If you’ve given birth, this article isn’t going to surprise you one bit. But if you’ve never given birth and have no clue what it’s like, brace yourselves.
A team of researchers at the University of Michigan argue that the toll pregnancy takes on a woman’s body is comparable to that sustained by endurance athletes. Yes, you read correctly. Imagine what it’s like for a professional football player to get pummeled by 10 other 250-lb players, and the injuries he might receive, and apply that to what an average woman experiences during pregnancy.
“Childbirth is arguably one of the most dramatic musculoskeletal events the human body undergoes,” write the authors of the study evaluating maternal recovery following pregnancy.
Employing a magnetic resonance imaging technique typically used in diagnosing sports injuries, the team found that 15% of women suffer from pelvic injuries that don’t heal, even with the use of Kegel exercises. Specifically, one-quarter of the women in the study had stress fractures similar to those sustained by athletes, approximately two-thirds had injuries similar to severe muscle strain, and 41% sustained pelvic muscle tears.
The problem is that the issues a woman may complain about after childbirth may be dismissed as normal and not taken seriously by doctors. However, musculoskeletal MRI is expected to be extremely useful for evaluating pelvic injuries in women who don’t recover as quickly as planned following delivery.
Pregnancy isn’t to be taken lightly. In addition to sustaining pelvic injuries, pregnant women are exposed to numerous other bodily assaults. The extraordinary task of delivery can lead to loss of elasticity of the muscles in the pelvic and the lower abdominal region, affecting bladder control and potentially leading to urinary incontinence. Since the stretched muscles take significant time to strengthen, compensatory movements of the lower back can result in back pain. Back pain can also be attributed to poor posture during pregnancy. For many women, varicose veins and swollen legs persist after pregnancy. Low energy levels, fatigue, and night sweats are also commonly reported problems.
While in theory it takes approximately 2 months postpregnancy for the uterus to return to its original size, for some women their belly bulge persists for several more months. This is especially true if proper postnatal care is not observed. Even after the excess weight is shed and the belly returns to normal size, it often remains scarred with stretch marks. These marks fade with time, but may never return to prepregnancy smoothness levels.
Some women also experience permanent changes in facial features such as dark patches, although these can be resolved through topical treatments. For many women, hair loss is a significant concern, thanks to hormonal changes and a decrease in estrogen levels after pregnancy.
If you’re exhausted by just reading this, imagine what it’s like to actually experience it. One thing is for sure: pregnant women deserve much more credit and even more compassion than they receive.
- Arora D. 10 ways pregnancy changes your body that nobody tells you about. The Health Site website. December 23, 2015. http://www.thehealthsite.com/pregnancy/ways-pregnancy-changes-your-body-that-nobody-tells-you-about-d1215. Accessed January 20, 2016.
- Bailey L. Childbirth an athletic event? Sports medicine used to diagnose injuries caused by deliveries. The University of Michigan website. December 1, 2015. http://ns.umich.edu/new/releases/23330-childbirth-an-athletic-event-sports-medicine-used-to-diagnose-injuries-caused-by-deliveries. Accessed January 20, 2016.
- Bilich KA. 9 ways your body changes after pregnancy. Parents website. http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/postpartum/postpartum-body-changes. Accessed January 20, 2016.
- Crockett E. Giving birth can be as hard on your body as running a marathon. Vox website. January 3, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/1/3/10704070/giving-birth-marathon. Accessed January 20, 2016.