It’s no secret that a pregnant woman’s body changes during pregnancy. It has to, after all, to accommodate the new life that is growing inside of it. But the extent of these changes may be much larger than you’re expecting, especially as a first-time mother. What with all of the hormones and organ shifting, you’re likely to experience some pretty unusual physical changes during pregnancy. In this article, we’ll walk you through exactly what you can expect to happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy and why.
The First Trimester
You’re Going to Glow
When you’re pregnant, you’ll experience a huge and sudden increase in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This will affect your body in a lot of different, significant ways, but one of the best is that it makes your skin look amazing. That’s right, that “pregnancy glow” that everybody talks about isn’t just a myth or an empty compliment thrown at pregnant women. It’s a real phenomenon, a side effect of your hormonal changes.
You’ll Feel Nauseous
Morning sickness is a common symptom of pregnancy and is marked by nausea and occasional vomiting. Despite the name, morning sickness can cause discomfort at any time of the day. Nausea and vomiting is most common in the first trimester but can last until the baby is born, ranging from mild nausea to its most severe form, hyperemesis gravidarum, characterized by relentless vomiting that can lead to malnutrition, weight loss and electrolyte imbalance.
The exact causes of morning sickness are still not known; however, most agree that hormonal changes probably play a role. Experts believe that morning sickness may in part be caused by the sudden increase of estrogen, which can be 100 times higher during pregnancy, compared with levels found in women who are not pregnant. Low blood sugar may also be to blame, caused by the placenta draining energy from the mother’s body. Some suggest that there may be a link between the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and morning sickness. An increased sensitivity to odors may also overstimulate normal nausea triggers.
If you do find yourself vomiting while pregnant, some of the best remedies for morning sickness include consuming ginger (if recommended by your healthcare practitioner), eating smaller regular meals, and taking certain prescription medications.
You’ll Loosen Up
During your second trimester, your muscles and joints may feel strange, or uncomfortable, especially around your pelvis. This is thanks to relaxin, a hormone that helps relax the smooth muscles in the pelvis, such as the cervix and uterus, and promote the growth of the placenta. While this might make prenatal yoga a bit easier, unfortunately, it can also cause women to experience some aches and pains in their ligaments, or even experience injuries more easily.
That means it is important to be more careful during exercise and activity, as you can potentially be at a higher risk for injuries like sprains and strains in your ankles and knees.
Your Vision Might Change
Though the biological reasons are still unknown, many pregnant women experience changes in their vision, particularly increased nearsightedness. Other changes include blurry vision and discomfort with contact lenses. In some situations, pregnant women experience increased intraocular pressure and those with gestational diabetes and preeclampsia may have a higher risk of more serious conditions like retinal detachment or vision loss. Thankfully, most of the time, women’s vision goes back to normal after giving birth.
Your Taste Will Change
No, we’re not talking about your taste in clothing or decor here. During pregnancy, many women experience changes in their sense of taste and smell. That’s right, the movies aren’t exaggerating with the weird pregnancy cravings and smell sensitivity.
Generally, you’ll be able to better handle stronger flavours. You’ll prefer saltier and sweeter foods and be less sensitive to sour tastes. However, you may also experience dysgeusia, or a decrease in your ability to taste, in your first trimester.
Some pregnant women also get a metallic taste in their mouth during pregnancy, though it may indicate a nutritional deficiency, making it worth bringing up to your doctor. That, and a perceived increased sensitivity to odours, can contribute to morning sickness.
Your Hair May Fall Out - And Grow in Weird Places
Another effect of hormonal changes is hair loss and shedding. This is especially the case if you have a family history of alopecia. Hair loss can continue for up to a year after your delivery as your hormones slowly ease back into their normal balance.
However, conversely, a lot of pregnant women also experience hair growth and thickening, even in unwanted places, like the face, arms, legs, and back.
Similarly, you may either notice your nails growing quite fast or, on the other end of the spectrum, looking brittle and breaking.
You’ll Change Colors
During pregnancy, you’ll probably experience several types of hyperpigmentation, or skin darkening on your areolas, scars, and genitals. You may also develop a linea alba - a dark line down the middle of your abdomen, or melasma - a darkening of the skin on the face (also known as a pregnancy mask), caused by the melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which is triggered by high levels of estrogen and progesterone. While hyperpigmentation during pregnancy is incredibly common, it’s more likely to occur if you have a darker complexion.
You’ll Burn More Calories
There are several reasons why pregnant women need to eat more calories than they did previously, one of which being that your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, a measure of the amount of energy you use in a day while at rest, goes up during pregnancy. This is because your body is working so hard to fuel all the growth and changes in your and your developing baby. Your BMR will increase significantly starting at your 15th week and will peak at your third trimester. It will remain elevated for a few weeks postpartum and the entire time you breastfeed if you choose to do so.
You’ll Breathe More Air
When you’re pregnant, the amount of air that moves through your body will increase by a whopping 30 to 50 percent. Not only will each breath have more air in it, but you'll also breathe more in general. However, your diaphragm, which helps your lungs do their thing, can get pretty squished inside your body, so it may be difficult getting all that extra air. That’s why pregnant women often experience shortness of breath, especially during exercise.
You’ll Get Hotter
One of the first signs you’re pregnant is that your basal body temperature goes up, and it stays that way throughout your entire pregnancy. That might be part of the reason why you need to drink more water during pregnancy and are at a higher risk for dehydration. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize water intake while pregnant - especially when you’re exercising or spending a lot of time in the heat or sun.
You May Get Stopped Up
Constipation is defined as having hard, dry stools, going fewer than three times a week, and having painful evacuations. And unfortunately, many pregnant women suffer from it. There are a few possible causes. One culprit? Hormones, which slow down your digestion and relax the bowel muscles. Another reason is the swelling of your uterus, which can put uncomfortable pressure on your bowels.
