Pregnancy is a crazy thing. A woman who has been walking around essentially by herself for years all of a sudden has a living being growing inside her uterus. Before she even meets it, that baby runs her entire life. There are many things that people expect to come along with a pregnancy: hormonal imbalances, crazy cravings, erratic sleep schedule, so on and so on. However, there is a large amount of things that will physically or mentally happen to the mother that nobody knows about, or at the very least nobody talks about.
Every woman is different. Every pregnancy is going to be different. Just because a woman’s friend immediately dropped all the baby weight doesn’t mean she is going to, and just because she lost a good amount of hair in the first few months doesn’t mean her sister is going to. However, one constant is that things are going to happen both physically and emotionally. No woman has ever given birth and then gone on to live her life in exactly the same way afterwards.
There are many permanent physical changes, there are many temporary physical changes. There hormonal changes that will rock the boat so hard a new mother will wonder if she is going to capsize, and there are some things hat will happen that the mother will take in stride. It’s a crazy thing, growing a life inside you, and the consequences match that craze. There are many different ways to prepare for pregnancy, but there are some things that will catch anybody by surprise.
For most women, being a new mother is the greatest thing in the world. They feel nothing but pride for their new child; they can’t wait for people to meet them, they beam at the mere sight of them, and so on. However, some women develop what’s known as postpartum depression, or PPD. There are many symptoms of this condition. One of which is that the mothers don’t feel bonded with their baby. They see new mothers on TV or among their circle of friends obsess over their new babies, but just can’t get into it themselves.
Most, if not all, new mothers are overwhelmed by their newborn. A woman with PPD, however, feels as though there is no possible way they will be able to handle motherhood. Because of this, they feel guilty, and perhaps believe their baby deserves a better mother. Symptoms not necessarily related to the baby may occur as well. Similar to regular depression, many mothers suffering from PPD feel empty, or don’t ever feel like eating, and can’t sleep properly.
During pregnancy, many women may find that they need to urinate much more frequently than usual. This is due mostly to the fact that the baby is pressing against the bladder, increasing the urge to go. This should end after the baby is born, as there is no longer anything applying pressure to the bladder. However, there is a great deal of stress put on the urethra during the delivery of the baby, and this often causes problems for the mother.
One of these problems could be a difficulty emptying the bladder. The pushing required during the delivery can sometimes strain the muscles used to relieve yourself, so it can be tough to completely empty the bladder. It may also have the opposite effect, and many women report that they have a tough time holding anything in when they are out of reach of a bathroom. It’s also common for women to contract a UTI after giving birth, which can cause a burning sensation when trying to empty the bladder.
It’s no secret that women becoming mothers begin to think a little bit differently. Women who were once laid back, happy-go-lucky types begin to worry over every little thing. They become incredibly protective of their baby, and they feel a love that can be compared to nothing else. While a good deal of these changes can be contributed to hormonal changes, there have been indications that a woman’s brain chemistry can change permanently after giving birth.
A team of researchers at Autonomous University of Barcelona performed brain scans of first time mothers before and after their delivery. The results cannot be denied; there were drastic changes of gray matter in the brain, particularly in the parts responsible for social cognition and theory of mind. Those are also the same regions that fire off when they look at their infants. At this point it is not entirely clear why this happens.
There are many physical changes that a woman undergoes after giving birth. One of those changes is an oftentimes shocking amount of hair loss. The average, non pregnant person loses about 100 hairs every day. During pregnancy, however, a woman loses much less than that, most likely due to the drastic hormone changes. A few weeks after the delivery, the body must compensate for the lack of hair loss, so in the first six months of the baby’s life, the mother loses much more hair than usual.
This frightens many women, as nobody, men or women, are into being bald. However, after the initial six months, the hair growth cycle returns to normal, and the mother goes back to losing about 100 hairs a day. After this initial period, your hormones level off as well, which also aids in the restoration of the growth cycle. The Hair will also return to its pre-pregnancy thickness.
Another physical change a new mother may experience is skin discoloration.
During pregnancy many women may experience a “mask of pregnancy,” which is when the woman develops brown patches on the skin on her face. She may also experience an increase in acne, or extremely dry skin. For obvious reasons, many women don’t like these changes.
