankets (or bring your own from home), if you’re not given them automatically.
2. Engorgement owies
“I didn’t breastfeed for medical reasons, and I had no idea how painful it would be on my body to not have that milk released.” — Leigh H., South Carolina
Prop tip: Milk production will stop if you’re not expressing it or nursing, but in the meantime, you can treat engorgement by taking pain medication approved by your doc and applying a cold pack to your breasts for 15 minutes at a time every hour as needed.
3. Sweaty betty
“For two weeks postpartum, I sweat like crazy at night. I needed to change my clothes and the bed sheets in the middle of the night, I was so drenched.” — Caitlin D., South Carolina
Pro tip: Lower levels of estrogen and the body’s attempt to rid itself of excess fluids can trigger night sweats or hot flashes after you give birth. To curb all that dripping, try drinking cold water (which will preempt dehydration) and doing your best to relax by practicing meditation or deep breathing techniques.
4. Pee party
“I had no idea that I would literally have zero bladder control for the first few weeks after a vaginal birth. I remember laughing at something in the hospital and just peeing and not being able to stop!” — Lauren B., Massachusetts
Pro tip: If you’re struggling from incontinence or other pelvic floor issues during and after pregnancy, you might do well to see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you come up with a targeted game plan for strengthening these key muscles that are affected by pregnancy and childbirth.
5. Healing hell
“I wish I had known how long healing could really take. I had third-degree tearing with my first. I cried during sex for 7 months. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. It was awful. And everyone kept telling me it should have been fine by 6 weeks.”— Brittany G., Massachusetts
Pro tip: Although tearing is totally normal, it absolutely can take months for a serious vaginal tear to heal, and the pain isn’t something that should be dismissed. Pelvic floor exercises can improve circulation and decrease swelling and pain.
6. Twirls and curls
“My hair, which has always been naturally very curly, started growing in pin straight. After I stopped breastfeeding, about a year and a half later, it went curly again. This happened with my first two, and I’m currently in the midst of it with number three.” — Aria E., New Hampshire
Pro tip: Hormones like estrogen can affect the texture of your hair after giving birth. While going from ‘80s Cher to Kim K. might seem jarring, you’ll flawlessly rock either style.
7. Bye, hair
“I wish I had known about the damn hair loss and the fact that it would change my hairline forever.” — Ashleigh B., Texas
Pro tip: Postpartum hair loss, caused by plummeting estrogen levels, generally resolves over time. But if persists, or you’re concerned, talk to your doctor to rule out any underlying issues, such as hypothyroidism or iron deficiency anemia.
8. Bleh, food
“I had zero appetite after each of my three births. Everything I read beforehand made me think eating was going to be the best thing ever, and I needed some big elaborate meal planned, but I actually had to force food down.” — Mollie R., South Carolina
Pro tip: Both hormonal changes and postpartum depression can be at the root of a minimal appetite after giving birth. If your appetite doesn’t bounce back within a week of giving birth, consult your healthcare provider.
9. Blood bath
“No one told me how long it would take to heal from tearing so badly. That you can bleed for up to 6 weeks straight. Basically, you are in survival mode the moment right after you give birth.” — Jenni Q., Colorado
Pro tip: Although it’s absolutely no picnic, bleeding after giving birth is normal — as is wearing extra-absorbent pads. But hey, at least celeb moms like Amy Schumer and Chrissy Teigen have turned postpartum undies into a fashion statement.
10. Falling organs
“I had no idea what a prolapse was and that organs that were meant to live inside of your body could actually fall out. Even more interesting, how few doctors were knowledgeable and yet how many women are diagnosed. It impacted every area of my life.” — Adrienne R., Massachusetts
Pro tip: Treatment isn’t always necessary for a prolapsed uterus, but nonsurgical options include pelvic floor exercises and wearing a pessary, a device that helps stabilize the uterus and cervix.
11. Stinky pits
“When my hormones shifted after weaning, my armpits stank with the power of 1,000 skunks!” — Melissa R., Minnesota
Pro tip: You already know you can use deodorant or antiperspirants to reduce that offending smell, but you could try DIY deodorant, as well.
12. Nipple shields and more
“I was surprised by how hard breastfeeding actually is. You read books and think they just latch. But most of the time, there is so much more. I had to use a nipple shield with my first for the first couple of weeks, and then, they were worried about her gaining weight, so they wanted me to pump. The pumps just never worked right. I never got that much in a sitting. But I knew I was feeding her because if I waited I was engorged. With baby number two, it was much smoother, and she did just latch and feed and gain. But still, pumping didn’t get a lot.” — Megan L., Maryland
Pro tip: If you’re feeling frustration around breastfeeding, consider working one-on-one with a lactation consultant, which may be covered by your insurance.
