Exactly how much will your body change throughout your pregnancy? Well, the long and short of it is – a lot. From the subtle changes, such as an increased respiratory rate, to the more apparent changes evident in your growing baby bump, a woman's body undergoes nothing short of a miraculous transformation throughout pregnancy.
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Your body will expand, rearrange, compensate, and work overtime during the next 40 weeks. So what are some changes you can expect to experience?
Physical Changes, On The Surface And Below
Women begin to notice the physical and emotional effects that pregnancy has on them within the first trimester and continue to experience both subtle and significant changes as the pregnancy progresses. Your breasts increase in size and become more tender. Certain senses are amplified, such as taste and smell. Veins are often more visible under the skin as your blood volume increases. Your uterus begins to expand; some are lucky enough to take on that coveted "pregnancy glow."
But, What Causes All This?
These changes result from the primary pregnancy hormones; estrogen and progesterone. While pregnant, estrogen works to form blood vessels, transfer nutrients, and support and develop the baby. Although the influx of estrogen in the first trimester is the main culprit behind morning sickness, you can thank it for the fuller breasts you experience, as it helps to promote the development of milk ducts in the second trimester.
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Suppose you're curious about how much estrogen your body is flooded with during these nine months. In that case, pregnant women produce more estrogen throughout one pregnancy than they do in their entire lives while not pregnant.
Progesterone levels are also much higher throughout pregnancy. This hormone, often called the "pregnancy hormone," thickens the lining of your uterus so a fertilized egg can attach (implant) inside and grow into your future baby. It's also responsible for helping your uterus expand and preventing prematurely contracting. Just as it helps your uterus to develop, it also improves laxity (flexibility) in your joints and ligaments, allowing them to stretch and broaden while making room for the baby to grow and eventually make their journey down the birth canal.
What Changes Can I Expect With Each Trimester?
Expectant mothers can expect to feel more changes than they see throughout the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. During this time –known as the first trimester– women typically experience morning sickness and fatigue, two major mood and energy killers.
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Emotions run high as hormone levels adjust to the task of creating and supporting another human life. Food and smell aversions make mealtime a battle, and as a result, many women don't even gain weight. But as you close in on the end of the first 12 weeks, you may begin to notice visibly:
- Fuller, heavier breasts and a darkening of the areolas (nipples)
- The first signs of a "baby bump" are in the lower abdomen as your uterus expands.
- Bowel distension that causes the appearance of a come-and-go baby bump (thanks to your new friend's "constipation" and "excess gas").
- Radiant skin and longer, stronger hair and nails as a result of the increased blood volume and hormones
- Fuller lips
The second trimester brings a welcomed shift in mood and energy along with notable changes in your physical appearance. At this point in your pregnancy, the placenta takes over progesterone production, and your hormones begin to level out. If you experience any morning sickness in the first trimester, it usually disappears by now, and your energy level increases significantly.
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Expectant mothers usually take advantage of this newfound energy by accomplishing important tasks in preparation for the baby, such as finalizing the nursery, completing parenting, Lamaze, or CPR classes, and drafting their birth plans. Some physical changes you can anticipate could be:
- A clearly visible and identifiable baby bump
- Development of linea negra, a dark vertical line that runs down the center of your belly and typically disappears shortly after birth
- Round ligament pain on the lower sides of your abdomen
- Itching sensation as the skin continues to stretch around your expanding belly.
- Development of 'melasma' or the 'mask of pregnancy,' a darkening of the skin on your face after sun exposure
- Stretch marks on your belly, bottom, breasts, and thighs
In the third trimester, you're honing in on the home stretch –emphasis on the stretch. Your body is retaining fluid to help soften your joints and ligaments in preparation for the baby's grand exit, and swelling is prominent. Sleep is becoming harder to come by due to frequent potty breaks. Fatigue, similar to that of the first trimester, comes back for a visit; however, sleeplessness, restless legs, and leg cramps happen more frequently now.
Read More: 5 Ways to Stay Comfortable in Your Third Trimester
Emotionally, expectant mothers can experience changes in their mood due to fear or anxiety about the pain of childbirth and other concerns regarding preparedness, finances, and childcare. Notable physical changes during the third trimester include but are not limited to:
- Increased body hair that may be more thick or coarse than normal
- Leaky breasts
- Increased vaginal discharge, typically white
- False labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions
- Protruding belly button
How Your Body Prepares For Labor
You'll begin to notice even more changes as your body prepares for labor. Labor is the process of childbirth, starting with contractions of the uterus and cervical dilation and ending with the baby's delivery and afterbirth. Before labor, the baby "drops" into the birthing position (preferably head down), and you may notice a shift in the size or shape of your belly. Your cervix will begin to dilate and soften.
Some women experience cramps, diarrhea, and even false labor pains. Swelling of the feet and ankles is common because the body produces approximately 50% more blood and body fluids over the course of your pregnancy to meet the needs of the developing baby.
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It is, however, very important to pay attention to this as excessive swelling (primarily in the face and hands) can signify a serious, life-threatening condition called preeclampsia. There are supplements like our Labor Prep Gummies that can support your body before and after labor and help ease the stress of labor and delivery with essential vitamins and natural extracts.
Can I Experience More Changes After Birth?
After you've given birth, you enter the stage of pregnancy known as the postpartum period. Physiologically, this is the time when you'll return to your pre-pregnancy state. Emotionally and mentally, I'm not sure there's such a thing as pre-pregnancy. Most new moms experience postpartum "baby blues" after childbirth; this commonly includes mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
Baby blues usually begin within the first two to three days after delivery and may last up to two weeks. Some new moms experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Sometimes supplements can help to support balanced postpartum emotions, cortisol levels, and mood stability.
Read More: Planning for Delivery Day: What to Prepare for Before Labor
It's difficult to say with certainty how your body will respond to pregnancy; what to expect while pregnant is genuinely an individualized experience, as no two pregnancies are the same. The one thing we know with certainty is that any amount of pain, discomfort, sacrifice, or stress you experience throughout your pregnancy, the minute they place a healthy baby in your arms, all of that is all but forgotten. You've got this, mama, and Pink Stork is here to support you in any way possible.