It’s without a doubt that pregnancy comes with a lot of changes—both emotional and physical. But what really goes on in your body when you’re growing your baby? MH finds out.
WORDS SUNUJA NAIDU
A woman’s body undergoes many transformations during pregnancy. Some of these changes are visible, such as an expanding belly and weight gain while others may be unanticipated. One change that often takes some pregnant women by surprise is an increase in bra size—for some, it may be as much as two or three cups bigger. Another is the appearance of varicose veins.
These changes are generally temporary and are reversible after delivery (with proper eating habits and exercise), says Dr Natalie Chua, an OB/GYN with SOG Clinic for Women in Parkway East Medical Centre and SOG-Heng Clinic for Women. “Embrace these changes, remember you are not alone, supportive family and friends are always there for you. When you are in doubt, talk to your doctor,” she advises.
Two-thirds of women who are prone to migraines notice that it improves during pregnancy. However, you may still get tension headaches during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. This may result in nausea, tiredness or hunger.
There are a few ways to prevent or relieve headaches during pregnancy. Keep track of your meals or activities that trigger headaches in order to avoid them. Eat smaller portions frequently and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
Mouth and Oral Health
A lot of women have swollen gums and red, painful gums that bleed when flossed or brushed. Gums are more likely to become inflamed during pregnancy due to hormonal changes which cause the gums to be softer. To prevent bleeding, use a soft bristle toothbrush or a gargle. Don’t forget to floss your teeth. Brush gently to minimise trauma and bleeding. “I sometimes do a full count to ensure the platelet levels are normal. Platelets are necessary for blood clotting,” says Dr Chua.
“In general, we try to avoid X-rays in pregnancy,” she adds. “But if medically indicated, dental X-rays can be performed after the first trimester. The amount of radiation reaching the baby is very low and very unlikely to cause any birth defects.”
You may also produce more saliva than usual during the first trimester.
Dry and itchy skin, stretch marks and darkened pigmentation are some of the skin issues that plague pregnant women.
Stretch marks happen when your body grows faster than the overlying skin and there is splitting of underlying collagen tissue, explains Dr Arundhati Gosavi, associate consultant, NUH Women’s Centre. Not all women have stretch marks. It depends on genetics and body composition. To alleviate the problem, it’s important to keep your skin well hydrated and moisturised
and maintain a healthy BMI, says Dr Gosavi.
To prevent stretch marks, avoid excessive and sudden (in a short time) weight gain during pregnancy. A generous application of stretch mark creams can also minimise this. It can be applied twice or even three times a day. Aside from the abdomen, remember that stretch marks can occur in other areas that expand like the inner thighs, buttocks and breasts too.
For women with darker skin, a dark line—the linea nigra—may show up on the lower abdomen, running from the pubic bone to the navel. Other forms of discolouration on the cheeks, forehead, nose and upper lip may occur. This skin darkening is known as chloasma, or the mask of pregnancy.
Leg cramps are usually related to circulatory changes, pressure on the nerves in your legs due to the pelvis pressing on your lower back and even a low calcium level. Try elevating your legs on a pillow and increase your calcium intake.
These swollen veins can appear near the vulva and vagina and are caused by the pressure from the uterus on your veins. They often develop if you stand or sit for long periods of time.
Bigger swollen feet are usually due to water retention. They mainly occur in the third trimester, particularly in the last month preceding delivery, and will resolve in the few weeks after delivery, says Dr Chua. She advises mothers-to-be to avoid excessive salt or sugar consumption and avoid standing for prolonged periods. Wearing compression stockings and supportive footwear can ease the discomfort. Exercise to encourage blood circulation or a foot massage will also help.
Sudden swelling may be a sign of high blood pressure, warns Dr Gosavi. Painful or unilateral leg swelling can be a sign of clots in the legs. Both these conditions need urgent medical attention.
Constipation and Heartburn
Unfortunately, constipation and indigestion are also common problems during pregnancy. Your bowels become sluggish due to the increase in progesterone which relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract. Constipation can also be caused by the growing uterus, which presses on the bowel and disrupts normal function. Iron supplements usually make it worse as they are notorious for causing bowel and digestive problems as well as dark stools.
High fibre food as well as consuming plenty of water will help you combat constipation and indigestion. Avoid taking sugary and processed food. Prune juice may help to alleviate the problem. Check with your doctor before taking any self-remedies. Your doctor may prescribe stool softeners, which are different from laxatives; the best part is that they don’t cause abdominal cramps.
Heartburn is also common during pregnancy due to the high level of progesterone and acid reflux. Many pregnant women experience this during the third trimester.
Your breasts may start to leak colostrum, or pre-milk, a thick, yellowish fluid. To avoid embarrassing wet spots, insert breast pads into your bra to absorb the liquid. You may also notice your areola becoming larger and darker.
The uterus (where the baby is) lies just behind the bladder (where urine is stored). As the baby grows, there will be less space and hence more pressure on the bladder.
The capacity of the bladder is reduced and hence, pregnant ladies have to urinate more often. However, if there is a pain on urination, please consult your doctor to make sure it is not a urinary tract infection.
Some women may find themselves mopping sweat off their brow even in an air-conditioned room. This is because their baseline body temperature may be elevated by 0.5 to 0.8 degrees Celsius. This is due to an increased metabolic rate and an increased blood flow during pregnancy. Some expectant mums thus feel warmer due to an increased body heat, explains Dr Chua.
Hair and Nails
Hormonal changes ensure that your nails grow stronger (and faster) during pregnancy. And so does hair—unfortunately, some may sprout in unwanted places like the face and stomach.
The higher blood volume of pregnancy can lead to congestion and runny noses. Try using a saline spray to clear out the mucus.