Changes You May Experience During Pregnancy
Although many weeks may pass before there are outward signs of pregnancy, tremendous changes are taking place in your body. You may feel a wide range of physical and emotional reactions. Even if you've been pregnant before, you may well find that no two pregnancies are the same, and that you have a different set of reactions and feelings to this particular pregnancy.
Here are some of the things that commonly occur, and some ideas on how to manage so you feel your best. Please ask your obstetric provider about any concerns you may have related to the changes in your body, your emotions, and your life during this special time.
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Many pregnant women feel more tired than usual in the first weeks of pregnancy. This is normal as your body adjusts to meeting the needs of your growing baby.
Nausea, vomiting, or heartburn
Pregnancy hormones affect the way your stomach works. They also affect your sense of smell and appetite. In some cases, this leads to nausea. Some women find that strong odors or spicy foods make nausea worse. Hormones can also affect the acid in your stomach, leading to classic symptoms of heartburn or indigestion.
Food cravings, food aversions, and hunger
Many women experience food cravings during pregnancy. In general, this does not pose a problem. If you crave sweets such as ice cream, it's okay to indulge occasionally. But try to limit your intake of foods high in fats and sugars. Cravings for more nutritious foods can almost always be satisfied without worry. You may also suddenly find that you can't stand the thought of a food you once adored. Food aversions are also common now, and should not worry you as long as you continue to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. (See more tips on healthy eating in the Eating Well section.)
Pregnancy hormones can trigger headaches in some women. This may be especially true if you were prone to headaches before you got pregnant. Some women have headaches related to vision changes during pregnancy. In these cases, adjusting the eyeglass prescription may help.
Frequent urination, leaking urine
Early in pregnancy, hormones can cause you to urinate more frequently than usual. They also relax the muscles in your genital area, which can lead to leakage of urine. Later, your baby's weight puts pressure on the bladder, which can also cause frequency and leakage. Don't be concerned about going to the bathroom a lot, unless there is pain or burning when you use the bathroom. If this happens, be sure to call for advice - you could have an infection. If urine leakage becomes a severe or ongoing problem, now or in the future, please be sure to tell your provider. Treatments are available that help many women.
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Breast tenderness, leaking fluid
Hormones cause your breasts to get larger during pregnancy, and can also sometimes cause fluid to leak from your breasts. Wear a support bra in the right size. Make sure the bra fits well.
Your body naturally increases the secretions in your vagina during pregnancy. The secretions help prevent bacteria from entering the uterus, and should be white or very pale yellow. They should not be bloody, smell bad, or cause pain or itching; tell your provider if they are.
Gas, constipation, hemorrhoids
Early in pregnancy, hormone changes affect your stomach and bowels, causing more gas and, in some women, constipation. Later, the pressure of the baby on your intestines can interfere with moving the bowels. All the usual diet and exercise remedies for these problems also help when you are pregnant. Drink plenty of fluids, get enough exercise, and make sure you have fiber in your diet. Hormones cause the walls of the blood vessels in your rectum to relax, which can lead to hemorrhoids. Later, the pressure of the baby can make the problem worse. Constipation can also worsen hemorrhoids.
Changes in your legs
The weight of your baby can have an effect on the blood vessels in your legs. For some women, varicose veins become an issue during pregnancy. For others, swelling of the ankles and feet is a problem. For mild swelling, elevating your feet and legs whenever you can is the best treatment. For more severe swelling, or to treat swollen veins in your legs (varicose veins), you may want to try compression stockings.
Most women are aware of how hormones can affect mood and emotions. The hormone changes of pregnancy will probably have some effect on how you feel. In addition, just being pregnant is bound to cause strong emotions, which vary depending on whether the pregnancy \was planned, whether you have people around you to provide support, and how much stress you feel in your daily life. While "mood swings" are normal to a certain extent, some women are prone to develop problems such as depression during this time. Be sure to talk with your obstetric provider about any feelings that are causing you concern.
Changes in relationships
Pregnancy is a time when relationships shift and change in new ways. Some partners pull together as they prepare for the birth of their baby. However, pregnancy can also increase the stress or tension in a relationship.
Now more than ever, it is important that you make sure you feel safe at home. For more information, or to talk with someone further about these issues, please call the Center for Violence Prevention and Recovery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at 617-667-8141.
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This material was prepared by clinicians from the departments of nursing, obstetrics and gynecology, physical therapy, and nutrition at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.