Physical Changes During Pregnancy

For most women the desire to become pregnant is one of the strongest driving forces in life. Not surprisingly, pregnancy is a time of great fulfillment and joy.  However,  this is also a time where there are most physical and mental changes.  It is important to not let stress or worry overcome this time of happiness.

Below are the physical changes during pregnancy that a woman may experience:

1. Changes in breasts

During the early stages of pregnancy, the new mother may experience breast tenderness and fullness. This may be followed by enlargement of the breast. Enlargement is caused by an increase in the size of milk glands and also an increase in the amount of fat surrounding the breast. As days pass, veins become more visible. Once the pregnancy is fully established, it may be possible to press colostrums (a yellow fluid) from the nipples. The areola (the dark ring around the nipple) enlarges and darkens as pregnancy progresses. Lubrication glands in the areola increase in size and can be seen as small projections from the surface of the skin. These are known as Montgomery’s tubercles. Stretch marks may appear.
Internally, a complex system of milk synthesizing and transport agents starts to develop.

2. Changes in weight

The weight gain in pregnancy should be kept at the average of 11kg. Usually, 2 to 3 kgs are gained during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy and 1 kg per fortnight thereafter.

3. Changes in the uterus

The uterus grows to accommodate the baby during pregnancy. The expanding uterus pushes the heart, the lungs, the stomach and intestines.

4. Changes in Cervix

The cervix softens during pregnancy. At full term, it becomes stretchable so that effacement and dilatation can commence during labor.

5. Changes in Ovaries

The ovaries are slightly enlarged during pregnancy.

6. Changes in Vagina

A slight white vaginal discharge, which results from an increase in the normal vaginal secretion is often noticed during pregnancy. The woman should inform her doctor if the discharge is profuse, curdy and accompanied by soreness or itching.

7. Changes in Blood Volume

An expecting mother will have about 2 more liters of blood (which increases gradually from about the 10th to 34th week of pregnancy) than usual because it is needed to supply oxygen and nourishment to the baby. As such the woman needs to take more iron to facilitate the manufacture of red blood cells, so that the blood does not become diluted. The blood volume returns to normal after delivery.

8. Changes in the Heart

At the end of the 28th week, the heart is being cramped into the chest cavity by the expanding uterus. It enlarges in late pregnancy. Usual non-pregnant woman’s heart pumps 70 beats a minute, while the pregnant woman’s heart pumps 10 beats faster.

9. Changes in Blood Pressure

Sporadic drops in the blood pressure will occur throughout various stages of a woman’s pregnancy.

10. Changes in the Lungs

The effect of the pregnancy hormones on the brain and the lower concentration of carbon dioxide in the lungs result in shortness of breath. The lungs will be enlarged and displaced by the enlarged uterus. This may cause some discomfort to the mother.

11. Changes in Urinary System

The kidneys will enlarge. They have to filter 50 per cent more blood than in the non-pregnant state. The enlarging uterus compresses and congests the bladder. This increases the frequency of urination, sometimes leading to slight incontinence.

12. Changes in Gastro-Intestinal Tract

The enlarged uterus in pregnancy displaces the stomach and the intestines. Progesterone causes indigestion and constipation. The gall bladder enlarges and becomes flaccid.

13. Changes in the mouth

Gums may be swollen and puffy and gums may bleed more easily.

14. Changes in Bones and Joints

Hormones during pregnancy have been known to soften bones especially around the back and the pelvis. This softening is in preparation for the eventual birth of the baby whereby the cervix will open. However, due to this softness, excessive walking and carrying of heavy loads can really damage the woman's back, sometimes causing severe backache.

15. Changes in Biochemistry

The mother’s metabolism alters to meet the nutritional, respiratory and excretory demands of the child in her. Her body prepares for labor and lactation. Water retention, fat levels in the blood increase, albumin falls in concentration as blood volume increases and antibody concentrations decrease while fibrinogen increases. Protein is withdrawn from the circulation. New red blood cells are made by using up the iron. Copper concentration in the blood increases. Calcium and magnesium are carried by the diminishing amounts of protein, causing them to decrease.

16. Changes in Skin

Some pregnant women have better complexions than when they were not pregnant, while others are less fortunate. Stretch marks develop over the abdomen, breasts, thighs and derriere of over 75 per cent of women. Pigmentation occurs in a thin vertical line stretching from the lower end of the breast bone (sternum) to the pubic bone. This dark line (linea nigra) is more obvious between pubis and navel.
Some women may develop pigmentation of the face around the eyes, on the forehead and cheeks, and the mother may look as though she is wearing a mask – the so-called mask of pregnancy. Both abdominal and facial pigmentation fade once the pregnancy is over. Varicose veins appear in the lower limbs and the vulva of some women. Some women may have the vascular spiders as well.

17. Changes in Hair and Nails

Hair and nails will grow more quickly during pregnancy. This is partially due to the additional hormones that the body is producing. The mother will notice that your hair is shinier, bright and thicker. However, this addition may be lost after pregnancy.

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