Scary pregnancy stories are all over TikTok, but doctors say you shouldn't panic

Close-up of a pregnant woman's belly in the hospital bed.
  • TikTok is bringing visibility to lesser-known impacts of pregnancy that have viewers in shock.
  • From tooth loss to separated abdominal muscles to hemorrhoids and stretch marks, people experience a range of pregnancy and childbirth effects. And while some fade, others can be permanent.
  • Many conditions discussed on social media are real, but doctors say you shouldn't panic.

Those who haven't experienced pregnancy or childbirth presume a general idea of what happens to the body: changes in your hair, skin, breast size and of course a growing baby bump. 

Even celebrities have spoken about their experiences with the less-glamourous sides of childbirth. Olivia Munn, for example, recently revealed her hair started "falling out in clumps" after her son's birth. Chrissy Teigen has previously opened up about the pain of vaginal tearing and even the experience of pooping on the delivery table – both common occurrences.

But TikTok is bringing visibility to lesser-known impacts of pregnancy that have viewers in shock, from tooth loss to separated abdominal muscles. While social media can help show a range of birth experiences, doctors say it's important to get educated on potential side effects to ground yourself in proper concern and not unnecessary or excessive worry.

"In pregnancy, your body is almost a science experiment. There are changes daily – 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 the extent of the changes they may not know."

Many aren't aware that certain impacts can be lifelong. Genetics, size of the baby and existing risk factors all play a role, but pregnancy can lead to permanent changes to your body, Wu explains.

"(Some people get) varicose veins in their legs during pregnancy and they sometimes don't go away after the baby," she says, adding things like hemorrhoids developed during pregnancy may never go away. Stretch marks may fade but could linger the rest of your life.

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Lesser-known issues that shocked on social media

Entire books are dedicated to the most common and rarest occurrences to the body during and after pregnancy. A few in particular, still, have taken TikTok by surprise.

User @alliupham amassed more than 4 million views for a video sharing her battle with diastasis recti, a condition in which abdominal muscles separate from being stretched during pregnancy. She described hers as "a 7-inch gap in my abs that was wrecking havoc on my spine." 

User @heyseantaylor shocked viewers (and herself) after sharing a video about changes to dental health 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 comment section to commiserate. "My sisters (sic) teeth started disintegrating and falling apart in her mouth," one wrote. 

User @savannahglembin shared how postpartum cramps during breastfeeding come "straight from hell," garnering more than 890,000 likes.

It's true, all these things can happen.

While postpartum cramping doesn't last forever, it can happen as a result of the uterus trying to contract back to its regular shape and size, Wu explains. 

Teeth can also shift or be otherwise affected because pregnancy requires a lot of calcium. 

"Your teeth can be somewhat brittle. Patients will report cracking a tooth or chipping teeth more easily during pregnancy, that's fairly common," Wu adds. "And sometimes people do lose a tooth, especially people who have had very poor dental care or low calcium intake in their bone building years."

And while some postpartum bellies bounce back more easily, others can have a harder time with recovery.

If diastasis recti is mild, a pelvic physical therapist can work with patients to help decrease the gap, explains Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB-GYN and chief medical officer of Verywell Health. Whereas people who have it severely "might have to have surgery in order to fix it to the degree of what they want." This is the route user @alliupham ended up taking for her recovery. 

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Why are some conditions less discussed?

"Selective amnesia" is partly to blame for why some pregnancy conditions don't come up as often, Wu explains.

"In the end, (when people) see their beautiful babies, they forget a lot of what happened during pregnancy... You forget the daily aches and pains at the end."

Societally, people are also criticized for complaining about childbirth effects when you have a healthy baby. 

"Sometimes a new mom feels guilty about complaining about her stretch marks or her varicose veins when everything has gone well for her and her baby," Wu says.

Other times, the more painful parts of labor and delivery are purposely kept quiet from expectant parents as to not spark fear.

"When you have a friend who's newly pregnant, you're not going to jump in and tell her all the horrible things that could happen to her, which may not," she adds.

While these lesser-known impacts of childbirth aren't unimportant, Shepherd explains immediately after a C-section or vaginal delivery, there can be more pressing matters at hand.

"From a clinical standpoint, I want to make sure that someone is safe" she says, adding the main focus is monitoring for anything life-threatening. This includes complications like blood clots, an infection or excessive bleeding.

The balance between preparing and scaring yourself 

Social media is making it easier for parents and hopeful-parents alike to share and receive information on pregnancy and childbirth, though remember: This is all case-by-case. Pregnancies, deliveries and recovery have a wide range of difficulty levels.

"Every symptom runs the spectrum. Some patients get it very mildly, or some patients get it very badly. Most of the time we address it as it comes up and try to help the patient cope," Wu says.

While society pressures a quick "bounce back" from pregnancy, Shepherd challenges people to not look at some of these postpartum impacts like a looser belly as "bad."

"Some of these conditions can occur, but we shouldn't necessarily look at it as something that's ultimately bad," she says. "Step back and look at the outcome of what just occurred and the miracle of that and not place so much emphasis on the aesthetics or things that are not ultimately going to change our quality of life."

Instead of excessive worry that leads to more anxiety during an already stressful time, doctors suggest these tips:

  • Establish a relationship with your OB. Even before getting pregnant, you can address any issues or concerns. And over the course of your pregnancy, your doctor can be a helpful resource.
  • Educate yourself. Wu says pregnancy books like "What to Expect When You're Expecting" give great overviews and can be used as a resource as questions arise.
  • But try not to worry way ahead of time. Some issues only develop later in pregnancy or may never develop at all, so Wu suggests not getting too ahead of yourself.
  • Keep things in perspective. Don't get caught up in what pregnancy and postpartum is "supposed to look like and feel" and "miss the entire importance of what just happened," Shepherd says. 

"We have to find better ways to enhance the positivity of pregnancy and the postpartum phase while still allowing women to feel empowered with what may happen with their bodies physiologically," Shepherd adds.

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