That's a New One
Two weeks after giving birth, I woke up in the middle of the night covered in sweat. Even though the air conditioner was set five degrees cooler than normal, I felt uncomfortably hot. After the same thing happened a few more times, I called my midwife. She instantly alleviated my concerns, explaining that my hot flashes were a result of fluctuating hormones and that they were only temporary. She was right. By the time my daughter was a month old, I was able to reclaim my blankets. I just wish I'd known about it ahead of time so I wouldn't have been so freaked out.
When we get pregnant, our loved ones are happy to warn us about things like nosebleeds, bloating, and excessive sleepiness. But few people tell us about the equally unusual -- and sometimes even more annoying -- problems that pop up post-birth. We asked the experts to shed some light on these common issues and to suggest the best ways to cope.
Why It Happens: The same hormones that cause some infants to develop acne may also affect your complexion, says Rakhi Dimino, M.D., an ob-gyn at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, in Houston.
The Cure: While your skin usually clears up on its own by your six-week postpartum visit, you may be able to speed things along by using an over-the-counter acne cream with salicylic acid. But talk to your doctor first if you're nursing, since even topical medicine can pass into breast milk. To be absolutely safe, consider going the natural route: The drying and lightening properties of lemon juice make it an effective spot treatment.
Pain Down There
Why It Happens: Postpartum vaginal discharge called lochia, which starts as bleeding, becomes dark brown, then light brown, and then turns a whitish or a yellowish color, can last up to six weeks. This means you'll be wearing a pad the entire time, which can lead to chafing, itchiness, soreness, and burning.
The Cure: Although your instinct may be to cleanse the area, over-washing with soap can lead to even more irritation. Instead, lie down with your perineum exposed to air whenever you can, advises Miriam Stoppard, M.D., author of Conception, Pregnancy & Birth: The Childbirth Bible for Today's Parents. You might try using a diaper-rash cream as well. If the soreness persists for more than a day or two, your doctor may want to test to see whether you have a bacterial or a yeast infection. If bacteria are to blame, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic cream. For a yeast infection, you'll need an antifungal cream.
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Why It Happens: Hormones, as well as other physical and emotional changes a postpartum woman experiences, can cause you to become anxious or have nightmares, says Rakhi Dimino, M.D., an ob-gyn at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, in Houston. Some women report waking up in a cold sweat with their heart racing.
The Cure: As long as the anxiety doesn't get in the way of caring for your baby, doctors generally advise waiting for it to subside on its own rather than turning to medication. If you have nightmares -- which often include vivid negative situations that relate to the baby -- Miriam Stoppard, M.D., author of Conception, Pregnancy & Birth: The Childbirth Bible for Today's Parents, advises talking about them with those close to you. "You want to get these thoughts out in the open and out of your head," she says. Anxiety that escalates to panic attacks (or feelings of hopelessness or being completely overwhelmed) should be discussed early on with your doctor. This may be a sign of postpartum depression, which can be treated with medication.
Why It Happens: During pregnancy, progesterone keeps your hair from shedding as it normally would. As your hormone levels return to normal, you start losing all the hair you would have lost over the past nine months.
The Cure: Hair loss generally peaks at six months postpartum and may continue for as long as a year. If you're breastfeeding, you may not notice your hair falling out until you start weaning. Whenever it happens, you just need to wait it out. To camouflage thinness at the hairline, you may find it helpful to pull your hair back with a headband. This will also stop you from leaving strands wherever you go.
Why It Happens: Toward the end of your pregnancy, the weight of your baby puts a strain on your pelvic-floor muscles, which help support your bladder control. Those weakened muscles may now cause you to leak a bit of urine when coughing, sneezing, or lifting something heavy.
The Cure: Kegel exercises, which help to strengthen your pelvic muscles, are the best method for preventing leaks. Get a feel for targeting the right muscles by peeing and stopping the flow of urine midstream about ten times. "Start doing these exercises as soon as you give birth, ideally every time you urinate, and try holding the squeeze for a few seconds longer each time," advises Rakhi Dimino, M.D., an ob-gyn at The Woman's Hospital of Texas, in Houston. By the end of the first month or so, you should start to notice an improvement.
Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Parents magazine.