It’s no surprise to many people that there are a lot changes to the body that occur over the course of a pregnancy. After growing a baby (or babies) for nine months the body undergoes a world of change. Some of the changes go away fairly quickly after birth, others linger, and some of them are even permanent.
For all the talk about “It takes nine months to put on the weight, and it will take nine months to take off the weight” the changes are a lot bigger and more significant than a number on the scale. Ask any mom.
We hear a lot about some of these changes. The number of advertisements for anti-stretch mark creams and oils alone, speaks a lot to what body changes women are talking about in the days, months, and years after birth. There are endless boot camps, exercise programs, and programs marketed to a woman reclaiming her pre-pregnancy body.
Here’s the thing, people change, and so do their bodies, whether they’ve had children or not. Sometimes it’s for a few months, other times it lasts years, or even a lifetime, and that’s okay too. Many women talk about earning their stretch marks or stripes, but there are so many other ways the body is different post pregnancy that no one ever talks about.
Maybe they assume that these changes are unique to them, or perhaps they’re a little embarrassed by what’s going on, or don’t even realize it has to do with their pregnancy recovery. Either way it’s time to stop being shy and talk about 15 real, long term body changes many of us will experience as a part of motherhood.
15 Brain Changes
Everyone has heard about baby brain, but this is often used as an excuse for forgetfulness. The changes to the brain post pregnancy are much bigger than forgetting a cell phone on the kitchen table. People don’t seem to know about, or talk about the way a mother’s brain shifts, but it’s huge.
There are significant changes in the neuronal network during pregnancy to prepare a person for the responsibilities of parenting. These changes determine how the brain will move into protective mama bear mode after the arrival of the baby. This is truly nature at work for the survival of the human species, and it’s pretty amazing.
The big shift in this change is how there will be a new focus on nurturing, protecting, and, well, mothering. This also means there will be a notable reduction in erotic behavior because of the new focus on maternal pursuits. This can also lead to a slightly more stressed-out person because of the focus on protecting their young.
14 Plummeting Intimate Drive
Speaking of reduction of erotic behaviour, for many new moms getting intimate is as far down the laundry list as physically possible for quite a while after giving birth. This happens for many reasons. First off it takes a great deal of time for the body to recover “down there”.
There’s a reason doctors put a six weeks ban on intimate relations after birth, the body needs it. The six week ban is given because of the risk of infection. It takes time for the cervix to close up, and inserting anything (even a tampon) can introduce bacteria and lead to infection. Let’s get real though, a number of mom’s won’t be in the mood for nookie for quite a while post birth.
This can have to do with the new focus on baby, lack of sleep, and, again a need for recovery. Dr. Hope Ricciotti, Associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Harvard Medical School, and practicing obstetrician says, “It can take up to a year to feel like you are really back in the mood for getting down.”
13 The Cup Doesn’t Always Runneth Over
A lot of women are pumped about the prospects of a new curvier body post birth. Unfortunately that body might not remain the reality in the weeks or years to come, whether baby is breastfed or not. Breasts will often bulk up in size during pregnancy in preparation of nursing a baby, as women will be packing on the pounds in part to help feed their baby.
This means they may “deflate” after birth, and for some the loss of fat under the skin can cause permanent breast tissue sagging or drooping. It might be time to invest in a push-up bra. Others may end up with larger breasts post birth, with no real way to determine what size cup a woman will end up with.
12 Darker, Everything
One of the first changes many women notice during pregnancy is the darkening of their nipples. Pregnancy hormones will trigger a temporary boost in melanin within the body, which will increase pigment just about everywhere, particularly where there is additional pigment to begin with.
This means that scars might get darker, as well as freckles, moles, the skin under the armpit, and the labia. Many of these areas will lighten and fade after birth, but some will remain darker. Nipples typically lighten a bit, but will often remain permanently a few shades different than they were before pregnancy.
