Bodily Changes You Can Expect While Pregnant


Written by Mid-Atlantic Women's Care on .
Bodily Changes You Can Expect While Pregnant
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It’s a well-known fact that pregnancy comes with a variety of changes to the body. But those changes can be the common and expected changes, like swelling and weight gain, to less common ones like changes in body temperature. We find it best to know what to expect which is why we will break down the changes you may experience during pregnancy

Sensory changes

Believe it or not, pregnancy can dramatically affect a woman’s sight, taste, and smell. 

Changes in vision

Although there is no precise explanation for why this happens, some women experience increased nearsightedness during pregnancy with vision returning after birth. Some changes that are common are blurred vision and discomfort with contact lenses while some women may be at risk for retinal detachment or vision loss, although these cases are much rarer. 

Changes in taste and smell

Often times during pregnancy, women have a higher threshold for sour, salty, and sweet tastes because many are afflicted by dysgeusia, a decrease in the ability to taste, which most commonly occurs during the first trimester. Generally, they regain full tasting capability after pregnancy. 

It’s no secret that pregnant women often have cravings and those cravings may vary from trimester to trimester. 

Pregnant women also report changes in their sense of smell, often described as a heightened sensitivity to odors. This can cause nausea for many women that experience it.

Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy

Pregnant women go through a sudden and dramatic increase in estrogen and progesterone levels. These changes in not only the amount but also the function of these hormones and a number of other hormones affect mood, aid in the development of the fetus, alter the effect of physical activity on the body, and create that “glow” everyone talks about in pregnancy. 

Changes in estrogen and progesterone

A woman will produce more estrogen during one pregnancy than during her entire life when not pregnant. The increase in estrogen supports the developing baby and transfers nutrients from the uterus to the fetus. 

Estrogen levels will increase steadily throughout the pregnancy and reach their peak in the third trimester. During the first trimester, the rapid increase in estrogen levels can cause the nausea that is often associated with pregnancy. During the second trimester, the increase in estrogen plays a role in the development of the milk ducts that cause the breasts to enlarge.  

Progesterone is the second hormone that plays a big role in pregnancy and these levels are also extremely high. These changes cause a loosening of ligaments and joints in the body and can cause organs to grow in size, which is how the uterus, normally the size of a pear is able to accommodate a full-term baby.

Greater risk of exercise injuries

With looser ligaments, a pregnant woman may be more prone to sprains and strains of the ankles and knees which can make exercising difficult. In addition, a pregnant woman will most likely experience a change in her posture. Her breasts have grown, her stomach becomes convex, and her back becomes more curved, all changes that can shift the center of gravity forward and cause her to lose her balance more often. 

Pregnant women also retain fluids and, as a result, experience swelling of the face and limbs which places another limitation on exercising. The increase in water weight accounts for a significant amount of weight gain during pregnancy. Here are our tips for reducing swelling:

  • Avoid caffeine and sodium.
  • Avoid standing up for long periods of time.
  • Rest.
  • Increase your dietary potassium intake.

Changes in the breasts and cervix

Hormonal changes also lead to physiological changes throughout the body that are preparing the woman’s body for pregnancy, giving birth, and breastfeeding

Changes in the breasts

Pregnant women’s breasts often undergo quite a few changes during pregnancy as the body prepares to produce and supply milk to the new baby. These may include:

  • Hormones that affect the skin’s pigmentation often darken the areola.
  • Stretch marks and veins may become more visible on the breasts, especially if they’ve grown rapidly.
  • The size of the nipple and areola will likely increase.
  • Small bumps may form on the areola.
  • Most women will start producing and sometimes leaking small amounts of a thick, yellowish substance (colostrum) during the second trimester.
  • Small lumps may form in the breast tissue indicating blocked milk ducts. If these don’t disappear after a few days of massaging the breasts and warming them with a washcloth, have a doctor examine it. 

Changes in the cervix

The cervix is the entrance to the uterus and must also undergo physical changes in order to prepare for pregnancy and labor. The tissue of the cervix will likely thicken and become more firm and glandular. It will then soften and dilate slightly from the pressure of the growing baby in the weeks before birth. 

In the early stages of pregnancy, the cervix produces a thick mucus plug to seal off the uterus which is later expelled in late pregnancy or during delivery. 

Respiratory and metabolic changes

Pregnancy causes an increase in the amount of oxygen transported in the blood due to the increased demand for blood and the dilation of blood vessels. The growth forces an increase in metabolic rates during pregnancy. 

