Pregnancy brings a lot of physical and emotional changes in a woman’s body. This is one of the most beautiful gifts of nature given to a woman. The process brings about changes not only in her belly size but also to the speed at which her heart beats. These changes occur partly because of the hormonal changes the pregnant woman goes through and partly because of the weight and physical strain of carrying extra weight in the body.
A pregnant woman at this time buys new clothes, bras and searches for various ways to ease her swollen ankles. She may also gasp for breath after climbing few steps and can even experience blurry vision.
10 Changes in the Body during Pregnancy
Following is a complete look about what woman can anticipate as they start their journey to motherhood:-
#1. Hormonal Changes in the Body During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman experiences several physiological or hormonal changes. Pregnancy hormones are basically estrogen and progesterone. Out of the various other hormones produced during pregnancy, these two are the primary pregnancy hormones that are most active during pregnancy. Progesterone and Estrogen hormones are responsible for the following changes in a pregnant woman:-
Growth of Fetus: The pregnancy hormones facilitate the development of the fetus.
Pregnancy Glow: The pregnancy hormone result out into pregnancy “glow” on the face of the to-be mother
Body Flexibility: A pregnant woman witnesses a decrease in the body flexibility due to the alterations in the level of Progesterone and Estrogen.
Estrogen Hormone Induced Changes in a Pregnant Woman
The female body produces more estrogen during pregnancy than throughout the entire life.
Development of Fetus: The hormone helps the baby develop and mature. It also facilitates the formation of blood vessels in fetus. Hence, is responsible for the overall growth support of the developing baby.
Nausea: The level of Estrogen increases steadily during pregnancy and reaches its peak during the third trimester. The feeling of nausea associated with pregnancy is also due to changes in estrogen levels.
Milk Ducts: The hormone also helps the mother in the development of milk duct and breast enlargement.
Nutrition: Transferring nutrients to the fetus through placenta
Progesterone Hormone Induced Changes in a Pregnant Woman
Progesterone is another hormone with extraordinarily high levels of production during the pregnancy. Following are some of the changes that happen in the body due to changes in the levels of progesterone:-
Joints and Ligaments: Changes in the progesterone levels lead to the loosening of ligaments as well as joints. It can make exercising difficult for a woman. The loose ligaments can cause sprains and strains in ankle or knee. Changes, such as round ligament strain increases the size of the uterus and pelvic instability.
Uterus: The hormone also changes the internal structures such as the uterus wherein a significant change is brought about by making it grow from a small peer size to a size that can accommodate a full grown baby.
Postural Changes: Progesterone hormones leads to several postural changes in a woman’s body like:-
Abdomen: Changes in the abdomen region are seen as it turns from flat to convex
Breast: Increase in the size of breast occur
Back: Increase in the back curvature occurs.
Body Balance: The combined effect of such a significant transformation may also change her sense of balance.
#2. Weight Gain, Fluid Retention and Physical Activity
The pregnant woman’s body gains weight drastically. This increase in the body weight combined with the gravitational effect increases the workload for the body. Such a condition also brings about changes in the blood circulation of the body. This causes the female body to retain bodily fluids and eventually result out into swelling on the face and limbs. The retained fluid decreases the capacity and the flexibility of the body to exercise.
The swelling due to the retention of fluid is generally seen during the transition phase from the second trimester into the third trimester. The body fluid is the primary reason behind the significant weight gain during pregnancy.
Ways to Decrease Retention of Body Fluids During Pregnancy
Pregnant woman can take help from some of the tips mentioned below:
Take Rest: Avoid long standing periods. Take sufficient amount of rest in between.
Avoid Sodium or caffeine: Sodium and caffeine facilitate the process of water retention in the body and therefore should be avoided during pregnancy.
Potassium: Increase the dietary intake of potassium so as to push out excess fluid from the body
#3. Sensory Changes in Body During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman may experience radical changes in the senses. Pregnancy can affect her eyesight, taste as well as sense of smell.
Changes in Vision
Near Sightedness: This is one of the sensory changes that some woman experience. Pregnant woman experience nearsightedness at this time and this phenomenon goes away after the childbirth. This is still under controversy for the researchers and still needs further study.
Blurriness: The woman also faces slight blurriness and discomfort wearing contact lenses.
Intraocular Pressure: Some woman also experiences an intraocular pressure.
Retinal Detachment: Also, a woman who has preeclampsia or gestational diabetes is vulnerable to some rare eye problems such as retinal detachment or even vision loss.
Changes in Taste and Smell
Changes in Sensation of Taste: Change in taste is quite common during pregnancy. A pregnant woman may prefer a bit spicy foods. Food with added salt or added sugar is also amongst their preferences.