This is particularly true for very pale women. People may also experience a thickening and increase in diameter of their areola, the skin surrounding the nipple, during pregnancy. This is another change that might remain permanently after birth, whereas other moms, particularly those with darker, thicker nipples to begin with will notice little change.
11 Speaking Of Curves, How About Those Hips?
Hips widen during pregnancy in anticipation of pushing a baby through the birth canal. The hormone Relaxin (yeah that’s really its name) is released by the body to help relax pelvic joints and ligaments. The area most impacted by this is the pelvis, the changes of the pelvis bone structure is what makes women complain about their wider hips.
Some people don’t notice the changes, but others may be well aware that their jeans are a little bit tighter, even after they have lost the baby weight. For those who have always wanted more of an hour glass figure, they may be jumping for joy over their new curves, for those who already rock the wide hips, this may be a source of stress.
Some women will bind their hips in the first 8 weeks postpartum to help narrow their pelvic bones, however for hip binding to work it must be done within this time period, when the Relaxin hormones are still high.
10 Poor Posture
Most new moms probably notice their aching backs more than they notice poor posture, but this is a long-term post pregnancy ailment just about everyone experiences. The whole experience of being with child, breastfeeding, and carrying a wee baby in the arms will put a lot of focus on the front of the body.
This means other areas, like the back and shoulders, may curve. This curvature can lead to poor posture, back aches, and a weakened center or “core”. Some of this can be combatted by ensuring proper back support during seated breastfeeding (even a couple of pillows will do this). For those using baby carriers, look for ones with solid back support.
Some find that taking a regular yoga class can help them get their posture back on track. People tend to forget how impactful posture is on their personal fitness, and they really should make it a priority.
9 Grey Hair
New parents may joke that their children have given them grey hair, but they really might have! There is some debate among both hairdressers and doctors as to whether this change has to do with hormones, stress from parenting, the additional hair falling out in the months following birth or simply because a new mom probably has significantly less time to head to the salon and tend to her tresses.
It hasn’t really been widely studied. Some of this could be aging, but it could also be parenting. It’s really up to the individual to decide who they want to blame! Recently Kate Middleton made headlines, but doesn’t she always, when she stepped out showing off some grey hair post motherhood.
8 Welcome To The Sweats
Expecting moms who thought late August nights at nine months along was hot work, just wait. Many new moms experience the sweats in the weeks, and months following pregnancy. It is completely normal to sweat a lot in the first few weeks following pregnancy as the body works overtime to get rid of all of the water it’s been storing for 40 weeks.
Some moms may notice that they continue to sweat a lot, even beyond the first few weeks, particularly if they are breastfeeding. Don’t cut back on liquids in hope of curbing the sweats, as this would be bad for you. If the sweating seems overly excessive and continues on for a long time, discuss this with your healthcare practitioner as it could be a sign of an infection or an overactive thyroid.
7 The Chest Might Leak….For A Long Time
Sure, everyone expects a little leaking when they’re breastfeeding. That’s what breast pads are for, right? But what about weeks, months, or even years after baby has weaned? Some moms report leaking breast milk for six months, or even several years after stopping breastfeeding.
Releasing a small amount of milk for some time, often that looks more like colostrum, is more common than is widely known. This often happens to moms when they’re in the shower, and they may not even notice. However, if the breasts continue to produce large volumes of milk for long periods of time, this might be a problem worthy of medical attention.
Some medical conditions can cause Galactorrhea, which can cause increased levels of prolactin which is the hormone that allows for milk production. In most cases some leaking occasionally is nothing to be concerned about, even long after baby has weaned.
6 Future Pregnancies Will Be Different
Most people know that each pregnancy is different, just like each child is different from their siblings. That being said, the body in pregnancy two, three or four will be different than in the first. In the second pregnancy muscles are naturally looser, since they’ve been stretched out by baby number one.
This often means baby will carry lower than in the first pregnancy and mom might begin to show earlier. The added stress on mom’s skin during multiple pregnancies may also lead to even more stretch marks. It could also take significantly longer to bounce back into shape than it did in previous pregnancies.
