Most new mothers wonder how their body will change after childbirth. The changes following pregnancy are unscripted and unpredictable but unfortunately are also inevitable. Even up to six months post-labor, women deal with everything from changes in stomach appearance to hair loss to back pain. Although some of the changes are permanent, there is good news—most changes are temporary and habits like healthy eating and moderate exercise make returning to a pre-pregnancy body faster and smoother.
So what can you expect to deal with after pregnancy? All women have different experiences after pregnancy. Luckily, there are steps you can take to deal with the expected and unexpected changes to your body.
1- Stomach changes
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that the average-sized woman should gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy1. After giving birth, you may expect your stomach to immediately return to normal—typically, that’s not the case. In fact, it can take anywhere from 6-10 weeks before the uterus is back to pre-pregnancy size. This means most people will still have a small but visible tummy pouch for a few weeks. However, with time—and usually a bit of exercise—the stomach will soon return to its normal shape.
2- Hair loss
Hair loss is one of the most common side effects during pregnancy2. However, many women also experience hair loss after pregnancy. Following childbirth, estrogen levels in the body decline and can lead to hair thinning and shedding. The shedding usually happens 1-5 months post-pregnancy and peaks around the third month. Fortunately, hair loss is temporary and hair growth usually begins again after six months.
3- Stretch marks
Stretch marks are one of the most visible and often the most dreaded side effect of pregnancy. In fact, around 90% of all women will develop them3. Stretch marks can pop up almost anywhere on the body and occur when the body grows at a faster rate than the skin. Gaining 30 pounds in nine months puts a time strain on skin growth. As you gain weight, elastic fibers under your skin’s surface tend to break and result in stretch marks3. Over time, stretch marks fade but unfortunately never go away completely. Some dermatologists may recommend different methods for fading, but there is no definitive treatment. Talk to your physician or dermatologist for helpful tips regarding fading.
The nerves, ligaments, and pelvic floor muscles work together to prevent urine from leaking. However, overstretching during childbirth weakens the pelvic floor muscles. Once the pelvic floor muscles weaken and stop functioning, urine may pass involuntarily. Known as stress incontinence, this condition is extremely common amongst pregnant and post-pregnant women.
The length of time stress incontinence lasts varies widely amongst women. The majority of women return to normal function a few weeks after pregnancy. Yet, in certain instances, severe stress incontinence may last for years and require input from a doctor. Activities like pelvic floor exercises are highly recommended as they help strengthen the muscles. These exercises will help minimize incontinence and strengthen the pelvic muscles.
5- Skin discoloration
During pregnancy, some women develop Melasma or better known as the “mask of pregnancy”. Melasma is a darkening or hyperpigmentation of the skin that develops around the face, cheekbones, or jawline. Following pregnancy, the discoloration will usually fade within about 12 months4. Talk with your physician or a dermatologist of this discoloration persists.
Some new mothers are lucky enough to avoid hemorrhoids during their pregnancy but may still develop them afterward. Hemorrhoids are a common post-pregnancy symptom caused by the act of pushing and delivery. Hemorrhoids are painful and bothersome. Maintaining a high-fiber diet, drinking plenty of water, or sitting in a sitz bath may provide a quicker resolution to hemorrhoids.
7- Back Pain
You can expect back pain during pregnancy. However, back pain after childbirth is less expected5. As the body puts extra weight on the back muscles, abdominal muscles will stretch and weaken. Until your abdominal muscles tighten again, you may experience back pain for a few months after childbirth. Younger mothers and those who gain more weight have a higher risk of back pain in the postpartum period6. This pain should clear up in the first two months and you may find that moderate, routine exercise may help.
Keep in mind that not everyone will experience all these symptoms and many are temporary and disappear after a few months. Light exercise and a healthy diet can help get you and your body back to normal. Exercise and a sensible diet can increase energy levels and help you get all the nutrients you and your baby need. Maintaining a healthier lifestyle will help make the post-pregnancy period and your recovery easier.
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1) The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists. Committee Opinion. Number 548, January 2013, Reaffirmed 2015.
2) Uptodate®. The skin, hair, nails, and mucous membranes during pregnancy. Miriam Keltz Pomeranz, MD. Last updated 31 March 2016. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/the-skin-hair-nails-and-mucous-membranes-during-pregnancy?source=machineLearning&search=melasma+pregnancy&selectedTitle=1~48&sec tionRank=1&anchor=H5#H5
3) WebMD. The Truth About Pregnancy Stretch Marks. Elizabeth B. Krieger. September 15, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/stretch-marks#1
4) WebMD. Post-Pregnancy Body Changes You Didn’t Expect. Reviewed on August 25, 2015. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/features/post-pregnancy-body-changes?page=3
5, 6) Breen, T. W., Ransil, B. J., Groves, P. A., & Oriol, N. E. (1994). Factors associated with back pain after childbirth. Anesthesiology, 81(1), 29-34. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8042807