While celebrity mums seem to end up with amazing postnatal bodies, the hoi polloi usually have to settle for bodies that are a far cry from those magazine-worthy physiques. To allay your worries, Mount Elizabeth Hospital ob-gyn Dr Tan Eng Kien and ob-gyn Dr Peter Chew have expert advice on how to manage these postpartum “surprises”…
1) Urinary Incontinence
WHY? Usually, the nerves, ligaments and pelvic-floor muscles work together to support the bladder and keep urine from leaking out, notes Dr Chew. Because your pelvic-floor muscles must stretch to accommodate bubba during childbirth, this added pressure may injure parts of your vagina, which prevents the muscles from functioning properly. On the bright side, stress incontinence usually becomes less frequent within a few weeks of delivery, Dr Chew explains, “Occasionally, it can persist in varying degrees for several months or even longer.” If this is the case, you’ll usually be advised to seek help from your doc.
HOW TO COPE It is vital that you do your Kegel exercises regularly, especially before giving birth. Done correctly and often enough, this can strengthen your pelvic-floor muscles and boost bladder control. Your pelvic-floor muscles are the same set of muscles you use to stop the flow of your urine when you pee. Contract these muscles for 10 seconds, then release. Do this exercise 10 or 20 times in a row, two or three times a day.
“Your faeces will [only] get drier and harder to pass if your delay [going to the toilet] daily.”
WHY? Your hospital meals can give you constipation, especially if you are not taking sufficient fibre. The confinement tonics you take also tend to be on the “heaty” side, which impacts your bowel movements. Sometimes, the medication you get during and after delivery may contain codeine, which can also slow your bowel movements, Dr Tan points out.
HOW TO COPE Don’t skip loo visits just because you are worried that your episiotomy wound would get infected. Dr Chew cautions, “Your faeces will [only] get drier and harder to pass if you delay [going to the toilet] daily.” Increasing your diet of fruits, vegetables and fibre, along with drinking plenty of water, will help with bowel movements. Dr Tan stresses that postnatal mothers should not stay in bed all day but should get up and do light exercises — such as taking short walks within the hospital or around your house.
WHY? Your pregnancy acne breakouts, thanks to the increased androgen level, may persist even after you’ve delivered. These acne breakouts are caused by the greater production of sebum — an oily substance — on the surface of your skin. When bacteria and dirt mix with the sebum, it can cause the skin surface to swell, resulting in acne.
HOW TO COPE Wash with a mild soap to keep your face clean and free of oil, suggests Dr Tan. “Many of the oral medications to speed up acne recovery are not suitable during pregnancy or for breastfeeding mothers.” To repel dirt, use a good facial moisturiser to tighten your pores. Dr Chew adds that you should stick to a healthy diet to help your hormones restore their balance. Avoid high glycaemic foods like white bread, white rice, and other sugary processed foods, as these tend to spike blood sugar and hormone production, leading to a greater production of sebum and acne.
4) Hair loss
WHY? You have pregnancy hormones like progesterone and oestrogen to thank for your glossier and thicker tresses when you’re pregnant. However, because your body’s hormone levels decline sharply after you give birth, you may suffer hair fall. On average, a woman sheds about 100 strands of hair a day, notes Dr Chew. So, don’t be shocked to see clumps of hair on your hairbrush or strands of hair on your pillow after a good night’s sleep. The good news is that “the hair loss is not permanent, as you are only losing the extra hair you’ve gained during pregnancy”, Dr Tan assures.
HOW TO COPE You won’t need special treatments to speed up your hair growth. Just reduce possible hair damage by minimising use of your hairbrush and switching to a mild shampoo and conditioner. A good cut not only lets you try a new hairstyle, it’ll help you manage your hair, suggests Dr Chew. Ask your hairdresser for a style that adds volume to your hair. Dr Tan adds, “In addition, a healthy diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits will provide the antioxidants and vitamins needed to protect hair follicles and promote growth.”
