Are you pregnant, or have you recently given birth? Then your body is probably going through changes you never thought were possible. Some women accept and embrace these changes, but others panic and begin to worry about their health, or fear they would never regain their physical shape.
Some changes are only temporary, but others may influence the rest of your life. What changes should you expect during and after pregnancy, how will they affect your body, and how can you cope with them? Keep reading to find out!
9 Changes That Will Affect Your Body During and After Pregnancy
1. Breast Changes
These are probably the first changes you notice, perhaps even before taking the pregnancy test. As soon as you conceive, your breasts start swelling. They feel tender and sore, and they grow gradually but visibly. That is because they develop more fatty tissue, and blood flow to this body area increases.
All these changes have a single purpose: to help your mammary glands and milk ducts grow. Your nipples will grow and begin to stick out as well. Their areolas will expand and get darker, preparing for the time when they have to guide the baby to your breast and help them feed. Throughout the last months of pregnancy, the pain disappears, as your breasts develop the ability to produce milk. They still grow and feel heavy, and they may even begin to leak. Some women also develop stretch marks, as the growth process tears up their inner skin layers.
After you give birth, or after you start breastfeeding, your breasts will go from full of milk and tender to saggy. They will also leak for a while, even if you are not breastfeeding. You cannot prevent these processes, but you can take a few measures to make them bearable and increase your comfort:
• Wear comfortable, less constricting bras.
• Reduce or eliminate salt from your diet, to prevent swelling and water retention.
• Use a cream or natural oil to moisturize and hydrate the skin, and prevent the appearance of stretch marks.
• Apply breast pads to the interior of your bra to avoid milk stains.
• If you breastfeed, do it 6 to 8 times a day, to prevent engorgement and stimulate milk production.
• If you decide not to breastfeed, wear tight sports bras and apply cold compresses on your breasts to signal them that milk is no longer necessary.
• When, after birth, your breasts get too engorged and painful, you may have to let some of the milk flow, preferably in the shower.
After you stop breastfeeding, with time, your body will absorb the remaining milk. Your breasts will regain their usual size, and your nipples’ color will return to normal. Unfortunately, the stretch marks and the saggy skin will not go away. Massaging the breasts with a moisturizing cream may help improve the skin’s elasticity and diminish the unsightly saggy skin aspect.
Some women claim their breasts remained bigger after giving birth, while others assure they got even smaller. Specialists blame such deviations on body weight changes. Anyway, within a few months or years from giving birth, depending on whether you breastfeed, your breasts should return to normal, or as close to normal as possible.
2. Stomach Changes
Throughout your pregnancy, your waist and belly will increase gradually but considerably. You will also gain several pounds. The usual weight gain during pregnancy starts from 20 pounds and can go as far as 50 pounds. This will add an enormous pressure on your skin, which will have to stretch even beyond its abilities, and may tear and form stretch marks. The most vulnerable areas are the abdomen, hips, thighs, buttocks, and lower back. Due to the high hormone levels, some women also develop a brown line down the center of their lower abdomen.
With your prominent belly, you won’t be able to move and sleep as comfortable as you used to. Your appetite may increase, or, on the contrary, you may get nauseous and throw up all the time, or only as a reaction to certain foods and smells. Throughout the last months of pregnancy, you will most likely suffer from acid burn.
After giving birth, your uterus will feel round and hard, but will begin to decrease in size and hardness, returning to normal in approximately 6 weeks. The brown line will disappear as well, but the skin will look wrinkled and flabby, and will need more time to regain its suppleness.
After the first six weeks of pregnancy, you can take up mild physical exercise, to return to your initial shape. The reddish or purple color of your stretch marks will fade away, leaving room to a pale, silvery tint. Unfortunately, the texture may accentuate, and you may feel depressions and irregularities upon touching your skin. Here are a few tips on how to make these changes easier to bear:
• To avoid stretch marks, apply topically, twice a day, natural cream or oil that will improve your skin’s elasticity and prevent tears.
• To avoid digestion problems and excess weight gain, try adopting a balanced diet, based on non-processed foods, especially fruits, vegetables, dairy, and white meat.