Most of these changes should go away over the course of a few weeks, but that is not always the case. Especially with the mask, some women find they may need to see a dermatologist, who might prescribe a skin bleaching cream. Sometimes the mask will go away after pregnancy, but will then come back if the woman goes on the pill. If this happens, usually she will talk to her doctor about a different form of contraception.
It’s also possible for the mother to have clear skin all throughout her pregnancy, but after birth she could break out in spots. Most of this is caused by the extra stress of raising a human life. If this happens, cleanse your skin twice a day with a mild solution, and if that doesn’t help, she should talk to her doctor about other options. None of these issues are detrimental to the health of the mother, and are purely aesthetic.
While most women are incredibly excited for what pregnancy means, they are also not too excited about the aesthetic changes to their body, namely the weight gain. Many women are incredibly self conscious about their waistline as it is; throw a living being inside of it and it makes a world of difference. Many women want to have the baby and then immediately want their waistline to go back to what it was pre-pregnancy.
However, as any new mother will find, it is not that easy.
Just after giving birth, the uterus is still hard and round, weighing in at about two and a half pounds. From there, it is a fairly slow shrinkage, oftentimes taking about six to eight weeks, to get down to two ounces, and to the point where you can no longer feel it by pressing on the abdomen. What women need to keep in mind, is that it took nine months to get to the point where it was. In a perfect world, once the baby leaves it would shrink down to normal size, but that is unfortunately not the case.
Another thing many women are surprised to have continue after their pregnancy is the amount of back pain they experience. During pregnancy, there is a lot of extra weight on the front of the body, so oftentimes women with even the strongest back muscles begin to exhibit poor posture. Slouched shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt, and the head leaning forward are all symptoms of tight and weak musculature support. Many women stop exercising as intensely as they did before pregnancy, or stop all together, greatly contributing to the tightening and weakening of muscles.
Another cause for back pain is the stretching of the abdomen muscles. When they cannot properly contract to help support the weight of the torso, the back muscles tend to take over, and many women find that the extra strain irritates the back quite a bit. It’s like if you removed the front wall to a house; the back wall may be able to support the weight of the roof, but it will need to work a lot harder than it did before. After the baby is born and the abdomen doesn’t have to stretch like it did before, those muscles can start to take up some of the load again, but a regular stretching and strengthening routine will help expedite the process.
One thing that nobody likes dealing with, that many new mothers have to deal with, is constipation. A lot of times the diet during pregnancy is fairly erratic, with many women allowing cravings to dictate what they eat. This can have a large effect on the digestive system, especially after the mother is no longer sharing her nutrients with a fetus. If the diet is not kept in check, many new mothers can develop constipation.
Another thing that can contribute to constipation is the pain you can experience. Many women, during delivery, have what’s called an episiotomy, or a surgical cut of the perineum in order to help with vaginal tearing. However, this can make moving your bowels very painful, therefore some women tend to put it off as long as they can, which then backs up the system. Hemorrhoids also make it extremely uncomfortable to move the bowels, having the same effect.
Many women will also find that after pregnancy they may develop varicose veins. This is due to pressure put on the inferior vena cava, a large vein on the right side of the body. When that has pressure put on it, additional pressure is put on the leg veins, resulting in visible varicose veins. After the delivery, the uterus shrinks (rather slowly) and some of the veins may lessen.
Another thing that may help lessen varicose veins is losing some of the baby weight, which should lessen pressure on the veins, plus increase blood flow. However, many women will find that the veins never fully go away, and it is something that they just have to live with. Pressure on the inferior vena cava may also cause some restless legs. Many women have found that taking regular walks should help with the feeling of twitchiness in their legs. These regular walks will also aid in the postpartum weight loss.
Many women are surprised to find that after they give birth, they cannot get through a night without soaking their sheets. During pregnancy, the body accumulates a lot of fluids, all of which are necessary to the health of the baby. After it is born, however, all of that fluid is still inside of the mother’s body. Now that it is not necessary, it needs to get out somehow. This is done primarily by severe night sweats.