Some moms may find their skin and muscles are stretched to the point where their shape is altered, to some degree, permanently. This change can be present even when moms get back to their pre-pregnancy weights.
5 Long Term Impacts Of Lost Sleep
Sleep deprivation isn’t just an issue for parents, although it definitely seems more pronounced in the early days of parenthood. It’s not anyone’s imagination, the loss of sleep experienced by parents of infants, and sometimes toddlers takes a big toll on the body. People need sleep just as much as they need food, water and oxygen.
Long term lack of sleep can impact the immunity system, make a person more susceptible to respiratory infections, can cause weight gain by increasing the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and increase risks of cardiovascular problems. The good news is babies grow up and sleep more soundly.
In the days of sleepless nights consider taking shifts with a partner, indulging in regular naps (which are really more of a necessity than a treat) and take proper care. People need, on average, seven to nine hours of sleep. Consider an earlier bed time, if possible, because even an extra fifteen or twenty minutes a night will do wonders for overall health.
4 The Perma-Kangaroo Pouch
Okay, we all talk about the belly, but that doesn’t mean we understand exactly what went on with it in pregnancy and beyond. Just the same most people see celeb moms with their toned abs and sigh a defeated breath. Usually it takes the uterus around six to eight weeks to return to the normal size, but the belly bulge is more than that.
People can be pretty hard on themselves, even though the reason for the puffy belly might be something completely out of their control. Diastasis recti is a separation of the abdominal (or six pack) muscles that routinely happens during pregnancy.
The connecting tissue gets thinner as mom’s belly expands during pregnancy and this can cause the waist to widen and the belly to sit (or bulge) further forward. As these muscles stretch and move it weakens a mother’s core. A study completed by The Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy revealed that 32 percent of women had diastasis recti below their belly button and 68 percent had it above.
3 Big Fat Feet
I remember splurging on a couple of pairs of shoes during pregnancy figuring it was a safe purchase since my feet weren’t going to get any larger, while the rest of me was. Boy was I ever wrong! Swelling of the feet during pregnancy is par for the course. For the first few weeks when a mother’s milk is coming in, swollen feet are quite common.
For some women bigger feet return to their normal size around six months or a year post pregnancy, whereas others (like myself) have permanently larger tootsies. Bigger feet to support a bigger, expectant body, makes a bit of sense, the only problem is the expense at replacing a whole lot of shoes.
2 Strange Changes
People may experience a number of seemingly strange body side effects in the weeks, or even years following pregnancy, and they aren’t alone. Many women enjoy fuller thicker hair during pregnancy, only have it to seemingly all fall out at once after they give birth.
The good news is these limp locks usually recover within about a year, and this only happens because many moms lose less hair when they are expecting. Some moms report getting varicose veins, numb body parts and other strange pregnancy after tremors.
One mom I know saw her nose both grow and then shrink during her second pregnancy, whereas another saw her nose grow and remain its new size following the birth of her daughter. Other moms have reported gaining better eyesight, or the loss of allergies post-pregnancy. Not all of these changes will happen for everyone, but they are certainly normal, and in most cases absolutely nothing to worry about.
1 Being Mom
As easy as it is to complain about an increase in girth, an aching back, or stretch marks that span what feels like every inch of the body, there’s one thing that changed that most parents wouldn’t trade for anything in the entire world.
For those of us who are lucky enough to be able to have children (and there are many who can’t who would love to have those wider hips and varicose veins) something inside changes forever. The connection forged between a mother and her child is something truly special that, like those abdominal muscles, can strengthen with work, self-love and determination.
At the end of the day a slightly softer squishy belly is the best for little arms to wrap around and cuddle, ask any mom! By giving ourselves some of the patience and kindness offered to kids to grow and change perhaps we can see beyond the extra bumps and bruises that come with motherhood. At the end of the day, they’re totally worth it!
Resources: Huffington Post, BabyCenter, LiveStrong, Babble