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6 ways your body can change after childbirth

A pregnant woman reading a book on the couch

Many pregnant women or new mums wonder after having a baby if and when their body will return to how it was before pregnancy and childbirth.

And the answer is, it’s different for every woman. How you recover will often depend on your birth experience and your pregnancy.

Often there is a lot of emphasis on the first 24 hours after pregnancy, or even the first few weeks, but did you know that you are officially postpartum for two years? Postpartum is the period after you have had a baby.

Growing a baby is hard work for your body—it goes through enormous changes. While many of these changes or symptoms will disappear after you have had your baby, there are some parts of your body that may take longer to heal, or may stay changed.

Your pelvic floor

Whether you’ve had a vaginal or a caesarean birth it’s important to look after your pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles support your pelvic organs, including your uterus, bladder, and bowel.

During pregnancy, additional strain from the weight of the baby is put on these muscles, and during a vaginal birth they can sometimes be damaged or stretched. This means you might find yourself leaking when you sneeze, cough, or laugh.

Your pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened and you should focus on strengthening these muscles after pregnancy. A physiotherapist will be able to give you the right exercises post pregnancy. These exercises will help you to develop the muscles so you should be able to get back to your normal exercise routine without any bladder leakages.A time series of a pregnant women showing changes to her body

Your breasts

Chances are your breasts grew during pregnancy, and if you’re breastfeeding, your breasts will shrink and grow with each feed. Your breasts don’t contain any muscle, however they are attached via ligaments to the muscles of your chest wall. These ligaments stretch during pregnancy and don’t tighten again. This means that your breasts will droop, and they may never be the same shape they were before you were pregnant.

Once you stop breastfeeding, the milk-producing tissue will be replaced by fatty tissue. This can take 6 months or so, but before this happens, they can feel quite empty.

It’s best that you support your breast with a comfortable, well-fitted bra.

Your skin

If you developed stretch marks during pregnancy, these will begin to fade. Over time they will become smaller and will turn white or silver. Once stretch marks have appeared there is no reliable evidence to show that oils or creams will remove them.

Some women may have developed dark patches on the face during pregnancy, known as chloasma. These will usually fade over several months after giving birth, though for some women they can last several years.

If you developed skin tags during your pregnancy, they will most likely disappear or drop off in the months following birth. If not, your GP or dermatologist can easily remove them by scalpel, or by freezing or burning them off.

A woman in her underwear holding a baby and showing postpartum changes to her body

Your body

Your body may have become wider during pregnancy. This is because it was making room for your growing baby. Your ribs may have expanded, and your hips will often widen to make it easier for the baby to exit the birth canal. For some women wider ribs and hips will be permanent.

As your baby grows during pregnancy you will gain weight. This helps to support your baby before and after birth. Once you have delivered your baby, it’s safest for you to take it slow when trying to lose weight. Weight loss normally happens gradually after birth. If it’s your goal to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, remember it can take several months, or longer. Healthy eating and gentle exercise can help lose the weight, but it’s important to remember you won’t change overnight.

A closeup of a woman in her underwear holding a baby and showing postpartum changes to her stomach and legs

Your hair

During pregnancy your hair can sometimes become thicker. This is due to the increase in the hormone oestrogen. After birth, your oestrogen levels will return to normal and your hair growth will also begin to normalise. Sometimes this can mean your hair will fall out in the months following birth. Don’t worry—this is normal and only temporary. You may notice that after your hair has fallen out it will start to regrow, resulting in postpartum bangs or flyaways.

Your shoe size

There are two main reasons your shoe size can increase during pregnancy, weight gain, and your hormones. Extra weight can flatten out your foot arch and your shoe size might increase. You may have heard of the hormone relaxin. This hormone helps to relax your ligaments and bones in your pelvis, so that you are prepared for childbirth. It also relaxes all your joints and ligaments, including in your feet. This may cause your feet to flatten and spread out and increase your shoe size.

These changes to your feet are permanent so it’s important that you find shoes that fit correctly after pregnancy.

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Last updated: 31 May 2021