Pregnancy is full of surprises – from the moment you feel your baby’s first kick to finding out the gender of your little one. What is not a surprise, though, is that pregnancy effects every cell in a pregnant woman’s body. Luckily, healthy women are well-equipped to withstand these changes will little to no long-term ill effects. However, many women worry about how to tell what is normal or not.
Some women will tell you they know immediately when they become pregnant. Everyone knows the common symptoms: no period, nausea, vomiting, food cravings/aversions. Did you know that shortness of breath, fatigue, perception of rapid heart rate, decreased exercise performance (if you are an athlete), headaches, mental confusion, and clumsiness can also be signs of early pregnancy? Surprise, it’s true!
Amazing changes occur very quickly at the onset of conception. The most important of these are the changes to the cardiac and pulmonary systems, which put into place the ability to provide blood flow, oxygen, and nutrition to the rapidly growing fetus and placenta. To pump all that extra blood around, four things typically occur:
- The heart must increase in size to accommodate extra blood flow
- Blood volume increases as much as 50% to help supply enough oxygen to the growing demands of pregnancy
- Your pulse rate will raise slightly
- Your blood pressure will generally decrease
These are completely normal, and when you think about it, they make perfect sense. However, there are many other reasons that you’ll find yourself questioning your body. Let’s talk about them.
More Normal Changes
- Your Voice
Estrogen and progesterone effect many of the changes you’ll experience during pregnancy. For example, there is often a slight swelling of the vocal cords, which can change a pregnant woman’s voice. Some higher notes may be lost, while some lower notes might appear (this might not be the best time to sign up for karaoke!)
- Your Feet
Some pregnant women report that their feet grow while pregnant – as much as a whole size! Later in pregnancy, they may experience swelling and pain.
- Your Joints
Joints loosen during pregnancy. This is caused by the production of a hormone called Relaxin that softens ligaments. This is particularly noticeable in the third trimester and can affect how your pelvis feels when sitting, walking, or exercising. This is to help make the pelvis more flexible during childbirth.
Your skin also changes in pregnancy. Many are aware of “stretch marks” that are usually located on the abdomen, buttocks, breasts, or thighs. We don’t know of any “cure” at this point, but using moisturizers, eating a healthy diet, and staying hydrated may help the skin. Additionally, the pregnant abdomen may develop a dark line called the “Linea Negra” (means “black line” in Spanish), which is hormone-induced and disappears several months after delivery. Chloasma or melasma can also appear. These are dark patchy spots commonly seen on the face. Finally, the genital area can also change in color (deeper red/purple) and become engorged or feel swollen. All normal.
- Your Sense of Smell
Now, imagine a sudden overwhelming smell. While not always a pleasant experience, this can occur in pregnancy, as women have a heightened sense of smell. This can cause aversions to locations, foods, or even induce nausea/vomiting. Some commonly reported negative smells are smoke, fried foods, meat or lunchmeat, greasy foods, or coffee.
- Your Breasts
Breast changes are common. However, some women will begin to “lactate” or have discharge from their breasts about halfway through pregnancy. Although this may feel abnormal, it is the body’s way of preparing the breasts for breastfeeding should that be desired. Colostrum, the precursor to breast milk, can show up during the second trimester as a sticky, waxy substance. Many women report seeing it on their clothing.
- Your Hair and Nails
Hair often becomes thicker and shinier in pregnancy, and nails can improve. Pregnant women have reported an increased growth rate of both – which is often welcomed by women; enjoy it while you can! Prenatal vitamins also assist in this. Unfortunately, some women have also reported hair growth in new or unwanted places. Yet another surprise, but most certainly normal.
- Oral Health
Additionally, staying current with dental health is very important in pregnancy because gums can swell, women can experience discomfort and develop gingivitis or even breath changes. Be sure to stay up to date with preventative and prophylactic dental care.
- Stomach Issues
Smooth muscle relaxes in pregnancy due to your hormones, and this can lead to many gastrointestinal (GI) issues such as acid reflux, heartburn, gas, bloating, and constipation.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
These are only some highlights of the amazing changes that occur in a pregnant or gravid body. Your obstetrical health care provider will provide you with what is called “anticipatory guidance”- those common things/events that occur each trimester. Be sure to ask questions to gain a better understanding of the miracle of pregnancy and those changes that you are experiencing. There are also many books, phone applications, and resources for information. Be cautious in their use and always seek medical or professional advice before instituting any supplements, treatments, or therapies. Remember that pregnancy can and will affect each pregnant woman differently but whether these changes are normal or of concern will be decided by your obstetrical providers. Don’t hesitate to speak with them!
Your Body is Amazing!
The ability to grow human life from a microscopic seed is a miracle of nature. Many changes occur during this process and with some simple modifications, you can enjoy your pregnancy and promote your health. Many women make prenatal changes that last their lifetime, such as smoking cessation, improved nutrition, and a regular exercise program. Pregnancy can be a positive life-altering experience for a future healthy lifestyle! Enjoy the surprises!
Author: Karen Katz, Certified Nurse Midwife, Brunswick Hills OB/GYN.
To schedule an appointment with Karen, call (732) 257-0081.