5) Night sweats
WHY? Your body’s hormones are getting rid of the excess fluids accumulated during pregnancy. Otherwise, you could also blame certain Chinese confinement practices. Dr Chew points out that Chinese confinement tonics can increase your metabolism and cause you to wake up feeling warm and sweaty. Other beliefs, like covering yourself up with additional blankets to prevent “wind” from seeping into your body, can also give rise to night sweats.
HOW TO COPE Wear loose and breathable cotton T-shirts instead of synthetic fabrics as it’ll remove heat from the surface of your skin. Sleeping in a cool environment can also be helpful, so be sure to switch on the fan and air conditioner or open your windows. It’s important to also keep your fluid intake up, especially if you’re breastfeeding, shares Dr Chew.
Your body image pays an important role in boosting your libido and hence your sex life as a couple, too.
6) Stretch Marks
WHY? From your belly, your thighs to even your boobs, stretch marks usually surface towards the later part of your pregnancy. These marks are caused by your growing womb which develops quicker than your skin’s ability to expand and adapt. Dr Tan shares “As a result, the elastic fibres underneath the skin break and cause stretch marks, which unfortunately, cannot be prevented or covered up with creams.”
HOW TO COPE Most stretch marks will fade naturally over time after you deliver, but some remain. The most important solution is to keep to a healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Using moisturising lotion and drinking enough water helps to keep your skin hydrated and looking smooth and toned.
Dr Tan says that medical treatment like retinoid cream, may be helpful. These creams contain ingredients derived from vitamin A, known to enhance your skin collagen, reduce fine lines and even unclog your pores. However, this form of treatment is unsuitable for expectant or nursing mums as it can have harmful effects on your child.
Alternatively, light and laser therapies may help as well. But Dr Tan cautions that it’s important to consult a dermatologist before you get expensive treatments.
WHY? Your body’s pregnancy hormones loosen the joints and ligaments, causing them to stretch in preparation for labour and delivery. This can result in some pain and discomfort in your lower back. Your enlarged womb also places additional stress on your muscles, which gives rise to backache.
HOW TO COPE It will take a couple of months after you deliver before your backache resolves on its own. However, it may take longer for the pain to go away for some women. And if you experienced backache before or during your pregnancy, you are also more likely to have persistent back pain after, Dr Chew notes.
In the meantime, taking warm baths, getting a massage or applying heating pads to the affected areas may give your sore muscles some relief. Dr Chew also suggests picking up relaxation techniques like yoga, stretching and deep breathing exercises.
So that you don’t aggravate your backache, always remember to check your posture. Pay attention to things like how you position your body when you’re nursing your baby. If you’re overweight, it’ll increase your risk of postpartum backache. Sticking to a healthy diet will keep you from packing on the kilos.
8) Drop in sex drive
WHY? Your oestrogen levels can take a dip and can drop further if you’re breastfeeding.
HOW TO COPE Do simple activities to build the intimacy with your spouse. It can be as simple as holding hands, cuddling in bed or caressing and offering massages to each other. Indulging in a little retail therapy may also help — so, go on and treat yourself to some new lingerie or clothes. Your body image pays an important role in boosting your libido and hence your sex life as a couple, too, Dr Chew points out.
9) Increased shoe size
WHY? The volume of blood in your body jumps from five to eight litres during pregnancy ― this excess blood, along with decreased physical activity may make your feet swell. Dr Tan explains that it usually takes about a couple of weeks before your blood volume returns to its pre-pregnancy levels. The change in foot size may also be due to the extra weight you’re carrying around during pregnancy. The additional weight on your feet may flatten the arch, adds Dr Chew.
HOW TO COPE Light activities like walking around the house or hospital can prevent swelling, and also alleviate any swollen feet and hence the need or bigger shoes. However, if your feet swell because of the pounds you’ve packed on, new research shows that the expansion in your feet and shoe size may be permanent, says Dr Chew.
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