Are there any health benefits of pregnancy?

February 20, 2014 12:00 AM by

The biggest benefit of pregnancy is clearly that you're going to come out of it with a wonderful newborn in your arms. There are other temporary benefits that you may get while you're pregnant, too, like more glowing skin, thicker hair, bigger boobs and a judgment-free zone whenever you happen to reach for second helpings. But are there any health benefits of pregnancy that could carry over into life after having a baby? The answer is yes.

Healthier lifestyle
There are all kinds of changes that a woman needs to make during pregnancy to ensure the health of her unborn child. Things like cutting back on alcohol, quitting smoking, eating healthier meals and getting more exercise are all common changes, which lead to a healthier lifestyle. Once you get in the habit of taking these extra steps to improve your health, you're more likely to stick with them once your baby arrives. If you had to quit smoking, picking it back up would be a silly move, especially since secondhand smoke is just as dangerous to your child. Going back to junk food and quitting your exercise regimen wouldn't help you get back to your pre-pregnancy shape, either!

Better periods
If you're one of those women who doubles up in pain wondering "Why me?" every time your period hits, here's a bit of good news: pregnancy might result in easier periods. After their first child, many women report feeling either greatly reduced cramps or even no cramps during their periods. Doctor's aren't sure why this is, but those who give birth the natural way are more likely to report easier periods as opposed to ladies who give birth via C-section. Therefore, the stretching of the uterus may play a role.

Reduced cancer risk
Pregnancy and breastfeeding can help reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer. That's because of two reasons. First of all, when you're pregnant, you have fewer periods, meaning you aren't exposed to as much estrogen and progesterone. These ovary-produced hormones stimulate cell growth and can increase the risk of breast cancer. Secondly, your breast cells go through many changes during pregnancy and lactation, which can make them less likely to transform into cancer cells later on.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding can help reduce your risks for other types of cancer, too. The hormone changes that occur during pregnancy can make you less likely to get ovarian or endometrial cancer. Plus, the more children you have, the lesser your risk. Preliminary studies have also shown that lung cancer and colon cancer might also be less likely in women who have had children.

Healthier heart
Heart disease is a major risk for women, but studies have suggested that pregnancy and breastfeeding can contribute to a healthier heart and make heart disease less likely. One study found that women who gave birth to four or more children were less likely to die from stroke than other women. Scientists believe it's because of the increased estrogen exposure during pregnancy, which counters the loss of estrogen after menopause. Lack of estrogen can lead to heart disease. Breastfeeding can also help encourage a healthier heart, since researchers say the oxytocin released while nursing has heart-healthy benefits.

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