Pregnancy: body changes

This article touches on some of the common bodily changes that women experience during pregnancy. Don't, however, hesitate to ask your doctor for more information, because every pregnancy is unique.

Appetite: Pregnancy is a time when womens' appetites increase. This begins in the first trimester, gathers steam throughout the pregnancy, and continues into the time you breastfeed, because you have to eat for both you and your baby.

Nausea/vomiting: Nausea and vomiting affects the majority (70%) of pregnant women early in pregnancy. It's important to know that these symptoms are not necessarily consistent between pregnancies, or within families, so each pregnancy may be different in terms of these symptoms.

Nausea and vomiting usually begins in the first two months of pregnancy and often ends by the fourth month. These symptoms are often worse in the morning, but can occur at any time of the day. Occasionally eating smaller meals is helpful. Your physician may also be able to suggest safe medications to help you feel better if you are suffering from these symptoms.

Swollen gums: Your gums may become swollen and soft, and may bleed more easily with brushing. If the gums bleed excessively, show them to your physician.

GERD/heartburn: The valve between your esophagus and stomach loosens, which increases the chance that you will experience gastroesophageal reflux, or heartburn.

Constipation and hemorrhoids: Many women experience constipation. Hemorrhoids may flare up as a result of the increased pressure of the growing uterus.

Gallstones: During pregnancy, gallstone formation is more frequent. Symptoms of this may include pain in the right upper part of your abdomen.

Diabetes: The hormonal changes during pregnancy lead to more insulin resistance, which in turn raises the risk of diabetes, which is why your doctor often tests your blood sugar later in pregnancy to make sure that you have not actually developed diabetes. If you do happen to develop diabetes, it's very important, both for yourself and your baby, that you continue to see your doctor and that you do everything you can to achieve optimal control of your blood glucose level.

Stretch marks: Up to half of pregnant women get stretch marks. These can occur on the breasts, lower abdomen, and upper thighs. They begin as pink or purple marks but fade to gray or white after delivery. Many creams have been tried to combat these marks, though none has been proven very effective.

Pigmentation/darkening of the skin: In many women, the increased levels of hormones in pregnancy cause darkening of the skin. This is seen most markedly in the areas of the nipples, umbilicus (belly button), armpits, and perineum (genital area), as well as the lower abdomen.

In addition, some women develop what is called the "mask of pregnancy." This is a darkening of the skin of the forehead, cheeks, nose, and upper lip in a blotchy pattern, which may sometimes remain after the pregnancy ends.

Finally, many women find that their pre-existing moles and birthmarks enlarge and darken during pregnancy, though they tend to return to their previous state after delivery.

Hair: Hair grows and falls out in a cycle. During pregnancy, all of a woman's hairs tend to enter the same stage in their growth cycle. As a result, in the months following pregnancy, many hairs fall out at the same time, which is why many women find that their hair becomes thinner at that time. Fortunately, this is only temporary; within several months the hairs enter different stages of their life cycle, ensuring the return of a full head of hair.

The respiratory system: Pregnant women often feel as though they have a cold throughout pregnancy because the tissues of the nasal passages become fuller and secrete more mucus during this time. There is also a higher incidence of nosebleeds.

Also, a pregnant woman takes in more oxygen per breath, which allows her to provide oxygen to her baby without breathing more quickly than usual.

The breasts: Early in pregnancy, many women find that their breasts feel heavy, and may be tender. This may be one of the first clues that you are pregnant. Breasts enlarge throughout pregnancy, stimulated by estrogen in preparation for breastfeeding. The two breasts do not always grow the same amount. The nipples also enlarge and become more mobile in preparation for infant suckling. Toward the end of pregnancy a thick yellow fluid called colostrum leaks from the breast. This precedes milk production.

Urinary tract: Pregnant women urinate much more frequently than usual, as a result of both anatomic changes and the increased blood volume that a woman has during pregnancy.

But sometimes these symptoms may be due to urinary and kidney infections, which are more common during pregnancy. Symptoms of urinary and kidney infections include burning on urination, an urgent need to urinate more often, especially at night, bleeding in the urine, and pain in the flanks or abdomen.

Such infections may also be "silent" and lead to no noticeable symptoms, and thus, your doctor may periodically check for them.

Posture: Women tend to have increasing arch in their back (lordosis) during pregnancy in order to keep their center of gravity over their legs. Unfortunately, this often causes lower back pain.

In addition, a substance called relaxin is released during pregnancy. This serves to loosen the pelvic joints, making delivery easier, but also tends to increase lower abdominal and back pain. These symptoms tend to resolve after delivery of the baby.

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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