What to expect after the baby
Face: The mask of pregnancy (the butterfly-shaped tan-colored area around your eyes) will start to fade as your hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels. Ditto for the linea nigra -- that mysterious brown line that many pregnant women develop down the center of the lower abdomen.
Breasts: Your breasts may become flushed, swollen and engorged with milk a day or two after the birth. The best way to deal with the problem is to do what comes naturally: put your baby to the breast.
Abdomen: Even the supermodel moms experience a bit of abdominal flabbiness after they give birth -- the reason why they tend to hole up with their personal trainers for a few weeks after giving birth. So don't beat yourself for not having abs of steel at this point in your life: no new mom does.
Stretchmarks: Speaking of your abdomen, you may notice that the underside of your belly is covered in bright red crayon-like marks. They've been there all along: you just weren't able to see them while you were pregnant. While they won't disappear entirely, these particular pregnancy souvenirs will soon fade to silver.
Uterus: While you'll initially look about five to six months pregnant, by the time you show up at your doctor's office for your six-week checkup, your uterus should be back to its pre-pregnancy size.
Perineum: It's hardly surprising that most women who've given birth vaginally experience some degree of perineal pain: after all, the perineum gets quite a workout when a baby is being born! Hot or cold compresses can give you tremendous relief during the early days postpartum, as can sitting on a hemorrhoid cushion. And some women swear by witch hazel compresses, too.
Heavy vaginal bleeding: The term "lochia" is used to describe the vaginal bleeding that occurs after the birth as your uterus sheds its lining. You'll experience it whether you gave birth vaginally or via cesarean section. You can expect lochia to last for at least a month after the delivery and possibly for as long as six weeks. During the first few days, you can expect your lochia to be much heavier than any menstrual period you've ever experienced. You may also find yourself passing blood clots the size of small lemons during the early hours after the delivery. Fortunately, your lochia will soon taper off into a pinkish and then almost colorless discharge.
Vagina: Your vagina may feel stretched and tender after the delivery. Kegel exercises can help your vagina to regain its prepregnancy tone and help to ward off incontinence and other gynecological problems. If you're breastfeeding, you may also experience vaginal dryness -- something that can cause discomfort during intercourse unless you reach for a tube of water-soluble vaginal lubricant as soon as things start to get hot and heavy. Note: If the lubricant isn't doing the trick for you, ask your doctor to prescribe a topical estrogen cream instead.
Sweating: Your body needs to get rid of all the extra fluids it accumulated over the course of your pregnancy, something that can cause you to perspire more heavily than usual, especially at night. Fortunately, these menopause-like hot flashes only last for a week or two. In the meantime, sleeping on a towel will help to soak up some of the extra perspiration.
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, The Mother of All Baby Books, and numerous other books about pregnancy and parenting. You can contact Ann via her website at www.having-a-baby.com.