We hear plenty about the short-term effects of pregnancy, but how does it affect one's health over the long term? As it turns out, having a baby takes a lasting toll on a woman’s body, but there’s also some good news.
The body bounces back from some crazy things that pregnancy does to it. To make room for itself, a growing baby squishes its mother’s stomach and intestines up above itself, while smashing her bladder down below. The joints and ligaments become looser to accommodate all of this stretching and moving around, and while this prevents them from breaking, they can become overstretched causing pain or failure to hold up the parts of the body they’re meant to. Then, of course, there’s the weight gain. An added 20-40 pounds changes a woman visibly, but more importantly, she feels the physical toll of carrying more weight. Many of these amazing transformations disappear some time within the first year after birth, but many people are not aware of what pregnancy does to the body that lasts for a lifetime.
Pregnancy and childbirth have both positive and negative long-term effects on a woman’s health. Many women suffer from urinary or fecal incontinence and even pelvic organ prolapse for years to come after having a baby. This is because their pelvic floor muscles were stretched and strained to the point of no longer properly holding up the organs they are meant to support. Those who suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes during their pregnancy are likely to experience these chronic problems later in life. Doctors do note that these women were already at risk for these diseases and that pregnancy brought them to light at a younger age than they would have otherwise occurred.
On the positive side, women who were first pregnant before age 30 showed a reduced risk for breast cancer. Additionally, mothers who carried their babies to term had less chance of ending up with ovarian or endometrial cancers.
Fortunately, there’s a lot that a new mother can do to prevent the not-so-positive long-term effects of pregnancy. She can be conscientious about her physical health during pregnancy, keeping her pelvic muscles strong and avoiding straining areas where she’s weak. She can also eat a healthy pregnancy diet and stay somewhat active. Pregnancy is not a time to put one's feet up and “eat for two”. Yes, she should slow down and listen to her appetite, but this should be done in a healthy way so she’s supporting her physical health. Striving for a natural birth with minimal interventions may also avoid major shocks to the body, which could damage ligaments, muscles, and nerves associated with bladder and bowel control. Proper, balanced care of one's body must continue postpartum as well, as a woman’s body slowly and steadily recuperates. Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid all long-term issues associated with pregnancy, but a woman can make a big difference by focusing on these things.