Things They Don’t Tell You (and you need to know!) About Pregnancy

You’re pregnant!

Congratulations!

There is a little life growing inside your body, how amazing is that? You deserve to feel incredibly special and blessed; you’re experiencing a miracle.

BUT

you’ll be experiencing a whole lot MORE than you expected to and some of it will really take you by surprise (or totally freak you out!) which is why we’re providing you with this comprehensive list because

the more you know, the easier it is.

And sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re not alone or totally weird!

 

Your skin

With the radical changes going on inside your body it should come as no surprise that your skin might change a bit; some ladies experience more radical changes than others and some are really lucky and manage to get away without too much of a struggle.

You will most likely be aware of stretch marks (the most discussed skin issue related to pregnancy) but here are a few other unexpected skin conditions you might experience:
Acne Yup! You might be unwillingly transported back to those oh-so-icky teenage-skin days of the past. Hormone changes cause the glands in your skin to produce more oil which can then lead to clogged pores and voila, breakouts! Pamper yourself and treat your skin with extra care to minimise this phenomenon.

Pigmentation Brown marks on your face, particularly forehead and cheeks and sometimes neck are called chloasma or the “mask of pregnancy.” It is caused by the body producing extra melanin in your skin during pregnancy according to What to Expect. Other areas of your body might darken too, such as your armpits, belly, thighs etc. Unfortunately there isn’t too much you can do about it except wait it out; by the time your little one is three months old your skin should be back to normal.

Experiment with concealer if you feel particularly self-conscious about it. And don’t worry, mama, people are WAY too busy admiring your growing tummy to notice pigmentation, it’ll bug you more than anyone else.

Varicose veins These nasty little critters have a way of sneaking up on the swollen-bellied. Pressure on the large vein on the right of your uterus (inferior vena cava) coupled with the increased blood volume during pregnancy raises the pressure in your leg veins which then leads to varicose veins (WebMD).

These are thin purple lines usually visible on your legs (can also be found around your genital area and rectum – hemorrhoids are just another word for varicose veins by your bum).

They are the most uncomfortable and aggravated during pregnancy and will definitely calm down after birth, they most likely won’t fade completely.

       Simple and practical ways to minimize these nasties is to:

  • Sleep on your left as much as possible (this reduces pressure on the inferior vena cava)
  • Exercise (gently) while pregnant (please always check with your doc on this one)
  • Put your feet up when you’re seated (if possible)
  • Avoid crossing your legs – tough one for most women!
Itchiness While a bit of discomfort as your skin tightens over your growing breasts and belly is to be expected, some ladies find themselves clawing at their skin in vain attempts at relief from the ridiculous itchiness they experience – it can really drive you nuts and may well interrupt your (already broken) sleep at night.

This CAN indicate a liver problem (so please chat to your OBGYN) but often it is just an unfortunate side-effect of pregnancy (sigh) – Baby Center

Keep your skin moisturised, wear comfortable clothing and avoid damaging scratching spells (cut them nails if you need to) and hang in there mama, when that baby is in your arms, this will be a thing of the past.

Skin tags Skin tags look like little grains of rice on the surface of your skin, and can really take you by surprise in pregnancy.

Hormone changes are most likely to blame for the outer layer of your skin producing this extra skin in areas where there is a lot of movement, rubbing and moisture (think armpits, groin, neck etc.)

The good news is that they are totally harmless and can easily be removed after your pregnancy, in much the same way that warts are dealt with.

 

Your breasts

Most people are aware that breasts increase in size during pregnancy – in fact breast changes are often the first noticeable sign of pregnancy. What they don’t know is that there is some pretty weird stuff that can happen to “the girls” besides going up a cup size (or two or three).
Sensations Especially in your first pregnancy, you will most likely experience strange sensations in your breasts as the milk glands mature and prepare to nourish your baby-to-be. You may experience anything from stabbing pains, tingliness, burning, firmness to general sensitivity.

Your midwife or OBGYN will do a breast exam to make sure all is normal (normal? What’s that?).

Darker nipples As mentioned before, your skin produces more melanin during pregnancy and so your nipples (or the area surrounding the nipples – areolas) may darken. They may stay slightly darker after pregnancy but in most cases they fade back to normal.

Leaking This one can really freak you out if you’re not expecting it.

While many women don’t experience any “sneak peeks” on the milk front, some do. There is no reason in the world to worry about it, it’s just your body figuring itself out and getting ready to feed a little milky monster. In fact it’s quite an exciting development (provided you’re not in a business meeting with wet patches on your blouse).

Breast pads can help if you notice a significant amount of fluid and want to avoid embarrassment or discomfort.

