You may have heard you’ll struggle to lose your pregnancy weight after birth or that you’ll experience “baby blues”. But what you might not expect after having a baby is erratic periods, pelvic pain, a weak bladder or dramatic skin and hair changes.
Here are some unexpected postpartum body changes that could happen to you:
Thanks to an increase in oestrogen during pregnancy, your hair might appear thicker and fuller. This is because oestrogen prolongs the hair growth phase, while limiting the hair shedding phase. However, as your oestrogen levels drop and normalise after pregnancy, your hair may appear to be falling out faster. This doesn’t mean you’re losing more hair than before, it simply means your natural hair growth and shedding phase will resume, which could mean more hair loss initially. It can take a few months for your hair to stop falling out, so don’t panic.
Besides hair loss, hormonal changes during and after pregnancy can also alter your hair colour and texture. Chantelle Blake Baptiste, equity analyst and mom of three girls under five says, “After having my first daughter, I noticed my hair didn’t respond as well to highlights and my hair stylist had to resort to using a lot more bleach to ensure my hair took to the highlights. My natural hair colour also became a lot darker and my hair fel finer after giving birth. I also noticed how yellow my hair looked after highlights if I didn’t use a toner. Pregnancy definitely changed the colour and texture of my hair.”
Chantelle also experienced more facial and body hair after having her third daughter, which surprised her. Experts also claim this is due to hormonal surges and changes during and after pregnancy and that it’s not permanent.
Treatment option: Laser hair removal or waxing are safe options, but you can also speak to your dermatologist if your facial hair persists for longer than six months.
ALSO SEE: 5 things you should know about hair loss after pregnancy
Menstrual cycle changes
Although it’s normal to have erratic periods while breastfeeding, stay-at-home mom of two, Samantha Westlake Brown, was shocked at how heavy her postpartum bleeding was after giving birth to her daughter, Alanna. “I didn’t bleed much after my son, Nathan, was born, so I panicked when I bled heavily just weeks after having Alanna,” she says. “In fact, I was convinced something was wrong and called my gynaecologist immediately.
Turns out, it’s normal to have a heavy bleed after a C-Section and this can happen three or four times before it stops altogether. I knew I wasn’t menstruating because I was breastfeeding, but I was relieved to hear that postpartum bleeding is normal.”
The truth is, a woman’s first menstrual cycle after breastfeeding can also be heavy and Chantelle experienced this too. “I’ve never had long, heavy periods before children, but after breastfeeding all three of my daughters, my first periods were painful, heavy and intense for at least a week at a time,” she explains. “This happened for a few cycles before the pain and bleeding subsided,” she adds.
“It’s also not uncommon to have a shorter or longer than normal period while breastfeeding,” says lactation consultant, Becky Flora. “It’s also not abnormal to skip a period or see the first period return and then find that months pass before the next one,” she explains.
Treatment option: In time, your menstrual cycle should regulate itself. If you’re concerned about postpartum bleeding or your menstrual cycle, see your gynaecologist and have your hormones checked to determine whether they’re balanced or a little out of whack.
Hormonal changes during and after pregnancy can also wreak havoc with your skin. While many moms experience the “pregnancy glow” throughout the nine months of pregnancy, it’s normal for a new mom’s skin tone and texture to change dramatically after birth.
Johannesburg-based biokinetisist and mom, Lisa Bain Popperwell was surprised to see just how pronounced her pigmentation marks were after having her daughter, even after using a sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. “My skin completely changed after giving birth. It felt drier and I noticed darker sun spots on my forehead and cheeks, as well as pigmentation marks, which would flare up especially when I was tired,” she explains.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, “This ‘mask of pregnancy’, also referred to as melasma, causes dark, splotchy spots on the skin, especially around the forehead and cheeks. This is because when you become pregnant, your body produces more hormones, which can trigger pigmentation.
Treatment option: The best thing you can do to lower your chances of developing pigmentation marks is to steer clear of the direct sun, especially between 10am and 3pm. Also invest in a good sunscreen and see an aesthetic specialist who can offer you a host of non-surgical skincare options to treat pigmentation. Also consult with a dermatologist or skincare specialist on the best skincare range available for pigmentation and sun spots.
Your pelvic floor
It takes a while, post-birth, for your pelvic floor to strengthen and return to its normal functioning. As a result, you can experience pain in your pelvic region – as Chantelle experienced. “As soon as I started running again, I felt intense pain in my pelvic region, which made me realiset I needed to take a step back and wait a little longer before doing any high-impact sports,” she says.
Although unexpected, pelvic pain is fairly normal, because pregnancy and childbirth weaken the pelvic floor muscles. They might also become tight which can cause pain and inflammation in the tissues. According to the Pelvic Health And Rehabilitation Centre, 20% of first-time moms experience severe pelvic floor muscle injury after a normal pregnancy and delivery, and 25% of women with pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain during pregnancy remain in pain after delivery.
Treatment option: It’s always a good idea to see a physiotherapist or postnatal specialist who can assess and evaluate your pelvic region (and your abdominal muscles), so you can be given specific exercises to treat the pain and correct any problems and imbalances.
A few more unexpected postpartum body changes moms mentioned:
- Belly changes – with a more pronounced belly button.
- Bigger feet – many women report going up a shoe size after pregnancy.
- Bladder issues or incontinence – this has a lot to do with pelvic floor weakness and can be addressed and managed with Kegel exercises.