From healthier eating to thicker hair to better sex, how pregnancy may boost your health and happiness.
I have psoriasis, and for 20 years my scalp has been so crusty and flaky that a shake of my head can create a snow-globe effect. But when I was pregnant, an amazing thing happened: My flakes vanished. I stopped getting treatments at the dermatologist’s office and started wearing black sweaters, just because I could.
Sure, pregnancy can be a nine-month gripefest—about aching backs, swollen ankles and barf-athons—but as I experienced, it can also be a time of unexpected and wonderful changes, both physical and emotional. “Some medical conditions improve during pregnancy, and for a lot of women, it’s a time of remarkable health and happiness,” says Stuart Fischbein, M.D., an OB-GYN in Camarillo, Calif.
Here’s how your eating habits, body image, relationship and more might improve during pregnancy. Just one caveat: The glory may be short-lived. About 48 hours after I delivered my twin boys, my scalp started to get crusty again. But hey, not being flaky was great while it lasted.
PERK: Autoimmune symptoms improve Autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis and lupus develop when the body attacks its own cells, mistaking them for intruders. “But the maternal immune system has to develop tolerance [for the developing baby], and it does that by suppressing one form of immunity,” explains Roberto Romero, M.D., chief of the perinatology research branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
In other words, Mom’s immune system gets dialed-down so that it doesn’t attack the fetus; as a side benefit, some women with certain autoimmune diseases—including about 55 percent of psoriasis patients and up to 60 percent of MS patients—enjoy total or partial remission. Unfortunately, however, lupus often gets worse during pregnancy.
POST-BABY REALITY CHECK After delivery, most patients’ symptoms return to their pre-pregnancy levels.
PERK: Hair gets thicker Look at your shower drain—chances are, it’s not clogged with hair. “Normally, women lose 50 to 100 hairs a day, but during pregnancy, hormones prolong the growing cycle,” explains Andrea Cambio, M.D., a dermatologist in Cape Coral, Fla. “As a result, fewer hairs fall out, and there is an increase in the percentage of hairs that are growing.”
POST-BABY REALITY CHECK You may need to call the plumber. “There’s a steep drop in the percentage of growing hairs, and hair falls out rapidly,” Cambio says.
PERK: Eating disorders go into remission A study of 41,000 pregnant women found that about 58 percent of women with bulimia who binged and purged improved (40 percent went into complete remission and another 18 percent achieved partial remission). Among women with bulimia who binged but did not purge, 29 percent achieved remission and another 53 percent improved.
“We believe that this is akin to women stopping smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy,” says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., director of the Eating Disorders Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “They are concerned about the effects that starvation, purging or binge eating might have on their babies, so they work really hard to get their eating disorders under control.” Statistics were not available for women with anorexia, although many also improve, Bulik says.
POST-BABY REALITY CHECK Some women’s disordered eating patterns resume after they give birth.
PERK: Couples get closer The anticipation of having a baby, choosing names, preparing the nursery, marveling at the ultrasound—for couples in a healthy relationship, all of these experiences can make for a second honeymoon of sorts.
“There’s much more feeling of connectedness, and that makes men feel more generous about pampering their pregnant wives with things like foot massages,” says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist in Long Beach, Calif., and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage (Adams Media).
POST-BABY REALITY CHECK Eh, don’t count on those foot massages to continue. A study that tracked marital happiness among 218 couples through the first eight years of marriage found a “sudden deterioration” in satisfaction in the years following a birth compared with pre-baby levels.
PERK: You feel sexier “Shifting hormone levels can cause your libido to soar,” says New York City certified sexuality educator Amy Levine, M.A., founder of igniteyourpleasure.com. Many women let go of body-image insecurities when they’re pregnant, she adds: “Your curves, particularly your voluptuous breasts and the belly you proudly show off to your partner, can make you feel sexier than ever.” And for couples who struggled to conceive, sex can be especially liberating, now that there are no monthly ovulation calendars to worry about.
POST-BABY REALITY CHECK Enjoy the sex while you can. It may be a long while before your and your partner’s libidos and schedules match up.
Did you know? The “pregnancy glow” is no myth: The increased blood volume that’s needed to nourish your growing baby creates that healthy-looking flush.