As a doula I’ve supported over 100 families through their pregnancies, labors, and postpartum journeys. It’s been mind-blowing to do this work and get to know families as they grow stronger. And now, after years of doulaing, I am pregnant! I have all the information in my head, know all the facts and the must-dos, and yet it’s been so interesting to actually experience all the good and the bad. A lot of the symptoms I’ve felt are fairly common—I had terrible all-day sickness for months, felt so sleepy and tired all I wanted to do was stay in bed, and I had a heightened and crazy sense of smell (didn’t let my husband cook for a while!). But there were some symptoms that surprised me, perhaps because people don’t talk about them as often. Here are some of the things that have blown my mind so far:
1. Discharge, tons of discharge!
I’ve always known vaginal discharge increases during pregnancy but was surprised by how much! It happened pretty much right away and hasn’t decreased even in my second trimester. This extra discharge is due to the increased levels of estrogen, which in turn increase blood flow to the pelvic area and cause extra secretions from the cervical glands. It’s called leukorrhea and is typically thin, white, and milky—fun times! The good news is that it actually cleans the vagina and keeps infections away (yeast infections are common during pregnancy, so if you’re experiencing itching or smelly discharge, it’s good to check in with your care provider). Plus, for some people, the extra discharge can work as a natural lube and make sex more fun!
2. Stuffy nose.
Pretty much since I got pregnant I’ve felt congested, have had nose bleeds, and have been blowing my nose constantly. Well, we can blame the hormones for this one too! Higher levels of estrogen and progesterone increase blood flow to the mucus membranes and make us feel all stuffy. Doctors typically don’t recommend using allergy medicine or nasal decongestants during pregnancy, so you’re pretty much on your own. What’s worked for me the best are long steamy showers with eucalyptus and neti pots! I’ve also seen women use nasal strips, which help lift the side of the nose and open the nasal passages for easier breathing.
3. Peeing a million times a day (and night).
OK, this one is really annoying, and I know it is just going to get worse as the pregnancy progresses. For some reason I thought it would only get bad toward the end, but I’ve been peeing nonstop for months, and the baby is not even big enough to be squeezing my bladder. It actually happens to be one of the first pregnancy symptoms, thanks to—you guessed it—the increased blood flow to the kidneys, which makes them produce about 25 percent more urine. Plus, a hormone called hCG (aka human chorionic gonadotropin) that increases after conception. There really isn’t much to do about it, unfortunately. Especially because it’s important to stay very hydrated during pregnancy to ensure good levels of amniotic fluid—the baby is actually drinking and peeing too, so the more you drink, the more fluid you’ll have!
4. Hairy everything.
We’ve all heard of the pregnancy glow and seen the photos of beautiful pregnant women with perfect glowing hair. Well, it’s true. A change in hair texture is very common during pregnancy due to androgen, a hormone that increases from the first trimester and causes the hair to feel fuller and thicker. The not-so-great news is that this happens not only on your head; it can happen everywhere else in your body, making for some pretty weird hairy situations. Hairy nipples, hairy bellies, hairy chins?! Not everyone notices a big difference, but the truth is that the hormones are making hair stay put for longer—normally about 90 percent of hair is growing while 10 percent stays in the resting phase and then falls off, but during pregnancy this resting phase lasts longer, making us feel a little like Chewbacca. The good news is that this will all change postpartum: Once the hormones settle, most of the extra hair should fall off.
5. Decreased libido in the first trimester.
I’ve heard of the increased libido in the second trimester but wasn’t expecting a lower libido during the first one. Turns out it’s hard to feel sexy when you are nauseous, your boobs hurt, and all you want to do is barf and sleep. Everyone is different, and there isn’t enough data one way or the other, but we know most women experience an increase in libido once the sickness goes away in the second trimester. Plus, the higher volume of blood flow in the vagina can help you have better orgasms (once you’re up for it)!
Have you experienced any of these symptoms? Pregnancy is a wild ride and a bit different for everyone. No matter where you are in your pregnancy or what you’re feeling, I recommend listening to your body, slowing down, and working with a care provider who can answer all your questions as they come up and help you feel safe and supported. The more supported we feel, the more we’ll be able to enjoy these crazy times. Good luck, Mama!