• Eat small regular meals, preferably at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with small and healthy snacks in between.
• If you experience heartburn, avoid eating late at night, drink unsweetened chamomile tea before going to bed, chew sugar-free gum, and try sleeping with your upper body part higher.
• During and after pregnancy, walk as much as you can, as it will help you give birth easier, avoid weight gain, and speed up your recovery.
• If you can, breastfeed. Besides boosting your baby’s immune system and sealing the bond between you two, it will help you lose weight and even protect you from a new pregnancy (don’t sleep on it, though, and talk to your doctor about additional protection measures).
3. Hair Changes
During the pregnancy, your hair may feel stronger than ever due to the higher estrogen levels. You will notice that it stops breaking as you comb or wash it, the ends no longer split at the same rate, and it gains a healthier overall glow. Depending on their diet and hair care ritual, some women may feel their hair greasier or drier than usual, but these are rare cases.
After a few months from giving birth, however, most women notice their hair starts falling. It’s because the estrogen levels drop, and the body uses most of its resources to recover after birth. Women who undergo a C-section or experience massive blood loss during delivery may also develop anemia.
Excessive shedding, as dermatologists call it, is only temporary. Your hair will return to normal in a couple of months. If you still experience considerable hair loss at one year from giving birth, you should consult a dermatologist. Otherwise, here are a few small tricks you can try:
• Choose shampoos and conditioners with a lighter (paraben-free) but protein-rich formula, meant to add volume. The protein in them will coat your hair, making it look fuller and protecting it against further damage.
• Avoid intensive products and dying your hair until the shedding stops. If you are not allergic to any of the ingredients, massaging a natural mix of castor oil and vitamin A into your hair and scalp, and leaving it on for half an hour before washing should help.
• A new hairstyle might help as well. Consider cutting your hair a little shorter, in a style that gives the impression of volume. It will be easier to care for, look great, and get you through until the hair loss stops.
4. Skin Changes
We keep hearing that pregnant women are the most beautiful, but, except for the glow in their eyes when thinking about the small miracle developing in their wounds, it might not be entirely true. Some women see the area around their eyes gaining a tan shade that often gathers compliments, while others notice no changes.
Unfortunately, not all women are this lucky. Some have their face torn up by acne; others develop rashes, freckles, or spots. Some develop such reactions to the sun, others are more sensitive to dust and other irritants. While most of these skin issues disappear within the first weeks after giving birth, some precaution measures won’t hurt.
• To avoid spotting and freckles from the sun, especially if you have light skin, always wear a hat and apply sunscreen.
• Avoid using creams rich in chemicals or too much makeup. If you want a light and affordable skin tonic and cleanser, consider rose water.
• Instead of wiping your face after washing, let it dry naturally, to absorb as much water as possible.
• You can calm irritated skin with chamomile tea or yogurt.
• Try getting as much sleep as possible, to avoid dark circles.
5. Back Pain
As your pregnancy advances, and weight piles up, your back puts up with the consequences. Besides doing increased effort as you move, it can no longer recover as it should, due to your improper body posture while sleeping.
The huge belly and additional weight won’t allow you to sleep on your back or on your belly. You will only be able to sleep on one side, preferably on your left, so it is important to make sure you keep your spine in adequate position.
Try to use a pillow as high as the distance between your neck and shoulder line, to keep your spine straight. While sleeping, support your upper leg on a large pillow, to avoid adding unnecessary pressure to your other leg, basin, and spine. Try to keep your back as straight as possible while walking, and avoid lifting any weights, as they could be a danger, both to your pregnancy, and to your back health.
You can relieve some of the pain through massage and physical exercises conceived especially for pregnant women. The pain should gradually dissipate in the first 6 weeks after delivery. If it doesn’t, you may need to see a chiropractor, and, maybe, get some physical therapy sessions.
6. Constipation and Incontinence
I know, these issues were the last ones you were expecting, but you will have to deal with them. Since your pregnancy prevents you from moving as much as you used to, and you can’t drink as many liquids or your laxative tea of choice, you will most likely develop constipation.
