How pregnancy affects you
Pregnancy involves so much more than just your baby growing inside you – it affects every system in your body. Changes can occur at any time in pregnancy, and for some women they continue all the way through their nine months.
Here we’ll explain exactly how pregnancy can affect:
Your hair in pregnancy
During pregnancy, you may find your hair appears to be thicker than usual. This is because most pregnant women lose less hair each day than they usually would. Some women who already have thick or coarse hair find that it becomes particularly unmanageable and choose a dramatic re-style at the salon.
After your baby is born, though, you may feel that you’re suffering hair loss at an alarming rate. But for most pregnant women, it’s simply a case of losing the hair you’d normally have shed over the previous nine months.
“After I had Esme, it seemed as though I was losing a lot of hair. I used to check the pillow as soon as I woke up and it appeared to be covered with the stuff. After a few weeks it settled down, but it was very worrying at the time.”
Noelene, 37, mum to Esme, 10 weeks
Your teeth in pregnancy
The high levels of progesterone can make your gums more vascular and increasingly prone to bleeding. If this happens, continue to brush your teeth regularly using a soft toothbrush. Because of the changes during pregnancy, gums can feel soft and spongy and therefore more prone to infection, so good dental hygiene is essential.
“I’m a dental nurse and I’ve seen the changes that can happen in pregnancy. Every day I eat a piece of cheese. Not only is it high in calcium, but cheese helps stimulate saliva, keeping your teeth clean!”
Moira, 31, 32 weeks pregnant
Your stomach in pregnancy
In the first few weeks of pregnancy you might feel constipated. This is because the hormone progesterone relaxes the muscle in the intestine, causing it to become ‘sluggish’. Drink plenty of water and improve your circulation generally with light exercise, such as walking.
This relaxation of the muscles is also responsible for the heartburn or indigestion you may experience in pregnancy. Also, as your baby grows, your stomach tends to become more squashed, which can make any heartburn worse as your pregnancy progresses.
Interestingly, it’s the relaxation of muscles that’s also responsible for varicose veins and haemorrhoids. This is because the walls of the blood vessels relax and then ‘bulge’ with the increase in blood volume.
“I had the most awful heartburn from around the 15th week of pregnancy. Yoga really helped: it improved my posture and circulation. It’s only now that the heartburn’s starting to creep back.”
Tara, 27, 36 weeks pregnant
Your skin in pregnancy
Some women find that their skin ‘glows’ in pregnancy. But others discover that they have pimples or acne for the first time in years, or their skin becomes really dry.
Around 90% of women find that the pigmentation in their skin increases during pregnancy which, for some, means the colour of their freckles becomes more pronounced, while others develop the ‘butterfly mask of pregnancy’, or chloasma. This is when the skin develops a brownish stain, usually across the nose and cheeks. But rest assured that it fades after the birth.
Many women also develop a brown line that stretches from the pubic area to the navel. This is called the linea negra and will fade after your baby is born, although it never disappears completely.
“It was a few days before I realised that the marks on my stomach weren’t ‘imprints’ from my tights, but were, in fact, stretch marks! Until then, I’d felt quite smug. My midwife told me it’s all about skin type and that even if I’d spent a fortune on skin creams, I’d have still ended up with them.”
Nadia, 25, 36 weeks pregnant
Your weight in pregnancy
Women vary hugely in how much weight they put on in pregnancy – the average is 9-13.5kg (20-30lb). The most important thing is that you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Some pregnant women have no appetite in the first three months, due to morning sickness, while others feel constantly hungry as their metabolism increases because the body is working harder to provide for their growing baby.
You’ll probably notice a dramatic increase in the size of your breasts, too. They’ll grow throughout pregnancy, but the biggest changes will be in the first three months. You’re breasts will probably feel more sensitive, lumpy and the colour around the nipple (areola) will darken, too.
“My husband says that I remind him of a squirrel gathering nuts. I’ve constantly got pockets full of fruit and cereal bars. I know I’ve put on weight, but I’m always hungry. If I don’t eat I feel sick.”
Fran, 23, 14 weeks pregnant
Your muscles and bones in pregnancy
Pregnancy sees huge changes in your muscles and bones which, in turn, account for many general aches and pains. The increase in pregnancy hormones makes the ligaments and joints soften. One of the benefits of this is that the pelvis can widen a little, to help accommodate your baby during the birth. But this ‘laxity’ in the joints may be a major cause of backache, as can the change in posture as your pregnancy progresses.
Round ligaments found on each side of the uterus hook it to the inside of the abdomen and hold it in place. As the uterus grows, the ligaments are pulled and stretched, which most often accounts for the aches and pains on the lower sides of your bump.
The combination of unstable joints, your growing baby and changes in your posture can result in pain. You might feel this in the lower back, hips, groin and lower abdomen, radiating down the inner thighs.
“In my last pregnancy I developed SPD, which stands for symphysis pubic dysfunction. I had pain in my pubic area, where the cartilage had started to separate. Within a few days of Maisie being born, the pain had completely gone. So far, I haven’t experienced any of that this time around.”
Fola, 28, 24 weeks pregnant and mum to Maisie, 2
Your heart and lungs in pregnancy
There’s an increase in the amount of blood circulating your body during pregnancy, as well as an increase in your weight, so your heart is having to work harder. Towards the end of pregnancy, this extra work may result in a rise in your blood pressure, whereas in early pregnancy it can drop, sometimes making you feel light-headed.
You may suffer frequent nosebleeds during pregnancy, due to an increase in blood supply and nasal congestion. Varicose veins are also common, because of the sluggish circulation caused by pregnancy hormones. Don’t sit with your legs crossed, but elevate them when you’re sitting down. Gentle exercise will generally help to perk up your circulation.
Breathlessness can be caused by your womb pressing on the diaphragm, which restricts your breathing. Your lungs may also be unable to expand fully due to the increasing size of your uterus.
Severe anaemia may also cause breathlessness, with palpitations and tiredness, so make sure you have the blood test that detects this at your antenatal check-ups.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t walk very far before I felt really heavy between my legs. When I told my mum, she said she’d experienced the same thing in pregnancy, and that it was varicose veins in the vulva. I told her there were other things I’d rather have inherited than those!”
Lillian, 30, mum of Katie, 4 weeks