Is it scientifically true that giving birth helps a woman's body renew itself?

Pregnancy and childbirth take an awful lot out of women. Their organs get shifted out of place, they may suffer from pregnancy- and breastfeeding-related osteoporosis, they could be (and probably are) permanently scarred from surgical cuts (either episiotomies or C-sections) made during delivery, and a good number endure gestational diabetes and a host of other health problems they never dreamt they’d have before they got pregnant. Not to mention the exhausting process of taking care of the newborn after they’ve finally evicted the baby from their womb, the lack of sleep, and the danger of post-partum blues.

The only “renewal” I can think of is a teensy bit sinister: the cells of the foetus often make it past all the barriers that are supposed to keep the developing baby separate from the mother’s immune system, and these cells are known to invade the mother’s brain, her bloodstream, her organs, her breast cells, her skin… potentially any part of her body, really. And they lodge inside the mother for the rest of her life, long after the baby is born and the kid grows up. Some studies have put a positive spin on this foetal-cell invasion by suggesting that the cells could help the mother heal from various illnesses and injuries. Others have suggested that these foetal cells behave more like cancerous cells and may raise the mother’s risk of cancer. Either way, they’re a kind of “renewal”, aren’t they? Whether they heal, or whether they “renew” cells the way cancer cells are so good at growing on and on, foetal cells that have permanently invaded the mother’s body are one way I can think of for childbirth to be a factor in a woman’s body renewing itself.

Here’s a link to one of the reports that takes the more positive perspective:

Fetal Cells May Protect Mom From Disease Long After The Baby's Born

4 Replies to “Is it scientifically true that giving birth helps a woman's body renew itself?”

  1. Ooh, I love this question! It can help us deal with separating mythology from science.

    “Body renewal” is a buzzword that esoteric and New Age gurus like to toss around. It's right up there with karma cleansing, blood purification and detox diets. Many such teachings are focused on “blessed motherhood” and “the mystery of birth”. They show this very natural biological process as if it is something very mysterious and grants special powers, auras, waves, or fluids. Now, this by itself isn't so bad (I don't want to just insult people for believing in what they want to believe), when it doesn't come in one package with certain weird practices and opinions. And sometimes it does.

    For example, when I was going through post-partum depression and researching on it, there was a popular (among certain people) opinion that motherhood is a blessed event, and if you're not happy after becoming a mother, that's your own fault – you are likely being punished for not treating your femininity with due dignity. Did you wear jeans or smoke marijuana, you slut? You destroyed your blessing with your own hands! You can guess how much it helps to recover from depression and seek professional help with kind and caring attitudes like these surrounding you.

    What does this mean in the context of body renewal? It means that certain esoteric and religious practices push this idea forward to motivate women fulfill their role, and that is of a human incubator and a birthing device. Pregnancy is sacred! Motherhood is a blessing! Your body will be renewed, unlike that of those old and saggy childfree hags! Procreate, woman! The more you produce, the younger you'll feel! All is fair in war.

    So, let's not wander too far from the subject matter!

    Is there any scientific parcel of sense in this notion of pregnancy helping the body renew itself? Yes! Amazingly, there is. But not in the direct way that the expression suggests.

    1. Pregnancy halts the ovulation process. The ovulation process is directly linked to a woman's aging process. After all eggs have been released (there is a limited number of those), the body starts the menopause and the process of getting old. There are big hormonal changes that affect, among other things, skin and bones. It doesn't have to be drastic, but once the eggs are gone, the body stops the maintenance of the fertile condition. Naturally, the more pregnancies a woman has, the less she ovulates -> the longer her menopause is postponed. Fewer ovulations also means lower risk of ovarian cancer.
    2. The pregnancy pushes a whole load of hormones around. Particularly the “female” hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, contribute to a more youthful look. The menstrual cycle definitely gets a reboot, but it doesn't mean that it's always “from bad to good”.
    3. A big amount of new blood is produced for the duration of pregnancy and for some time afterwards. Some of it is lost during birth and as part of the placenta – a placenta is a comparatively big organ and it's densely filled with blood vessels. The blood circulation undergoes an overhaul first during the pregnancy and then following the labor.
    4. Whether you want to or not, having a newborn will mean you'll have to be more active. Many women start going on regular walks just because they have to. Many women start eating healthier just because they think they ought to. So for many women, it can contribute to a better health at least temporarily.
    5. Our bodies renew themselves and most of the cells inside them every few years anyway. So yes, this would include people going through pregnancy, heh.

    But then you counterbalance it all with lack of sleep, haphazard meals, decrease of personal hygiene, and overall added anxiety and stress – and all this renewal is like “a Snickers bar, now with vitamins” (unnoticeable bit of good among the general issues).

  2. Maybe in a sense, but for the most part no.

    Women who are pregnant and breastfeeding have a higher ability to absorb nutrients and use them, so, for example, they can absorb more vitamin D, calcium and magnesium and can improve bone density.

    But, of course, because the fetus (and for breastfeeding mothers, the baby) takes a lot of nutrients, it only works in the favor of the mother if she is ingesting a very high concentration of nutrients, more than she’s likely to get from a standard diet. That's why women take prenatal vitamins.

    Except, a lot of women still don't get the nutrients they need during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and pregnancy and childbirth are really hard on a woman's body, so many women are left weaker after having a baby and breastfeeding than they were before.

    Some women with hormonal imbalances find that, after pregnancy, their hormones are more stable than before. But again, this is not always true, and for some women, it makes things worse.

    I personally had a difficult pregnancy and my body has never recovered. I am constantly battling osteoporosis and ostemylacia (adult ricketts) and most of that is due to nutrient loss during pregnancy.

  3. I’m not sure what it means to renew a body. There are a number of changes that occur during pregnancy. Some may be seen as positive others not so much. My wife has arthritis and it went into remission during pregnancy and several years post pregnancy.

  4. I have never heard that, however, it is true that women who have had children have lower risk for certain types of cancer such as breast and ovarian cancer.

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