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Women's Health

Pregnancy’s lasting toll

August 1, 2022

You might not notice damage until long after childbirth.

photo of three generations of women, with the middle on the left, youngest in the middle, and oldest on the right

It’s said that once we’ve given birth, we’re forever postpartum. Indeed, the effects of pregnancy on our bodies often last far beyond the six-week checkup — when an OB/GYN typically declares us fully recovered — with some damage not apparent until our babies go to school or even become parents themselves.

Carrying a child and giving birth, whether vaginally or by cesarean section, can stress muscles, ligaments, and nerves responsible for sexual function and bladder and bowel control. While genetics certainly play a part, pregnancy by itself can lead to later problems such as pelvic pain, urine or stool leakage, or sagging or bulging pelvic structures known as pelvic organ prolapse. And the odds of these problems rise with the number of babies you’ve delivered — especially vaginally — along with their birth weight, Harvard experts say.

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