Congrats! You’re pregnant! Now what?
Few things are as exciting as those first few moments when you find out you’re expecting a child. The joy and amazement and what is about to unfold can be a little bit scary, and you might have a few questions. Specifically, those awkward ones like “what’s going to happen to my body?” and what are the effects of pregnancy.
Well, it’s not really an easy question to answer as it turns out. Because all sorts of incredible, weird, and sometimes unexpected things can happen over the course of a pregnancy. Who isn’t ready and excited for their baby bump or that legendary pregnancy glow? There are so many bodily changes during pregnancy that we look forward to. From the first kick to the adorable late-stage “waddles”.
Some things, like changes in hair color, curl, or even sprouting locks in odd places may not be something that most people talk about. You probably haven’t heard people casually discussing their blue vaginas (what?) or hemorrhoids, either. So a lot of bizarre things might befall you while you’re baking that bun, but all of them are perfectly natural- even if they’re a little unexpected.
Effects of Pregnancy: Quick Overview of How Pregnancy Works
While we’re convinced you’re more than aware of the birds and the bees- pregnancy is a fascinating, genuinely beautiful biological experience. From conception to birth, your entire body kicks into overdrive, making sure that every available system is devoted to the health and happiness of your little one.
First Trimester (Week 1 – Week 12)
During this stage, an egg, originating from the ovaries, is fertilized by sperm. This fertilized egg (called a zygote) then travels down the Fallopian tubes to settle into the cushy walls of the uterus, where it attaches and begins to grow. Quickly becoming an embryo as the two original cells begin to divide and multiply at rapid rates. While our embryo is growing and forming, so is the placenta, which is a whole new organ that helps to feed your baby and removes wastes.
As the embryo grows and becomes a fetus, the cells start to differentiate into structural body systems- like organs and bones, vascular systems, and nerves. Features that we can readily recognize, fingers, toes, eyes, mouths, and ears begin to form. Electrical brain activity begins to start appearing around weeks five and six. Even though all of this is happening, you won’t feel any of that movement until your second trimester.
Second Trimester (Week 13 – Week 27)
During week 17, that random electrical activity that started in weeks five and six begins to form synapses- the functional cells of the brain. These cells continue to develop and multiply until 3 to 4 months following the birth of your child! The second trimester also heralds the time when you might begin to start feeling your baby move around. For some women, that doesn’t happen until the third trimester, but it’s worth the wait.
During this time, the long-awaited “baby bump” appears, and both your child and the newly formed placenta begin to grow larger, expanding the walls of the uterus and causing it to tip forward and out. In fact, during this time the uterus can expand up to 20x its normal size throughout your pregnancy.
Third Trimester (Week 28 – Birth)
In the third trimester, final weight gain takes place, and that baby bump quickly becomes a baby barrel. Or maybe it can feel that way, because, at this time, your entire abdomen will transform in shape as your baby drops downward, preparing for the big show. During the third trimester, the fetus is fully transformed into a recognizable human. While still not fully formed, the transformations that occur during this time are often just expansion and definition of existing structures.
Head size increases, taking pressure off of the lungs, diaphragm, and upper organs, only to reorient it onto your bladder and pelvic floor. While it makes it much easier to breathe, this new position may increase urinary urgency and can sometimes staunch blood flow. This is why it’s important that late-stage pregnancies favor their left side when lying down, keeping your baby from pressing on major veins.
Effects of Pregnancy: Hormones, Here We Come
So that’s a general idea of what’s happening inside of your uterus, but what happens to the rest of your body? Well, get ready for hormones! Hormone fluctuations are something that is readily talked about among pregnant women. Mood swings and emotional variances are absolutely normal. These hormone surges aren’t just responsible for your emotional state, they also help provide the bodily changes that are necessary to help you physically cope with your growing baby.
That beautiful pregnancy glow is an effect of hormonal changes. Estrogen and Progesterone are the biggest hormonal influences of pregnancy. A woman will produce more estrogen during her pregnancy than she will throughout her entire life when she isn’t pregnant. While progesterone and estrogen get a lot of attention during pregnancy- and they should! They’re massively important to aiding fetal development- there are a number of other hormones that play vital roles in your pregnancy and bodily changes.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
FSH is one of the first hormone onslaughts that you’ll experience. This hormone helps to launch your pregnancy, aiding in the release of eggs to be fertilized. Once your eggs have been released and you begin growing your baby, FSH deactivates until next time.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
LH is important during pre-pregnancy, but like FSH, this hormone is inactivated during pregnancy. LH works alongside FSH to regulate menstrual cycles and egg formation and release.
Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)
Thanks to FSH and LH (and Dad), your egg has now been fertilized. Now, hCG steps in and ramps up the production of progesterone and estrogen so your baby can grow quickly and strongly. hCG also suppresses your immune system, to further support the growth of your child.
Love that funny pregnancy walk? You have Relaxin to thank. Relaxin relaxes your muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments so your body is more readily able to give birth with reduced likelihood of injury. However, it can often serve to increase the likelihood of sports or exercise injuries, like sprains and strains.
Placental Growth Factor
This hormone supports the growth and proliferation of your baby’s vascular system. It increases the maternal blood volume necessary to help nourish your baby properly.
Human Placental Lactogen (HPL)
HPL helps get your breasts ready for feeding. Helping them to grow and prepare for the onslaught of milk. It also works closely with the placental growth factor, changing the way the mother’s metabolism works to that energy can be supplied to the child. On the downside, HPL and placental growth factors may block insulin in some mothers, which can result in gestational diabetes.
Oxytocin is around throughout your entire pregnancy but really shines with full potential during birth, causing muscle contractions and stimulating labor.
Along with HPL, prolactin helps your body lactate- or produce milk. It also helps to increase your breast size and ready your ducts.
Effects of Pregnancy: Weird Things No One is Talking About
All of these things, and so many more work together to help you create the life you have been waiting for. But, sometimes, they have some awkward side effects. Mood swings and surprise flatulence are just a few of the unmentionable expectations you can have thanks to hormones.
Increases in sports injuries and a notable increase in vaginal discharge can create some slightly embarrassing situations in public. That blue vagina we mentioned (and we know you’re curious) is due to the changes in your blood vessels that help to better feed your baby. Because of the increased blood flow and blood volume body-wide, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, and baby blue vulvas can all pop-up.
Feet swell from fluid and weight gain, clothes definitely don’t fit right. Some hormones can actually make skin hypersensitive- so certain fabrics you may have once loved can easily become an annoyance, or even worsen morning sickness. Hair and nails may grow luxurious and long, but the hormones can also increase hair loss- or even more oddly, change the way your pubic hair grows.
While you should always discuss concerning symptoms with your doctor, there are many changes experienced throughout pregnancy that can be uncomfortable, painful, and even downright embarrassing. But, whatever happens to your body during this time, enjoy it. Just remember that it’s all worth it.