Pregnancy is a magical time and all that, but it's also, frankly, kind of disgusting. From swelling to hair growth to excess gas and indigestion to childbirth itself and the recovery that comes afterwards, there are some truly gruesome things that happen to your body before and after pregnancy that far too many women just aren't aware of until they happen to them for the first time because no one wants to talk about them. But, honestly, can you blame them? No part of prenatal life, pregnancy, childbirth, or postpartum life is as glamorous and blissful as it seems in movies and on TV.
Whether you're trying to conceive, pregnant for the very first time and want to know just what you're in for, or can relate to each and every one of the items on this list, there's something to be said for knowing in advance what might happen to your body both before and after pregnancy, from skin tags, to hemorrhoids. Each pregnancy is different, so even if you've experienced some of these before (or heard horror stories), whatever you missed out on might still be in your future.
The human body is astonishing and amazing, and the way it prepares for, reacts to, and recovers from pregnancy is no exception, even when it's almost too gross to handle. Brace yourself for these 33 gruesome things that happen before and after pregnancy.
Constipation can be a constant from before you get pregnant right on through to your postpartum recovery. According to Parents, while some prenatal vitamins contain stool softeners, other prenatal vitamins can cause constipation because of their low iron content, which means that from the time you begin to take your prenatal vitamins, you can experience the accompanying constipation.
Not only that, but hormones can cause constipation during pregnancy, as can pain medications that some new moms might be taking after giving birth, as Dr. Shannon Clark, associate professor in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, told U.S. News & World Report. Make sure you're getting plenty of fiber and drinking lots of water during the duration of your pregnancy and immediately after delivering.
According to The Bump, episiotomies are small incisions that doctors make between the vagina and rectum that help enlarge the space so that the baby can come out quicker and safer. Some women are dead-set against them, while others are open to the idea if one is needed. Doctors don't perform them as often as they used to, but when they do, they do so with a local anesthetic and some stitches to help you heal.
3. Your Milk-Producing Cells Get Eaten
Have you ever wondered what happens to those milk-producing cells once you don't need them anymore? Do they stick around? Do they go away? And if they go away, how does that happen? According to research from the University of Manchester, other cells basically eat the milk-producing cells in your breasts. Researchers haven't yet figured out how this happens without boosting inflammation throughout your body — or resulting in scar tissue — but that's what seems to happen.
Even if you don't need an episiotomy, chances are you'll end up with at least a little bit of natural tearing. According to a different article from The Bump, many women require some stitches for vaginal tearing after giving birth. Tearing is especially common for first-time moms, but is oftentimes relatively minor.
5. Skin Discoloration
Your skin might glow when you become pregnant, or you might notice some other things going on with it. One such possibility is skin discoloration. Melasma or chlosma, also known as "the mask of pregnancy," are the splotchy dark spots that appear on your face and elsewhere during pregnancy because of the hormones in your body, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Often, these spots fade after you give birth, but they don't always. You may end up stuck with them for longer than you'd like.
6. Your Feet Might Swell Permanently
Many pregnant women experience swollen feet, which means that your shoes don't fit quite as nicely as they used to (if they fit at all). While you might think that your feet will immediately shrink back to their former size, that might not be the case. According to research published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the arch of your feet can permanently flatten during pregnancy, meaning you might end up a whole different shoe size even after giving birth.
7. Your Vaginal Area Might Swell. A Lot.
If you think about it, it makes total sense that your vaginal area might swell a bit after you give birth, after all, it's been through a lot. But you may not have considered just how much swelling might take place. OB-GYN Dr. Michele Hakakha, who's also the author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy, told The Bump in the aforementioned article, "This can be alarming — the labia can triple in size." While vaginal swelling is more common with your first baby, you never know what might happen to factor into increased swelling with later babies.
8. Bloody Discharge
After you give birth — no matter how you give birth — you'll experience a form of bloody discharge called lochia. Dr. Alyssa Dweck, an OB-GYN and the author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, told Health, "Lochia will change color and consistency as the weeks go on." It'll start as a mixture of blood, mucus, and other fluids, but as it starts to taper off, things will change. Don't freak out unless it smells really bad or you itch — then call your doctor.
