No matter how much you read about it, no matter what you do, when you hold your baby for the first time, it is a bizarre experience. You feel this rush of love, yet this intense fear, like you’re going to screw the whole thing up. Also, the element of there suddenly being any person in the room is just trippy.
There are so many changes you go through when you have a baby. They’re mental. They’re physical. And no, you’re not imagining them.
And guess what?
They’ll change your relationship with your husband forever. I remember how fun and sweet my husband was when we first married. He was pretty decent after we had our eldest. Then came the little one. He was pretty nifty then too. And suddenly, it feels like he is my oldest, largest child.
There’s a lot coming into play here so I’m going to break it down into sections to try to help you cope with your life after having a baby.
The Marital Aspect
First, let me tackle this one. Relationships change over time, and if I’m honest, I think it’s my friends without any kids (unless you count their dogs or cats) that seem the happiest together ALL the time. Don’t forget though that your friends on Facebook posting about how wonderful their lives are, tend to be the ones that are most miserable.
I’ll give you a prime example.
My friend Stacy met her husband in college. She looked at him from across the beach bar (we were on Spring Break) and she said, “I’m going to marry that man.” And she did! They were married for 20 years, had 3 kids, and seemed to have it all – big house, nice cars, and all that – and now, they’ve separated.
Does having a baby affect your relationship?
Kids will change your relationship. They’re not a bandage that will magically fix a bad relationship, nor are they a curse that will crush your bond. You have to adapt and work together as a team. So many times, we forget that we’re on the same team.
All it takes is to come home from a busy day, open the fridge and see that your husband has eaten half of what you prepped for tonight’s dinner to send you into a (very justified) rage.
We forget though that changes don’t just happen to us. They happen to men too. Not physical ones, but definitely mental ones. It’s so important to touch base with each other and try to keep that spark going, even if the kids keep trying to barge in on that alone time.
What worked for us was to talk it out and try to get back on the same page. We instituted family dinner night every night for us and the kids, and we try to spend time together without them. Even when it’s not feasible to go out, we wait until the kids go to bed, we choose a movie together, and we enjoy it while having wine and cheese.
I’ve noticed a lot of positive changes since I’ve sat my husband down for a talk.
The key is to be kind but firm. Tell him what you need. I almost lost my mind because I was the one doing all the cooking and cleaning on top of working at caring for the kids. My husband would come home and just not notice, leaving a trail of shoes and clothes in his wake, and never bothering to clean up.
Now things are better. When he notices I’ve got too much on my figurative plate, he says, “Hey, go put your feet up for a few minutes. I’ve got these dishes.” It truly is the most romantic thing ever.
Husbands, if you’re reading this, you have no idea how divinely sexy it is for you to take care of some of the chores around the home, believe me. Go try it. She’ll be all over you!
The Physical Aspect
Now let’s turn to physical changes. No doubt, you’ve noticed a few of them, haven’t you? I’m going to list some of the most common physical changes you’ll likely encounter after having a baby.
- Bigger feet
No, you are not imagining it. Your feet got bigger after baby. And guess what? They’re staying that way. You can lose all the weight you like, but your shoe size is now larger. Longer or wider, it’s time to go shoe shopping.
I was really upset when I couldn’t get back into any of my fancy high heels. But I can’t even handle walking in those anymore anyway. Once I realized that meant I got to go buy new shoes though, I wasn’t so upset anymore.
- Wider lady bits
Unfortunately, those of you that deliver vaginally will likely have some interesting vaginal changes. The most noticeable is that it will be wider. You can do your Kegels to help, but with every vaginal delivery, it gets wider. If you pushed a lot prior to your c-section, you may experience widening too, but if not, yours will stay intact.
- Accidental urination
Now it’s my turn to cringe. For all of us who have had c-sections, we’re more likely to endure incontinence. Incontinence could be as little as some leakage when you cough or sneeze, or it could result in wetting your pants entirely. Again, those Kegels can come in handy. Do them regularly to avoid problems.
- Dental problems
If you’re pregnant, make sure you see your dentist right away. If you’ve just had your baby, make an appointment as soon as possible. Having a baby changes your oral health with enlarged gums and bacterial problems. By taking care of your oral hygiene, you can avoid a lot of problems, like losing teeth for example.
