Your baby grows from the size of a pinhead to the baby boy or girl you deliver in just 40 weeks. Your body is designed for this, but it helps to be prepared for some of the less-well-known changes you’ll experience. Here are 15 amazing ways in your body will change, and suggestions for dealing with them.
1. A Whole New Organ
Your placenta is a multi-tasking new organ. It delivers oxygen and nutrients to your baby. It protects your little one from infection. And it helps to remove baby’s waste products like carbon dioxide. By delivery day, your placenta will weigh around 1.5 lbs! Eating a healthy, balanced diet will help your placenta do its work.
2. Softer Bones
Your body is producing more hormones like estrogen and relaxin. That makes the ligaments throughout your body relax – even those in your back. Combined with the extra strain on your lower back, this can cause back pain. So be sure to bend your knees when lifting anything. And avoid twisting, too.
3. Swell. Just Swell.
The extra interstitial fluid circulating throughout your body can cause swelling everywhere – but it’s most common in the ankles. Drink plenty of fluids to keep your kidneys working well. And at the end of the day, prop your feet up higher than your hips for 15 minutes.
4. Raise a Pint.
Normally the size of a small pear, over nine months your uterus grows to be more like an oversized watermelon, containing a baby – and at least a pint of water. And that growth brings twinges, especially when it reaches the bottom of your ribs. At 16-20 weeks you may feel slight pain from ligaments beginning to stretch. Learn about Optimal Fetal Positioning (OFP) – a set of lifestyle habits and exercises designed to ensure that the baby lies in the uterus in the best position for labor.
5. Love Your Bathroom.
You might want to redecorate your bathroom. Even during your first trimester, you’ll be seeing more of it as your expanding uterus pushes against your bladder. Add in higher progesterone levels and dilated tubes from your kidneys, and you’re making a lot more trips down the hall. Cut back on tea and coffee in favor of water or diluted fruit juice, like cranberry.
6. The Home Stretch. Literally
Feeling flexible? Your body’s gearing up for childbirth. It’s producing a hormone called relaxin that reduces cartilage and ligament density. That means you can stretch parts of your body a lot more than usual. But take it easy. Avoid exercises like sitting cross-legged and pushing your knees to the floor as they strain your muscles.
7. Pump Up the Volume.
Pregnancy is keeping your heart busy. Your total volume of blood is 50% higher than normal. The amount of blood your heart pumps with each heartbeat is up by 40%. You’ve produced 20% more red blood cells to carry oxygen around your body. It’s not unusual to feel winded at times in the later months. Help your heart with activities like walking or swimming, but don’t jump into a new form of exercise. And be sure your provider checks your iron levels.
8. Do You Smell That?
Of course you do, because pregnancy gives you a heightened sense of smell. In fact, that new super nose is behind changes in food likes and dislikes. That’s because 90% of your ability to taste comes from your sense of smell. And brace yourself – certain smells may even make you feel physically sick.
9. Baby Eats First.
Expectant moms need to eat healthy. But when you do, baby grabs his or her nutrients first. That can leave too little for you. So be sure to eat enough of the right foods for both of you – especially foods rich in iron. Orange juice helps your body absorb iron, and most breakfast cereals are fortified with iron, too. Be sure to ask for iron tablets if you’re anemic.
10. Take a Deep Breath.
Your growing uterus is compressing your diaphragm. So while it may seem harder to breathe deeply, you’re actually taking in more air. You may feel an urge to hollow your back. Don’t fight it – it will offset the extra load you’re carrying upfront and spread your ribcage to allow more air in.
11. The Dark Side.
Your body may have a couple surprises in store. Some women develop the “mask of pregnancy,” a butterfly-shaped darkening of pigment across your nose and cheeks. Makeup should conceal it. Or you could find a dark line down your abdomen in pregnancy, caused by higher melatonin levels. Both will fade after birth.
12. Your Cup(s) Runneth Over.
Worried that breastfeeding will transform your breasts? Don’t be. Any shape-shifting is the result of pregnancy, not breastfeeding. Support makes all the difference. So get re-measured and fitted for a good support bra in the first trimester, when the biggest changes take place. And keep up with changes in size throughout your pregnancy.
13. Protect Your Smile.
During pregnancy, your gums are vulnerable. Gingivitis (bleeding gums) is very common. So visit your dentist and hygienist regularly. Choose a softer toothbrush and add calcium to your diet. Drink plenty of lowfat milk, to get the calcium you need without extra fat.
14. Slowed Down. Stopped Up.
Early in your pregnancy, progesterone slows digestion to let your body absorb more of the nutrients baby needs. But that can cause constipation. So make sure your diet includes plenty of fluids, fruit and vegetables. Light exercise helps digestion, too.
15. Stay in Circulation.
Your blood clots more easily when you’re pregnant. It’s a protective mechanism, to stop the bleeding once the placenta is delivered. So especially if you’ve had thrombosis or are overweight, regular exercise is important. On a long car trip, stop every hour or so to step out and get the circulation going in your legs.