7 bodily changes to expect during pregnancy

April 7, 2017 Providence Health Team

Everyone knows the main sign of pregnancy: an expanding waistline. Some of the other physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy take mothers-to-be by surprise. Pregnancy actually affects every part of a woman’s body, from head to toe. Here are seven of those changes you might expect when you’re expecting.

1) Hormones

Women undergo a range of dramatic changes when pregnancy hormones are released into the body. Led by estrogen and progesterone, this potent cocktail of hormones is responsible for mood changes, the skin “glow” of pregnancy, nausea, fatigue, blemishes and a host of other side effects. Of course, these hormones are also critical for the development of a healthy baby, from the moment of conception to birth. If you’re planning to become pregnant, it’s important to learn how hormonal changes might affect you before they kick in. If your mood seems out of balance, consult your doctor for advice.

2) Hair and nails

It is not uncommon for women to experience changes in their hair and nails during pregnancy. Hormonal changes can cause both hair loss and hair thickening. You may even see hair start to grow where it doesn’t belong. Most of these changes return to normal after the baby is born, but excess hair on the face, for example, can be removed cosmetically. Nails often grow faster during pregnancy. While this may be a welcome change, they may also become more brittle or misshapen. Changing your diet to include foods that boost nail strength, such as lean proteins and leafy green vegetables, can help prevent nail breakage without resorting to chemical nail strengtheners.

3) Vision

During pregnancy, some women experience vision changes, such as increased blurriness, nearsightedness, dryness or eye sensitivity. The specific causes of these changes aren’t entirely understood, but it is thought that hormones, fluid retention and blood circulation all play a role. Vision typically returns to its pre-pregnancy state after the baby is born, but some pre-existing vision conditions can worsen – or improve! Be sure to see an ophthalmologist during and after your pregnancy if you have any concerns about pre-existing conditions or have unusual symptoms.

4) Mouth and teeth

Here again we can thank hormones for pregnancy-related changes, in this case affecting the mouth and teeth. Some women experience gum disease or tooth decay because increased hormones can affect resistance to bacteria in the mouth. And, if the mom doesn’t get enough calcium in her diet, the growing baby may “steal” the calcium it needs from the mom’s bones and teeth. If you’re pregnant, get your teeth and gums checked regularly and observe good dental hygiene by flossing and brushing at least twice a day.

5) Breasts

Breasts go through a series of changes during pregnancy. As breasts grow larger in preparation for feeding the baby, they typically feel tender and may leak an early form of milk called colostrum. The areola may enlarge and darken. Veins may darken. Stretch marks may develop, and the nipples may protrude more than they did before pregnancy. Be sure to wear a well-fitting bra to support your breasts. If you develop small, painful lumps in your breasts, they may be caused by blocked milk ducts. Massage and warm compresses (applying a warm washcloth) may help clear the ducts. If the lumps don’t go away after a few days, have them examined during your next doctor visit.

6) Weight gain and fluid retention

As the unborn baby grows and the pregnant woman gains weight, she tends to move less. This leads to fluid retention, which can account for 25 percent of pregnancy weight gain. This additional weight slows down the circulation of blood and other bodily fluids, especially in the lower limbs. Swelling of the legs, feet, hands and even face can result. To ease the discomfort of fluid retention and swelling, avoid standing for long periods, eat more potassium, and reduce the amount of caffeine and sodium in your diet.

7) Skin

Many women experience changes in the appearance of their skin during pregnancy. Most of these changes are temporary although some, like stretch marks, can be permanent. Stretch marks are caused by the physical stretching of the skin combined with the effects of hormonal changes on the skin’s elasticity. They may appear on the breasts and abdomen during the third trimester. Another change is called hyperpigmentation. It occurs when areas of the body or face develop a deeper color. Sun exposure worsens the discoloration, so be sure to use a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen daily during pregnancy. Also, the color of moles and freckles can darken, and you might develop pregnancy-specific rashes or boils. While these are generally harmless, it’s a good idea to have your skin checked if you see something unusual.

Have you experienced unusual bodily changes during your pregnancy?

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About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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