Body changes to expect during pregnancy
Some wonderful, some annoying, all natural
Expecting mothers face a lot of changes, including some they may not anticipate. Great hair, chalk cravings, the appearance of a dark line on the skin—all can be part of the deal. Don’t panic yet though: Even the weird stuff is completely natural and will likely return to normal after the birth (yes, unfortunately, that killer hair too). Not every pregnant woman experiences every symptom, but here’s a top 10 of strange things to watch out for.
1. Sensitivity to smell
Find a friend’s perfume or a coworker’s lunch overwhelming? Blame it on your changing hormones, which can impact the olfactory system, or sense of smell. During the first trimester, many pregnant women become extremely sensitive to certain odors, says Mary Love, a nurse midwife with Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in Houston, who recalls having a strong aversion to her husband’s deodorant during pregnancy. “I remember being in the grocery store and sniffing every deodorant, trying to find one that would be OK,” she shares. (At the same time, you may also start craving odd scents.)
2. Loose bones
To prepare for pregnancy, your body releases a hormone called relaxin. As the name suggests, it relaxes things, like blood vessels, to help them tolerate the boost in blood volume; the uterus, to help prevent preterm labor; and ligaments in the hips and pelvis, to let the baby through. The hitch is that relaxin can affect other joints as well, leading to joint and back pain. A maternity belt, designed to support the belly and take pressure off your hips and back, may help, says Dr. Lisa Leone, an ob-gyn at Axia: Main Line Women’s Healthcare in
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. For side sleepers, try putting a pillow between your legs to support lax hips. (Another unusual result: Relaxin may cause your teeth to shift, because it also works on periodontal ligaments.)
3. Baby brain
Forgetfulness is very common during pregnancy, Leone says. While the research is mixed, one study review found that general brain function and memory were significantly worse in women who were pregnant versus those who were not. It could be due to hormonal changes, stress and anxiety, or poor-quality sleep, Leone says. Prioritizing stress management and sleep can help. Other than that, just make a lot of notes—and know that your absentmindedness will likely be forgiven.
4. Luxurious locks
This is one change that many women actually like: a nice full head of hair. Typically, your body undergoes a continuous cycle of cell death and new growth. “You normally lose some hair and keep growing some,” Love says. “But in pregnancy, your body tends to shut down the shedding phase. You go 10 months and lose hardly any hair.” The added nutrition from prenatal vitamins may aid hair growth too, Leone says. Enjoy it while it lasts. All that additional hair falls out one to five months after birth.
5. Blue vagina
The vagina is extremely vascular, says Love. And because the body’s blood volume increases so much during pregnancy (by about 50%, Love says), the greater supply may cause your vagina to appear bluish. You may also notice some swelling or bulging veins. Don’t worry—your vagina will return to normal after birth.
6. Warmer body temperature
An increased blood flow and metabolism can raise your baseline body temperature, making you a lot warmer than usual. “You have this inborn heater inside you,” Leone says. “The placenta, the baby—all this extra energy is being burned.” Good news for some: Women who tend to be cold normally may not have that problem during pregnancy, Leone says.
7. Chalk cravings
Most women know that pregnancy can affect appetite and induce food cravings, some of which can be truly weird. In fact, according to the American Pregnancy Association, some pregnant women develop a condition called pica, which triggers an urge to eat such items as laundry starch, clay or chalk. The cause is unknown, but some speculate there may be a connection to iron deficiency. If this happens to you, don’t eat it! Call your doctor for guidance.
8. Bigger feet
Around month five, you may notice your feet getting bigger. Blame that pesky relaxin, which can loosen ligaments in your feet, causing the foot bones to spread. And with the extra weight pushing down, the feet can flatten out as well. The swelling from fluid retention doesn’t help either. Your feet may shrink back to normal after the birth, Leone says. In the meantime, if you can, treat yourself to new shoes in bigger sizes. Flip-flops and Uggs tend to work well, Leone says.
9. Dark line down the stomach
During pregnancy, your body produces more melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin. It can darken your nipples and may cause a faint dark line to appear down the center of your abdomen, Leone says. The line is called the linea nigra. It was always there, but before, you couldn’t see it because it was likely the same color as the surrounding skin. After the baby is born, the line should start to fade, says Leone.
10. Stuffy nose
Increasing hormones and blood volume can trigger the mucous membranes in your nose to swell and dry out, reports the Mayo Clinic. This can lead to a runny or stuffy nose, or occasional nosebleeds. Try saline drops or saline rinse. And stay hydrated.