Note: If your breasts don’t leak, it doesn’t mean your body isn’t going to produce milk for your little one – it’s just waiting for your little one to arrive first! This is in no way any indication of the success of the breastfeeding relationship you hope to have after birth.

 

Your hair

It is not at all unusual for pregnant women to notice changes with their hair. Higher estrogen levels in your body enhance the growth of hair and reduce the loss of hair which ultimately leaves your hair feeling thicker and often shinier too – how cool is that? (What to Expect)

As you may have guessed, there can also be some unexpected changes that can surprise you when it comes to your hair.
Stray hairs You may notice some unwanted little chin whiskers or belly hairs, shaving or tweezing is recommended if these little guys need to go. Remember, these parts of pregnancy will slow down and fade away once your little one arrives – phew!

Texture changes Did you know that hair can change its texture? From straight to curly and curly to straight, many women notice these unexpected changes (this includes your hair “down there”) – just know you’re normal and not imagining things.

 

Your nose

Sense of smell It isn’t clear why but often a heightened sense of smell accompanies early pregnancy. If you find yourself noticing smells that used to go unnoticed (think coffee, olive oil etc) then you may well be pregnant, in fact some women’s sense of smell is so strong they don’t even bother to buy a pregnancy test.

If this weird phenomenon joins forces with nausea/morning sickness, you may want to keep something pleasant smelling nearby (in your handbag) or spray extra perfume on your shirt sleeve to mask any pungent smells (imagine walking past the fish aisle at the store – eek!) that come floating your way.

Congestion Around 30% of pregnant women experience inflammation and congestion during pregnancy (Mom Junction) so if you feel like you have an incessant cold know that it’s okay, you’re normal.

If you find it particularly uncomfortable, then saline nose sprays are perfectly safe and soothing in pregnancy and can help prevent nasal infections.

Please chat to your doctor if you experience other symptoms (fever, shivers etc) as that might indicate a real illness.

Nose-bleeds Oh boy! There is nothing more surprising and a little worrying then suddenly having blood gushing down your face.

The increase in blood volume in your body (around 40% more than your non-pregnant self – Healthline) coupled with dilated blood vessels in your nasal passages can make you susceptible to nose-bleeds. This can be a particularly frustrating and inconvenient experience, especially in public (nothing quite like a nose-bleed while trying to share a romantic dinner with your partner).

Keep those Kleenex handy and using your thumb and index finger place pressure on the soft part of your nostril for around 5 minutes, keeping your head above your heart. A nose-bleed now and then is harmless.

Increase in size This strange side-effect of pregnancy can be a little (okay, a lot!) unexpected.

The higher estrogen levels in your body cause blood to flow to your mucous membranes thus causing swelling and apparent widening of your nose.

Unfortunately, in some cases, ladies’ noses don’t return to their pre-pregnancy size. The good news is that the change is usually very small and only upon scrutinising old photos will you notice the difference.

 

Your mouth

Gum bleeds The hormone changes in pregnancy make your gums sensitive to the bacteria in plaque which can lead to a form of gingivitis and bleeding gums – Baby Center.

This mild form of gum disease is generally harmless in pregnancy provided you practise good dental hygiene (flossing and brushing).

Extreme cases of gum disease may lead to preterm labour or a low birth weight baby which is a real concern for you and your baby so please get it checked out if you find yourself battling with your gums.

 

Your feet

Swelling in pregnancy will result in puffy, uncomfortable and larger feet. This will subside after the birth of your baby but there’s more you should know.

A lovely little hormone called Relaxin causes joints and ligaments to stretch/loosen during pregnancy (the purpose of this is for your pelvic joints to open up for the birth of your baby) but the fun doesn’t stop there. It causes joints and ligaments to stretch/loosen in your body in general which, you guessed it, includes your feet! The foot is made up of 26 bones and 30 joints and so, there’s a hang of a lot of ligaments in your feet. All this “relaxation” will cause your foot bones to spread and your feet to get bigger (Baby Center). Weight gain in pregnancy will also contribute to this phenomenon.

There’s no need to panic! Going up half a shoe size isn’t painful (unless you keep squeezing your toes into your old shoes) – go shoe shopping mama, you have a wonderful excuse!

Foot exercises and supportive insoles can give your feet the support they need as your ligaments relax.

 

Your digestive system

Morning sickness in the early months of pregnancy is common knowledge but there are a few things you need to know about that might not be spoken about or shared as much.
Constipation Sigh.

Higher levels of progesterone in your body causes your digestive system to slow down during pregnancy  according to What to Expect (most likely to allow for increased absorption of nutrients for your growing baby), this coupled with your body’s increased water absorption and difficulty eating full meals (due to nausea/queasiness) and pressure on your intestines from your expanding uterus can quickly lead to constipation.

