It should come as no surprise that a woman’s body undergoes many changes to accommodate a growing baby. Still, many pregnant women and new mothers are often unaware of just how much their bodies can alter over the course of gestation, as well as in the postpartum stage. Below are a few examples of physical changes a woman may experience as she nourishes, births and cares for her baby.
When imagining pregnancy, it’s common to picture a big, round tummy, but the abdominal area and reproductive organs aren’t the only parts of the body that grow. A woman’s feet can grow and may stay a size larger for the rest of her life. This growth is due to the hormones and extra weight gained during pregnancy, which can lead to swollen feet and even a flatter arch in the foot.
Breasts also grow with pregnancy. They become even bigger right after giving birth as prolactin, the hormone that helps make breastmilk, kicks in and estrogen and progesterone levels drop. As they become engorged after birth, a woman will feel discomfort because of the milk, as well as increased blood flow. The hardness, swelling and soreness this brings typically fades with breastfeeding, however, after a mother stops breastfeeding, the breasts shrink and sag.
Another way a woman’s appearance may alter is her skin. Stretch marks affect most moms-to-be as the skin stretches and adapts to her quickly growing body. The skin on her face may also develop melasma, or the “mask of pregnancy.” Affecting up to 70% of expectant moms, this skin condition is due to fluctuating hormones and causes brown to gray-brown splotches to appear on the forehead, cheeks and upper lips. After birth, these stretch marks and face patches fade but do not completely go away.
Pregnancy and delivery hormones can also affect muscles and joints throughout the body. As they are produced in larger amounts than the body is accustomed to, these hormones, specifically relaxin, may weaken the joints and lead to aching shoulders, tired arms and even sore wrists.
Muscles in the body’s core are also weakened during pregnancy and childbirth. These weak abdominal muscles could lead to poor posture and back pain. Also relating to the abdomen is some degree of diastasis recti. Very common in pregnant women, this condition is when connective tissue thins out in response to hormones and the result is a gap between the right and left abdominal wall muscles. During the first eight weeks postpartum, this gap may close on its own yet often doesn’t. By not closing, this gap may cause a protruding belly, back pain and weakened core muscles that are not efficient at lifting, pushing and pulling.
These examples only touch the surface of how pregnancy and childbirth can affect a body. For more physical changes women might expect when they’re expecting or during postpartum, please see the accompanying resource.
Infographic provided by Ditesheim Cosmetic Surgery