Body changes are part of every healthy pregnancy. A lot goes into making a tiny human, especially when your body is the vessel for that human's life! The most supportive thing you can do for yourself is to support your changing body; there's no space for self-judgment when you're pregnant (quite literally).
Not all changes discussed here will happen for every pregnant woman or every pregnancy you may have, but when you know what to expect there are fewer surprises, and so much about pregnancy can be a surprise for a first-time mommy.
One big change: weight gain
There's no perfect amount of weight gain during pregnancy. Even though some research may recommend that you only need to eat an extra 300 calories a day (that's about two cookies), I subscribe to the philosophy that you should eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. Opt for healthy, nutritious meals most of the time, but it's OK to give in to your cravings too! If you are considered a "high-risk" pregnancy due to weight, please be mindful of your specific dietary concerns.
- General fatigue: It's tiring making a human!
- Nausea/vomiting: Potentially due to gradual displacement of gastrointestinal organs upward as the uterus enlarges, or the presence of hCG
- Breast tenderness: Due to estrogen and progesterone developing the breast tissue for milk production
- Blood pressure: It falls for the first 20 weeks, normalizes in the second trimester, and increases in the third.
- Increased heart rate and respiratory rate: To accommodate increased metabolic processes
- Nasal congestion: Progesterone can affect the respiratory mucosa and lead to increased respiratory infections and mucus production
- Sleep: It's common to sleep more in the first trimester and less in the third trimester.
- Leg cramps: Occur due to calcium stores being taken for fetal skeletal development
- Reflux/heartburn: Due to slower stomach emptying and progesterone decreasing the esophageal sphincter tone allowing stomach acid to raise into the chest
- Increased urinary frequency: Due to increased progesterone, displacement of the bladder upward, and the bladder not emptying completely so it feels like you have to go more often!
- Increased UTIs and yeast infections: Due to more urine collecting in the bladder and attracting bacteria and estrogen causing vaginal pH changes
- Increased vaginal discharge: This occurs because there is extra blood flow to the reproductive tract.
- Diarrhea or constipation: Both result from either increased or decreased motility of food in the intestines. The bowels are a little too relaxed under the influence of progesterone during pregnancy.
- Hemorrhoids, varicose veins, vulvar varicosities: More blood volume can cause venous pooling and the enlargement of the uterus can also exert extra pressure.
- Stretch marks: The growing fetus demands more space!
- Foot growth and hip flexibility: The same hormone, progesterone, that loosens the pelvic ligaments for labor, loosens the ligaments in the feet. Don't worry; they shrink back.
- "Hives-like" rash: Typically presents on the belly and legs. It is more common when carrying multiples, but the cause is unknown.
- Chloasma: Areas of darker skin on the face stimulated by estrogen and progesterone, which goes away after labor or breastfeeding. Can occur during any trimester
- Linea nigra: Vertical line on the belly due to increased melanocytes. Can occur during any trimester
Signs of labor
- "Nesting": Desire to clean/organize weeks to days before labor
- Dropping of the uterus: two to three weeks before labor
- Loss of mucus plug: Clear, pink, or bloody fluid days to hours before labor
- Water breaking: Gush or trickle of fluid that signifies cervix dilation
- False labor "Braxton Hicks": Contractions that are irregular; they don’t get more frequent or stronger, they stop when talking/resting/moving positions, only felt in the abdomen and pelvic region.
- True labor: Regular contractions at 30- to 90-second intervals, continuous, increase in frequency and strength, start in lower back and move to abdomen.
Self-care is critically important when it comes to pregnancy. Make sure you rest when you need to and find support when you need to. Also make sure you check in with your doctor or midwife and let them know if you experience unexpected or concerning symptoms.