- Droopy boobs
If you’ve heard breastfeeding makes your boobs sag, whoever told you that was mistaken. It’s pregnancy and the hormones associated with it that do you in. Another good thing about breastfeeding is that it lowers your risk for breast cancer.
- Stretch marks
One of my friends had the misfortune of getting stretch marks during pregnancy that really stuck with her. The rest of us learned from her mistakes and religiously slathered on oils and creams during our pregnancies. I never had a stretch mark and I credit my self-care for that.
But post-pregnancy, you are still prone to them with your body’s weight fluctuations, so keep applying your stretch mark cream!
- Hair fall
That gorgeous, shiny hair you had during pregnancy? Kiss it goodbye. You’ll lose hair around 4 to 6 months after having a baby, and it’s very normal. Thankfully, the American Academy of Dermatology has some handy tips to help you with that.
- Dark spots
After I had my first baby, I noticed an unattractive dark spot under my left eye. I hated it. I would conceal it with makeup. Your hormones are to blame for that, causing more melanin production. It can last for years too. Mine did.
But it’s gone now, largely because I would 1) always use sunscreen every time I left the house, and 2) I would always use a brightening serum on my face.
- Swollen veins
All that extra weight from pregnancy makes your blood vessels work harder. They revolt by giving you varicose veins and hemorrhoids. I had a few friends with these symptoms while they were pregnant, but for me, it didn’t start until after. I think the worst is hemorrhoids because they hurt so much! Varicose veins can be covered with makeup.
- Abdominal separation
Yup, your abdominal muscles separate. If you’re not careful once you start exercising again, you can create a permanent rift. Known as diastasis recti, you can consult a trainer who will help you do the right exercises to correct it.
The Mental Aspect
And finally, let’s discuss what’s going on in that pretty head of yours. I’ve written extensively about baby blues and postpartum depression. I suggest you read up on them, especially if you’re feeling a bit unlike yourself. It’s all normal for 2 weeks after the baby is born, but after that, you should take care of yourself and talk to your doctor right away!
That aside, there are mental changes you go through after having a baby, and the science behind them is utterly fascinating.
For one, they’ve found that your children’s cells live in your brain! As if that isn’t freaky (and cool!) enough because now you’re a chimera (this one, not this one!), these cells affect other aspects of your composition from now on. Called fetal-maternal microchimerism, which ties your family together in amazing ways. Scientists have only just begun to delve into this over the last few years.
What they’ve found is:
- Fetal cells are in your brain!
- If your heart is injured, those fetal cells come to your rescue!
- They have even been found in the liver, lungs, bones, and other organs of moms!
Another thing to know is that even if you had a miscarriage at some point before going on to deliver a healthy, live baby, fetal cells move to the brain very early on. This leaves a cellular mark on you too.
You’re also losing gray matter in your brain after each pregnancy. No, this doesn’t mean you get dumber with every consecutive pregnancy and birth. It simply means your brain tends to fine-tune itself. Think of it like cleaning house. It’s redesigning itself to be a more efficient mom, and that’s incredible.
With all of these changes from changes in your marriage to physical changes to mental changes, they can be a bit disconcerting. But if you think about it, what in life ever stays the same?
Everything is always changing around us all the time. I like to think of the changes we go through after pregnancy as adaptive. I like to be positive.
For example, perhaps you drive every day to work the same way or go jogging on the same path, in the same direction, without fail. But let’s say on one day, there’s construction and a detour that prevents you from doing things the same way. Now you must adapt so you find a new way to go.
Sometimes change really does us good.
You can’t stop these changes, well most of them anyway. One of the things that used to trouble me in life was not having control over things. I had to take a step back and remember that I can’t control everything. But I can control my own actions and reactions.
This realization made me feel powerful again. Don’t waste time getting upset about changes you can’t control in your body. Focus instead on what you can put into your hands, like preventing stretch marks for example. There are also remedies for dark spots, hair fall, and hemorrhoids, and by controlling those symptoms, you’ll feel a lot better.
Remember, your baby (and any other baby you have after that) is a true gift. It’s a gift that will drive you crazy sometimes (like when you go change your shirt and come seconds later to find they’ve drawn all over your walls) but it’s a gift that will bring you more love than you have ever known.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.