9. Body Shakes
Your body has to do a lot during childbirth and your hormones are going all over the place. Hakakha told The Bump in the previously-mentioned article that most women shake after giving birth. "Shakes occur from the immediate hormonal shifts that occur after delivery," Hakakha told The Bump. It wouldn't be the first time your body reacted physically to hormonal peaks and valleys.
10. Full Body Aches
Both during and after your pregnancy you can experience all over body aches and pains. Dr. Batya Grundland, a maternity care lead and family physician, told VICE that it's especially common to experience aches in the third trimester of your pregnancy. You can also be more than a little bit sore all over your body after giving birth. It's been through a lot.
There are lots of bladder issues that can happen after you give birth — to go along with the frequent urination that characterizes pregnancy — from UTIs to incontinence. According to Parents, the urethra endures pressure during labor, which can make peeing difficult for a bit, as well.
12. So Much Sweat
While you're pregnant, you're probably retaining some fluids (which is maybe clear from all the bloating and swelling happening in your body). After you've given birth, you start to lose that fluid. Colleen Moreno, certified nurse midwife at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, told Self that some women sweat through their sheets at night postpartum. If you have to get up and change your sheets, don't be too alarmed.
13. Hair Loss
You may have noticed that your hair got thick and lustrous during your pregnancy. After your pregnancy, however? That's a different story. "Once estrogen drops after pregnancy, the growth stages begin to lessen," Moreno told Self in the aforementioned article. It can be jarring — and more than a little bit sad — to lose your thick beautiful hair, but it's all part of those lovely hormonal changes, yet again.
14. Chadwick's Sign
More blood flows into your pelvis when you get pregnant, which can lead to something called Chadwick's sign, when your labia, vulva, vagina, and cervix can turn a sort of blue-purple color, as Momtastic noted. It can freak out women if they don't know that it might happen, but it typically goes away soon, so don't worry too much.
Chances are, even if you've never been pregnant, you've heard all about the horrors that are pregnancy hemorrhoids. Clark told U.S. News & World Report in the previously-mentioned article that both pregnancy and childbirth can put pressure and stress on your rectum, which can cause you to develop hemorrhoids. If you're in pain, Clark recommended telling your doctor. There's no need to be embarrassed — it's common.
16. Your Pelvic Bones Separate
Dr. Abigail Cutler, a spokesperson for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told Parents in another article that the hormone relaxin is responsible for your pubic bone separating a bit in the middle. That way, there's more room for your baby to pass through your pelvis during childbirth.
17. Adult Acne Comes Roaring Back
According to Scary Mommy, that pregnancy glow can kickstart sebaceous glands as well, meaning you might break out. The big-time drawback? You can't use most effective acne treatments during pregnancy, which means you might just have to wait it out and hope it passes sooner rather than later.
18. Two Words: Mucus Plug
Just the words "mucus plug" make you a little queasy? Or is it just me? It's actually really important, disgusting name aside. According to Healthline, the mucus plug is an accumulation of mucus that helps protect the fetus from contaminants. You'll lose it before you go into labor, even if losing it doesn't kickstart labor right away.
19. Hair Everywhere
While you'll lose a lot of hair off your head after you give birth, before all of that happens, you might realize that there's actually more hair growing all over your body than you remember seeing before. ""Sometimes women grow hair in areas where they don't normally have hair, such as the face, chest, abdomen, and arms," Cutler told Parents in the previously-mentioned story. Oftentimes, you'll lose it after the fact, so don't fret too much.
20. There's Lots Of Gas
If you've been pregnant before or spent any time around a pregnant woman, you may have noticed that they tend to be a bit gassy. According to a different article from Healthline, gas during pregnancy is caused by progesterone, which can slow down your digestion altogether, making bloating, gas, and constipation daily joys.
21. Skin Tags
According to the aforementioned article from Scary Mommy, skin tags are also a pregnancy possibility, especially in places like under your arms, under your breasts, and on your neck. If they don't seem to go away without interference, you can talk to your doctor about having them removed at some point.
