Quick guide to post-pregnancy body changes

Woman holding her baby on her lap while talking to a doctor

A healthy pregnancy is 40 weeks, and the body continues to evolve for a long time after the baby is born. The postpartum period, sometimes called the “fourth trimester,” refers to the critical time your body needs to recuperate after giving birth.

During pregnancy, the body undergoes an abundance of anatomic and physiologic changes that support both the fetus and the parent’s body. While the body will eventually revert back to “normal,” the process takes some time.

Here are some of the common physical changes you can expect post-pregnancy:

Hair loss

My patients commonly ask me about perceived hair loss during the postpartum period. While pregnant, your hair may grow faster and appear thicker thanks to hormone changes. After delivery, this reverses to a resting phase, which lasts 1-5 months. Normal hair growth patterns typically return 6-15 months after delivery.

Enlarged feet

You can expect your feet to get longer during pregnancy. There are two reasons for this: The laxity of muscles and ligaments, and general weight gain, which can flatten the arch of the foot. Unlike other bodily changes, this one is permanent. Research has shown women’s feet may grow 2-10mm in length during and after pregnancy.

Decreased bladder control

Urinary incontinence is a common problem immediately after delivery, affecting about 1 in 3 women. The decreased bladder control is due to weakness in the pelvic muscles, which stretch out during and after pregnancy. Kegel exercises are useful to strengthen this area and regain urinary control.

Sex drive drop

After delivery, women can expect a temporary decrease in sexual desire. Estrogen and progesterone hormone levels drop after pregnancy, which means the vagina produces less lubrication and can feel dry. Many women experience pain during intercourse because of this, and some women report feeling less satisfied from sex after pregnancy.

Breast fluctuation

Breasts become engorged after delivery as they prepare for breastfeeding. This results in breast fullness and firmness, which can cause pain and tenderness. Breasts will revert back to a smaller size once breastfeeding is over. For women who are not breastfeeding, using a tight bra and avoiding breast stimulation will suppress lactation in a majority of patients.

Skin changes

Stretch marks and varicose veins can appear on the skin due to weight gain during pregnancy. There’s also evidence that family history and genetics are a factor; if your mom had them, you likely will, too. Although there are a variety of creams and lotions meant to reduce the risk for stretch marks, there is no strong evidence to confirm these products actually work. Stretch marks fade over time, and varicose veins typically go away 6-12 months after delivery.

Be aware of serious symptoms

Preeclampsia and peripartum cardiomyopathy (heart muscle weakness) are two of the most dangerous complications that can occur during the postpartum period. After giving birth, do not hesitate to call your doctor or midwife if you experience symptoms such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Visual changes
  • Fever
  • Swelling in your hands and face

Preeclampsia causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and can be life-threatening to both the mother and her baby. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, the condition affects 5-8% of births in the United States.

Some patients are surprised to learn they can still develop preeclampsia up to 6 weeks after delivery, even if there were no symptoms during the pregnancy. In fact, approximately 97% of deaths attributed to preeclampsia happen in the postpartum period.

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