If you experience constipation during pregnancy, it’s recommended you eat lots of fibre, stay hydrated, exercise, and avoid caffeine. Of course, if your constipation lasts a long time or is particularly painful, it is recommended that you speak to a doctor.
You’ll Have to Pee - A Lot
Another pregnant woman stereotype that is totally true is the bladder control problems. These are temporary, but real, caused by your baby pushing down on your bladder, urethra, and pelvic floor muscles. Not only will you need to pee more often, but you may find yourself leaking a little bit when you laugh, sneeze, and cough. It’s no big deal though, just take your bathroom breaks, do your Kegel exercises, and consider carrying some toilet paper and wet wipes around with you in your purse.
The Second Trimester
Your Tatas Will Grow and Get Darker
During your pregnancy, your body gets ready to help sustain new life in many ways. One of them is by preparing your breasts for breastfeeding. High estrogen levels will develop your milk ducts, making your breasts look larger and swollen. This is also potentially going to cause tenderness and sensitivity.
And size won’t be the only cosmetic change to your breasts. Your areolas and veins will probably get darker, and your nipples will protrude more and potentially get larger. You may also develop stretch marks on your breasts. And as your milk comes in, you might begin producing and leaking colostrum, a thick, yellowish substance and noticing bumps on your areolas.
You’ll Swell Up
As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll gain weight, and one of the effects will be a slowing down of the circulation of your blood and bodily fluids, especially in your lower body. That will make you retain fluids, which will potentially manifest itself as swelling in your face and limbs. This will start in your second trimester and continue into your third.
To help ease your swelling, you can consider increasing dietary potassium, avoiding caffeine and sodium, standing less, and resting more.
Your Groin Might Hurt
Pregnant women experience a lot of various aches and pains, and one of the most bothersome can be a stabbing pain in your groin and stomach. Most often felt in the second trimester, this is caused by stretching and straining of the round ligament, one of the thick ligaments that supports your uterus as it grows during pregnancy. It usually happens on the right side but can be felt in both. Thankfully, round ligament pain usually only lasts a few seconds. It’s generally triggered by things like exercise, sneezing, coughing, laughing, rolling over, and standing up too fast.
Round ligament pain treatment options vary from prevention tactics like avoiding sudden movement and more active methods such as taking an over-the-counter painkiller, applying heat, or using a pregnancy support belt.
The Third Trimester
Your Heart Rate and Blood Volume Will Go Up
If you’ve experienced headache during early pregnancy, it may be related to the fact that the blood volume in your body increases significantly: 40 to 50 percent in plasma and 20 to 30 percent in red blood cells. To pump all that extra blood, your heart must be more efficient and work 30 to 50 percent harder than usual. That can come along with up to a 20 percent increase in heart rate. In your third trimester, your heart rate may even get up to 100 beats per minute at rest.
If you do experience daily headaches while pregnant, some popular pregnancy headache remedies include rest, massage, cold compresses, and painkillers.
You’ll Get Stretch Marks - And Maybe Rashes, Too
A lot of women dread them but stretch marks, otherwise known as striae gravidarum, are completely normal during pregnancy. After all, your skin has no choice but to stretch as your belly swells to accommodate your little one. Up to 90 percent of women develop stretch marks by their third trimester, usually on the breasts and abdomen. They never quite disappear, but they do fade from a dark purple to the colour of your skin tone.
Watch now: Midwife explains pregnancy stretch marks
Other skin changes you can anticipate are things like acne, darkening of moles and freckles, and dark skin patches. You might also get folliculitis or PUPPP (pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy), different kinds of rashes that involve the growth of harmless, temporary bumps along the abdomen, legs, arms, or back.
You’ll Get a Pain in the Back
With the loosening ligaments and changing posture, a lot of pregnant women experience back pain. After all, you’re suddenly carrying a lot of extra weight in front, from both your baby and your breasts, which can be difficult for your body to handle. That shift in weight can also move your centre of gravity forward, having you feel a bit off-balance.
Heartburn, Baby, Burn
As progesterone loosens the sphincter at the bottom of your oesophagus, food and stomach acid can travel in the wrong direction, causing heartburn and acid reflux. Antacids may just become your best friend during this time.
Your Fourth Trimester
Your postpartum period is a real rollercoaster of hormonal changes. After you give birth, your endorphins, those feel-good hormones that help you manage pain, are running high for 24 hours. But by day three and four, your hormones take a serious nosedive. After your body releases the placenta, all the hormones it was producing such as estrogen, progesterone, relaxin, hCG and HPL, go with it. Estrogen and progesterone are the lowest they will ever be until you hit menopause.
This is the time when many women start feeling some level of post-baby blues. You’re also likely very sleep-deprived at this point. Sleep deprivation is very clearly linked to cortisol, the stress hormone, so that also impacts the way you feel. But hopefully you’ve got some oxytocin coursing through your system from quality baby time to help with some of the postpartum sadness.
Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact trigger the release of oxytocin, which is sometimes known as the “love hormone” because it increases in response to physical touch and is thought to help promote bonding. Oxytocin helps with milk letdown when breastfeeding, but, since the hormone can stimulate uterine contractions, some women may also experience painful cramps during breastfeeding for a few weeks after birth. It may take up to a year for your menstrual cycle to go back to normal and your hormones won’t level out completely until you’ve weaned.
Pregnant With Change
As you can see, the pregnancy body changes you can anticipate are many. Some (glowing skin!) may be more fun than others (constipation), but all are completely natural, common, and just a part of the wild and beautiful experience that is pregnancy. Just like everything else, we know you’ll weather these with grace - or maybe without, the important thing is just that you’ll get through it.