Pregnancy is a life-changing process that affects so much more than your reproductive organs. Your whole body will be affected by pregnancy, with symptoms ranging from beneficial to deeply unpleasant. As a pregnant woman, you may experience morning sickness, changes in blood flow and blood pressure, mood swings, fluctuating hormone levels, breast tenderness, frequent urination…the list is almost endless. If you are in the first week of pregnancy or so and maybe have just had confirmation through a pregnancy test and your local doctor, you are probably curious as to how your body will change over the coming weeks and months and about women’s health in general during pregnancy.
It is important to understand that, as a pregnant woman, many factors will influence your health over the next few months, as well as the day-to-day pregnancy symptoms you will experience. Just some of the factors that will affect your body’s changes include:
- Your family medical history
- Your health pre-pregnancy
- Your behavior and lifestyle
- Environmental factors such as stress
- Any medical conditions you have during pregnancy
Although the changes to your body may vary, there are symptoms that are very likely to occur at some point during your pregnancy. Briefly, here are some of the key changes to expect:
One of the most well-known symptoms of pregnancy is a change in the menstrual cycle or missed periods. However, light and inconsistent bleeding is also normal, especially during early pregnancy, which can lead some people to be unaware of the pregnancy. After birth, irregular or missed periods is also normal.
Lactation and Breast Changes
Early on in pregnancy, you may notice swollen and tender breasts. This is the first step towards lactation, the natural process in which your body will start producing milk to nourish your baby. During pregnancy, you may also notice changes in the appearance, coloring and feel of your breasts and nipples.
Just like with your physical health, your pregnancy can take its toll on your mental well-being. The psychological effects of pregnancy are just as wide-ranging as many physical symptoms, but stress, fatigue, irritability and emotional ups and downs are common. Many women also report experiencing “pregnancy brain,” a sort of mental fog associated with fatigue and distraction.
If depression, anxiety and apathy continue after birth, you may be struggling with postpartum depression, a common mental health issue facing women.
Although the amount of weight varies from woman to woman, and some women will lose weight easier after birth than others, some weight gain is to be expected. To be specific, most pregnant women gain between 24 to 35 pounds over the course of their pregnancy, although these numbers are also due to a change in dietary habits and reduced exercise during pregnancy.
It is important to note that the phrase “eating for two” is a bit of a misconception. Although you may feel hungrier or more run down, there is no need to consume even close to twice as much as you normally would.
Most medical professionals agree that 100–300 extra calories per day while pregnant is the healthiest route.
It is well-known that early pregnancy can cause nausea and vomiting (although these symptoms can actually last the duration of pregnancy). Other digestive health issues associated with pregnancy include gallstones, acid reflux and Hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition defined by extreme nausea and vomiting.
It is important to note that lifestyle changes can help ease the unpleasant symptoms of gastric health issues. You are taking on board far more calories than usual and sticking to heavily processed, fatty foods, this could be a contributing factor to digestive health worries.
While ultimately harmless, stretch marks are quite common among women in their final trimester of pregnancy, as the uterus stretches the skin around the abdomen greatly. Stretch marks will likely fade as time goes by, although there are DIY options available to help speed the process along.
Heightened Senses and Appetite Changes
Doctors believe that high levels of estrogen can activate “radar nose” or a heightened sense of smell and taste. It is normal if foods you once loved you can no longer stand, and foods you never had a taste for previously are now at the top of your grocery list—and these dietary changes may even revert back after giving birth.
Heart Rate Changes
During pregnancy, your heart is truly pumping blood for (at least) two. For this reason, it is normal for a pregnant women’s resting heart rate to jump from around 70 beats per minute to an average of 90. Fortunately, this symptom is typically harmless and will go away after giving birth.
Increased Visits to the Bathroom
Another well-known symptom of pregnancy is urination. As your uterus expands within your body, your other organs, including your bladder, tend to end up a little squished. The end result is that you may be running back and forth from the bathroom more often.
Changed Sleep Habits
Sleep habits will vary from woman to woman, with some women experiencing more frequent and high-quality sleep and others unable to sleep more than a few hours at night. You may also struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position as your midsection expands.
Aches and Pains
You might notice aches and pains developing in multiple places around your body, especially in your lower back and abdomen. After all, these areas are bearing the weight of your expanding uterus.
Swollen Hands and Feet
During pregnancy, you will be clinging to some additional fluids, meaning you may be retaining water a little more than usual. Swollen hands and feet are normal and temporary pregnancy symptoms, although you may want to invest in clothing, socks and shoes in a larger size for the duration of your pregnancy (or even compression socks), for the sake of your own comfort.
Reduced Cancer Risk
Pregnancy can have some unpleasant symptoms sometimes, but it does have its perks. One key perk is that breast cancer, a leading cause of death among women, is less likely among women who have had children. Another interesting tidbit is that each pregnancy will further lower your chances of cancer. Researchers believe that in part this is because having fewer periods over a lifetime will lead to less exposure to hormones that contribute to breast cancer risk.