Dysgeusia: A pregnant woman may also experience a decrease in ability to taste. The disease that causes such a medical situation is known as Dysgeusia. This condition may occur during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Temporary Loss of Taste Sensation: The taste preferences may differ as the female body undergoes different phases of the pregnancy. A loss of taste senses may occur for some woman for a short period. However, they gain full taste senses soon after the childbirth.
Metallic Taste: Some woman might also develop a metallic taste in mouth during pregnancy. Such a situation indicates imbalance and can cause nausea. Healthcare professionals identify this condition as an imbalance in body nutrients.
Changes in Sensation of Smell: Changes in the sense of smell are also identified in a lot of pregnant women. They report a strong sense of smell at this time for the different odors. Some research also suggests that certain smells identified by the pregnant woman are unrecognizable by the non-pregnant group of woman.
#4. Changes in Breast and Cervix During Pregnancy
Changes in the level of hormones, prepare the mother’s body for pregnancy. Hormonal changes begin to occur at the very first trimester of the pregnancy. These changes affect the entire human body supporting activities such as childbirth and breastfeeding.
Changes in Breast:
A pregnant woman body needs to feed her child in the future. The body prepares itself for this process during the time of pregnancy. Some of these changes are listed below:
Pigmentation of the Skin: The pregnancy hormones affecting the skin pigmentation darken the areola. The veins around the nipples develop a dark shade and protrude more as compared to the non-pregnant state.
Nipple Size: The size of the nipples increases during pregnancy.
Breast Size and Sensitivity: The breasts grow during the time of pregnancy and the woman may experience increased sensitivity as well
Stretch Marks: When breasts undergo rapid change in size, some woman may develop stretch marks on the breasts.
Bumps: The pregnant woman might also develop small bumps around areolas.
Production of Milk: The milk production starts happening during the later stages of pregnancy which acts as a source of nutrients for the new born baby. In certain cases the milk starts “leaking” in minute quantities in the form of thick yellowish fluid, especially during the second trimester. This substance is the Colostrum.
Milk Ducts: Milk ducts in the breast begin to expand to help feed the new born baby easily.
Lumps in Breast Tissues: Blocked milk ducts may cause small lumps in the breast tissue. These lumps often disappear after a few days of massaging and warming activities. If they still persist, the doctors examine them to provide further assistance in diagnosis.
Changes in Cervix
The entry to the uterus, known as the cervix undergoes some significant changes during pregnancy and labor. Some of these changes are:-
Thickening of Cervix: In most of the pregnant women, the cervix tissue thickens and becomes firm as well as glandular.
Softening of the Cervix Tissues: Until the few weeks of giving birth, the cervix tissue becomes soft and dilates as the growing baby induces pressure.
Release of Mucus Plug: At the early stage of pregnancy, the cervix produces a thick mucus plug to seal off the uterus. This plug gets expelled during the later stages of pregnancy or at the time of childbirth. This event occurs as mucous streaked with blood flow prepares the body for labor.
#5. Pregnancy Related Changes in Hair, Skin and Nails
Pregnancy may bring about some changes in appearance; some woman may observe changes in their skin. Most of these changes are temporary, however, some may result out into a permanent change. For instance, stretch marks developed during pregnancy may leave some permanent scars on the skin.
Changes in Hair and Nails During Pregnancy
Hormonal changes during pregnancy may cause excessive hair shedding or loss of hair. This usually happens when a woman has a family history of female Alopecia. Growth of nails also gets affected during pregnancy. Following are some of the changes in hair and nail that occur during pregnancy:-
Excessive Hair Growth: In contrary to hair loss, some woman may also experience excessive hair growth or thickening of hair. A woman might also face hair growth in some undesired places such as the face, arms, legs or back. These changes are temporary and disappear after the baby is born.
Hair Loss: The hair loss can continue, in some cases up to a year. However, hormonal changes after the childbirth may reverse this activity.
Nail Growth: A faster rate of nail growth is also seen in some woman. A good diet and a proper intake of prenatal vitamins facilitate this change.
Health of Nails: Some pregnant woman find their nails get better during the pregnancy however in certain cases woman may notice nail bitterness, breakage, keratosis, and grooves in the nails. A healthy diet can however help a woman to increase their nail strength and prevent the breakage.
Changes in Skin During Pregnancy
Hyper Pigmentation: Most of the women, during pregnancy, experience hyper pigmentation during which the skin tone of their various body parts darkens. Notably, these occur in the areolas, genitals and the Linea Alba (a dark line at the center of the abdomen). This change can be witnessed in women of all skin types, however, it is more common in women who have a dark complexion.
