Pregnancy puts your body through the most incredible changes. Here’s what’s going on and how to help your body do its job
21 amazing facts about your pregnant body
Your baby grows from the size of a pinhead to a 7/8lb boy or girl in just 40 weeks. Your body’s built to cope, but it helps to understand the changes it goes through. We look at 21 amazing ways in which your body changes and suggest ways to help you through the whole nine months.
1. You grow a new organ
Yes, your placenta is a multi-talented brand new organ that passes oxygen and nutrients from your blood stream to your growing baby. It also protects your baby from infection and helps to remove your baby’s ‘waste products’, such as carbon dioxide. Linked to your baby by the umbilical cord, your placenta will weigh around 1.5lb by the time your baby is born.
Help your body – Eating a well-balanced healthy diet will help your placenta do its best job
2. Your bones soften
High levels of the hormones oestrogen and relaxin cause ligaments throughout your body to relax, including those in your back. The extra strain on the muscles and joints of the lower back area can cause back pain.
Help your body – Bend your knees when picking anything up and avoid twisting.
3. Your body can swell anywhere
Extra fluid circulating can sometimes cause swelling (oedema) throughout your whole body, but more commonly in the ankles due to interstitial fluid building up.
Help your body – Put your feet up higher than your hips at the end of the day for 15 minutes. Increase your fluid intake to keep your kidneys functioning well.
4. Your skin changes
Hormones mean skin can dry out. Extra collagen in your skin tears when it stretches, causing stretchmarks. They won’t go after the birth but may fade.
Help your body – Use a body moisturiser to improve the condition of your skin.
5. Blue veins appear
Some people are genetically predisposed to varicose veins, some aren’t. Light exercise and support tights may help.
Help your body – Avoid heels as this pushes weight to the front of your foot, worsening the problem.
6. Your womb holds a pint of water
At the start of pregnancy, your uterus is the size of a small Conference pear. By the end of the nine months it’s more like an oversized watermelon, holding a baby and at least a pint of water, so it’s not surprising you feel twinges as it grows, especially as it will be touching the bottom of your ribs. At 16-20 weeks you may feel slight pain caused by some ligaments beginning to stretch.
Help your body – Ask your midwife about Optimal Fetal Positioning (OFP). It’s a method of trying to ensure that the baby lies in the uterus in the best position for labour through the use of lifestyle habits and exercises.
7 Your hair’s thicker
Your hair becomes glossy and thicker due to the oestrogen receptors it contains. It is thicker because growth has slowed down and hair loss is reduced.
Help your body – Don’t worry if your hair falls out after the birth. It’s only the hair you would have lost during the previous nine months. It’s also a myth that breastfeeding prevents this loss.
8. You’ll need the loo more
You’re likely to need the loo more often, even during your first trimester, as your uterus expands onto your bladder. Higher progesterone levels and the fact that tubes from your kidneys are dilated may mean more trips to the loo for small amounts of wee.
Help your body – Cut down on tea and coffee and drink water or diluted fruit juice, like cranberry.
9. You’re more stretchy
To prepare your body for childbirth, the hormone, relaxin, reduces cartilage and ligament density, so you can stretch parts of your body a lot more than normal.
Help your body – Go gently. Avoid exercises like sitting cross-legged and pushing your knees to the floor as they strain your muscles.
10. Your hands may tingle
Numbness and tingling may be a sign of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – pressure on a nerve where it passes into the hand at the wrist. Anyone can get it, but you’re more at risk in pregnancy. It usually disappears after birth.
Help your body – A physiotherapist may offer splints.
11. You produce more blood
Your total volume of blood is 50% higher than usual and cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped out with each heartbeat) increases by 40%. You manufacture 20% extra red blood cells to carry more oxygen around your body. It’s normal to feel out of breath at times in the later months. But breathlessness can be a sign of anaemia so if you’re concerned, ask your midwife to check your iron levels.
Help your body – Aerobic activities, such as walking or swimming, will help to keep your heart healthy, but avoid taking up any form of exercise that you’re not already familiar with.
12. Your sense of smell is stronger
Changes in food likes and dislikes in pregnancy are connected with your sense of smell and not your sense of taste. Ninety per cent of your ability to taste is actually connected with sense of smell.
Help your body – Be prepared for certain smells to make you feel physically sick.
13. Your baby gets food before you
It’s important to eat healthily in pregnancy. The baby will take all the nutrients he needs, but this can leave you lacking, especially in iron. Your GP can provide iron tablets if you’re anaemic.
Help your body – Vitamin C in a glass of orange juice helps your body absorb iron. Most breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, too.
14. You breathe deeper
As your uterus grows, the diaphragm is compressed, It seems difficult to breathe deeply, but you actually breathe more air.
Help your body – Don’t fight the tendency to hollow your back. This counteracts the increased weight at the front and opens up your ribcage to let more air in.
15. Your pelvic muscles stretch
Incontinence caused by childbirth is decreasing as women get better at doing pelvic floor exercises.
Help your body – Clench the muscles round the back and front passages, “lifting” your internal muscles. Hold for a count of four, then release. Repeat whenever you can.
16. Your face may darken
The ‘mask of pregnancy’ is caused by a change of pigment in your skin across your nose and cheeks in a butterfly shape. It only seems to affect some women, but no-one knows why.
Help your body – It isn’t unsightly, but you can disguise it with makeup. It will fade after birth.
17. Your tummy may develop a line
Some women find a dark line appears on their abdomen in pregnancy. This is known as the linea nigra and is caused by higher melatonin levels. It will fade again after your pregnancy. It tends to affect women with dark colouring more than those with fairer complexions.
Help your body – Relax. It’s not harmful and it will fade.
18. Your boobs keep changing
Many women worry unnecessarily that breastfeeding will ruin the shape of their boobs. In fact, any change in shape is actually caused by the pregnancy itself and not by breastfeeding your baby. Proper support at this time is vital to support the muscles in your chest wall as there’s no muscle tissue in your breast.
Help your body – Get re-measured and fitted for a good quality support bra during your first trimester as this is the time of the biggest changes. However, you will feel your size changing as your pregnancy progresses.
19. Your teeth need extra care
It used to be said that a woman lost one tooth for each of her pregnancies. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case for women who have a healthy, varied diet. But your gums are vulnerable now and gingivitis, or bleeding gums, is very common. It’s important to make the most of the free dental treatment you are entitled to (up until your baby is 12 months old) and see your dentist and hygienist regularly.
Help your body – Use a softer toothbrush and make sure your diet is rich in calcium. Drink plenty of milk, but try to make sure it’s semi-skimmed. This gives you all the calcium you will need without the extra fat, too.
20. Digestion slows
Progesterone slows your digestion early on so your body can absorb more nutrients to pass to your baby. It can cause constipation.
Help your body – Have plenty of fluids, fruit and vegetables. Light exercise will also help digestion.
21. Your blood clots faster
Your blood clots more easily now, a protective mechanism so you don’t bleed to death when the placenta is delivered. There’s a concern that a clot in the calf may fragment, and cause clots elsewhere, particularly if you’ve had thrombosis or are overweight.
Help your body – Regular exercise is important. If you’re planning a long car journey, stop every hour for at least 15 minutes to get the circulation going in your legs.
By Sarah Francis