It is normal to experience a variety of physical changes during your pregnancy while your baby grows and develops.

Pregnancy is an amazing and exciting time of change. However, at times it may feel like your body is not your own! Your changing hormone levels cause the physical changes you see and feel throughout your pregnancy. Some of these hormones include:

Human chorionic gonadotropin – the hormone that early pregnancy tests check for. Also causes nausea.

Progesterone – relaxes the uterus and prevents it from contracting too much. It also helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and allows you to better absorb nutrients from food.

Estrogen – makes the uterus grow and increases its blood supply. Increases vaginal mucous production, and stimulates changes in the breasts, water retention, body fat buildup, and skin pigmentation.

Relaxin – relaxes and softens your ligaments, cartilage and cervix, making these tissues more stretchable during pregnancy. Helps the pelvic joints widen during birth.

Oxytocin – causes the uterus to contract during labour, and is also responsible for the milk let-down reflex for breastfeeding.

Understanding these physical changes, and how to cope with them, may help you have a healthy and comfortable pregnancy. Talk with your health care provider if you have any concerns about changes you may be experiencing.

 

Physical Changes in Pregnancy

This table explains the many physical changes you may develop during your pregnancy
Change you may ExperienceWhat May be Causing ItHelpful Tips
Abdominal achiness and cramping (Round Ligament Pain)
  • The growing uterus stretches the ligaments which hold it in place
  • Move a little slower than usual; try not to rise quickly from the bed or chairs.
  • Avoid sudden movements.
  • Use a maternity belt or abdominal support garment.
  • Soak in the tub or get into a swimming pool to help lighten the load.
Backache
  • The softening of the joints and ligaments of your spine and pelvis, and increase weight of your growing abdomen puts stress on your lower back
  • Use good body mechanics. To lift something from the floor, place feet hip-distance apart, bend knees with the back straight, keep the load close to the body at waist level and do not twist or rotate.
  • Maintain good posture.
  • Use a cushion for back support.
  • Wear low-heeled (not flat) shoes with good arch support; not high heeled shoes.
  • Avoid heavy lifting when possible.
  • Limit standing for long periods of time. Keep weight equal to both legs (not shifted to one leg).
  • Tilt your pelvis to relieve ache.
  • Take a warm bath; massage.
  • Use relaxation, yoga or stretching exercises.
Bleeding, swollen gums
  • Pregnancy hormones can cause changes to your gums
  • Brush your teeth atleast twice a day using a soft toothbrush with fluoride toothpaste.
  • Avoid soft, sweet, and sticky snacks that are high in carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Clean your teeth after snacking to prevent cavities.
  • After vomiting, rinse your mouth with water or with fluoride mouthwash as soon as possible.
  • See your dentist regularly.
Breast changes - tingling, heaviness and tenderness, areola darkens and nipples enlarge
  • The increase in hormones causes changes in order to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding, after the fifth month, you may leak colostrum (a yellow, clear fluid that is your first milk)
  • Wear a good-quality support bra or a sports bar with no wires.
  • Increase bra size.
  • Wear breast pads if breasts are leaking and change them when wet.
Constipation
  • High levels of progesterone
  • Pressure from the growing uterus
  • Use of iron supplements
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat high-fibre foods (example ground flaxseed, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals).
  • Exercise regularly.
Dizziness and Fainting
  • Anemia, changing positions too quickly, hyperventilation, rectal pressure, hormonal changes, hunger and low blood sugar, lower blood pressure
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid standing still for long periods.
  • Slowly get up from a sitting or lying position.
  • Eat small, frequent, nutritious snacks throughout the day. Avoid skipping meals.
  • Eat iron-rich foods.
Fatigue
  • Rapidly changing hormones, increased demands on your body as baby grows, low blood pressure and low blood sugar.
  • Pace yourself, listen to your body and rest during the day.
  • Eat well-balanced meals and drink plenty of water.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • At work, find a quiet place to close your eyes and relax.
Frequent urination
  • The growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder, kidneys produce more urine
  • Drink less in the evening.
  • Go to the bathroom every time you feel an urge to pee.
  • Make sure your bladder empties completely.
  • Do Kegel exercises (pelvic floor exercises).
  • Request a referral to a physiotherapist that deals with pelvic floor issues.
Headaches
  • Common during pregnancy due to stress, fatigue, hunger, dehydration, and increased breast size