Melasma: In certain cases, the pregnant women’s facial skin darkens during pregnancy because of a medical condition, “Melasma,” which is commonly known as the “mask” of pregnancy. In the cases of frequent exposure to sun or its radiation, melasma can worsen. Hence, pregnant women are advised to regularly make use of a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen. Generally, after the delivery of the baby, melasma automatically resolves without any medical intervention.
Stretch Marks: Striae gravidarum, commonly known as stretch marks, is the most common skin change that occurs during pregnancy. It is a result of both physical stretching as well as hormonal changes. More than 90% pregnant women experience stretch marks during their third trimester. The changes are often prevalent in the abdomen and breasts. The stretch marks are mostly pinkish-purple in color and might never disappear. However, in most of the case, the color of these marks fades out to the surrounding skin. Furthermore, during postpartum these stretch marks shrink in size. These stretch marks often cause itching and hence, women must apply creams, by consulting a physician, to reduce the itchiness and protect the skin from damage.
Mole and Freckles: The hormonal changes that cause hyper pigmentation in pregnant women also cause changes in freckles and moles. These changes include variation in size, color and in certain cases, shape as well. Most of the changes in moles and freckles during the pregnancy disappear or fade after the delivery of the baby, however, in certain cases, this color change might become permanent. The darkening of birthmarks, freckles and moles might not pose any danger, it is still advisable to consult a dermatologist to avoid any confusion.
Dark Patches: The hormonal changes might lead to the appearance of dark patches over the skin. These spots, often, are not preventable. Most of the changes in skin pigmentation during the pregnancy disappear or fade after the delivery of the baby, however, in certain cases, the color changes might become permanent.
Pregnancy Specific Rashes and Boils: A very small percentage of women experience pregnancy specific skin changes like Folliculitis, Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy (PUPPP). Moreover, pregnant women also witness pustules and red bumps on arms, legs, back, and abdomen. Despite being harmless, some of these changes might affect the health of the baby or may lead to premature delivery. Some of these skin conditions include Pemphigoid Gestationis and Intrahepatic Cholestasis.
#6. Changes in the Circulatory and Respiratory System During Pregnancy
Pregnant women also face issues with the circulatory system. Some of the frequent changes experienced during pregnancy are as follows:-
Frequent Changes in Blood Pressure: Pregnant women often produce more blood due to the rapid expansion of blood vessels. Moreover, the blood flow also increases due to stress on lungs and heart.
Dizziness: The pregnant women may sometimes experience dizziness while quickly standing up. This is an indication of a probable cardiac disease and therefore a physician should be consulted as soon as possible. Generally, the dizziness begins post 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Heartbeat and Blood Volume During Pregnancy: The heart of a pregnant woman at rest works up to 50% harder during their second trimester. It is because during pregnancy an increased volume of blood is released with every heartbeat, which increases the work of the heart. During pregnancy, the heart rate might increase from 15 to 20 percent.
Furthermore, during the second trimester, the heartbeat quickly reaches up to 90 to 100 beats per minute vs. the normal heart beat rate of 60 beats per minute. During the last few days of pregnancy, the volume of the blood increases progressively. Also, the red blood cell mass increase by 20 to 30 percent and the plasma volume rise by 40-50 percent. As a result of these changes, there arises a need for increased folic acid and iron intake.
Impact of Exercise on Blood Pressure: Frequent exercise during pregnancy initiates two types of circulatory changes; loss of tone in blood vessels as well as a decrease in the blood flow to the uterus.
Loss of Tone in the Blood Vessels: The pregnancy hormones sometimes result out in the loss of tone of the blood vessels which causes dizziness and loss of consciousness. It happens because the loss of pressure restricts the flow of blood to the brain and the central nervous system which leads to unsteadiness and giddiness.
During hypertension, exercise may become dangerous for a pregnant woman as the blood vessels may clamp down, restricting the blood flow to uterine. As a result, the blood and oxygen supply to the fetus may stop leading to its death.
Decrease in the Blood Flow to the Uterus: Furthermore, vigorous exercising increases the blood flow towards the muscles, consequently, reducing the blood flow to the uterus. Notably, this diverted blood flow does not have a significant impact on the health of the baby as it facilitates the shortfall of oxygen through uterine. Conversely, regular exercise regime during pregnancy improves blood supply to the placenta, which helps in fetal growth and weight gain
Dizziness and Fainting: Lying flat on the back or on a ball in the gym may cause dizziness during pregnancy. It happens because while lying flat, the large blood vessels running from the lower body to the heart get compressed. It reduces the flow of blood to and from the heart which dramatically decreases the blood pressure resulting in loss of consciousness. Generally, this kind of dizziness begins post 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, in some cases due to multi-fetal pregnancy and increase in amniotic fluids, it starts at an early stage. Thus, it is not advisable to do exercises which involve lying on the back after the first trimester. Nevertheless, lying on left side avoids dizziness and therefore, is a healthy sleep position.
