The lasting effects of pregnancy

Can having a baby cause unexpected physical side effects? "My feet have grown a size," claims Denise van Outen, "I've had to give away all my designer shoes." Although her dress size has shrunk back to a pre-pregnancy 10, her shoe size has gone up from five to six. Which sounds all at once inconvenient and expensive. And certainly more than a bit showy-offy.

But what is really going on here? The traditional bodily legacies of childbirth are well-known. Breasts, stomach and thighs can all change shape for ever. As can – understatement of the year coming up – the pelvic floor. Let's not even mention stretchmarks. Or the fact that there are, sadly, both winners and losers in the Great Perineum Lottery. (If you don't understand what I mean, please don't Google it.)

But there are many other, less well-documented manifestations. I've heard women report both bigger and smaller feet, changed jaw shapes and long-term receding gums. Fiona Ghalustians is a midwife at West Middlesex University Hospital. "You even hear people say that their noses have grown," she says. "Other women look at their face in the mirror and think it has just changed. You come across these comments all the time and people are convinced they are true." There is, however, no scientific evidence on feet, noses or faces, Ghalustians insists. "Women tend to see themselves differently when they have had a baby."

Birth guru Zita West is similarly sceptical. "I have heard of shoe size increasing but I would still say it's unusual." Maybe Van Outen's designer giveaway is premature, she adds: her baby is only 10 months old. "It takes a good 18 months to get over the birth of a baby."

In her experience, every woman has something to complain about after childbirth. "There are always physiological changes they're not happy with, which are often to do with how they perceive themselves." If great big clanging clodhoppers are all Denise has to worry about, she has indeed got off lightly.

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