The problem could persist after giving birth, since eating laxative foods could induce diarrhea to your baby. With constipation come hemorrhoids, so expect endless states of gas, bloating, and problems sitting. All you can do is to adjust your diet as best as you can, use topical treatments for hemorrhoids, and be patient.
But, you’re not yet off the hook. During pregnancy, the baby presses on your bladder and forces you to urinate more frequently than usual. The urination frequency increases as the pregnancy advances. During the last month of pregnancy, you may need to urinate every 5 or 10 minutes.
Then, after giving birth, don’t be surprised if you develop a light and temporary form of incontinence. It is a consequence of the pressure applied on your urethra during delivery and of the urinary tract infections most women develop after birth. All you can do to avoid these nasty side effects of pregnancy and birth is to:
• Adopt a fiber-rich diet.
• Drink plenty of juice, milk, and water.
• Walk as much as your state allows, to promote regular bowel movements.
• Apply topical treatments to ease hemorrhoid pain.
• Drink cranberries juice and tea to prevent and alleviate urinary tract infections.
7. Vaginal Pain and Discharge
During pregnancy, many women experience vaginal discharge. For some, it continues throughout the pregnancy. For others, it only happens around the date when they should have had their period, and can gain a brownish color and an unpleasant smell. Unfortunately, all you can do is wash more frequently and use perfumed absorbents.
After you give birth, your vagina will feel stretched and tender. The pain will drive you crazy, especially if you had an episiotomy. You will have a vaginal discharge after delivery as well, consisting mostly of blood and the leftovers of the uterine lining. Also known as “lochia”, it can last up to 4 or 6 weeks.
Only you can decide when you feel comfortable enough for intercourse, but your body is usually ready for it one month after delivery. It will be difficult in the beginning, both physically and mentally, as you’ll probably suffer from vaginal dryness and low self-esteem. Your periods should start again within 6 to 9 weeks from delivery, if you don’t breastfeed, or later if you do. While breastfeeding, your periods will most likely be irregular. Some women don’t have periods at all while breastfeeding. How can you cope with all these changes?
• To ease the pain, apply cold packs on the affected area, and take painkillers (be sure to consult your doctor, to make sure they’re safe for the baby if you are breastfeeding).
• To improve your self-esteem, try to go out with your friends more, go to a beauty salon or spa, and take up mild physical exercises.
• To relieve vaginal dryness and pain during intercourse, use a water-soluble lubricant.
8. Swollen Legs and Varicose Veins
During pregnancy, due to the fact that they need to sustain a heavier weight, your legs will start swelling, and will get puffy and painful. You may also develop spider and varicose veins. The swelling, puffiness, and pain will lessen after delivery. Instead, some women experience twitching, but walking usually relieves it.
Unfortunately, the spider and varicose veins will never disappear completely. As you lose weight, the pain may dissipate, and their aspect may improve. Topical treatments may help improve blood flow in your legs and provide some comfort as well, but consult your doctor before applying any.
9. Sweating and Energy Fluctuations
During pregnancy and after giving birth, many women perceive ambient temperatures higher than they are. They also sweat more, as the effort they make to move is higher during pregnancy, and the body needs to eliminate the fluids it accumulated during pregnancy after giving birth.
Disregarding how you perceive temperatures and how much you sweat, your energy levels will fluctuate considerably, during and after pregnancy. At times, you’ll feel sleepy and exhausted, especially if you don’t get proper sleep at night.
You’ll also have days when you feel optimistic and ready to move mountains. After delivery, you may feel more energetic as you lose pregnancy weight, or exhausted, if you have no one to help you with the baby and you don’t get enough sleep. All these changes are natural, and the only way to deal with them is by:
• Getting as much sleep and rest as you can,
• Eating a healthy and balanced diet,
• Taking up moderate exercises, but without rushing your body to get to its previous condition.
As dreadful and difficult to put up with all the above changes may be, they will be worth experiencing, and you will surely get over them in no time. Nothing compares to the joy of holding your baby, watching it smile, and feeling its small hands grabbing yours.