All the strange and beautiful things that are happening to your body, explained by an expert!
Most of you knew that your body and mind was never going to be the same again after you plunged into the adventure of motherhood. You’d probably read all the books, scoured the internet, quizzed your Ob-Gyn and observed your pregnant friends and new mums. But because you have always been a planner, you thought you were far better prepared for what lies ahead. Turns out, there’s always a symptom that you never thought would happen to you. We explain just why some of these weird and wonderful pregnancy symptoms occur.
1. Baby Brain
A study released in 2018 suggested the once-considered old wives’ tale of pregnancy or baby brain is, in fact, a very real phenomenon. The findings showed that the brain’s grey matter shrinks while pregnant so that a mother’s brain can be reshaped to respond in different ways and adapt to the demands of caring for their new arrival. The effects of baby brain usually manifest themselves in increased forgetfulness, impaired decision-making and lack of concentration – so leaving your keys/phone/wallet in the fridge may happen more than once during this time! The studies also show that the effects can last for up to two years post-birth…with that in mind, perhaps having a few spare sets of keys to hand might not be such a bad idea!
2. Frequent toilet trips
It almost goes without saying that, throughout the duration of your pregnancy, you will be spending a lot of time to-ing and fro-ing from the bathroom. During these nine months the hormones associated with pregnancy, along with the physical changes of carrying a growing baby, will have a notable impact on your urinary system. Hormones will stimulate your kidneys to expand and expel waste more efficiently. Add to that your little one applying more and more pressure on your bladder as the weeks go by, and it makes for an interesting combination as far as your toilet habits are concerned! Expect multiple toilet trips throughout the night in the third trimester in particular. Think of it as your bodies way of helping to prepare you for those frequent wake-up calls with a newborn!
3. Food Cravings
We’ve all heard about some of the many weird and wonderful food combinations that women crave during pregnancy. Whether that be the urge to dip bananas in ketchup like Beyoncé herself, or suddenly craving foods you had never previously liked, it’s no secret that pregnancy has a profound effect on your appetite. While we don’t know exactly what causes these changes – it’s most likely to be due to hormone levels (of dopamine in particular). With dopamine levels dropping during pregnancy, it’s more likely that women will crave the feel-good factor of comfort foods rather than salads or veggies. Therefore, it’s quite likely that foods you haven’t thought about eating in years (or actively avoided!) will suddenly be at the top of your grocery shopping list!
Nesting can be most accurately described as a mother’s overwhelming urge to ready her environment for the impending new arrival, with this instinct being at its strongest in the latter weeks of pregnancy. Not all women experience nesting and those who do can experience it in very different ways, from organising their baby clothes neatly into drawers, to deep cleaning the entire apartment…daily! Nesting most commonly occurs at around the 38th and 39th weeks of pregnancy, so be careful to only do what you feel is safe and delegate any heavy lifting to others.
5. Temperature Regulation (or lack of!)
An increase in your basal body temperature can often be one of the first signs of pregnancy, and a slightly higher core temperature will be maintained throughout the following nine months. With that being said, it’s not surprising that a lot of pregnant women run hot! Wearing loose-fitting clothing and drinking plenty of fluids will certainly help and a hand-held fan will quickly become a handbag staple.
6. Morning (all day!) Sickness
Although commonly referred to as morning sickness, nausea and vomiting associated with early pregnancy can strike at any time of day and varies in severity from woman to woman. This, again, is down to hormones along with a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy. The majority of women experience a low level of nausea on and off throughout the day, which can be exacerbated by an empty stomach. Although you may very well not feel like eating, doing so can help relieve the nausea symptoms. Eating little and often, as well as carrying some light snacks in your handbag for those emergency hunger pangs, can contribute to keeping nausea in check. Some women also find that wearing motion sickness bands and drinking ginger tea can make all the difference. The good news is that (for most!) morning sickness tends to resolve itself after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Pregnancy is tiring work for a whole host of reasons (many of which are being listed in this article!), and naps will quickly become your best friend during these nine months and beyond. By the end of the first trimester, your body will have completed the mammoth task of building the placenta, and many women report noticeably decreased energy levels during this time. It’s perfectly normal for your usual exercise routine and social life to take a bit of a back seat in early pregnancy, and first-trimester fatigue typically improves between weeks 16 to 20. However, persistent and excessive tiredness can be a sign of low levels of iron in your blood, which can often be associated with light-headedness and heart palpitations. Be sure to have your doctor or midwife check your iron levels if you have any of these symptoms and add plenty of green, leafy vegetables and red meat to the menu!
8. Bleeding Gums
Another unexpected pregnancy symptom can be sensitive, bleeding gums when brushing your teeth, most likely due to hormonal and dietary changes. With this in mind, try to visit your dentist at least once during the antenatal period for a check-up and clean and be sure to inform them of your pregnancy prior to the appointment. Adding plenty of vitamin C to your diet will help to promote healthy gums, while that extra glass of milk to up your calcium intake will work wonders for your teeth (and bones!).
Another common (and potentially blush-inducing!) symptom of pregnancy is excessive wind, gassiness and feelings of bloating. This time, increased levels of progesterone are to blame, as this causes your muscles to relax and, in turn, results in a build-up of gas in the body. This is a completely normal, though not entirely comfortable, experience and there are a few things that can be done to ease your symptoms. Trying to avoid constipation is important so think plenty of fluids and high-fibre foods such as prunes, figs, bananas and whole-grains. Physical activity can also help speed up digestion so adding some exercise, however light, into your daily routine can help work to banish the bloat!
10. Thicker Hair And Nails
By week 20 of pregnancy, some women may notice that their hair and nails are growing much more rapidly than they were before. Again, hormones are the main culprits as rising estrogen levels, along with increased blood circulation, result in extra nutrients being provided to your hair and nails. This means that you will shed less hair than usual, and you may also notice that your hair is shinier during pregnancy. Not that we’re complaining about the latter!