The birth of a baby is exciting. The milestone is often anticipated by a baby shower, nursery decorating and a party to reveal the gender of the new member of the family.

Often overlooked is information that a woman should have about how childbirth affects her body and emotions after the event. Sometimes, post-natal realities can catch a new mother by surprise.

Many a woman expects to be deliriously happy all the time and thus becomes confused when the newborn stage comes with pain, trauma and mood swings.

Healing must happen within women after pregnancy and childbirth, regardless of circumstances.

“Healing from both vaginal delivery and Caesarean can take many months,” says Caton Simoni, an OB-GYN with Oklahoma City’s Lakeside Women’s Hospital, part of the INTEGRIS network.

She describes how, during pregnancy, a woman’s uterus transforms, heart enlarges, blood volume doubles, and ribs and pelvis expand. Postpartum, all of these changes have to reverse.

“Delivering a baby takes a huge toll on a woman’s body,” Simoni says.

Some of the immediate physical symptoms a woman can expect are “cramping, pelvic soreness, breast engorgement and fatigue,” says Micah Relic, an OB-GYN at Tulsa’s Warren Clinic, a part of Saint Francis Health System. She reminds of emotional reactions, too. “Hormonal changes can lead to sadness, frequent crying and irritability, which represent normal postpartum blues.”

Hormone shifts are frequent during the first 72 hours after birth and typically resolve themselves in a few weeks, Simoni says. However, mood changes can develop into something more severe – guilt, frequent crying and feelings of numbness toward family members.

“Postpartum depression can be very hard and causes distress, but is also very treatable with counseling and/or [medication] if we can identify it,” she says.

Challenges – a delivery that didn’t go as planned, breastfeeding difficulties, sleep deprivation that starts as soon as that baby is outside the womb – can also affect a woman in the first few weeks after childbirth.

“Be patient with yourself and your body, and remember to not only take care of your newborn’s needs, but your own as well,” Relic says.

All of the changes that come with transitioning from pregnancy to caring for a new, needy, little life – on top of simultaneously healing physically and emotionally – can overwhelm.

Relic and Simoni have advice on how to get through this challenging period. Communicate with loved ones about needs and don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Prepare for this time, before childbirth, by taking classes and understanding what to expect postpartum. And don’t hesitate to cultivate and reach out to a network of family and friends.

“It truly takes a village to raise a child,” Relic says. “Surround yourself with a support system to share in both the challenges and the joys.”

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