Here’s what you can try to do:

  • Eat meals with high fibre content – fresh fruit, veg, multigrain cereals etc.
  • Drink as much water as you can
  • Exercise (walking, swimming, yoga are gentle but effective during pregnancy)
  • Check if your multivitamin contains a high dosage of iron and chat to your doc about changing if you don’t suffer from anaemia
Constipation is uncomfortable but shouldn’t harm you or your baby but straining your body on the toilet can lead to another unpleasant side-effect of pregnancy…

Hemorrhoids Straining due to constipation puts pressure on the (already delicate) veins surrounding the rectum which can cause them to become inflamed and itchy or painful. Pushing during labor can also aggravate these little guys and they’re often reported as a post-birth issue.

Here’s the good news, they normally resolve themselves in time, phew!

How to get some relief:

  • First and foremost – avoid constipation as much as you can
  • Keep the area clean (soft moisturised tissue is really soothing)
  • Avoid sitting and standing for long periods of time – moving is good
  • Ice or cold compresses can provide wonderful relief
  • Soaking in warm water once a day (think luxurious bath – wonderful)
  • Your doc can prescribe a cream for you to apply

 

Your bladder control

It is well known and women are often teased or share jokes about how often they need to rush to the toilet (through the day and through the night) but often what isn’t discussed is the loss of bladder control (incontinence). This experience can be particularly distressing to women who are already emotional, exhausted and overwhelmed about the changes going on in their bodies.

It is normal and usually temporary.

Hormone changes and pressure on your bladder from your growing uterus are the major causes of pregnancy incontinence according to Everyday Health. Some of the “dangerous” activities that cause some “leaking” include exercising, sneezing, and laughing – yup, it’s kinda unavoidable.

Make sure you are leaking urine and not amniotic fluid by using that wonderfully enhanced sense of smell. Urine smells like ammonia where amniotic fluid is odourless, if you aren’t sure, try to catch a sample in a pad for your doc or midwife to check for you. It’s unlikely that you’ll leak amniotic fluid but it is best to be safe.

So what can you do to alleviate this embarrassing and frustrating complaint?

  • Good ol’ Kegel exercises – try to do a few when you think of it through the day (a good tip is to create triggers that help you remember like stopping at red traffic lights or brushing your teeth)
  • Try to use the bathroom before you need to go (around half hourly should be good)
  • Wearing pads can give you some insurance against embarrassing situations
  • Don’t stop drinking your fluids – dehydration and bladder infections are the last thing you need
  • If you feel a sneeze coming, sit down and cross your legs (and hope for the best)

 

Your sex life (and lady bits)

At a glance you might think that an expanding belly is the only thing that will get in the way of enjoying physical intimacy with your partner. In reality there are various ways that pregnancy will affect this area of your life.
Libido changes This changes from woman to woman with some reporting a heightened desire for physical intimacy while others couldn’t be more disinterested.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Increased blood flow through your body can increase sensitivity and sensations which can make you feel turned on more easily – take advantage of this positive change, it’s pretty great, don’t you think?
  • How you feel about yourself during pregnancy
Everybody experiences pregnancy differently. Some women are put off by the weight gain and their body changing from their heads to their toes (literally) and don’t feel attractive at all.

Some women find it freeing knowing that they aren’t overweight or wobbly, they’re pregnant! Embracing your new curves and marvelling at the changes going on in your body can increase your desire to be intimate.

  • Energy levels and other troubling pregnancy symptoms
In the first trimester especially it is virtually impossible to feel sexy (I mean c’mon, with your head in the toilet bowl and your face full of pimples, making passionate love is often last on the list). Most women just want to rest, eat, barf or curl up and die.

The good news is that by the second trimester most of the icky early pregnancy symptoms die down and you might find yourself considering some romantic time in the bedroom. Again, this is different for everyone; some couples report a 9 month intimacy drought and some say it’s the most fun they’ve ever had in the bedroom (there is no “normal” on this one) – each couple will be different.

  • Your (or your partner’s) perception of sex during pregnancy
While it is usually perfectly safe to make love during pregnancy (your doc or midwife will let you know if you shouldn’t), some men or women can’t quite get past the feeling that they’ll be squashing their tiny baby. If you or your partner are concerned then try out different positions that leave your belly free. The peace of mind is worth it if this is an issue for either of you.

  • Ability to climax
Some women aren’t able to reach orgasm during pregnancy, this can be frustrating especially with heightened senses and desire. Hormones are possibly the cause of this, sigh. If this is your experience, know that you’re normal and it’s definitely not permanent.

