What your pregnant belly will look like

What will pregnancy do to your belly? We look at bump size and shape, itchy skin, stretchmarks, linea negra, your belly button and what to expect post-birth

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  • Bump size and shape

    Baby bumps come in all different shapes and sizes. Remember, your shape will change as your baby develops, and your bump will, too.

    When will your pregnant bump start to show?

    “You probably won’t notice any baby bump until around 12 weeks to 16 weeks,” says birth consultant Janine Rudin, from Birth Basics. “Your uterus will start to rise out of your pelvis, creating the beginnings of your bump. Your tummy muscles affect what your bump looks like – strong abdominal muscles may mean your bump isn’t very noticeable in the early stages.”

    If it’s your second baby, you might notice that your bump starts to show sooner. “This is because your skin has already been stretched from previous pregnancies and protrudes quicker,” says Janine.

    What shape will your baby bump be?

    “Your bump will change shape throughout the day. You may look bigger in the afternoon than you did in the morning, but this is normal!” says Janine.

    Your bump shape depends on the position your baby is in, as it can make your bump look lopsided, as mum Laura Ellen Head found out. “My bump with my second child looked wonky and made my bump go to one side. I looked like only half my tummy as pregnant!”

    Another factor that affects the shape of your pregnant belly is the height of your baby. “I had a funny shaped bump because my baby was very long. From the side, I looked like I had a square bump,” says mum Rachel Lambell.

    The amount of amniotic fluid around your baby also determines the size and shape of your pregnant belly. “If you have lots of fluid around your baby, your bump will be larger and more rounded. If you don’t have much, you might find your bump is smaller,” says maternity and baby consultant Margarita Atieh.

    Later in your pregnancy, you might even see your baby’s outline. “When your baby is unable to move much, due to lack of space, your baby bump will appear to mould itself to your tummy. So don’t be surprised if you see a baby body part emerge, compressed to your tummy!” explains Margarita.

  • Stretchmarks

    About 90% of pregnant women are said to get stretchmarks.

    Where are stretchmarks most likely to appear?

    “Stretchmarks announce themselves on the parts of the body which are most susceptible to rapid growth – so think tummies, thighs, hips and around the breasts,” says maternity and baby consultant Margarita.

    What do stretchmarks look like?

    Everyone is different, but the most common looking stretchmarks are thin scratch-like marks that are smooth to touch. However, pregnancy stretchmarks do vary from woman to woman.

    “I really suffered from stretchmarks during my pregnancies,” says mum Julie Baxter. “It now looks like I’ve got tiger prints on my belly.”

    Fellow mum Sarah Clegg also experienced strange stretchmark patterns. “My belly looks like a road map! Luckily since using a stretchmark butter, they look like they’ve reduced and I haven’t had anymore during my last two pregnancies.”

    Why do stretchmarks affect pregnant women?

    Due to the rapid stretching of the skin, the pulling of the skin overcomes the skin’s elasticity, causing these reddish marks (also known as striae) to appear. Because your tummy will be growing steadily, you might find that your belly is most affected.

    How do you deal with stretchmarks?

    “Gradual weight gain in pregnancy may help keep the stretchmarks at bay, as quick weight gain will cause the skin to stretch further,” says maternity and baby consultant Margarita. “However, you can’t always control how much weight you gain during your pregnancy, so make sure that your skin is hydrated (to reduce the stretching) and moisterised.”

    Check out our round-up of natural stretchmark creams and prevention stretchmark creams.

    Will the stretchmarks be permanent?

    Unfortunately, stretchmarks are also a form of scarring. However, they won’t always be reddish/purple. “Following the birth, they should start to fade and become paler until they turn into silvery streaks on the skin which are hardly noticeable,” says Margarita.

    However, some mums like to think of them as a little reminder of their children. “I call them my battle scars – I’m proud of them as I’ve got a beautiful daughter to show for them,” mum Tricia Clark tells us.

  • Linea negra

    “The linea negra means ‘black line’ and usually starts to develop during the second trimester,” says maternity and baby consultant Margarita.

    “The linea negra appears down the middle of your bump,” explains birth consultant Janine. “The line is caused by pigmentation in the skin where the abdominal muscles stretch and slightly separate to accommodate your growing baby.” It’s also down to the increased production of the pigment melanin, cause by increased levels of oestrogen.

    How long will the linea negra last?

    Depending on your skin tone, the line can appear as a faint line or a dark brown line – but it doesn’t last long once you’ve given birth. “The linea negra will fade away several months post-baby, sometimes weeks,” says Janine. However, sometimes exposure to sunlight early after birth can cause it to appear again.

  • Sticky out belly button

    “From around 25 weeks, some pregnant women will experience a ‘sticky-out’ belly button,” says birth consultant Janine.

    “If your tummy has been an ‘inny’ throughout the early stages of your pregnancy, you might find that it ‘pops’ to become an ‘outy’ in later pregnancy,” says maternity and baby consultant Margarita.

    Will your belly button ever go back to normal?

    “Like most physical side effects to pregnancy, sticking out belly buttons will pop back in again after you’ve given birth,” says Janine. “It’s definitely a short-lived change!”

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  • Itchy bump

    “Pregnancy hormones can make your skin look radiant, especially during the first trimester,” says maternity and baby consultant Margarita. “However, the pregnancy hormones can also cause significant changes to your skin – making it more sensitive than usual, causing pregnancy acne and most commonly, itching skin, which 20% of pregnant women suffer from.” 

    “I got extremely itchy skin when my bump started to get big,” mum Li Nda says. “A wet flannel relieved my itching.”

    “My bump was so itchy the doctor had to give me medication for it,” mum Sian Applebee reveals.

    “I used to get this burning, ripping feeling right at the top of my bump. It started at 30 weeks and drove me mad!” says mum Rachel Lambell. “My skin felt like it was ripping, the doctor had no explanation for it!” explains mum Sian. So what is this all about? “This is your skin reacting to the changes going on inside your body,” says Janine.

    If you have itchiness in pregnancy, do mention it to your doctor or midwife. In some cases, the itching can be a symptom of obstetric cholestasis, a rare pregnancy-related condition that needs treatment.

  • What will your belly look like post-birth?

    “If you still look five months pregnant after you’ve had your baby, that is completely normal,” says birth consultant Janine. “Yes, sometime bellies do ping back into shape but this is rare. Your belly might be more rounded, softer and squashy than before.”

    “It can take anything from four to six weeks for your uterus to start shrinking,” says baby and maternity consultant Margarita.

    But if it takes longer, don’t fret as this is normal. “It took nine months for your skin to stretch to accommodate a full-term baby, so it makes sense that it would take that long (or longer) to tighten back up,” explains birth consultant Janine.

Last updated on 23 March 2011

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