Your Postdelivery Body: What’s Going on and Why

Nothing prepared you for this. Here’s a guide to your first 24 hours with the suddenly foreign organism that is your own postpartum body.
save article
profile picture of Jenna McCarthy
Updated May 8, 2017
Hero Image
Image: Getty Images

You look nine months pregnant.

Someone told you that you’d deliver and look four months pregnant? If only. Your uterus has gone from about the size of an orange to the size of a watermelon throughout your pregnancy, and it doesn’t deflate quickly like a balloon. For most moms, it takes at least six weeks for it to contract back to its pre-pregnancy size. And according to Ryan C. McDonald, MD, assistant professor of ob-gyn at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, once it shrinks you could still have a pooch due to bloating, constipation, fluid retention and a stretched-out abdominal wall. “If you’re out of maternity clothes at six weeks after delivery, you’re in the lucky minority,” he says.

You can’t pee.

Surprise! You finally make it to the bathroom, sit down and… nothing. “Under normal circumstances when your bladder is full, your brain sends a message via your nerves to empty it,” McDonald explains. But if you’ve had a long labor or a c-section, those nerves can be temporarily traumatized. The result: You get the urge but can’t seal the deal —weirdest feeling ever. On top of that, severe swelling around the urethra can actually obstruct the flow of urine. “It’s not uncommon to need a catheter in the first 24 hours after delivery,” McDonald says. Don’t get down in the dumps about this opposite-of-glamorous symptom — it almost always reverses itself quickly and completely.

When you finally do pee, it burns like crazy.

Delivery can cause small abrasions or tears near the urethra that burn when they come into contact with urine, McDonald says. Yowch! That’s why your labor nurse will probably give you a squirt bottle (called a “peri” bottle) to rinse the area after you pee, or a wet washcloth to wipe with afterwards. Also, drink up. “Staying hydrated after delivery will dilute your urine, which will also make it less painful,” says McDonald.

Related Video

You never saw so much blood.

“Most women will need the biggest maxi pad they have ever seen for the first day after giving birth,” McDonald says. And it’s because the amount of blood you’re losing would put any heavy flow to shame. Believe it or not, it’s not unusual to pass one or two clots the size of a baseball during this time. “It can be absolutely alarming when this happens, but it’s totally normal,” he says. (Any more than that, tell your doctor.) And your pelvic floor muscles may be worn out from delivery, so you could have some urine leakage as well. McDonald says this can last for up to six weeks without any cause for concern.

Every. Muscle. In your body. Aches.

Delivering a baby is a hugely athletic event that forces you to use muscles in ways you’ve never used them before. Laboring for three hours — and many women, especially first-time moms, go far longer than that — is like running 20 miles, McDonald says. “You’re effectively doing marathon-level work, and most of us don’t have the training for that,” he adds. Pop a pain reliever or two, which will help alleviate a lot of the pain and inflammation.

You’re still having contractions.

You thought you were done with these, but as your uterus shrinks back down to its pre-pregnancy shape and size, you may experience some serious contractions. Some women say these aftershocks hurt more than the contractions they experienced during labor. If you’re breastfeeding, the pain can be particularly intense, since nursing releases hormones that make your uterus contract (and jump-start the shrinking process). The worst of these contractions usually come within the first 48 hours after delivery, and you might experience milder ones for the next several weeks. Hang in there and feel free to breathe the way you learned in Lamaze class.

You’ve got giant hemorrhoids.

You may have had these swollen below-the-belt veins during the end of pregnancy, when your belly was putting pressure on the area. But add in all of that delivery-room straining and pushing, and you might find yourself with some seriously large and uncomfortable ones. The good news? Most hemorrhoids that crop up during pregnancy or delivery go away completely within a few weeks, McDonald says. If yours are painful or itchy, take a nice warm bath (or use the sitz bath your nurse gave you) to get some relief.

You’re terrified of number two.

It’s more common to have some degree of perineal tearing than none, McDonald says. And this can make  the first poop after birth seem scary. You’re wondering, “How much will it hurt? Will I bust my stitches?” Stool softeners can help. But also know that most women — even those who had severe tearing — say their first postpartum BM wasn’t as bad as they had expected. It’s important to go when you get the urge; even though it may be frightening, holding it in will just make it worse.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

save article

Next on Your Reading List

overhead view of newborn baby and mother in hospital bed after giving birth
How a Sitz Bath Can Help You Heal Postpartum
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
driver smoking a cigarette inside a car
Delaware Is First State to Ban Smoking With Kids in the Car
By Wyndi Kappes
The Best Postnatal Vitamins to Support Recovery and Breastfeeding
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
Jason and Travis Kelce pose for a photo during Game 1 of the NLCS between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, October 16, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Travis Kelce Highlights the Unseen Work of Moms in Hilarious Fashion
By Wyndi Kappes
mother wearing postpartum underwear while holding newborn baby
9 Best Postpartum Underwear, According to New Moms
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
heather rae el moussa auto immune disorder
What Heather Rae El Moussa Thought Was Mom Brain Was Something Bigger
By Wyndi Kappes
invisible mothers campaign by Peanut
94% of Moms Say Their Identity Beyond Motherhood Has Been Minimized
By Wyndi Kappes
pregnant woman looking at 3d ultrasound photo
Pregnancy Leads to a Permanent Rewiring of the Brain, New Study Says
By Wyndi Kappes
pregnant woman talking and laughing with her friends in kitchen at home
How We Develop and Review Our Articles at the Bump
By The Bump Editors
woman holding capsule and glass of water
Why Your Doctor Advises Against Eating Your Placenta After Birth
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
pregnant woman getting a vaccine
FDA Approves RSV Vaccine for Expectant Moms to Protect Newborns
By Wyndi Kappes
young mother breastfeeding baby
Study: Breastfeeding and Pregnancy Decrease Risk of Early Menopause
By Wyndi Kappes
lindsay lohan postpartum mirror selfie
Lindsay Lohan Jokes She's 'Not a Regular Mom, I'm a Postpartum Mom'
By Wyndi Kappes
tired mom holding baby
"Mommy Brain" Won't Last Forever, Study Confirms
By Wyndi Kappes
9 Best Air Purifiers to Help You Breathe a Little Easier
By Megan Cahn
woman turning fan on in bedroom
Why You're Dealing With Postpartum Night Sweats
By Korin Miller
mother holding newborn baby while sitting in chair at home
Why You Might Be Experiencing Postpartum Constipation
By Korin Miller
postpartum mother smiling at newborn baby while sitting on bed at home
9 Best Mom-Tested Postpartum Kits for Care and Recovery
By Elizabeth Narins
father bathing newborn baby in kitchen at home
How Often Should You Bathe a Newborn?
By Natalie Gontcharova
mother holding newborn baby while sitting on couch at home
The Baby Pinks: What to Know About Postpartum Euphoria
By Colleen De Bellefonds
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List