13. Post-labor contractions?
“I wish I knew that when you breastfeed in the beginning, you have contractions and bleed because your uterus is shrinking.” — Emma L., Florida
Pro tip: As you breastfeed, your body produces the hormone oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone.” But its purpose isn’t all warm and fuzzy: It can also cause uterine contractions and bleeding.
14. Powering through
“My boobs hurt a lot as I powered through breastfeeding. Ultimately, I ended up supplementing and nursing. I wish more people would have said this was okay instead of judging and telling me to try harder at nursing. I also wish people would be more supportive. I encourage moms to stick together and get help if you need it.” — Katie P., Virginia
Pro tip: Remember that no matter what you hear, every parent and child is different, and fed is best.
15. Tears and fears
“For about a month postpartum, whenever I would look in the mirror, I would hysterically start crying. For some reason I felt like I had lost my baby — I didn’t — because I was no longer carrying her in my belly. Postpartum depression is no joke! I knew it could be bad and was warned by other moms and health providers but I didn’t know the severity.” — Suzhanna D., South Carolina
16. Unexpected PPD
“My postpartum depression looked nothing like traditional PPD that everyone talks about. I didn’t hate my baby. In fact, I wanted nothing more than to take my baby and hide and never go back to work again. I was jealous that my husband got to be a stay-at-home dad.” — Cori A., Arkansas
Pro tip: If you think you have postpartum depression, don’t be shy about talking to your doctor about your symptoms. They can refer you to a therapist or other local resources. Professionals can help you come up with an individualized treatment plan.
17. Postpartum anxiety
“I wish I had known about postpartum anxiety. I knew all about PPD, but after I had my third kid it wasn’t until my 6-week checkup when I was joking about having ‘late-onset nesting,’ because I felt the need to reorganize my freezer at 3 a.m., and my doctor was like, ‘Yeah…there are pills for that.’ I wasn’t sleeping, because I was terrified that she would suddenly stop breathing, and when I did sleep, I would dream that she died. I attributed this all to her NICU stay, which was probably a trigger, but I had no idea I should be treated for PPA/PTSD. I lost a part of myself during those 6 weeks that I’m still trying to recover 3 years later.” — Chelsea W., Florida
Pro tip: If you’re concerned you may have postpartum anxiety, talk to your doctor about treatment options, including therapy and targeted medications.
18. But what about me?
“The severe sleep deprivation literally made me hallucinate one night. I wish I had known that it’s okay to ask for help, how you forget to take care of yourself (forgetting to shower, eat, etc.), how everyone is so concerned about the baby that people forget that your body is recovering from a huge traumatic event.” — Amanda M., Nevada
Pro tip: Don’t hesitate to reach out and request support from family and friends for the benefit of your body and mind. Sure, there’s an adorable new human in the world — thanks to your body enduring pregnancy and childbirth, which is nothing to sneeze at either. You deserve rest, healing time, and all of the help.
19. Mom shame
“I was not prepared for the mom shaming or the people who always have an opinion about how to raise my kid. I try not to let that get to me, but it bothers me! My son is happy and healthy and instead of getting encouraged or applauded, sometimes it feels like a thankless job. But my son is thankful, and I love him for it!”— BriSha Jak, Maryland
Pro tip: Know that most of the negativity that is being lobbed at you is other people’s projections of their own insecurities. It’s not you, it’s them.
20. No bouncing
“I didn’t know how long it truly takes to ‘bounce back.’ I was quite petite before pregnancy. Everyone constantly told me how I’d bounce right back. We had our wedding planned for 6 months postpartum, and I’d already purchased the dress. I’m 7 months postpartum and still don’t fit into the dress. I truly don’t think my body will ever be the same. It was a smack in the face realization after constantly hearing how I’d be ‘all belly’ and ‘bounce right back.’” — Meagan K., Arizona
Pro tip: While it can be tough to filter out the “bounce back” noise, do your best to focus on your own journey. Your body is different now because it has proven that it’s superpowered. Take time for you, whether that’s reading a book (a grown-up novel, that is!) signing up for a new exercise class, or going out to dinner, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Every mom’s postpartum experience and the emotional, physical, and mental changes you face following birth are unique.
But no matter how gasp-worthy, wild, or complicated things get, you can take heart in knowing that you’re not alone.
And there’s absolutely no shame in leaning on loved ones, friends, and your healthcare provider for the individualized support you need.
Maressa Brown is a journalist who has covered health, lifestyle, and astrology for more than a decade for various publications including The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Parents.com, Shape, Horoscope.com, Woman’s World, Better Homes & Gardens, and Women’s Health.