How Subsequent Pregnancies Can Be Harder on Your Body

Pregnant woman looking unwell at home

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You have done this before, perhaps even more than once. Yet the newest pregnancy always seems to be harder than the one before it. While every pregnancy is different, it is not uncommon to find your second or subsequent pregnancy more challenging.

You are coping with the demands of carrying a baby whilst simultaneously caring for the child (or children) you might already have. You will probably find yourself asking if it was always this hard. By the time the dreaded first-trimester fatigue sets in, you can almost guarantee all you will want to do is put your feet up and rest, even if there seems to be no time for that.  

Exhaustion is not the only culprit for how you are feeling. “There are a multitude of reasons that subsequent pregnancies might feel more difficult,” says Danielle Jones, MD, the OB/GYN behind the blog MamaDoctorJones.

These reasons include, but are not limited to, being older, having different sets of complications, a more significant relaxation of the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles earlier in gestation, and—of course!—potentially having small children at home and less time to rest. Every pregnancy experience is different.

Pregnancy Is Hard, However Many Times You Do It

Anyone who has ever grown a human being will tell you how tough pregnancy can be on your body. Your joints, ligaments, and skin all stretch to accommodate your growing bump, while your ever-expanding uterus can put pressure on your back, pelvis, and other organs. Even your heart has to work harder, pumping 30 to 50 percent more blood around your body to help provide your baby with everything it needs.

And your body handles the demands of pregnancy differently the second—or third or fourth—time around. Though physiologically, subsequent pregnancies are no different from the first, Dr. Jones says. However, what has almost certainly changed are our lives around us.

Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT

Many individuals feel their body performs just as well in a subsequent pregnancy, while others may find a subsequent pregnancy more difficult.

— Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT

"Human beings are complex," says Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT. "We have physical needs, mental needs, socioeconomic needs, and all of those things impact a pregnancy. And many of those things can change from one pregnancy to another. Many individuals feel their body performs just as well in a subsequent pregnancy, while others may find a subsequent pregnancy more difficult.”

Symptoms That Can Appear Sooner in Subsequent Pregnancies

For some women, subsequent pregnancies can mean weakened or relaxed abdominals. This can cause your baby to sit lower in the abdomen. “Sometimes, people will notice that they have more relaxed abdominal and pelvic floor muscles,” says Dr. Jones, who notes that this can cause vaginal pressure earlier in the pregnancy.

In addition to this, you might find that you "show" sooner. Some separation of the rectus muscles (the ones that run vertically along the front of your abdominals) is common, affecting approximately 60% of pregnant women.

However, they do not always knit back as tightly together as they were pre-pregnancy. Persistent separation beyond six months postpartum is diagnosed as diastasis recti. Any separation of these muscles can lead to developing a bump sooner in subsequent pregnancies.

Common Ailments in Subsequent Pregnancies

  • You carry lower
  • You show sooner
  • You are more tired
  • You are susceptible to musculoskeletal issues earlier

Pelvic Girdle Pain and Lower Back Pain

You can experience symptoms of pelvic girdle pain (PGP) or lower back pain (LBP) and pubic bone pain as early as the first trimester of any pregnancy. This is due to relaxin levels reaching their peak at this time.

"In practice, I have seen these issues crop up earlier in a second pregnancy than they did in a first pregnancy," says Dr. Gibson. “There can be many reasons for this. Being a caretaker (full time or not) for family members that need physical help can certainly lead to developing musculoskeletal issues sooner in a subsequent pregnancy.”

For example, lifting little ones in and out of cribs or carrying your child on your hip could easily exacerbate the problem. "The good news, though, is that it’s never too late to seek treatment for orthopedic or pelvic floor conditions no matter what stage of pregnancy, or how far postpartum someone is," Dr. Gibson says.

Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT

The good news, though, is that it’s never too late to seek treatment for orthopedic or pelvic floor conditions no matter what stage of pregnancy, or how far postpartum someone is.

— Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT

How To Cope With a Physically Demanding Pregnancy

Every pregnancy is different, so whether you are finding your first or your fifth difficult, listen to your body and ask for help when you need it.

How You Can Look After You

  • Stay hydrated
  • Rest when your body needs it
  • Stay physically active
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet


Address Lingering Ailments

Untreated ailments from previous pregnancies can impact the next, Dr. Gibson says. “I sometimes see things like pelvic girdle pain, low back pain, or urine leakage, that were not addressed previously make a subsequent pregnancy difficult,” she says.

Dr. Gibson also notes that people are often (incorrectly) told that these issues will go away on their own. “In fact, the research shows that up to a third of women who experience these issues in pregnancy do not get relief after the baby is born, and now they are responsible for another human being, so their time to address their own issues is limited," she says.

Seek Professional Help

Professional guidance can always be a help, no matter what the issue is. "You may feel like what you are experiencing is 'normal' because this is what friends, family, and society, in general, tells us about almost everything we experience during pregnancy and postpartum," Dr. Gibson says. "Do not buy it. If you feel like something is off, ask for help."

Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT

If you feel like something is off, ask for help.

— Janelle Gibson, PT, DPT

Dr. Jones recommends looking for a skilled physical therapist, pelvic floor physical therapist, and/or massage therapist who is trained to treat whatever you are dealing with.

Rest When You Need To

Help boost those flagging energy levels! Stay hydrated, rest when you feel your body needs to, and stay physically active, Dr. Jones encourages. She also recommends eating a healthy diet, using a maternity support belt, and talking to your healthcare provider about over-the-counter pain medications, as needed.

A Word From Verywell

However hard you might be finding your subsequent pregnancy, you do have one thing you did not have the first time around—experience. Every pregnancy is different, though, so listen to your body. Reach out for help from your loved ones as you need it and speak to your healthcare provider about any concerns.

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6 Sources
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