How does your body change during pregnancy?

How does your body change during pregnancy?

There are a number of changes that happen to your body in pregnancy, aside from the obvious growing of your stomach. Some of them may be more obvious than others. As your body prepares for the baby, it will release hormones to help it change. Your breasts will grow bigger and the spaces between your lymph nodes expand. They will start to produce colostrum which is the yellowish thick liquid you will produce in the first few days to feed your baby. You may have cravings for specific foods and its important to keep in mind your nutritional need and what is good for your baby. Remember what to avoid during pregnancy e.g. raw egg, shellfish, additives, etc. Some weight gain will be normal and will depend on your metabolism and your BMI before you got pregnant. If you were underweight when you got pregnant you may need to put on more weight during pregnancy. 

There may also be changes in your skin, which could clear up during pregnancy if it was an issue earlier, and other not so fun changes like swelling of your ankles, gas, back pain, constipation, and changes in libido. It’s perfectly fine to continue having sex during your pregnancy except in some situations where there is a risk of miscarraige or premature labour or your water bag has ruptured. Also Ina May Gaskin suggests in Spiritual Midwifery that if you have a multiple pregnancy, it may be best to avoid sex until after 39 weeks of gestation. She also suggests that if there no risks, keeping up your sexual intimacy with your partner during pregnancy may help with your bond and having them support you in labour. The prostaglandins in the semen also apparently contribute to the ripening of the cervix in labour. 

It’s important to try and stay active and do some light exercises like walking, yoga, stretching. This will help to strengthen the muscles you will use in labour and reduce constipation if you are experiencing this. This can be caused by the hormones that affect your digestive tract and the pressure the baby puts on your intestines, as well as iron supplements which commonly cause constipation. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, prunes, and alfa alfa tablets. Another side-effect relating to stools is hemorrhoids. These are likely to go away after pregnancy but you can use hemorrhoid cream or stool softener to help in the meantime, also a pad soaked in witch hazel or sitting in a warm bath will help with the swelling. 

If you’re experiencing morning sickness, this is extremely common. Although you may not feel like eating anything, and food is the last thing on your mind, eating will help. Just have a few crackers and vitamin B6 tablets. You can also try ginger tea to settle the stomach and some protein before bed at night. Ina May tells of a midwife Lisa Goldstein who recommends that pregnant women eat half an orange just before bed to prevent morning sickness the next morning. Alfa alfa tablets will also help with heartburn which is very common towards the second half of pregnancy. You can try to have smaller meals spread out throughout the day rather than large meals, and avoiding greasy foods or drinking with your meals. The hormone changes could also result in bleeding gums, just get a soft toothbrush and try a mouthwash without alcohol.  

Some common problems relating to water retention and circulation are varicose veins, leg cramps and swelling of the legs. Varicose veins are more common after several pregnancies or if you are overweight. Walk a lot and don’t elevate your legs higher than your hips, avoid tight clothes. Ina May suggests taking vitamin E capsules to help with varicose veins. Leg cramps are also caused by poor circulation so again don’t cross your legs when you sit and take some vitamin B and calcium. Ask your partner to rub your legs before bed to prevent cramps. If you have swelling in your legs, your midwife will want to rule out pre-eclampsia and will check your blood pressure. Unlike varicose veins, here you can elevate your legs above hip level. Avoid additives, sweeteners, salty snacks and fizzy drinks. 

Yeast infections in your vagina are another thing that is more common in pregnancy as the sugar released in your vagina in pregnancy is more favourable for yeasts to grow. Another way of getting a yeast infection is when you lose your normal lactobacilli bacteria in your vagina because of douching, sickness, or taking antibiotics. You can get over the counter medication and creams, and wear cotton underwear rather than nylon or lace, and avoid sex until it clears. 

With your body growing so much, the organs inside you may move to make room for the growing baby and this can cause shortness of breath as there is less room for your lungs to expand. Discuss this with your midwife so she can rule out other complications. The expanding skin on your tummy may also cause stretch marks. You could try rubbing moisturizer or belly balm but I don’t believe there are any studies showing that anything can prevent stretch marks. It really depends on your genes and each individual pregnancy so wear these war stripes with pride and love your body! Some other changes may be tiredness, backaches and dizziness. Try to rest as much as possible and get enough sleep but make sure to get your iron levels checked to confirm if you are anemic. Do light exercises like yoga, walking, and wear comfortable clothing. Keep an eye on you posture and stand straight, without putting additional pressure on your back. You can also try sleeping with a body pillow to support your stomach. When you get out of bed get out slowly and discuss your dizziness with your midwife so they can rule out any other complications.

While these are some of the common minor things that can happen during pregnancy, they are all pretty manageable. It’s your attitude going into it that will define your experience and the support you have from family and friends. Keep yourself informed, and your social networks strong so that you have the strength you need to cope with these minor side effects. 

Recent Research

There are some interesting articles I found online on other changes in a woman’s body during pregnancy. 

https://www.brainfacts.org/brain-anatomy-and-function/body-systems/2018/how-pregnancy-changes-the-brain-022818

This article describes studies that show that a woman’s brain shrinks in pregnancy and the effect of this lasts for more than two years. It results in a fine tuning of neural connections so that they can be more efficient and respond to their babies needs, interpreting different cries and facial cues.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5715231/

This study discusses skin changes that can happen in pregnancy like hyperpigmentation and melasma and varicose veins. 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235244/

This article discusses body composition changes during pregnancy like weight gain, but specifically how the body composition of lean tissue, fat tissue and water retention changes in pregnancy. 

Cover Image by Khusen Ruskamov from Pixabay

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