Body Changes During Pregnancy
Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO
In This Article:
A woman’s body is amazing. It has the ability to grow and house a tiny human for 9 months. That is pretty impressive AND a lot of work. Fortunately, even with all the bodily changes, we get a beautiful baby at the end—so it’s totally worth it!
First and foremost, everything grows- from your belly to your hair. Changes are eminent and changes are fast both in and outside of the body. Hormones are all over the place and muscles and organs grow and stretch to accommodate a growing baby.
Some changes are more noticeable than others and can feel differently from one pregnant woman to another. Your body knows how to create life and that’s just remarkable--- but how does your body and its systems change actually to create a baby?
Read more to find out!
★ WHAT ARE THE HORMONAL CHANGES DURING PREGNANCY?
Your mood isn’t the only thing that hormones change during pregnancy. Hormones also influence your energy level and feelings of nausea. Do you feel like you can’t get out of bed? Or have morning, noon, and night sickness? Thanks, hormones. The hormonal rollercoaster that happens during pregnancy is no joke. Here are the main “culprits.”
HUMAN CHORIONIC GONADOTROPIN (HCG)
HCG is produced by the placenta and helps prepare and support your body for implantation and 9 months of pregnancy. Levels decrease after the first trimester, therefore scientists believe this hormone may be responsible for nausea.
HUMAN PLACENTAL LACTOGEN (HPL)
HPL is produced by the placenta and helps stimulate the milk gland's growth in breast tissue to prepare for breastfeeding.
Estrogen is also produced in the placenta and is made to help maintain a healthy pregnancy.
The ovaries and placenta produce progesterone during pregnancy. It stimulates the thickening of the uterine lining for the implantation of a fertilized egg. Also fascinatingly, it helps loosen joints so that your body can accommodate a growing uterus and birth.
★ TASTE & SMELL DURING PREGNANCY
Hormones are responsible for changes in taste and smell, too, of course! You might wonder, why can I smell everything when pregnant? Or have an aversion to the food you once loved and crave food you may not have eaten since your teenage years. Experts believe that the changes in taste and smell are primitive and actually have a protective effect on your developing baby.
★ WEIGHT GAIN DURING PREGNANCY
We have a phrase for pregnant ladies to live by... it’s called “BODY POSITIVE!” Love your beautiful, growing pregnant body because it’s creating life! Weight gain during pregnancy is inevitable... whether it be 20 pounds or 50 pounds, every woman (and their baby) is different.
Many factors play into weight gain especially increased blood and fluid volume (about 4 pounds each), your baby (avg 7 pounds at birth), your placenta (about 1.5 pounds), and growing uterus (about 2 pounds). Some weight gain, especially in the summer, can be from water retention. Water retention can lead to swelling in the legs and ankles and become uncomfortable (but thankfully won’t last). Make sure to stay hydrated and drink at least 10 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Check out our blog on Pregnancy swelling!
It’s important to try and not get caught up on the numbers or weight as long, and you and your baby are healthy. That’s all that matters!
★ BLOOD VOLUME & CIRCULATION DURING PREGNANCY
Blood volume increases almost 50% during pregnancy, and for good reasons. The increase in blood pumping helps keep you and your baby healthy while supporting the growing uterus. Because of that increase in blood volume, the need for iron-rich food also increases (blood helps to transport iron and oxygen around the body). Plus, kidneys and the urinary system will have to work double-time to process all that extra waste (hello, never-ending bathroom trips!).
Circulation changes can also bring on possible dizziness and fainting episodes. Make sure to eat and often drink (at least every few hours), stay out of the heat when possible, stay away from super tight clothes, and always get up slowly from a sitting or lying position. Light exercises help with circulation, however, after the first trimester, it is not recommended to do any exercises while lying on the back.
