If your doctor hasn’t mentioned these things you didn’t know about pregnancy, they aren’t ignoring the information. More likely, your doctor hasn’t brought them up because pregnancy affects women in different ways. Learn 10 things you didn’t know about pregnancy from Peter Klemin, M.D., an OB/GYN at Sanford Obstetrics and Gynecology in Bismarck, North Dakota.
1. The nesting instinct
Many pregnant women experience the nesting instinct. This commonly involves household preparedness for welcoming the baby and completion of long-overdue tasks.
This powerful desire to prepare your home can be useful. It will give you more time to recover and nurture your baby after the birth. But be careful not to overdo it.
2. Inability to concentrate
In the first trimester, fatigue and morning sickness can make many women feel worn out and mentally fuzzy. But one of the things you didn’t know about pregnancy is that even well-rested pregnant women may experience an inability to concentrate and periods of forgetfulness. A preoccupation with the baby is partially the cause, as are hormonal changes. You can combat this forgetfulness by making lists to help you remember dates and appointments.
3. Mood swings
Premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy are alike in many ways. One of the things you didn’t know about pregnancy is that if you suffer from premenstrual syndrome, you’re likely to have more severe mood swings during pregnancy.
Mood swings are common during pregnancy, although they tend to occur more frequently in the first trimester and toward the end of the third trimester.
About 10% of pregnant women experience depression during pregnancy. If you experience sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits (a complete lack of appetite or an inability to stop eating), and exaggerated mood swings for longer than two weeks, talk to your doctor.
4. Bra size changes
Breasts usually become swollen and enlarged in the first trimester because of increased levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. That growth in the first trimester isn’t necessarily the end either. Your breasts can continue to grow throughout your pregnancy.
In addition to the size of your breasts, your bra size may be affected by your rib cage. Lung capacity increases during pregnancy so you can take in extra oxygen for yourself and the baby. This may result in a bigger chest size.
5. Skin changes
Pregnant women experience an increase in blood volume to provide extra blood flow to the uterus and to meet the metabolic needs of the fetus. They also have increased blood flow to their other organs, especially the kidneys. The greater volume brings more blood to the vessels and increases oil gland secretion.
Some women develop brownish or yellowish patches called chloasma, or the “mask of pregnancy,” on their faces. And some will notice a dark line on the midline of the lower abdomen, known as the linea nigra (or linea negra), as well as hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin) of the nipples, external genitalia, and anal region. These are the result of pregnancy hormones, which cause the body to produce more pigment. Unfortunately, chloasma can’t be prevented, but wearing sunscreen and avoiding UV light can minimize its effects.
Acne is common during pregnancy because the skin’s sebaceous glands increase their oil production. Moles or freckles that you had prior to pregnancy may become bigger and darker. Even the areola, the area around the nipples, becomes darker. Except for the darkening of the areola, which is usually permanent, these skin changes will likely disappear after you give birth.
In general, pregnancy can be an itchy time for a woman. Skin stretching over the abdomen may cause itchiness and flaking. Your doctor can recommend creams to soothe dry or itchy skin. Significant itching later in pregnancy may also indicate an abnormal condition called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. If symptoms involve your palms or soles in addition to generalized itching, contact your provider immediately.
6. Hair and nail growth
The hormones secreted by your body will cause your hair to grow faster and fall out less. But these hair changes usually aren’t permanent; most women lose a significant amount of hair in the postpartum period or after they stop breastfeeding. Some women find that they grow hair in unwanted places, such as on the face or belly or around the nipples. Others experience changes in hair texture that make hair drier or oilier. Some women even find their hair changing color.
Nails, like hair, can change noticeably during pregnancy. Extra hormones can make them grow faster and become stronger. Some women, however, find that their nails tend to split and break more easily during pregnancy. Like the changes in hair, nail changes aren’t permanent. If your nails split and tear more easily, keep them trimmed and avoid the chemicals in nail polish and nail polish remover.
7. Shoe size effects
Because of the extra fluid in their pregnant bodies, many women experience swelling in their feet and may even have to start wearing a larger shoe size.
8. Joint mobility
During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone known as relaxin, which is believed to help prepare the pelvic area and the cervix for the birth. The relaxin loosens the ligaments in your body, making you less stable and more prone to injury.
It’s easy to overstretch or strain yourself, especially the joints in your pelvis, lower back and knees. When exercising or lifting objects, go slowly and avoid sudden, jerky movements.
9. Varicose veins, hemorrhoids and constipation
Varicose veins, which are usually found in the legs and genital area, occur when blood pools in veins enlarged by the hormones of pregnancy. While varicose veins often disappear after pregnancy, you can lessen them by:
- Avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing
- Elevating your feet when you sit
- Wearing support hose
Hemorrhoids — varicose veins in the rectum — are common during pregnancy as well. Hemorrhoids can be extremely painful, and they may bleed, itch or sting, especially during or after a bowel movement.
The best way to combat constipation and hemorrhoids is to prevent them. Eating a fiber-rich diet, drinking plenty of fluids daily and exercising regularly can help keep bowel movements regular. Stool softeners (not laxatives) may also help. If you do have hemorrhoids, see your doctor for a cream or ointment that can shrink them.
10. Things that will come out of your body
Only one in 10 mothers’ water breaks before labor contractions begin. Some women never experience it — a doctor may need to rupture the amniotic sac (if the cervix is already dilated) when they arrive at the hospital.
For a full-term baby, there are normally about 2.1 to 5.9 cups of amniotic fluid. Some women may feel an intense urge to urinate that leads to a gush of fluid when their water breaks. Others may have only a trickling sensation down their leg because the baby’s head acts like a stopper to prevent most of the fluid from leaking out. Amniotic fluid is generally sweet-smelling and pale or colorless and is replaced by your body every three hours, so don’t be surprised if you continue to leak fluid, about a cup an hour, until delivery.
Other unexpected things may come out of your body during labor in addition to your baby, blood and amniotic fluid. Some women experience nausea and vomiting. Others have diarrhea before or during labor, and flatulence (passing gas) is also common. During the pushing phase of labor, you may lose control of your bladder or bowels.
A birth plan can be especially helpful in communicating your wishes to your health care providers about how to handle these and other discomforts of labor and delivery.
- Why women need to drink water, especially when pregnant
- Managing stress while pregnant
- Do’s and don’ts during the first trimester of pregnancy