22. Breast Engorgement
If you're producing more breastmilk than your little one can drink, your breasts can become engorged. According to WebMD, your breasts become painful, swollen, and firm when they're engorged and it can make breastfeeding more difficult than it normally is. You can also get a fever if your breasts are engorged; basically, it's loads of fun. Establishing a breastfeeding schedule, pumping, or working one-on-one with a lactation consultant can all help if you're dealing with engorgement.
Nearly every mom crosses her fingers and hopes she won't get mastitis. According to lactation consultant Kelly Bonyata's article on Kelly Mom, mastitis means inflammation in the breast, and is often quite painful. You might feel like you have the flu, which is not fun at all, particularly for a new mom who is already dealing with a lot. Take care of yourself — and continue breastfeeding — if you develop mastitis and talk to a doctor or lactation consultant if you're concerned.
It's not just one part or another of your body that swells when you're pregnant, you can end up with swelling all over the place. Remember, the reason that you get so sweaty postpartum is because your body tends to retain fluids earlier on, during your pregnancy, and fluid retention means swelling. Your face, arms, legs, and more can all expand in size when you're pregnant.
25. Cracked Nipples
Dry, cracked nipples are not an uncommon complaint among breastfeeding moms. According to Today's Parent, you can use breast milk to heal cracked nipples. Be wary about creams, as they can sometimes make things worse, but if you can't seem to find the solution, talking to your doctor or a lactation consultant to see what they advise might be a good idea too.
26. You'll Have Another Organ, For Awhile
Don't freak out, I'm just talking about the placenta, but it is a "transient organ." The placenta is super-important. It secretes hormones and acts as a barrier between maternal and fetal blood, as reported by Live Science. It's a temporary organ, of course, so you don't need it (nor will you have it) forever, but growing an entire additional organ takes work, you know?
27. Loose-y Goose-y Bones
Just as relaxin causes your pelvic bones to separate, it also makes your other joints and bones looser in your body, according to the previously-mentioned article from Live Science. That can be part of the cause of your back pain during pregnancy, as well.
As if all of the other pregnancy symptoms weren't enough, you can also actually develop carpal tunnel syndrome during pregnancy, as Live Science reported in the aforementioned article. You'll endure tingling, swelling, and numbness in your hands if you end up with this, but the good news is that it should go away after you give birth.
29. A Metallic Taste
Dysgeusia can show up in your first trimester. While it technically just means that your taste changed, it's often a metallic taste that's in your mouth all the time, according to What To Expect. It, like so many other changes during before, during, and after pregnancy, is due to hormonal changes. Brushing your teeth, eating acidic foods, and switching up your prenatal vitamin can all potentially help alleviate this pesky symptom.
30. Smelly Pee
Dr. R. Mark Ellerkmann, director for the Center of Urogynecology at the Weinberg Center for Women's Health and Medicine, told Shape that human chorionic gonadotropin (again) is the hormone that can make your pee smell a little funky during pregnancy. In fact, you might notice that before you even know for sure that you're pregnant. How's that for a first sign?
31. Leaky Breasts
Even before you give birth, you might notice that your breasts are a little, well, leaky. Doula Morgane Richardson told Well + Good that you can produce colostrum (which is thick and yellow) before your baby is born. "The fluid’s low in fat and high in protein, carbohydrates, and antibodies that coat a baby’s gastrointestinal tract," Richardson told Well + Good. "As long as everyone’s healthy, it’s all a newborn needs those first few days to keep them healthy and nourished."
32. Montgomery Glands
Montgomery glands are little bumps around your nipple and areola that help protect your breasts while breastfeeding, as Latham Thomas, doula and founder of Mama Glow, told Well + Good in the aforementioned article. They're a little bit weird and freaky and you might be surprised to see these little bumpy, zit-looking things that are actually kind of important. Don't worry.
33. Itchy, Flaky Skin
According to a different article from Today's Parent, if you're dealing with itchy, dry skin after giving birth, you're far from alone. Dry skin postpartum is due to hormonal changes (surprise, surprise). Moisturizing is key to fix this painful, irritating symptom. Make sure you choose a safe product to use. You'll be feeling better before you know it.
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