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After you deliver your baby, your uterus will need some time and a little help to shrink back to its normal size. It takes time, but there are some simple things you can do to help your uterus shrink after birth.
After my first baby was born, I remember going into the baby boutique near my house to pick up some diapers and the salesgirl asked me how far along I was in my pregnancy. Sigh. I had just had a baby a couple of weeks ago, but I still looked like I was in my second trimester. Completely embarrassed and caught off guard by her question, I told her I just had my baby and walked out feeling both awkward and self-conscious.
You might be surprised to learn that after delivery, you too will probably still look pregnant! I know many mamas are shocked to hear this. I originally thought that after my baby was born, my belly would go back to being somewhat flat despite a little extra weight gain.
Nope. Not so! Many of us moms find ourselves asking, “Why do I still look pregnant after giving birth?” But please don’t be discouraged and just know that it is very normal to still look pregnant after your baby is born. It’s all part of your body’s natural way of healing and recovering.
My OBGYN gave me these words of wisdom: “It took your body 9 months to grow and it’ll probably take that long to get back to your pre-baby body. Be patient with yourself.”
And it’s true. Postpartum recovery takes time, but thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help your uterus shrink after giving birth. And that should help you start feeling like your body is a little more “back to normal.”
The Postpartum Uterus
Immediately after birth, your uterus will begin to shrink back to its pre-baby size all on its own, deflating from its pregnancy watermelon-size back down to its normal orange-like size. Typically, your nurse will monitor your uterus after delivery by performing fundal checks. These checks ensure that your uterus is hardening and shrinking back to its normal size.
And as your uterus shrinks, you will feel strong menstrual-like cramps in your belly, which are called afterpains. While these contractions can be uncomfortable, they only last 2-3 days after birth and are extremely beneficial because just as they helped you birth your baby, these contractions help your uterus return to its normal size.
During this process, blood flow to the uterus decreases. This helps to eliminate blood clots and decreases your risk of postpartum hemorrhaging. So, keep in mind that any discomfort you do feel is normal and actually a good sign that your body is en route to recovery.
7 Ways to Help Your Uterus Shrink After Birth
While your uterus will start to shrink on its own, there are some things you can do to aid your body with the healing process.
1) Breastfeed your baby to encourage contractions naturally
In addition to so many other benefits that it provides, breastfeeding is a natural way to help your uterus shrink after birth. It’s also probably the most effective way to help shrink your uterus.
When breastfeeding, a hormone called oxytocin is released. As this hormone surges through your body, it helps you relax, but it also helps contract the uterus. While it may be uncomfortable at times, the more contractions you experience, the more your uterus shrinks to its pre-pregnancy size.
Related: 16 Breastfeeding Tips for New Moms
2) Use a postpartum girdle
While contractions may help your uterus shrink from the inside, postpartum belly bands help from the outside. A postpartum girdle binds your abdominal muscles, uterus, and other organs. By supporting and compressing these areas, it helps your organs return to their normal position and size. These belly wraps also provide helpful postural support, which can be exactly what you need to relieve any pain and swelling.
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3) Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is particularly important at all times, but especially during the postpartum recovery stage. Drinking water will promote healing and flush toxins from your body so that your organs can heal faster. Hydration also ensures that your body is able to make enough breast milk for your baby while keeping you nourished as well.
I always suggest keeping a water bottle with you throughout the day to make it easy to remember!
4) Use a warm compress
Using a warm compress or heating pad directly on your abdomen will help soothe the discomfort from uterine contractions. The warmth will also promote your uterus to shrink back to normal size.
To do this, you have two main options: one is to apply a warm compress directly to your abdomen. This could be a warm washcloth or a heating pad. Your second option is to simply take a hot bath. Most recommend (and prefer) taking a hot bath because it promotes gentle, bearable uterine contractions. It can also serve as a postpartum sitz bath, which should be part of your healing routine.
Keep in mind, placing a hot compress directly on your abdomen may initially feel nice, but it can also promote more aggressive contractions. So, if you go this route, it’s generally advised that you do not use this method multiple times per day.
5) Massage your uterus
Have you ever had a massage after having extremely sore muscles? Think of a uterine massage as the same thing. Your uterus and surrounding muscles have just been through the most intense workout, and a massage may be helpful.
Simply place your hand on your lower abdomen and gently press on all areas of the uterus. By stimulating the uterus through massage, you are promoting contractions while also soothing associated discomforts. Typically, while you are in the hospital, your nurse will perform uterine massages during fundal checks.
You can also lay face down on a pillow, which may help by applying pressure to your uterus. This may also be helpful to ease painful cramps.
6) Nourish your body
Not only is eating a healthy diet important during pregnancy, but it is also just as important during postpartum! A healthy diet provides essential nutrients to your body while it heals from delivery. This also helps you produce breast milk for your baby and maintain your mood and wellbeing during the postpartum phase.
