Pregnancy health surprises – and what you can do about them

stretch marks

It’s no secret that pregnancy brings many weird and wonderful changes to the body – after all, growing a brand new little person is no easy feat. But even so, some of the changes can be a little unexpected.

You’re unlikely to come away blemish-free or with the same body you started with – at least not for a while. Your body has a lot to deal with in a relatively short period of time. Ligaments and joints become flexible, organs shift and muscles stretch. The birth alone is akin to a major body shock or a serious surgery. So it’s no wonder there is some bodily upheaval. Here are four pregnancy health surprises – and what you can do about them.

Stretch marks

What happens?

It’s estimated up to 90 per cent of women get these sometimes itchy purplish or reddish marks, usually on the breast, tummy, thigh or bottom, as the skin stretches along with the rapidly growing baby. Arriving as early as the first trimester, they are caused by the tissue under the skin expanding faster than the skin above it. While they are unsightly, the good news is that most will fade to silvery lines over time.

What can you do?

  1. Some people swear by moisturisers, creams and oils to prevent them, such as those with vitamin E, cocoa butter and shea butter. Try brushing your skin with a loofah or brush.
  2. Experts say whether or not you get them is largely down to genetics – but a healthy diet, lots of water, exercise and avoiding excessive weight gain can help.
  3. Long term, laser therapy can remove them but otherwise, wear these “red badges of motherhood” with pride – they are a reminder that your body did an amazing job nourishing a baby.

sneeze with lbl

Light bladder leakage (LBL)

What happens?

You may find that during and after pregnancy, you spring a leak every now and then – coughing, sneezing, laughing and even exercising may be a little nerve-racking for a while. During pregnancy the uterus can put a lot of pressure on the bladder, particularly during the third trimester. And in some women, hormones can change the signals from the bladder to brain, so the urge to wee can come on very quickly. Pregnancy, labour and delivery weaken the muscles around the bladder and pelvis. So yes, you may join the one in three women over 35 who suffer from light incontinence. The good news is that LBL can be easily managed.

What can you do?

  1. During pregnancy, empty your bladder as much as you can by leaning forward on the toilet.
  2. Cross your legs when you feel a cough, sneeze or laugh approaching.
  3. Pelvic floor exercises can help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder.
  4. Try to identify triggers and cut them out (such as stress or mega-sized lattes).
  5. You can also use pads specially designed to soak up LBL (very discreet, so no need to forgo those form-fitting outfits).
  6. It can take three to six months or even longer to totally regain bladder control. If you are still worried after that, your doctor can refer you to a physiotherapist or continence nurse.

flabby tummy

Mummy tummy

What happens?

Don’t let those pesky celebrities fool you – you will not, I repeat, NOT, leave hospital with a bikini-ready tummy. Your uterus takes about six weeks to get back to its pre-pregnancy size and even then you are unlikely to look like you did before child. You are likely to have some loose skin, and you may get a “fold” if you have a c-section.

What can you do?

  1. Firstly, don’t think about it at all for at least six weeks. Give yourself a break. It took nine months for your tummy to grow a baby; for most people it’s not just going to snap back into shape.  It can take weeks, months or even years to get back your old tummy (or something vaguely resembling it) back.
  2. Of course there are always flab-zapping machines and treatments around that claim to provide miracle solutions. But really, exercise – especially swimming, walking and cycling – and a healthy diet are the best ways to lose the flab.
  3. Breastfeeding helps many women, especially in the first six months.

varicose veins

Varicose veins

What happens?

These unsightly purple or blue bulging veins just under the surface of your skin are very common in pregnancy, as the baby, placenta and womb weigh down on your veins and the extra blood you produce puts more pressure on blood vessels. They are common in legs and may cause a mild ache or severe pain, and swelling or a “heaviness”. You are more likely to get them if you are overweight or have a family history of varicose veins.

What can you do?

  1. There’s not much you can do to stop them, but exercise, keeping your weight in check, avoiding heavy lifting and rest can help.
  2. Support stockings can also provide relief.
  3. Thankfully, they usually improve after the birth. If they don’t, they can be treated (but it’s worth waiting until you’re done having babies, as they tend to get worse with every pregnancy).

Most of all, remember there is no such thing as an “ideal” post-baby body. Don’t believe us? Check out our post on The Shape of a Mother, a website dedicated to showing real mums’ bodies. It may surprise and inspire you – and most of all, let you know that you’re not the only one with post-baby body hang-ups.

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