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New mother Pamela McIntosh, a writer for Living Well magazine, wrote this story soon after having her baby Georgia Milly McIntosh, and talking to midwife Sue Lee to help her make sense of it all. 

You’ll find a new issue of Living Well in your local Unichem at the start of each season, offering inspiration and ideas for making life better.

Pamela: I’m happy to be able to tie my shoelaces again, but this soft, squishy tummy is a surprise... I’ve heard that breastfeeding helps with the uterus contracting.

Midwife Sue Lee explains: Following the birth of your baby the stretched skin and underlying fat layer and muscles will slowly retract over a period of weeks/months. It is only reasonable that they won’t spring back at the moment of birth; they took nine months to stretch and accommodate your baby. Your uterus will take two to six weeks to shrink to its pre-pregnancy size.

The rate is influenced by your muscle tone, although breastfeeding helps speed the process. Breastfeeding helps to utilise the extra fat laid down in pregnancy. It was put there as a reserve for the demanding early weeks of breastfeeding.

Your skin will slowly regain its tone, although this is dependent on your skin type and elasticity. A non-smoking, well-nourished woman who was in good shape prior to pregnancy is likely to notice the tone return quicker. Postnatal exercises can be very helpful too.

Pamela: My breasts became lumpy when my milk came in. I definitely hadn’t anticipated this.

Sue Lee: You’re likely to have an abundance of milk when it first comes in and this causes your breasts to become very full, tight and lumpy. Feeding from both breasts at each feed and responding to your baby’s requests for feeds will help regulate your supply and your breasts will soften and settle down over the coming weeks.

Something to be aware of

Mothers can feel quite down around the time their milk comes in and these feelings can persist for a few days to a couple of weeks. Hormonal changes, reduced sleep, milk production and breastfeeding challenges all contribute to this temporary and normal response to the demands of new parenting. As the hormones settle you are likely to feel brighter. Good support, good rest and good nutrition are necessary. Talk with your lead maternity carer (LMC) if you have concerns.

Pamela: I didn’t realise how long the breastfeeding process would take. A feed lasts up to 45 minutes, followed by up to half an hour to get some burps up. Sometimes this means baby is only down sleeping for a short while before she wakes for another course.

Sue Lee: The number of feeds and the time it takes to satisfy your baby depends upon factors such as your available supply, your letdown response to suckling and the latch and suck of your baby. Your baby will also want some time at the breast to settle her as the transition to life outside the womb is a bit scary and your breast is a comforting and safe place to be. As your baby grows she will become more efficient at feeding and you’ll find her feed times become shorter.

Sue Lee’s top tips for looking after yourself

  • Take it one day at a time. 
  • Eat good nutritious meals and snacks (nuts, fruit, yoghurt, wholefoods, meat and vegetables). 
  • Accept help when it’s offered (don’t be shy to ask visitors to fold a pile of washing or make the tea). 
  • Talk to your midwife and Plunket about what is happening. They can reassure you of what is normal and offer advice to make the transition to parenthood easier.
  • Project patience and as much confidence as possible – babies respond to calmness and confidence. Take a deep breath!
  • Do not be afraid to seek help and support It takes both parents and baby time to get to know each other and how to adapt to this new life.

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After having a baby, your Unichem Pharmacist can be a vital source of information and advice on a wide range of topics from breastfeeding, treatments for colic to dealing with sore nipples. They can also help with products and advice around pain relief for young children, skincare for you and baby and information about medications and breastfeeding.