Two great books to read are The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother and The Nourishing Traditions Cookbook. In general, the idea is that you want to eat foods that warm the body to help support your postpartum recover.
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Also, make sure that you’re getting all of the vitamins and nutrients you need. Take your fish oil, take your prenatal probiotics, and keep taking your prenatal vitamins. This will help set you up for a more successful postpartum, too, and may help reduce your chances of developing postpartum depression or anxiety.
7) Take it easy, mama
During postpartum, it’s important for your body to get a chance to heal. Hopefully, you have an opportunity to nourish and support the body after birth. And a large part of this requires that you take it easy during this precious time of recovery. So let go of your expectations about how tidy the house should be, cook up some of the freezer meals you prepared during pregnancy, and just take some time to rest up. Don’t overexert yourself so that your body isn’t taxed.
And If Your Uterus Doesn’t Shrink After Birth…
Typically, after delivery, your uterus will automatically tighten and contract to deliver the placenta and compress the surrounding blood vessels. This helps to prevent bleeding after delivery. When this does not happen, it is a condition called uterine atony, which can lead to excessive bleeding and postpartum hemorrhage, a very serious, potentially life-threatening condition.
While this can happen during labor, it can also occur while you’re recovering. Examples of this condition include bleeding through maternity pads more quickly than you should or discovering a soft uterus upon examination.
In the event this happens, you will need immediate treatment to stop the bleeding and replace the blood you have lost. Other treatments include routine uterine massages and uterotonic medications like Oxytocin.
There are ways to help prevent uterine atony from occurring. One of the most beneficial steps is a uterine massage right after delivery. While many mothers moan and groan at the thought of this massage, it is crucial to ensure you do not have health issues following delivery.
Remember: Your Body Was Made for This
In the end, your body worked extremely hard for 9 months, expanding to house and nourish your growing baby. There is often pressure put on moms to ‘bounce back’ after having a baby. But it’s going to take time for your body to return to some level of normalcy again. Lots of time.
Remember to be patient with yourself and take these simple steps to help your uterus return to pre-pregnancy size!
FAQs About Helping Your Uterus Shrink
Still have questions about your postpartum uterus? Read on!
Does pumping help your uterus shrink?
Yes, similar to breastfeeding, when you pump, the same hormone, oxytocin, releases and causes uterine contractions. So, if you pump and feel those menstrual-like cramps, note that this is a good thing! It means your uterus is contracting to shrink back to normal size.
Does your uterus shrink if you don’t breastfeed or pump?
If you do not breastfeed or pump, your uterus will shrink, but it will take longer. Typically, when breastfeeding, your uterus will take about 6 weeks to return to normal size. If you are not breastfeeding or pumping, your body will take about 10 weeks to shrink. Remember breastfeeding is just one of the many ways to help shrink your uterus back to size. If using baby formula, I recommend doing routine uterine massages along with the other suggested methods listed above!
How do you know when your uterus is back to its normal size?
Immediately after delivery, your uterus weighs 2lbs. Once it has shrunk back to its normal size, it only weighs 2 ounces! Your uterus regains elasticity, descends back into your pelvis, and slowly comes back to its normal size. You will likely not know exactly when it’s reached its normal state again.
The best way to determine if your uterus has healed is to go to your 6-week postpartum check-up with your doctor. He or she will do an exam to make sure your body has recovered from delivery and that your uterus has returned to its normal size.
Remember, the time it takes for the uterus to shrink varies. It might not be fully deflated back to pre-pregnancy size at your postpartum check-up. Also, keep in mind, this is only one part of the overall postpartum recovery process.
How long does it take to fully recover from pregnancy and delivery?
Uterine shrinking and full recovery are very different things. As the saying goes, it takes nine months to grow your baby, and it will take at least nine months for your body to fully recover, possibly longer.
Your body goes through a lot of change to accommodate your growing baby and endures a lot of stress during delivery. During the postpartum months, your body takes time to adjust, heal, and recover.
Here is a quick look at the road to recovery. During the first six weeks, your uterus contracts, your pelvis returns to its pre-labor state, and you will excrete a lot of extra fluid and blood that you held onto during pregnancy. During this time, you will also be recovering from either vaginal delivery or a cesarean procedure (major abdominal surgery!). While each has their own path to healing and recovery, in general, you can expect swelling and pain/discomfort.
After six weeks, your body will find it’s rhythm, but you still may deal with extra fluid retention, diastasis recti, hormonal shifts and perineal soreness or c-section incision soreness/swelling. Keep in mind that the hormone, relaxin, will still be in your body up to five months postpartum and longer if you are breastfeeding. This means that any relaxin-related symptoms (like looser joints and less pelvic floor stability) can remain for quite some time.
Remember that motherhood is a journey, and your body will be on its own path to recovery. Some women take longer than others, and that’s OK!