  • Report a severe headache (causing blurred vision, nausea, or spots to appear in front of eyes) to your health care provider!
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Have a partner or support person give you a massage.
  • Do tension-reducing exercises (such as shoulder circles) and relaxation techniques.
  • Eat small meals often and drink plenty of water.
  • Take naps and rest throughout the day.
  • Lie down in a cool, dark room with a cool cloth on your head.
Hand pain and numbness
  • Excess tissue fluid puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels
  • Often occurs during the night or first thing in the morning
  • Avoid sleeping on hands or on your arm.
  • Change or avoid activities that may be causing symptoms, and take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks.
  • Do exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles in the hand and arm.
  • Talk with your health care provider if concerned.
Heartburn
  • Digestion slows, the amount of space in your abdomen decreases, and reflux can occur as the stomach pushes upwards
  • Eat small, light, frequent meals for example every two to three hours.
  • Sleep propped up with your head and shoulders higher than your stomach.
  • Try not to lie down right after eating.
  • Avoid foods which may trigger heartburn (example coffee, chocolate, carbonated beverages, mint, fatty or spicy foods).
  • Avoid eating or drinking before bedtime.
  • Chew gum to increase saliva production.
  • Avoid clothes that are too tight as they may put pressure on the abdomen.
Hemorrhoids
  • Growing uterus puts pressure on the swollen blood vessels in the rectum. May cause pain and bleeding.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat high-fibre foods (example ground flaxseed, fresh fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals).
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Have a warm sitz bath three to four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes.
Leg Cramps
  • More common in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and happen most often at night. Cause not fully known.
  • Stretch and massage the muscle to help ease the pain of an acute attack (example lower leg cramping - straighten the leg by pointing your toes toward the ceiling and then towards your knee. Gently hold until cramp eases).
  • Regularly stretch the lower leg muscles throughout the day.
  • Go for walks.
  • Place a pillow at the end of the bed to avoid stretching out leg during sleep.

If you have leg cramps in one leg only and there are signs of swelling and redness of the leg, talk with your health care provider right away.
Nasal Congestion
  • Increased swelling in the lining of your nose.
  • Place warm, moist towels on your face.
  • Breathe steam from a hot shower, a pot of boiling water, or a vapourizer.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier.
  • Massage your sinuses by rubbing on the bony ridge above and under the eyebrows, under the eyes and down the sides of the nose.
  • Drink water.
  • Use saltwater nose drops made from ¼ teaspoon of salt dissolved in one cup of warm water or over-the-counter saline drops.
  • Avoid antihistamines unless recommended by a health care provider.
Nausea and Vomiting
  • Often called "morning sickness", but can occur at any time. Generally starts between the fourth and ninth week of pregnancy, and can increase between seven and 12 weeks; typically subsides by 12 to 16 weeks but some women experience it longer.
  • Eat something before getting out of bed (toast, crackers).
  • Eat a snack such as nuts, yogurt, and cheese before bedtime.
  • Eat small, light, frequent meals (example every two to three hours) and do not skip meals.
  • Take a nap during the day and rest more often.
  • Avoid overly fatty or spicy foods.
  • Choose cold, tart or sour beverages (example lemonade) or sweet-smelling beverages (example mint or orange herbal tea).
  • Drink between meals instead of while eating.
  • Avoid certain environmental triggers (example strong odours, heat, humidity, noise).
  • Get out of bed or up from a chair slowly and avoid sudden changes in position.
Shortness of Breath
  • As your uterus grows, it pushes up towards the lungs, making it more difficult to breath.
  • Maintain good posture.
  • Exercise regularly, avoid activities that make you breath hard.
  • Relax.
  • Avoid being outside during summer months when air quality is poor.
Sleep Disturbances
  • The third trimester is a time to expect increasing insomnia (difficulty sleeping) and night waking. Strange dreams are also common in the last few weeks of pregnancy.
  • Sleep as long as necessary to feel rested.
  • Keep regular sleep hours such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  • Avoid eating and drinking things that might keep you awake (example coffee, chocolate, caffeinated, carbonated beverages), especially in the hours before bedtime.
  • Create an environment that will help you to sleep (example turn off inside and outside lights and electronic devices, control surrounding noise and temperature).
  • Avoid use of the bedroom for non-sleep-related activities (example studying, eating)
  • Deal with problems and daily concerns before bedtime or make a list of these for the next day.
  • Get regular physical activity in your day, preferably more than four hours before bedtime.
Skin Changes
  • Pregnancy making (melisma), the darkening of the skin on the forehead and cheeks (looking somewhat like a mask).
  • Linea nigra, a dark line from the belly button all the way down the abdomen.
  • Stretch marks on abdomen and other parts of the body.
  • Dry and itchy skin is common.
  • Soak in oatmeal baths.
  • Apply cool compresses.
  • Avoid harsh soaps and bathing in hot water.
  • Consult with a health care provider about medications that are safe to prevent itching.
  • Practice sun safety, including use of sunscreen, wearing a hat, and covering skin when outdoors.
  • There is no way to prevent stretch marks.
Swollen ankles, feet and fingers
  • Hormonal changes and increased body weight.
  • A small amount of swelling is normal by the end of each day, it should mostly disappear by the time you get up the next morning.
  • Get regular physical activity in your day.
  • When you can, sit with your feet up, elevate your feet when laying down.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Wear loose fitting clothing and comfortable shoes.
  • Avoid standing for long periods.
Increased Vaginal Discharge
  • Wear breathable, unscented panty liners.
  • Notify your health care provider of any changes in vaginal discharge.

Learn more about coping with the physical changes in pregnancy.

You can find out more about coping with the physical changes in pregnancy from the following resources.

August 24, 2016