Metabolic rate

The amount of energy the body expends while at rest increases dramatically during pregnancy. It’s important to monitor this rate, the resting metabolic rate (RMR), in order to estimate the amount of energy intake required to maintain or gain weight. The change in this rate is why pregnant women need to increase calorie consumption. 

Changes in body temperature

A slightly higher core temperature is a common sign of pregnancy and will be maintained through the duration of the pregnancy. Women will also notice a higher need for water as they are at greater risk of hyperthermia and dehydration and need to be cautious to remain hydrated.

Breathing and blood oxygen levels

A pregnant woman moves 30-50% more air in and out of her lungs than a woman who is not pregnant due to 2 factors: 1) Each breath has a greater volume of air, and 2) The rate of breathing slightly increases. Even without exercising, these changes can cause shortness of breath. 

Changes in hair, skin, and nails

You will likely experience changes in the physical appearance of your skin while pregnant. Most are temporary (stretch marks, for example) while others can lead to permanent changes. 

Hyperpigmentation

The majority of pregnant women experience some sort of hyperpigmentation which consists of the darkening of the skin tone on parts of the body including the areolas, genitals, scars, and the linea alba, the dark line that forms down the middle of the abdomen. This occurs in women of every skin tone but it’s particularly common among women with darker complexions. 

Pregnant women may also experience a condition called melasma with the darkening of the skin on the face. This condition is worsened by exposure to the sun and its radiation so it’s essential to we broad-spectrum sunscreen daily during pregnancy. Melasma typically goes away after pregnancy. 

Changes in moles and freckles

The hyperpigmentation will likely also cause darkening in moles, freckles, and birthmarks but these changes are typically harmless. If, however, you do notice changes in size, color, or shape, you should visit a dermatologist or your OB. Most skin pigmentation changes will fade or disappear postpartum but changes in mole and freckle color are often permanent. 

Stretch marks

Nearly 90% of pregnant women will see stretch marks form on their bodies by the 3rd trimester as a result of the physical stretching of the skin and the effects of hormone changes on the skin’s elasticity. These most often form on the breasts and abdomen and while they will likely fade in color, they may never disappear fully. Stretch marks may itch so applying a cream can reduce the itchiness and deter you from scratching and potentially damaging the skin.

Changes in hair and nails

Hormone changes that occur during pregnancy can lead to excessive hair loss, particularly in women who have a family history of alopecia. Many women, however, experience hair growth and thickening at rapid rates and may even notice more hair growing in unwanted places, the face, arms, legs, or back for example. 

These are changes that typically return to normal after the baby is born but it’s common that women will continue experiencing hair shedding and loss up to a year postpartum. This happens because your hair follicles and hormone levels are trying to regulate themselves again now that they’re no longer under the influence of pregnancy hormones. 

Many women will also experience faster-growing nails while pregnant, due in large part to the prenatal vitamins that add to the growth hormones of pregnancy. This can also come with increased nail brittleness, grooves, keratosis, and breakage.

Circulatory system changes

Due to the rapid expansion of the blood vessels and increased strain on the lungs and heart, women produce more blood during pregnancy and must, therefore, use more caution when exercising. They may experience the following during pregnancy:

  • Heavy breathing while exerting energy, like climbing the stairs or exercising
  • A feeling of dizziness when standing quickly
  • Changes in blood pressure

Blood pressure and exercise

Pregnancy hormones can have a sudden effect on the tone in blood vessels which results in that dizzy feeling or brief loss of consciousness that is relatively common among pregnant women. This is caused by the loss of pressure sending less blood to the brain and central nervous system. 

Dizziness and fainting

Dizziness is more common after the 24-week mark or earlier in multi-fetal pregnancies and conditions that increase amniotic fluid. Lying flat on the back compresses the large blood vessel that goes from the lower body to the heart which can cause a sudden and dramatic decline in blood pressure, causing dizziness or loss of consciousness. 

To avoid this, we recommend that after the first trimester, avoid exercises that require lying on the back. Lying on the left side may help relieve dizziness and is a good position to sleep in. If you are consistently experiencing dizziness or fainting, you should consult with your doctor.

Pregnancy Changes

As leaders in our industry, Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care offers support before, during, and after pregnancy and together, we will walk through this time of big changes with you. Reach us through our contact page today. 

Mid-Atlantic Women's Care

Written By
Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care

Mid-Atlantic Women's Care
Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, the premier OB/GYN group in Hampton Roads, was created in 1997 by the merger of 11 independent OB/GYN physician groups.
Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care consists of over 30 OB/GYN facilities and 6 Imaging Centers throughout the Hampton Roads community
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