Whether it’s achieving that famous pregnancy glow, avoiding stretch marks, or making sure your stomach returns to ‘normal’ after giving birth, there’s a lot of internal and external pressure on women during and after pregnancy. It’s rare to hear anyone embrace or let alone talk about the inevitable changes that your body will go through when having a baby. Nobody put it better than Elizabeth Banks’ character in the movie What To Expect When You’re Expecting:
“I just wanted the glow. The one that they promise you on the cover of those magazines. Well, I'm calling it - pregnancy sucks. Making a human being is really hard. I have no control over my body or my emotions.”
Amen, girl! We’re breaking down those pregnancy and postpartum bodily changes that don’t get talked about enough, and while most of what’s on the list might sound negative, remember that all mothers go through this, and we’re in it together… hemorrhoids and all!
Lots of women experience swelling in the hands, feet and even face during pregnancy, and there’s a genuine reason behind it. Extra fluids in your body build up, and can remain for a time after giving birth. Try putting your feet up for some of the day, lying on your left side when sleeping, keeping your temperature down and drinking plenty of water. For some women, swollen feet are permanent as they never return to their original size after birth. Annoying? Sure. A good excuse to go shoe shopping? Absolutely.
Hemorrhoids aren’t always as bad as they are made to sound in popular culture. They are basically swollen veins in and around the anus, and they can hurt or even bleed. Anyone can get them, but pregnant women tend to experience them due to their expanding uterus. If you end up with hemorrhoids, don’t worry - they’re not permanent. Soak in regular warm baths to keep the area clean, use cream for any pain (ask your doctor), eat high-fiber foods and drink lots of water to make pooing easier, and try not to strain when doing so.
As your baby grows, your skin stretches to accommodate, and many women will notice stretch marks from where their stomach has popped out quickly. You might also see them on your thighs, hips and bottom, and while these probably won’t go away completely, using creams or lotions to improve skin elasticity during pregnancy, and continuing to use a stretch mark cream after the birth can drastically reduce their appearance. But most of all, don't feel embarrassed or ashamed of your new stripes. Stretch marks are a beautiful marker of how far your body has gone to bring new life into this world.
There’s a lot of discussion around pregnancy weight gain and postpartum weight loss, but always remember your body is YOURS, and you should do whatever makes you feel good. Pregnancy weight gain happens while your body is holding onto extra reserves while growing your baby, and it’s usually temporary. After the birth, things like breastfeeding and the general busy-ness of being a new mum tends to help you lose those extra pounds. If not, don’t sweat it. There is no medical reason for you to strive to return to your pre-pregnancy body right away, so enjoy this time and don’t let weight worries overshadow it.
Finally, something positive! Many women notice that their hair becomes denser and even longer during pregnancy, and this is due to the increased hormone levels in the body. Women do often report hair loss around 6 months after giving birth, but let’s just focus on those long, luscious locks for now!
Loose Pelvic-Floor Muscles
During pregnancy your abdomen muscles were stretched further than ever before, and it can take some time for these to regain strength. As a result, your body compensates by putting extra weight on your back muscles, leading to an achy back. This should clear up a few weeks after giving birth, but if not you may want to discuss with your doctor the best way to combat this.
One of those birth horror stories everyone tells is when a woman having a vaginal delivery tears at the perineum (the space between the vagina and anus) or has to have this surgically cut. This will need several weeks to fully heal, during which time moving around and going to the bathroom can be somewhat painful. If you end up having a Cesarean delivery (C-section) you will also have a large scar on your abdomen, and it’s important that you give yourself plenty of time to rest after the trauma of this.
Separated Stomach Muscles
As your baby grows in your uterus, the two muscles that run down the middle of your stomach tend to separate during pregnancy. As with most things in the body, this too will right itself around 8 weeks after giving birth. The gap will gradually get smaller and eventually close up, but if it doesn’t and the gap is still obvious after around 8 weeks, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor as this could lead to back problems in future.
When your baby arrives, so does your milk. If you are not breastfeeding, this will usually go away in a few days. If you are, you’ll want to make sure you get into a routine of regular feeding or pumping, to avoid your breasts becoming tender and sore. As well as expressing milk to relieve pain, you can take a warm shower or lay a hot water bottle across your breasts to help your milk flow. If they continue to be painful, speak to your doctor or healthcare professional for advice on how to alleviate this.
The good boob news? Breastfeeding is thought to lower your lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, dropping by around 4% according toLiveScience.com.
When you first start breastfeeding, cracked nipples can unfortunately be a common occurrence, especially if your baby struggles to latch straight away. Speaking to a lactation consultant can help make this right, and special creams or lotions can help to ease any pain. While this might be uncomfortable, remember the phase shouldn’t last long and you will be back to stress-free nips before you know it!
Are you pregnant or have you recently given birth? We’d love to know your own body changes, no matter how weird and wonderful they may be! Get in touch on Instagram @itsyoppie.