★ DIGESTION DURING PREGNANCY
Digestion during pregnancy definitely changes. Hormones can cause everything from nausea and vomiting to food cravings and aversions. In addition to hormones, the growing uterus can cause added pressure on the intestines, which may also cause constipation. (Check out our recipe blog on Best Meal To Relieve Constipation During Pregnancy.) The good news is that adequate fiber intake (about 25-30 grams daily) and adequate water intake (at least 10, 8 ounces glasses daily) can help ease pregnancy constipation.
To help combat nausea, make sure to consume foods every few hours (bonus when adding anti-nausea foods like lemon and ginger). To make up for any food aversions, take a prenatal vitamin.
Indigestion can occur during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester when the baby pushes on your stomach. Consuming small, frequent meals and noticing “triggering” type foods (ie, tomato sauce or fried foods) can help with indigestion.
★ BREAST CHANGES DURING PREGNANCY
Breasts change both visibly and underneath the skin during pregnancy. They grow about 1 cup size bigger during pregnancy and begin to form the milk glands and ducts to prepare your body for breastfeeding. Your breasts prepare for breastfeeding starting in the first trimester and continue throughout pregnancy. By the third trimester, you may even see some colostrum leaking from the breast even before the baby comes.
Breasts also become hypersensitive and tender, which may have been one sign that you were pregnant. Because of hormones (of course) that affect the pigmentation of the skin, darkening of the nipples and areolas occurs. You may even notice the darkening of the veins around your breast due to increased blood supply to that area.
★ UTERUS & CERVIX CHANGES DURING PREGNANCY
A woman’s uterus grows from the size of a fist to the size of a watermelon during pregnancy. Within about six weeks after your baby is born, your uterus will shrink back to its original size. The uterus lining also thickens, and its blood vessels enlarge to provide nourishment to your growing baby.
During pregnancy, your cervix thickens and forms a mucus plug (that eventually comes out when your body is ready to deliver). By the end of pregnancy, the cervix softens and gets ready to thin out and prepare for delivery.
★ HAIR, NAILS, & SKIN CHANGES DURING PREGNANCY
Hair during pregnancy is fuller and shinier thanks to hormones yet again. Six months into postpartum is usually when hair starts to fall out (in clumps) because it’s basically making up for lost time. Your nails may also grow faster and become stronger than usual due to the extra hormones.
Do you know that pregnancy glow everyone talks about? It’s due to those extra hormones and increased blood volume. And maybe even some sweating too! Skin changes a lot during pregnancy…from spider veins to stretch marks – oh my. Stretch marks can happen on the stomach as your uterus grows and/or the breasts. Women tend to develop a line from the belly button to their pubic hairline called the linea nigra.
Some pregnant women may even experience itching and dry skin during pregnancy, which is normal. This is due to your skin stretching out. Combat the itchiness with lots of cream and lotion. And try to avoid hot showers. Excessive itchiness (without rash) late in pregnancy may indicate a serious issue called cholestasis of pregnancy and needs to be brought to a doctor’s attention.
★ MISCLES & JOINTS DURING PREGNANCY
Relaxin is a hormone your ovaries and placenta produce to help loosen the joints in your pelvis and softens and widens the cervix. In addition to loose joints, there’s weight gain and a growing uterus, which all ultimately cause some aches and pains.
Leg cramps are one of the most common cramps during pregnancy. Oddly enough, they are most likely to be experienced upon waking or at night. Thankfully relief can come from massage, heat, and even increasing calcium foods in the diet like yogurt, cheese, and leafy greens.
Backaches are also a pervasive issue during pregnancy. Gentle massage can help but always check with your doctor first.
Round ligament pain happens as your belly and uterus expand. Heat treatments can help temporarily relieve pain in your joints, hips, and back (avoid applying heat to your stomach). However, this pain is normal and part of being pregnant.
Speaking of shooting pain, sciatica can also develop during pregnancy as the growing baby and uterus put pressure on the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can cause a lot of discomforts. A gentle massage or a visit to the chiropractor may help but always check with your doctor first.
- Hytten F. Blood volume changes in normal pregnancy. Clin Haematol. 1985 Oct;14(3):601-12. PMID: 4075604.