Body Changes in Pregnancy
A woman’s body undergoes many transformations during the nine months of pregnancy. Some of these physical changes are visible, such as an expanding belly and weight gain, while others are well known, such as an enlarged uterus, morning sickness and backaches.
1. Aches, pains, and backaches
As your uterus expands pains in the back, abdomen, groin area, and thighs often appear. Many women also have backaches and aching near the pelvic bone due the pressure of the baby’s head, increased weight, and loosening joints.
To ease some of these aches and pains try:
- Lying down
- Applying heat
- If you are worried or the pains do not get better, call your doctor.
2. Breast Changes
A woman’s breasts increase in size and fullness during pregnancy. As the due date approaches, hormone changes will cause your breasts to get even bigger in preparation for breastfeeding. Your breasts may feel full and heavy, and they might be tender or uncomfortable.
In the third trimester, some pregnant women begin to leak colostrum from their breasts. Colostrum is the first milk that your breasts produce for the baby. It is a thick, yellowish fluid containing antibodies that protect newborns from infection. If leaking becomes embarrassing, put nursing pads inside your bra.
- Try to these tips to stay comfortable:
- Wear a soft, comfortable maternity or nursing bra with extra support.
Wash your nipples with water instead of soap. Soap can dry and irritate nipples. If you have cracked nipples, use a heavy moisturizing cream that contains lanolin.
Many pregnant women complain of dizziness and lightheadedness throughout their pregnancies. Fainting is rare but does happen even in some healthy pregnant women. There are many reasons for these symptoms. The growth of more blood vessels in early pregnancy, the pressure of the expanding uterus on blood vessels and the body’s increased need for food all can make a pregnant woman feel lightheaded and dizzy.
To feel better follow these tips:
- Stand up slowly.
- When you’re feeling lightheaded, lay down on your left side.
- Avoid sitting or standing in one position for a long time.
- Eat healthy snacks or small meals frequently.
- Don’t get overheated.
- Call your doctor as soon as possible if you faint. Dizziness or lightheadedness can be discussed at regular prenatal visits.
Up to 50% of pregnant women get hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen and bulging veins in the rectum. They can cause itching, pain and bleeding.
Hemorrhoids are more common during pregnancy for many reasons. During pregnancy there is a huge increase in the amount of blood in the body. This can cause veins to enlarge. The expanding uterus also puts pressure on the veins in the rectum. Plus, constipation can make hemorrhoids worse. Hemorrhoids usually improve after delivery.
Follow these tips to help prevent and relieve hemorrhoids:
- Drink lots of fluids
- Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like whole grains, raw or cooked leafy green vegetables, and fruits
- Try not to strain for bowel movements
- Talk with your doctor before taking any laxative.
- Talk to your doctor about using witch hazel or ice packs to soothe hemorrhoids.
5. Leg Cramps
At different times during your pregnancy, you might have cramps in your legs or feet. They usually happen at night. This is due to a change in the way your body processes, or metabolizes, calcium.
Try these tips to prevent and ease leg cramps:
- Eat lots of low-fat calcium-rich foods.
- Get regular mild exercise, like walking.
- Ask your doctor if you should be taking a prenatal vitamin containing calcium.
- Gently stretch the muscle to relieve leg and foot cramps. If you have a sudden leg cramp, flex your foot towards your body.
- Use heating pads or warm, moist towels to help relax the muscles and ease leg and foot cramps.
6. Nasal Problems
Nosebleeds and nasal stuffiness are common during pregnancy. They are caused by the increased amount of blood in your body and hormones acting on the tissues of your nose.
To ease nosebleeds blow gently when you blow your nose. Stop nosebleeds by squeezing your nose between your thumb and finger for a few minutes. If you have nosebleeds that do not stop in a few minutes or happen often, see your doctor.
Drinking extra water and using a cool mist humidifier in your bedroom may help relieve nasal stuffiness. Talk with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter or prescription medicines for colds or nasal stuffiness.
7. Shortness of Breath
As the baby grows, your expanding uterus will put pressure on all of your organs, including your lungs. You may notice that you are short of breath or might not be able to catch your breath.
Tips to ease breathing include:
- Take deep, long breaths.
- Maintain good posture so your lungs have room to expand.
- Use an extra pillow and try sleeping on your side to breathe easier at night.
Most women develop mild swelling in the face, hands, or ankles at some point in their pregnancies. As the due date approaches, swelling often becomes more noticeable. If you have rapid, significant weight gain or your hands or feet suddenly get very puffy, call your doctor as soon as possible. It could be a sign of high blood pressure called preeclampsia or toxemia.
To keep swelling to a minimum:
- Drink 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of fluids (water is best) daily.
- Avoid caffeine.
- Try to avoid very salty foods.
- Rest when you can with your feet elevated.
- Ask your doctor about using support hose.
9. Teeth and Gums Problems
A pregnant woman’s teeth and gums need special care. Pregnant women with gum disease are much more likely to have premature babies with low-birth weight. This may result from the transfer of bacteria in the mother’s mouth to the baby during pregnancy. The microbes can reach the baby through the placenta (a temporary organ joining the mother and fetus which supplies the fetus with blood and nutrients), through the amniotic fluid (fluid around the fetus), and through the layer of tissues in the mother’s stomach.
Every expectant mother should have a complete oral exam prior to or very early in pregnancy. All needed dental work should be managed early, because having urgent treatment during pregnancy can present risks. Interventions can be started to control risks for gum inflammation and disease. This also is the best time to change habits that may affect the health of teeth and gums, and the health of the baby.
Remember to tell your dentist that you are pregnant! You can ease bleeding gums by brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing at least twice a day. Get more details on taking care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy.
10. Varicose Veins
During pregnancy there is a huge increase in the amount of blood in the body. This can cause veins to enlarge. Plus, pressure on the large veins behind the uterus causes the blood to slow in its return to the heart. For these reasons, varicose veins in the legs and anus (hemorrhoids) are more common in pregnancy.
Varicose veins look like swollen veins raised above the surface of the skin. They can be twisted or bulging, and are dark purple or blue in color. They are found most often on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg.
Try these tips to reduce the chances of varicose veins:
- Avoid tight knee-highs or garters.
- Sit with your legs and feet raised when possible.