TikTok shares scary stories of pregnancy and childbirth. Doctors weigh.
- TikTok brings visibility to the lesser-known impacts of pregnancy that shock viewers.
- From tooth loss and separated abdominal muscles to hemorrhoids and stretch marks, people experience a range of effects from pregnancy and childbirth. And while some disappear, others may be permanent.
- Many conditions discussed on social media are real, but doctors say not to panic.
Those who have not experienced pregnancy or childbirth presume a general idea of what is happening to the body: changes in your hair, skin, breast size and of course a growing baby bump.
Even celebrities have spoken of their experiences with the less glamorous sides of childbirth. Chrissy Teigen, for example, talked about the pain of vaginal tears and even the experience of pooping on the delivery table — two common occurrences.
But TikTok brings visibility to the lesser-known impacts of pregnancy that shock viewers, from tooth loss to separated abdominal muscles. While social media can help show a range of birth experiences, doctors say it’s important to educate yourself about potential side effects to ground yourself in appropriate and not unnecessary or excessive concern.
“During pregnancy, your body is almost a science experiment. There are daily changes – your belly changes, your legs change, your veins change, the very blood that flows through your veins changes,” says Dr. Jennifer Wu, OB -GYN at Lenox Hill Hospital. “Most patients expect these changes, but they may not know the extent of the changes.”
Many do not know that some impacts can last a lifetime. Genetics, baby size and existing risk factors all play a role, but pregnancy can cause permanent changes to your body, says Wu.
“(Some people have) varicose veins in their legs during pregnancy and sometimes they don’t go away after the baby,” she says, adding that things like hemorrhoids developed during pregnancy may never go away. Stretch marks may fade but may persist for the rest of your life.
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Lesser-known issues that shocked on social media
Entire books are devoted to the most common and rare events in the body during and after pregnancy. A few in particular, again, took TikTok by surprise.
User @alliupham has amassed over 4 million views for a video sharing her battle with diastasis recti, a condition in which the abdominal muscles separate from stretching during pregnancy. She described hers as “a 7 inch gap in my abs that was wreaking havoc on my spine.”
User @heyseantaylor shocked viewers (and herself) after sharing a video about dental health changes during pregnancy. “Somehow every new piece of information I get about being pregnant is worse than the last thing I heard,” she says. Others took to the comments section to sympathize. “My sister’s (sic) teeth started to decay and crumble in her mouth,” one wrote.
User @savannahglembin shared how postpartum cramps while breastfeeding come “straight from hell”, garnering over 890,000 likes.
It’s true, all of these things can happen.
Although postpartum cramps don’t last forever, they can occur when the uterus tries to contract back to its normal shape and size, says Wu.
Teeth can also shift or otherwise be affected because pregnancy requires a lot of calcium.
“Your teeth may be a bit brittle. Patients will report breaking or chipping a tooth more easily during pregnancy, that’s quite common,” adds Wu. who had very poor dental care or low calcium intake during their bone-building years.”
And while some postpartum bellies bounce back more easily, others may have a harder time recovering.
If the diastasis recti is mild, a pelvic physical therapist can work with patients to help narrow the gap, says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN and chief medical officer of Verywell Health. While people who have it severely “may need to undergo surgery in order to fix it to the degree they want”. This is the route user @alliupham ended up taking for his recovery.
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Why are some conditions less discussed?
“Selective amnesia” is partly responsible for why certain pregnancy conditions don’t occur as often, says Wu.
“At the end of the day, (when people) see their beautiful babies, they forget a lot of what happened during the pregnancy…You forget the daily pains at the end.”
In society, people are also criticized for complaining about the effects of childbirth when you have a healthy baby.
“Sometimes a new mom feels guilty complaining about her stretch marks or varicose veins when everything has gone well for her and her baby,” says Wu.
Other times, the most painful parts of labor and birth are deliberately kept secret from expectant parents so as not to instill fear.
“When you have a friend who just got pregnant, you’re not going to step in and tell her all the horrible things that could happen to her, that may not happen,” she adds.
While these lesser-known impacts of childbirth aren’t trivial, Shepherd says, immediately after a C-section or vaginal birth, there may be more pressing issues at hand.
“From a clinical point of view, I want to make sure someone is safe,” she says, adding that the main goal is to monitor anything life-threatening. This includes complications such as blood clots, infection, or excessive bleeding.
The balance between preparing and being scared
Social media makes it easier for parents and expectant parents to share and receive information about pregnancy and childbirth, although remember: everything is on a case-by-case basis. Pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery have a wide range of difficulty levels.
“Each symptom covers the spectrum. Some patients get it very mildly, or some patients get it very badly. Most of the time we address it as it arises and try to help the patient to cope,” Wu said.
As society pushes for a quick “bounce back” from pregnancy, Shepherd challenges people not to view some of these postpartum impacts like a looser belly as “bad.”
“Some of these conditions can occur, but we shouldn’t necessarily consider them something that’s ultimately bad,” she says. “Step back and look at the outcome of what just happened and the miracle of it and don’t give so much importance to aesthetics or things that ultimately aren’t going to change our quality of life.”
Instead of excessive worry leading to more anxiety during an already stressful time, doctors suggest these tips:
- Establish a relationship with your OB. Even before you get pregnant, you can resolve any issues or concerns. And during your pregnancy, your doctor can be a helpful resource.
- Find out. Wu says pregnancy books like “What to Expect When You’re Pregnant” provide great insights and can be used as a resource when questions arise.
- But try not to worry in advance. Some problems don’t develop until later in pregnancy or may never develop at all, so Wu suggests not getting too carried away.
- Keep things in perspective. Don’t get caught up in what pregnancy and postpartum are “meant to look and feel like” and “don’t miss the full significance of what just happened,” Shepherd says.
“We need to find better ways to improve pregnancy and postpartum positivity while allowing women to feel empowered about what may be happening physiologically to their bodies,” adds Shepherd.
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