8 Common Ways Your Body Changes After Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an exciting time. Expectant mothers often embrace the changes to their bodies during pregnancy, from new curves to longer, stronger nails and thicker hair. Even changes that might traditionally be met with less enthusiasm, like stretch marks or acne, might be accepted as part of the natural process of growing a new life.
After delivering a new baby, though, many women realize that some of the changes to their bodies are permanent. Although these are completely natural and to be expected, some women feel insecure or self-conscious about their appearance after having a baby. Some of the changes are less obvious than others, and not everyone experiences all of them, but knowing that your body could be a bit different post-pregnancy can help you embrace motherhood and your body.
Gaining weight during pregnancy is to be expected. On average, women gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. That includes the baby, placenta, and extra fluid, so it’s reasonable to expect some immediate weight loss after delivery. However, it’s not uncommon to come home from the hospital still carrying some extra pounds.
New mothers often lose some weight in the weeks following the birth of their baby due to fluid loss. With a healthy diet and regular physical activity, it may be possible to return to pre-pregnancy weight within a few months. However, studies show that most women hold on to at least some of their pregnancy weight. On average, women tend to gain about two to three pounds with each pregnancy, and about 25% of women retain 11 pounds or more a year after giving birth.
It’s common to have some lingering “baby weight” after you give birth. A healthy diet and physical activity can help shed the extra pounds over time.
Changes in Breast Size and Shape
Breasts increase in size during pregnancy, as the previously dormant tissue becomes functional in preparation to nourish the baby. Your breasts may remain larger as long as you are breastfeeding or pumping. If you opt not to breastfeed or stop, your breasts will return to their previous size, and may even appear smaller.
Size isn’t the only pregnancy-related change to your breasts. An increase in size can lead to stretch marks, which typically fade within a year or two after giving birth. You might also notice that your breasts droop more than before. The ligaments and elastin that hold breast tissue in place stretch as your breasts increase but don’t snap back into place when your breasts shrink.
Finally, higher estrogen levels in your body can cause your areola to darken and appear larger during pregnancy. They usually fade after giving birth, but for some women, the change is permanent.
Changes in Skin
You might have had that “pregnancy glow” for some of your pregnancy, but after delivery, your skin may feel like it belongs to someone else.
During pregnancy, increased hormones and melanin levels can cause dark patches to appear on your skin. Many women develop the “linea negra,” a line of darkened skin that extends from the belly button to the pubic area. Some women also develop melasma, also known as the “mask of pregnancy.” Melasma is dark patches of skin on the face. In either case, the darkening typically regresses within a year, but it can be permanent in some women.
Stretch marks are a common skin change in pregnancy, caused by rapid weight gain and changes in body shape. Stretch marks may appear red or pink during pregnancy but fade within a few years. Using intense moisturizing products on your belly during pregnancy may help reduce the appearance of stretch marks.
Finally, hormone changes post-pregnancy can cause an increase in acne, dry skin, hair loss, and the appearance of new moles. Taking care of your skin can help reduce the problems and the signs of premature aging. This includes:
- Washing with gentle cleansers;
- Using moisturizer designed for your skin type every day;
- Wearing sunscreen every day;
- Seeing your doctor or dermatologist for skin checks at least once a year;
- Watching moles for changes and seeing a doctor if they change shape, color, or start to bleed or itch.
For many women, pregnancy means months of good hair days. Increased hormones during gestation often leads to thicker hair because fewer strands fall out every day. These same hormonal changes also lead to thicker, longer fingernails.
While hair loss in young women is uncommon, many women notice hair loss within 6 months of giving birth, and their hair may feel limper than usual as well. This is common, as the decrease in pregnancy hormones means your hair is back to its normal rate of loss.
Although you can expect your hair to get back to the way it was within a year or so, you can protect your hair and help it regrow by:
- Maintaining a healthy diet rich in foods that help hair growth;
- Scalp massage with essential oils (rosemary and geranium oils may be effective);
- Being gentle with hair care (e.g., not brushing too vigorously, shampooing gently);
- Reducing stress;
- Using hair regrowth products and solutions.
Your bone structure — specifically your pelvic bones — change to accommodate a baby passing through the birth canal. The hormone relaxin softens the joints and ligaments in the pelvis to widen it, sometimes by a few inches. Although it’s not the case for all women, many notice that their hips are slightly wider after giving birth because of this — even after they’ve lost the pregnancy weight.
Increase in Shoe Size
One of the more perplexing body changes for women post-pregnancy could be needing all new shoes because. Although some women need larger shoes during pregnancy to accommodate swollen feet, many women actually go up as much as a full shoe size.
There are two reasons for this. First, the extra weight you carry while pregnant puts stress on the arch of your foot, which can flatten and elongate your foot. And secondly, the hormone relaxin that loosens ligaments can also cause your foot to stretch out more and widen, meaning you need a larger shoe size.
Sometimes, this increase is permanent. Other women find that their feet go back to their usual size within a few months or a year.
Although not every woman develops incontinence or lack of bladder control, it’s a common post-pregnancy issue. Giving birth can damage the muscles and nerves that control the bladder and cause a dropped or prolapsed pelvic floor. For women, this means peeing a little (or a lot) during certain activities. Doing Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor can help restore bladder control, but some women may require surgery to manage severe incontinence.
After having a baby, your hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, cortisol, and more, undergo abrupt and significant changes. It can take up to six months or longer for your hormones to regulate. During that time you may experience everything from acne and hair loss to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Feeling overwhelmed or anxious during the first weeks of motherhood is not uncommon; be sure to discuss ongoing feelings of depression and anxiety with your doctor. Postpartum depression is a serious issue, and getting help is vital to you and your baby’s well-being. Your doctor may recommend several treatments, including therapy, medication, or changes to your diet and exercise.