Many new mothers may find they sweat a little extra during the day too, but not nearly as aggressively as the night sweats. While excessive sweating is completely normal in the weeks following birth, if the mother has a fever as well, it could very well mean infection and she should get herself checked out. Although not scientifically proven, it is expected that the immediate drop in estrogen could contribute to the excessive sweating as well. It is also not out of the question that the added stress of having a baby could contribute as well.
While it may not surprise most that your energy levels change when you have a new baby, but it is surprising that the energy levels often increase. In fact, some women report that they feel more energetic than they ever have, even before pregnancy. There have been studies that show a new mother’s aerobic capacity can increase up to 20% in the first six weeks after giving birth. There is speculation that this is an evolutionary tactic so as to be able to meet the demands of a new baby.
Perhaps less surprising, there are many women on the other side of the coin as well. Many women report that giving birth alone sapped them of all energy, and they feel sluggish and moody after delivering the baby. That, in addition to lack of sleep and high stress levels make many new mothers feel constantly exhausted. A mother’s energy level postpartum can be somewhat of a crapshoot.
Giving birth almost automatically changes how a mother thinks. She is constantly thinking about the baby, playing the what if game and trying desperately to prepare for any possible variable. However, many mothers are surprised that they are suddenly nervous of things like long car rides, flying, or anything else that could possibly put themselves in danger. She wants to ensure the baby has everything it needs for a happy, healthy life, and that includes a happy, healthy mother.
Some new mothers develop agoraphobia, or fear of public places, not only for their children, but for themselves as well. They are worried that if anything happens to them, then that would mean their baby would grow up motherless. While some women take it to extreme levels, some women claim that it was the best thing that could happen to them, saying that they had been living life too recklessly beforehand, and now feel as though they are living life with the proper level of care.
During pregnancy, the mother and her baby swap cells through the placenta. The infant cells, however, can actually become a part of the mother’s tissue, and can affect the mother’s DNA for years. This creates what biologists call a micro-chimera, named after a combination of animals in Greek mythology. Although it is unclear what this does to the mother’s health, either good or bad, the evidence for this phenomena is unarguable.
Fetal cells are like stem cells in that they can turn into basically any kind of cell. Once they are embedded in tissue, they then recognize what the cells around them are doing and then do that. After pregnancy, the immune system removes unchanged fetal cells, but the ones that copied their neighbors stick around for decades to come. There is a lot of work currently going into understanding what this means for the mother long term, but as of right now there doesn’t seem to be much known about it other than the fact that it is happening.
It is recommended that an average sized woman gain from 25-35 pounds during a pregnancy. Many women will gain even more than that. All of that weight is obviously supported by the feet. Many women will find that the extra weight on the feet flattens out the arches, making their feet slightly longer.
In addition to the weight, one of the many hormones that increases in a pregnant woman is called ralaxin. As the name suggests, this hormone is responsible for the relaxing of ligaments so as to prepare for childbirth. However, this relaxing effect does not stop in the pelvis area, and effects the entire body. That, when combined with the extra weight, means the arches will really flatten out and the foot elongates. Many women may find that they even need to jump up a shoe size, and this change is often permanent after the baby is born.
It may not be surprising that the first few months after childbirth the mother has no interest in sex. The hormones do all sorts of crazy things, and the process of childbirth is incredibly traumatic physically to the mother. Evolution may also play a role in the libido decrease. Raising a child is incredibly demanding work, both physically and emotionally, so your body may be subconsciously telling you to avoid sex so as to avoid another pregnancy. Most of the time, after a few months, the hormones begin to balance, and, assuming you can get a moment to yourself, sex begins to climb its way back up the list of priorities.
However, about 21% of women lose their sex drive on a more permanent basis, and need to actively work to build their libido up again. Many women find that after spending all day getting pooped on, peed on, and tending to their babies every need, they do not feel sexy at the end of the day. There is also a certain level of resentment, whether consciously or not, directed at the husband. Many men will never know the level of dedication a mother puts into raising a child, and, if the mother is not open about her feelings, resentment can build and she begins losing sexual attraction toward her partner.
Sources: ScientificAmerican.com, PostpartumProgress.com, Wedmd.com, LiveScience.com, Parents.com