If there’s one thing that pregnancy and birth teaches most poeple, it’s how incredible our body really is.
Yet for some reason in the throes of pregnancy and preoccupied with all the changes our baby is going through, we don’t give much thought to our own bodies.
But as GP and mum of two, Sneha Wadhwani told Kinderling Conversation, it’s incredible what our bodies experience during and after pregnancy.
Not just big boobs and bump
"Pregnancy affects so many aspects of our physiology," says Sneha. “Everything from breathing, sleep, appetite and digestion can be affected."
Sneha says the changes fall largely into two categories.
“You’ve got the mechanical changes, the physical changes that happen in your organs and to your body. And then you’ve got the endocrine changes.”
The endocrine changes
The placenta that feeds the baby also produces a hormone called progesterone that supports the pregnancy.
“Progesterone releases a hormone that makes us more insulin resistant. So you may have noticed that when you do a urine sample during pregnancy, there’s always sugar in your urine. And that’s because you're producing a bit more sugar and not metabolizing the way you normally do,” says Sneha.
The respiratory system
“Our lung volume increases; as we breathe more rapidly, the diaphragm gets pushed up and our breasts obviously increase in size and get heavier," says Sneha. Which explains why we're uncomfortable for so much of our pregnancy.
According to Sneha, our gut becomes little more leaky during pregnancy, which accounts for more trips to the toilet. And our stomach acid can also increase.
“The acidity of the acid in our stomach also increases. That's why some women get reflux and that couples with the pressure of the uterus pushing the stomach and the bowel right up.
“There's an interesting fact I like to tell ladies; your appendix usually sits in in the lower right corner of your tummy. But when you're fully pregnant it actually sets in the right upper quadrant under your breasts. So that just shows how far your organs are pushed and squashed around when the uterus is growing!”
Listen to Sneha on Kinderling Conversation:
Circulation, teeth and gums
Sneha says in the first trimester 10 percent of our circulation goes just to the baby.
“Our blood pressure drops, our heart is pumping harder and our thyroid enlarges so the metabolism fundamentally changes.”
The hormonal relaxin makes ligaments super-stretchy and while that sounds good in theory, in practice it can make the back and pelvis very mobile, which can be painful.
“Our gums get bigger and fleshier during pregnancy, so if they are not kept clean and free of decay you can get infection; we have to be strict about good dental hygiene.”
Will our body all flop into place after baby?
Sneha says our internal organs find their own way back eventually.
“After your first pregnancy you have greater chance of ‘bouncing back’ but after subsequent babies the changes take longer to fall back in place.”
What is the impact of labour on our body?
Sneha says labour is the equivalent of doing a big, big workout in the gym.
“It's not just the physical pushing of the baby out using your muscles, you’re also using tremendous amounts of energy, coupled with blood loss and the depletion that comes from pregnancy generally.”
Sneha says women are very depleted after baby.
“We are seeing a big increase in women in that state after babies. We’re having bigger babies and later in life and our capacity to bounce back is limited. That’s why we routinely check iron levels in pregnant women. We make sure she is topped up enough that even if she loses blood in labour, she’ll have enough.”
Ultimately though, there is no timeframe for full recovery from birth.
“Recovery really depends on what happened during your labour, how you were before your baby was born and the health of your baby," says Sneha. "If you have a lovely feeder and sleeper, then you might be able to get lots of rest. If you haven’t had this then that’s going to affect how quickly you’re going to bounce back. It must happen at your own individual pace."
Breastfeeding and weight loss
The fact that some women lose weight quickly once they start breastfeeding, while others struggle to keep it off, is down to metabolism.
“Because your body is using so much energy and nutrients, your body will naturally try to replace it. Breastfeeding can speed up metabolic rates, which speeds up weight loss and using energy to top up your reserves, can also speed up your metabolic rate. But that doesn’t work for everyone,” say Sneha.
One year on from baby, what can you expect from your body?
A year or two after giving birth, Sneha says most of the physical changes in your body have gone back to normal.
“Some of the anatomy, like your tummy, bottom and breasts will take more time to recover, but if you are exercising regularly, you’ll get further improvement.
“But generally, one year on, your body will be as recovered as it’s going to be without extra help.”
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