Blood Oxygen Levels and Breathing: A woman in pregnancy may face different breathing patterns. The volume of air that moves in and moves out, during respiration, increases by 30 to 80 percent. One of the reasons behind this is a need for increased volumes of oxygen by the mother as well as the fetus. This might also cause some woman to face difficulty in taking deep breaths. These changes in the body may cause shortness of breath even when the woman is not exercising. Sounds like huff and puff may be experienced by some pregnant women while breathing, during climbing the stairs.
#7. Changes in Metabolic Rates During Pregnancy
The amount of energy, body consumes while at rest increases significantly during pregnancy. The term that defines such a phenomenon is known as Basal or Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). It is defined as the amount of oxygen used when the human body is at total rest. This helps in estimating the total amount of energy intake required at any time to maintain or gain the weight.
For a pregnant woman, an increase in the calorie consumption is highly recommended because of the changes in the metabolic rates during the pregnancy which accentuate the energy requirement. This happens as the body undergoes several changes and also provides nutrition to the baby. The metabolic rate drops slightly after the delivery of the baby however soon after the childbirth, the metabolic rates again increase when a woman breastfeeds their baby. Once the mother stops breastfeeding the baby, the metabolic rate may start becoming normal gradually.
Following are some of the metabolic rate associated changes that happen in the pregnant women’s body:-
Hypoglycemia: The metabolic rates may sometimes increase at an exponential rate. The rate generally reaches its peak during the third trimester when the growth of the fetus is maximum. Not able to meet the body’s calorie requirement might place the pregnant woman at a higher risk of Hypoglycemia which is also known as a state of low blood sugar.
Respiratory and Metabolic Changes: Pregnancy causes an increase in the demand of blood in the blood vessels. Also, at the same time, the demand for oxygen increases in the body. Such a high demand of blood and oxygen increase the metabolic rates and hence requires the woman to improve the nutrient intake and remain extra cautious while carrying out any physical activity.
#8. Changes in the Body Temperature During Pregnancy
One of the primary signs of pregnancy is an increase in the basal body temperature. The body experiences a slightly high temperature throughout the pregnancy. The pregnant woman therefore faces a high risk of Hyperthermia and dehydration. This might require her to increase the water intake to balance the rise of body temperature.
#9. Hyperthermia – Overheating During Pregnancy
Exercising increases the body temperature, that results into heat stress. This heat stress has a significant impact on the health of the pregnant women as well as the growth of the fetus.
In certain cases during pregnancy, the increase in the body temperature may occur even without exercising, however, in most of the cases, the women may not notice it as the rise in temperature is managed efficiently by body’s self regulating mechanism. In order to balance the increase in temperature, the body pushes the blood out towards the skin, which causes the body’s heat to escape out easily.
Following are some tips that shall help a pregnant women deal with hyperthermia easily, especially during exercising:-
Avoid Tight Clothes: To avoid hyperthermia, it is advisable that during pregnancy women must avoid exercising in tight clothes, especially during hot and humid climate. Adorn loose-fitting and light-colored clothes.
Air Conditioner: It is advised to use fans and air conditioners during exercise to keep the body of the pregnant lady, cool.
Pool: Instead of exercising in gym, it is advised to get into a pool and perform some fitness exercises. However, it is advised to be extra careful while you happen to be in the pool premises as there are always high chances of slipping and hurting yourself as well as the fetus.
Sitting in a hot and humid weather, during pregnancy, may results in excessive sweating. The loss of body fluids in the form of sweat leads to decrease in blood flow to the uterus, muscles, and other organs. This condition is called as dehydration as it may result in pre-term contractions. For a healthy growth of the fetus, a balanced intake of water, minerals and other nutrients is necessary.
Pregnancy is the most beautiful gift of nature. Out of both the sexes, it is the female who has been chosen by nature to nurture the life of the baby. It is therefore essential to keep a track of all the discussed changes and thereby consult your physician from time to time to have a healthy, new born baby.
American Pregnancy Association: “Pregnancy Hormones” Link: https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/pregnancy-hormones/
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Physical Activity and Exercise During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period” Link: https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2015/12/physical-activity-and-exercise-during-pregnancy-and-the-postpartum-period
Mayo Clinic: “Pregnancy and exercise: Baby, let’s move!” Link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-exercise/art-20046896
Healthline: “Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke): Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment” Link: https://www.healthline.com/health/hyperthermia#heat-stroke
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD): “Skin Conditions During Pregnancy” Link: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-basics/pregnancy/am-i-pregnant-pregnancy-and-your-skin
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