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Your life will certainly change after you give birth to your first child -- there are many enjoyable emotional and lifestyle changes to look forward to. However, there are also a number of physical changes you may experience after your baby is born. Many people have heard of postpartum depression, but there are several other physical and physiological conditions that can occur after delivery. Here are seven of the most common postpartum conditions you should know about as you prepare to give birth.
1. Vaginal Discharge
For several weeks after delivery, you will likely have vaginal discharge known as lochia. Immediately after delivery, it will look like your period, but after a few days, it will lighten to pink, and then to pale white or yellow, according to the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). Your period will return within a few months of giving birth if you don't breastfeed and within a few months after weaning if you do.
2. Uterine Shrinkage
After stretching to accommodate your growing infant, your uterus begins to shrink a little every day after you give birth. Immediately after delivery, you'll be able to feel the top of the organ just below your bellybutton -- your nurse or doctor can show you how to locate it and feel for its firmness. You'll want to check that your uterus shrinks about one finger-width each day, AWHONN says. It usually takes about six weeks for the organ to return to its pre-pregnancy size.
3. Perineum Pain
The skin between your vagina and rectum is called the perineum, and it can become swollen or torn during birth. This can lead to discomfort or pain for a couple weeks.
If you have an episiotomy or perineotomy, an incision of the area that enlarges the vaginal opening to help you give birth, it could take up to three weeks to heal. Keep the area clean, and use any spray, ointment, or analgesic your doctor or nurse recommends for pain.
4. Blood Glucose Swings
Following delivery, your blood glucose levels could fluctuate unpredictably, especially if you developed gestational diabetes or had diabetes prior to pregnancy, according to the American Diabetes Association. Check your blood glucose levels frequently, and follow your doctor's instructions for diet and medication to control them. Don't fret if you develop gestational diabetes; the condition often goes away, especially if you were able to control it by eating right and exercising.
5. Urinary Incontinence
Up to almost 1 in 4 women experience urinary incontinence during the postpartum period, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). These chances increase when you give birth vaginally, if forceps are used during delivery, if you had a higher pre-pregnancy body mass index, or when you breastfeed for a longer duration.
6. Postpartum Thyroiditis
Postpartum thyroiditis is inflammation of the thyroid gland that can occur after you give birth. This condition often occurs in two phases, according to the American Thyroid Association. In the thyrotoxic phase, symptoms may include anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, weight loss, and irritability, which are often mistakenly attributed to stress. During the hypothyroid phase, you may experience fatigue, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, and depression. These symptoms can be mitigated with help from your doctor, and the majority of women regain normal thyroid function.
7. Libido and Sexuality
Decreased libido and sexuality is a common postpartum issue, as pre-pregnancy estrogen levels may not return for up to one year after delivery, AAFP says. Body changes, fatigue, and fear of pregnancy can have an effect on your libido as well.
Be sure to stay in close contact with your doctor and to report any discomfort -- even if you think it's normal. Motherhood will be unlike anything you've experienced before, and knowing about these common conditions can help reduce your stress and keep you feeling your best as you enjoy taking care of your baby.