Sore breasts and leaking milk

Several days after delivery, your breasts might become heavy, swollen and tender. This is known as engorgement. To ease the discomfort, nurse your baby or use a breast pump to express milk. You might also want to apply cold washcloths or ice packs to your breasts. Over-the-counter pain relievers might help, too. To help prevent nipple pain, make sure that your baby latches on to your breast correctly. If you're unsure or every feeding is painful, ask a lactation consultation for help.

If your breasts leak between feedings, wear nursing pads inside your bra to help keep your shirt dry. Change pads after each feeding and whenever they get wet.

If you're not breast-feeding your baby, wear a firm, supportive bra. Compressing your breasts will help stop milk production. In the meantime, don't pump your breasts or express the milk. This only tells your breasts to produce more milk.

Hair loss and skin changes

During pregnancy, elevated hormone levels put normal hair loss on hold. The result is often an extra-lush head of hair — but now it's payback time. After delivery, your body sheds the excess hair all at once. Within six months, your hair will most likely be back to normal. In the meantime, shampoo only when necessary, and find a hairstyle that's easy to maintain. Avoid curling irons and harsh chemicals.

Stretch marks won't disappear after delivery, but eventually they'll fade from reddish purple to silver or white. Expect any skin that darkened during pregnancy — such as the line down your abdomen (linea nigra) — to slowly fade as well.

Mood changes

Childbirth triggers a jumble of powerful emotions. Mood swings, irritability, sadness and anxiety are common. Many new moms experience a mild depression, sometimes called the baby blues. The baby blues typically subside within a week or two. In the meantime, take good care of yourself. Share your feelings, and ask your partner, loved ones or friends for help. If your depression deepens or you feel hopeless and sad most of the time, contact your health care provider. Prompt treatment is important.

Weight loss

After you give birth, you'll probably feel flabby and out of shape. You might even look like you're still pregnant. Don't worry. This is perfectly normal. Most women lose more than 10 pounds during birth, including the weight of the baby, placenta and amniotic fluid. In the days after delivery, you'll lose additional weight from leftover fluids. After that, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you gradually return to your pre-pregnancy weight.

The postpartum checkup

About six weeks after delivery, your health care provider will check your vagina, cervix and uterus to make sure you're healing well. He or she might do a breast exam and check your weight and blood pressure, too. This is a great time to talk about birth control, breast-feeding and how you're adjusting to life with a new baby. You might also ask about Kegel exercises to help tone your pelvic floor muscles.

Above all, share any concerns you might have about your physical or emotional health. Chances are, what you're feeling is entirely normal. Look to your health care provider for assurance as you enter this new phase of life.

Mar. 16, 2012 See more In-depth