Do Your Hips Return to Pre-Pregnancy Size After Childbirth?

Mom holding baby on hip

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Pregnancy and delivery bring with it countless changes. As your baby grows, both in and out of the womb, you may look at your own body and wonder which changes will stay, and which will fade with time.

If you’ve noticed your hips expanding as your belly grows, you’re on to something, says Yen Tran, DO an OB/GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. and author of “Baby Behind Mommy’s Belly Button.” Although body changes like hip expansion are a totally normal part of having a baby, it's natural to wonder whether those changes will be permanent.

Why Your Hips Expand During Pregnancy

You won't just wake up one morning and have grown wider hips. It's a process. Your hips will start expanding around weeks 10 to 12 of pregnancy when relaxin, a protein that loosens the ligament fibers in the body to accommodate a baby, begins to increase. 

"Women’s hips are already wider than men’s to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal,” says Dr. Tran. “During pregnancy, hormones [loosen] the joints and ligaments around the birth canal to make the passage larger and more flexible. This natural process contributes to the overall widening of the hips.”

Your pelvis slowly expands to facilitate a baby's passage through the vagina during childbirth. “The main left and right hip bones join at their lower end at the ‘pubic symphysis,’ a (usually) immobile joint made mostly of collagen," Dr. Tran explains. “[Hip] widening allows increased mobility of the pubic symphysis, more and more each week. This allows the gap between the left and right hip bones to become wider.”

Are Wider Hips Permanent?

Dr. Tran says that the pelvis usually returns to its normal position four to 12 weeks after delivery. This will most likely not be a visible change, but rather an internal one.

“After birth, when progesterone levels decline the laxity is reduced, most women will not see this subtle change visually but may feel it when walking or exercising." says Yvonne Bohn, OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. "In very rare cases, the laxity leads to separation of the pubic bones either before or after delivery which makes walking very difficult."

If you are someone who experiences hip or pelvic pain, it’s likely that this will return in subsequent pregnancies. “Each time a woman delivers a baby, there is always a risk of complications, but these are additive, not multiplicative,” says Dr. Tran. “That is, there is no strong relationship between the number of previous births and the risks in the current pregnancy and delivery.”

To allow the body, including the hips, to fully recover, Dr. Tran generally recommends to her patients that they wait 18 months between pregnancies, but there are exceptions. Talk to your healthcare provider to figure out what might be the best course for you.

Causes of Hip Pain During Pregnancy

Hip widening shouldn't be a noticeable process or cause any discomfort. If you feel your hips are getting wider, but you don’t have any pain or other concerning symptoms, you can chalk it up to normal pregnancy processes. However, Dr. Tran urges patients who have pain, a grinding sensation, or limited mobility to reach out. “Women always worry that there might be something wrong, but at the same time don’t want to bother their OB/GYN about it. They should know that we want to hear about their concerns, and we need to hear about anything painful or unusual going on,” she says.

It's important to diagnose and treat hip pain early to prevent future problems from developing. Most pregnancy-related hip conditions resolve with time and medical interventions such as physical therapy.

Symphysis Pubic Dysfunction

Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) refers to generalized pelvic pain, and it’s often attributed to stiff joints or uneven hip bones. SPD can feel like a sharp pain in your public bone when exercising or when your legs are separated such as getting in and out of the car. It's estimated that 41 to 78% of pregnant people experience pelvic pain, some from normal pregnancy discomfort and some as a result of SPD.

Symptoms of SPD include pain and tenderness near the pubic bone; pain radiating to the legs, hips or back; and pain that is worse with weight-bearing, Dr. Tran explains. She manages her patients' SPD with a combination of treatments including analgesics, physical therapy, support belts, injections, and acupuncture.

Luckily, most patients return to normal four to 12 weeks postpartum, and 80% have no more SPD pain by six months post-delivery, she says. By one year postpartum, most patients have little to no SPD symptoms.

Sacroiliac Joint Pain

Some pregnant people encounter hip pain where the hip bone meets the base of the spine, called the sacroiliac joint. Dr. Tran says that this type of pain might feel like stabbing, which extends to the back of the thigh, and tends to get worse with weight-bearing. A history of low back pain or multiple pregnancies increase the risk of this condition. Sacroiliac joint pain treatment is the same as it would be for SPD, pain management and physical therapy.

Pelvic Girdle Pain

This type of pregnancy pain can involve both the sacroiliac joints and the symphysis pubis, causing pain at both the base of the spine and hips, as well as the front of the pubic bone. Pain might also range between the iliac crest (hip bone at the top of the pelvis) and the gluteal fold (the bottom of the buttocks). Like the conditions mentioned above, pelvic girdle pain treatment also requires physical therapy and pain management.

A Word From Verywell Family

Widening hips allow for the baby to pass through the pelvic bone during birth. You can rest assured that your widening hips, in most cases, will return back to their pre-pregnancy state, usually by 12 weeks postpartum. If you are experiencing pelvic pain or other hip-related issues, you should bring these up with your healthcare provider promptly.

By Alexandra Frost
Alexandra Frost is a freelance journalist and content marketing writer with a decade of experience, and a passion for health and wellness topics. Her work has been published in the Washington Post, Glamour, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, Business Insider, and more.