Discharge According to Baby Center, increased blood flow stimulates mucous membranes in the birth canal which results in extra discharge “down there”. It often increases as the pregnancy progresses. It serves to protect the birth canal and prevent infection.

Wear pads so that you don’t feel uncomfortable during the day. Avoid douching or using wipes that may alter the pH making you susceptible to infections.

Tendency to experience thrush Vaginal thrush is a common (but often unmentioned) pregnancy complaint. If you have a tendency to experience thrush when you’re not pregnant then it is very possible that you may battle with this during pregnancy. Hormone changes can actually favor this nasty bacteria.

Minimise this irritating complaint by:

  • Taking probiotics and eating natural yoghurt
  • Try to reduce sugar in your diet
  • Always wipe from front to back
  • Avoid using soap directly around your lady bits (this affects the pH)
  • Wearing cotton underwear which allows air flow that can be soothing

 

Your sleep

Let me guess, you thought that your sleep would only be interrupted AFTER baby’s arrival? Hmmm, not so, in fact, despite the often reported exhaustion that accompanies pregnancy, getting a good night’s sleep can be really elusive.

Why?
Increased urination (needing to pee) You need to pee a lot when you’re pregnant, you know all about that. Unfortunately your bladder doesn’t go to sleep when you do.

Here’s what we suggest:

  • Always go to the toilet before bed – always!
  • Try to drink most of your fluids in the first half of the day and then drink slightly less in the couple of hours before bed (please don’t dehydrate yourself – you get the idea)
Hunger Nausea during the day can mean that your body hasn’t received the nutrition it so desperately needs for you and your growing baby. And so, you might wake up in the middle of the night hungry enough to eat an elephant! This can be infuriating when you so badly just want to have a good night’s rest.

Here’s what we suggest:

  • Try to eat some protein before bed (this will keep the hunger pangs at bay until the morning, hopefully); some full fat yoghurt, a chunk of cheese, a piece of grilled chicken, a 3handful of nuts are some ideas.
  • Keep some snacks (and water) next to your bed so that if you do wake up hungry you don’t have to get up.
  • Through the day, try to eat small nutrient-rich meals to spread out your calorie intake which should hopefully satisfy your body, keep your blood sugar levels stable and help you through the night.
Dreams During pregnancy many women experience really intense dreams. I mean REALLY intense dreams. You guessed it, hormone fluctuations are to blame and so, there really isn’t too much you can do about it except know that it’s normal (and maybe steer clear of horror movies before bed?)

Night sweats Waking up drenched at night?

Especially in the first and third trimester (and possibly for a while after birth) estrogen levels changing in your body can trigger night sweats according to Sweatology. Some women experience them frequently and others not at all; it all depends on how sensitive your hypothalamus (the area of your brain that controls your temperature) is to hormone fluctuations.

While there is usually no cause for concern, waking up drenched at night is really unpleasant and robs you of sleep, so this is what we suggest to minimise the sweating:

  • Keep your room cool
  • Sleep in light pyjamas (cotton preferably)
  • Avoid caffeine, spicy foods and sugar (all of these may contribute to sweating at night)
Leg cramps Ouch! You’re lying down, your body starts relaxing and all of a sudden your calf muscle pulls up into a ball and shooting pain extends all the way up your leg – not fun in the middle of the night while you’re trying to sleep, right?

Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes this terrible occurrence (might as well blame hormones again) but here are some things to try if leg cramps are driving you crazy:

  • Movement and stretching exercises during the day and before bed
  • Wearing support hose can help
  • Drink plenty of fluids, being properly hydrated is essential during pregnancy
  • Try to include foods high in calcium (dairy products) and potassium (bananas are awesome) in your diet – many women find significant relief from dietary changes.
Physical discomfort You’re exhausted, you’re finally in bed (you’ve been longing for this all day) but you can’t get comfortable, you’re tossing and turning and no matter how hard you try you can’t fall asleep. Your back hurts, then your hips hurt, then your legs…

Sound familiar?

Consider these ideas:

  • Those long “sausage-shaped” pregnancy pillows can feel heavenly tucked through your legs, under your belly, through your arms and up by your head. Ask your mommy friends, chances are they might have one hiding in their basement to lend you.
  • Sleep on your left, this reduces pressure on your blood circulation system which is healthier for you and your baby and more comfortable, especially in late pregnancy

 

I hope this list of unexpected, yet common, pregnancy symptoms is helpful to you. The changes your body experiences during pregnancy are pretty amazing (and a little weird) but one thing we can promise you is that when you hold that tiny baby in your arms, you’ll know for sure…

It’s totally worth it.

Hang in there dear mama, you’ve got this!

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