It isn’t always smooth sailing though. At the other end of the spectrum, some of these “mom-life” changes can be just as unsettling as they are surprising. While there are plenty of resources to refer to, and lots of well-meaning, (but often unsolicited) pieces of advice too, sifting through it all can be overwhelming and exhausting. So running from the top to the bottom,
here’s what any blog, book, and Instagram post worth its salt should be telling you to expect, prepare for, and accept (at least temporarily), as you stumble headfirst into the shape-shifting world that moms everywhere inhabit and endure.
1. Hairfall: When you’re pregnant, estrogen floods your body and woos your hair until it shines and glows like a disney princess in love. Bad hair days all but vanish and you’re left with thick, bouncy hair that you’ll always be happy to show off. Estrogen boosts the natural lifecycle of your hair by keeping it in the growing stages and preventing older strands of hair from entering the falling stage. Simultaneously, new hair follicles are also stimulated (as part of the natural course) leaving you with extra volume and gorgeous
hair. Sadly, this only lasts while you’re pregnant…
It turns out that what grows out, must eventually fall down. A lot of mothers experience significant postpartum hair-fall in the months that follow the baby’s delivery. No matter how long or short your hair is, it can be really alarming to suddenly see a decrease in hair volume and experience the excessive hair-fall that starts occurring as your estrogen levels decrease and start returning to their normal pre-pregnancy values. If it’s any consolation though, your new hair growth is still intact and you aren’t losing any of that.
It’s just the older strands that, without the extra estrogen, have been returned to the end of their natural life cycle. While there isn’t much you can do about it, this hairy situation stabilises within 6–8 months post delivery.
However, that is when non-hormonal hair fall can occur especially if you are vitamin deficient, and that can take a long time to resolve. On the bright side, this is largely preventable. Paying attention to your essential vitamin and mineral intake and ensuring that you’re getting enough micronutrients is the best way to avoid having excessive (non-hormonal)hair-fall through your postpartum years.
2. Foggy memory: The transformational effects of surging hormone levels extend well beyond just your hairline. From trying to remember why you walked into a room, to missing things that are right under your nose or being unable to recall the name of one of your closest friends in the middle of a conversation, the sometimes amusing, (sometimes embarrassing) “mommy brain” is a common occurrence for new moms.
Certain medications that are prescribed to help with recoveries after a C-section have also been known to cause temporary memory lapses. It is natural to panic about how you might be losing your mind, but rest assured that this isn’t permanent. Make some allowances for yourself and know that no matter what, you’re still an amazing person and mom. Try and get a little me time or meditate when things feel like they’re moving too quickly. Trust me this forgetfulness goes away on its own eventually and as it does, you’ll start to feel and be as confident in your abilities as we are.
3. Hormonal acne and hair growth — More hormone driven challenges that you might have to face (no, pun intended). Our bodies tend to react to the flood of extra pregnancy hormones by breaking out into emphatic pimples and sprouting hair from our chins (or other unlikely places). The latter goes away by itself once hormone levels balance out.
On the acne front, vitamin C and zinc help prevent the inherent infections that can cause painful pimples and scarring during your pregnancy. Topical creams along with supplements containing zinc, selenium and vitamin C and vitamin E take care of blemishes, and are an effective way to improve your skin’s texture and tone post delivery too.
4. Breasts — Bigger, smaller, lopsided and everything in between: All sorts of wacky things happen to your breasts when you’re having a baby but we’ll limit our chat to the aspects surrounding size alone for the moment. It is probably no surprise that your breasts start getting bigger, heavier and fuller during pregnancy as your body starts making room for milk ducts and preparing you for lactation. Your nipples also become darker due to the extra estrogen in your system and get more prominent to help your baby latch on properly during breastfeeding.
However, once you start weaning your baby off, your breasts start to shrink again and it is quite common for them to do so disproportionately in a lopsided way that can leave you with one boob that is discernibly smaller/higher than the other. If your skin had stretched a lot while your breasts were growing, or if you lose weight too quickly at this stage, your boobs can lose their firmness and shape. Therefore it is really important not
to crash-diet, no matter how urgently you feel the need to shed your pregnancy weight.
Take your time and always let your body heal fully before you start demanding more from it. You need extra care and nutrition during this period to ensure that you and your baby stay healthy but that doesn’t mean eating indiscriminately either. Eating for two is a big responsibility so make sure that you’re getting enough extra protein, vitamins and minerals through your diet or through supplements postpartum as well as post-weaning.
5. Abdominal separation — ‘Diastasis recti’, sounds like greek/latin (okay, it is latin), and is the partial or complete separation of the abdominal muscles (that 6 pack many of us vie for but never get to meet). It does not happen to everyone but it is very common during and after pregnancy. As your uterus grows to make room for your baby, your abdominal muscles stretch and can sometimes even separate from one another in order to accommodate your uterus.
This may not be very noticeable initially, but as your pregnancy progresses, you may notice a ridge or bulge forming above and below your
belly button and you’ll probably feel it when you go through movements like sitting or standing up that would have engaged your abs. Your belly does not go back to its normal size immediately after your delivery. This abdominal separation creates a postpartum tummy bulge. This starts getting better 8–12 weeks after delivery when supported by the right diet and pregnancy-safe/postpartum exercise plans to help these muscles recover quickly. Protein intake is absolutely integral to this process as it initiates tissue repair and helps construct new muscle fibre.
6. Back muscles weakening — Your abs aren’t the only muscles that get displaced or weakened. Pregnancy changes your posture, the structure and placement of your core muscles, and places a lot of weight on your back. It is really important to strengthen your back regularly during your pregnancy as these muscles weaken rapidly if they are not exercised and need to be strong and ready to work twice as hard as you begin to embrace motherhood. Once you have delivered your baby, it is equally important to focus on core and back exercises to correct your posture and regain strength and flexibility so you can prevent unnecessary discomfort, pain and injury.
7. Fluid retention and swelling — In the 3rd trimester, as your pregnancy progresses, your body starts to accumulate fluid in the tissues which is also called oedema. This typically occurs in the feet, ankles and legs and is normal and expected during the last 3 months of pregnancy. However if the swelling is excessive, consistent, and accompanied by swelling elsewhere, particularly on your face and hands, it could be a sign of preeclampsia (a serious condition involving high blood pressure and evidence of damage to other organs in your body). Please get in touch with your doctor if you notice excessive swelling like this asap.
8. Stretch marks: Someone once said that stretch-marks should be worn with pride; after all, they’re your baby’s first piece of art. True as this is, let’s face it, you don’t always want your art on display. As your breasts, tummy and hips expand, your skin stretches to accommodate them. Too much stretching can create tiny tears in the skin tissue which causes a certain amount of scarring or stretch marks. Regrettably, the tendency to get permanent stretch marks tends to be influenced more heavily by genetics than anything else.
If you aren’t genetically predisposed to these, it is time to celebrate, because you’re likely to sail through this particular hurdle just by applying your regular body lotion. Unfortunately, despite what advertisers might have you believe, if you are genetically prone to stretch marks, there isn’t much you can do about it. Topical creams and bio-oils don’t help much in this case. This needn’t be a fate you passively resign yourself to though. Look at these as battle scars and something to be proud of. After all, a tigress is known for her stripes!
Between stretch marks, weight gain, and various hormonal side effects, your body is bound to change when you get pregnant. While it is definitely easier said than done, don’t let this drive you crazy or make you feel sad or insecure. Remember that every change is an earned badge of honour for all the hard work that you have done. Accept and embrace them, and don’t let them outweigh all the joys that accompany motherhood too.