Pregnancy is an amazing time of growth—both for mother and baby. As a new life is growing within a woman, her body undergoes many changes because of hormones. Every pregnancy is different, but many women find that some bodily changes can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, after the baby arrives, most women find relief from these symptoms. In the meantime, there are ways to decrease some of the discomforts.
The first trimester of pregnancy can be easy for some women. For others, these first 3 months can be the most challenging time of pregnancy because of the following common symptoms:
It is common for many women to feel very tired in the first few months of pregnancy. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep and take naps if needed.
As breasts change to prepare for breastfeeding, they often become tender within the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. Throughout the pregnancy, the tenderness may come and go, especially as breasts get bigger. Colostrum, an early form of breast milk, may even leak out in the second and/or third trimesters.
Many women have feelings of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It usually occurs between 6-16 weeks of pregnancy. Although it is often called morning sickness, women may have these symptoms at any time of the day.
Hormones cause the gut to slow down its normal movement, which can cause bloating and constipation. Iron supplements, which are often needed, may make constipation worse.
Hormones are to blame for frequent urination in the first trimester. As the pregnancy progresses, a growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder. Therefore, frequent urination is often a discomfort for many women throughout the pregnancy. Kegel exercises help strengthen pelvic floor muscles. This may help with controlling incontinence.
As pregnancy progresses, a large uterus puts pressure on the diaphragm, making it less able to move freely during breathing. This causes some women to feel short of breath.
Pregnancy hormones cause changes that lead to more rapid, shallow breaths. Many women also experience this as a feeling of shortness of breath. This can feel strange, but usually will not endanger your health. However, if you are feeling like you are not getting enough air when you breathe, call your healthcare provider.
During the second trimester, or months 4-6, many women feel much better than they had in the first trimester. However, some women notice uncomfortable bodily changes in the second trimester, including the following:
Blood volume increases during pregnancy, which causes membranes in the nose to swell and sometimes bleed.
Gums become sensitive and often bleed during pregnancy due to estrogen. Use a soft toothbrush and gentle toothpaste and floss daily. Continue to receive routine dental care. If you need more extensive dental work, such as a cavity filling or root canal, it may be best to do them during the second trimester. During the third trimester, it may be difficult to lay on your back for an extended period of time. Consider delaying optional dental procedures, such as teeth whitening, until after pregnancy.
Weight carried in the abdomen in the later months of pregnancy affects balance and posture, putting strain on the lower back. Hormones also loosen joints and ligaments of the body, which can cause minor pains.
Many women are excited to enter the home stretch of months 7-9. But this is also an uncomfortable time because a large uterus is squeezing all the organs within the abdomen, causing some of the following symptoms:
The skin of the abdomen may itch as it expands and forms stretch marks, especially if weight is gained quickly. Stretch marks are not preventable. Skin discolorations, such as dark areas on the face or a dark line below the naval, can also appear. This is because hormone levels increase the amount of skin pigment, melatonin. Other skin color changes usually go away soon after the baby is delivered.
Many pregnant women have heartburn in the third trimester. Pregnancy hormones loosen the muscle that closes off the esophagus from the stomach. When this happens, stomach contents can back up into the esophagus, causing the burning sensation known as heartburn. A growing uterus also squeezes the stomach, which contributes to heartburn.
Leg cramps usually occur in the calf muscles during the night and are thought to be related to inadequate calcium or magnesium intake. Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need increased amounts of these nutrients.
Most pregnant women have some leg swelling due to the extra volume of blood providing circulation to the placenta and baby. The uterus puts pressure on the large blood vessels draining blood from the lower half of the body, which can cause fluid to pool in the legs.
Varicose veins on the legs and hemorrhoids often occur during pregnancy also due to increased blood volume and uterine pressure on the large blood vessels draining blood from the lower half of the body.
Some women have trouble getting comfortable when sleeping in the last few months of pregnancy. In addition, it may be hard to relax when you are worried about the baby, childbirth, and being a mother.
Most discomforts associated with pregnancy are not permanent. The good news is once the baby arrives, these discomforts are typically forgotten.
Office on Women's Health
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health Matters
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Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114643/Nausea-and-vomiting-in-pregnancy. Updated October 28, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.
Treatments of common complaints in pregnant women. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114465/Treatments-of-common-complaints-in-pregnant-women. Updated February 1, 2016. Accessed April 18, 2017.
9/16/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114465/Treatments-of-common-complaints-in-pregnant-women: Kalus SM, Kornman LH, Quinlivan JA. Managing back pain in pregnancy using a support garment: A randomised trial. BJOG. 2008;115(1):68-75.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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