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18 Ways Pregnancy May Change Your Body Forever

Skin changes

Skin changes pregnancy linea nigra

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Pregnancy comes with all kinds of skin changes. For instance, the linea nigra — Latin for "black line" — is a dark, vertical line that runs over the belly to the pubic hair region during pregnancy.

Women may also develop the "mask of pregnancy," known as melasma, which are brown patches that color the face. Freckles and moles can also darken during pregnancy.

The linea nigra and melasma are caused by an increase in melanin, the pigment that adds color to your skin and hair, according to ACOG. The dark areas usually fade after the woman gives birth, but some women with melasma can have dark patches for years, ACOG said. Some women with melasma are extra-careful to use sunscreen or wear a hat if they're going outside, and others use skin lighteners after giving birth to address the dark patches, Cackovic said.

Diabetes

Diabetes pregnancy

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Gestational diabetes — that is, elevated blood sugar during pregnancy — develops in up to 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States. But the mother's diabetes risk doesn't end when the pregnancy does. After giving birth, up to half of the women who had gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes later in life, Cackovic said.

"Usually, those women already know they're at risk, because they have family members that have diabetes," he said.

If a woman has gestational diabetes, it's important that she maintain a healthy weight and diet, monitor her blood sugar, and get screened for diabetes in the years following her pregnancy so she can be aware if she's becoming prediabetic, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Sex drive

Sex drive pregnancy

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After a woman gives birth, it can take a year for her sex drive to return to her normal levels, Cackovic said. Sheer fatigue from caring for a newborn is one reason why. Another has to do with breastfeeding.

If the woman breastfeeds, a decision ACOG supports, then she'll have lower estrogen levels, which can diminish sex drive, Cackovic said.

Varicose veins and hemorrhoids

Varicose veins and hemorrhoids pregnancy

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Some pregnant women might notice swollen, sore and blue veins — called varicose veins — on their legs, as well as on the vulva and in the vagina. When these sore-feeling veins occur on the rectum, they're called hemorrhoids.

Varicose veins and hemorrhoids develop because the uterus's heavy weight and pressure can reduce blood flow from the lower part of the body, ACOG said. In addition, increased blood flow and a weakening of the blood vessels' lining can contribute to these conditions, Cackovic said.

Usually, varicose veins and hemorrhoids go away within six to 12 months of the birth, Cackovic said. Pregnant women who want to prevent varicose veins from getting worse should exercise regularly, avoid sitting with their legs crossed for a long time, wear support hose, and avoid constipation by eating high-fiber foods and drinking plenty of liquids, ACOG said.

Slightly larger uterus

uterus anatomy

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Normally, the uterus is about a pear-size, but during pregnancy, the organ swells to the size of a watermelon. Afterwards, it deflates and shrinks again over the course of six weeks in a process called involution — but this contraction isn't necessarily 100 percent.

A 1996 study in the journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology found that premenopausal women who had children had slightly larger uteruses than women who had never given birth, even after this postpartum period had passed. (Call it a pear on steroids, maybe?) However, it's perhaps inaccurate to call it permanent, just long-lasting, as the uterus will then shrink to an even smaller size after menopause.

Abdominal separation

diastasis-recti

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One surprisingly common, and ultimately permanent, change associated with pregnancy is a condition called diastasis recti abdominis. It's when the abdominal muscles separate, creating a gap between the stomach muscles.

All women will have this separation at the late stages of pregnancy to make room for the growing belly. But by a year postpartum, somewhere between a third to more than two-thirds of women will retain some separation between their abdominal muscles, various studies suggest.

Oh, oh… oh?

man and woman in bed, in bed, couple in bed

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Another casualty of those stretched-out pelvic-floor muscles is that the contractions associated with orgasms may be weaker than before. While this may be not be universal, for many women, a somewhat blah climax can be a side effect of a weakened pelvic floor.

However, changes in orgasmic intensity may not be due to physical changes, Dweck said. Other changes, such as fatigue, pain, and feeling less desirable due to body changes and breastfeeding could also be at play, she said.

"For many women, the biggest sex organ is the brain," Dweck said.

You become a chimera

mama baby

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When a woman is pregnant, her body is filled with cells from her growing baby. But those cells don't all leave with the baby. At least some of those cells travel through the placenta into the rest of the mother's body — where some may remain for the rest of her life. Autopsies of women who had children decades before have found evidence of male DNA in the woman's brains, presumably from gestating their sons, according to a 2012 study in PLOS One.

The purpose of these chimeric cells isn't clear. Some doctors think they can help a mom, while other researchers think the cells are potentially harmful, Live Science previously reported.

Wider Hips

mens trousers with measuring tape

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Some women may notice that their hips are wider following childbirth. But why?

You may think it has to do with the hormone relaxin — largely because relaxin relaxes and softens the joints and ligaments in the pelvis to help the mother push out the baby during labor. But that's likely not the real reason behind wider hips, Cackovic said.

Rather, wider hips are "most probably due to the deposition of fat into areas of the body that have extra fat cells," he told Live Science. In other words, some women get chubbier because of accumulating fat cells, not because their hip bones are actually wider.