DURING pregnancy, your body goes through an extraordinary amount of change – you are growing a human after all.
But in some situations, and especially for first-time mothers, some changes can be scary and it's often hard to know what's normal and what's not.
In a bid to alleviate some worries, we spoke to Essex Fertility's Gill Hind – a visceral osteopath who specialises in women's pelvic health for fertility, pregnancy and post natal recovery – about 10 of the main ways your body changes during pregnancy.
"Weight gain is perfectly normal through pregnancy and it will not just be due to the baby’s weight," Gill explains.
"There are momentous physiological changes happening through increased blood volume (nearly 50%), increased red blood cells (20% increase), increased size of the uterus (2000%) and amniotic fluid."
Amniotic fluid surrounds the baby while it is growing in the uterus, and has several functions including maintaining a sterile environment for the baby, protecting the umbilical cord and allowing the baby to grow in a medium that is less affected by gravitational forces.
"Up to about 21 weeks the baby is basically floating in amniotic fluid," Gill explains.
"By week 26 the buoyancy effect of amniotic fluid will mean that apparent weight is about 60 to 80% less than the actual weight of the baby.
"Amniotic fluid at 10 weeks is 30ml, at 20 weeks it is 300ml at 30 weeks is it 600ml and at 38 weeks it is a magnificent 1000ml!"
Your midwife will keep an eye on your weight gain during pregnancy, and will regularly measure your stomach to check you're on the right track.
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If they have any concerns about the size of your bump, they will probably refer you for a scan to double check everything's going well.
"The genetic make up of your skin is probably your biggest indicator as to whether you will get stretch marks," Gill says.
"The extent to which you will get them also depends the amount of weight gain and the location of it during pregnancy."
The skin contains fibres called elastin, which gives it a stretchy quality.
And the amount of elastin you have is dependant on your genetic make up.
"But all is not lost – like a lot of elastic structures, its ability to bounce back to its former shape is good until it reaches its elastic limit," Gill says.
"The elastic limit can be affected by environmental factors like nutrition, sun damage and hydration – so these factors are within your control."
Try to limit your exposure to the sun, and use a high factor sun cream if you are outside.
In addition, ensure you have a healthy, balanced diet and are well hydrated.
It's very normal to feel tired in pregnancy – especially in the first 12 weeks.
Think of just how much your body is changing and adapting to the new life growing inside of you.
"Your body has to adjust to maintain your health and the health of the baby inside of you,” OBGYN Dr. Kelley Saunders says.
"The physiologic changes and increased metabolic demand start in early pregnancy and can continue even after childbirth while breastfeeding.”
It can often be one of the first signs of pregnancy for many women, and is likely to last at least until the second trimester of pregnancy.
It may also return late in the third trimester.
However, if you continue struggling with extreme fatigue into the second and third trimesters, it's worth mentioning to your doctor or midwife, as it could be a sign of an underlying issue such as gestational diabetes, anaemia or thyroid problems.
"There are 4 cycles of hair growth," Gill explains.
"Anagen, the growing phase, is the longest phase and can be from 3 to 5 years – even up to 7 years (for hair on the head).
"Catagen, the transition phase, lasts for about 10 days, and involves the follicles starting to shrink and the growth slowing down.
"The Telogen phase is the resting phase. There is no growth during this phase at all and it can last around 3 months.
"Finally, the Exogen or shedding phase where you can normally lose between 50-100 hairs per day.
"When the hair falls out another starts to grow from the follicle and the anagen phase begins again."
For some women, an increase in the oestrogen hormone during pregnancy may extend the anagen phase of the cycle.
"For some women,the increase in oestrogen hormone during pregnancy may extend the anagen phase of hair growth," Gill explained.
"So fewer hairs are moving into the telogen/exogen phase.
"There can be an increase of 10% in the number of hairs in anagen phase during pregnancy (from 85% to 95%) and this results in a head of hair that appears thicker and seems to grow faster."
But while some women experience thick, luscious locks during pregnancy, others will lose hair.
This can be down to a variety of factors, such as the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) you have in your system, your thyroid levels, the amount of zinc in your body or a lack of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, iron, folic acid or B12.
You can help this by taking supplements.
"Folic acid is important to take in the lead up to conception and early pregnancy to promote the growth of your baby’s nervous system," Gill said.
"And vitamin D should be supplemented throughout most, if not all, of the year."
If you follow a vegan or plant based diet, it's also important to regularly take B12 supplements.
You may also find you lose hair after giving birth – this is due to another change in the body's oestrogen levels.
"There are huge changes to the breast tissue during pregnancy," Gill continues.
"Hormones changes during pregnancy encourage fat deposition, an increase in gland ducts and gland alveoli.
"Breasts can feel tender and engorged – especially once milk comes in after the birth."
It's best to avoid underwired bras during pregnancy if possible, and have regular bra fittings.
Make sure you stress to the person doing your fitting that you are pregnant.
Blocked milk ducts, mastitis and milk flow issues are other breast problems that can emerge post-pregnancy.
If you struggle with any of these, speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor, or seek help from a lactation specialist.
"Specialised cellular connections start to form between the cells of the uterus during pregnancy," Gill explains.
"These allow changes in communication between the cells in a similar way to how the heart muscle works."
As these connections increase, uterine contractions become more frequent.
And in the second half of pregnancy, it's quite likely that you may experience Braxton-Hicks contractions.
"This is simply the uterus 'practicing' that intercellular communication ready for when labour starts and the whole uterus acts as a co-ordinated contracting unit," Gill adds.
As your baby gets bigger, your internal organs will get shifted around and compressed – with the bladder one of the organs most affected.
As the bladder is flattened, there's less space for urine, meaning that you can feel like you need to urinate all the time.
This feeling should go away within a few weeks of giving birth.
However, lots of women find that giving birth has a long-lasting impact on their bladder.
This is because pregnancy and a vaginal birth causes the pelvic muscles to stretch and become weaker – leading to a loss in bladder control for many women.
It's important to keep up with your pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy and post birth to try and avoid too much of an impact on your bladder.
The cardiovascular system
"The amount of blood pumped through the mum’s heart changes from below 5L/min before pregnancy to 7L/min through by 20 weeks," Gill explains.
"This change in our circulation system can cause some women to experience light headedness when they move from sitting to standing."
Gill added that the change can be more noticeable if you're dehydrated, so it's very important to make sure you're drinking enough fluids – especially in the summer.
"If you experience light-headedness, ask your midwife to check your blood pressure," she says.
"Baby is obviously not able to use its own lungs for oxygen – it is totally reliant on picking up all its oxygen needs from mum; mum is effectively breathing for both," Gill explains.
And there are various changes that happen during pregnancy which impact this process, including an increase to the volume of blood being pumped by the heart and more blood passing through the lungs.
Effectively, "the whole oxygen intake and distribution system becomes more efficient," Gill says.
But sometimes baby can get in the way – as it grows it can start to put pressure on your diaphragm and inside of your lower rib cage which can make it feel as though you are unable to breathe deeply and easily.
"This can go on to cause neck and shoulder pain as we recruit other muscles to help expand and contract the ribcage when we breathe," she says.
As you near the end of pregnancy, the baby should drop into the pelvic bowl – making it easier and more comfortable for you to breathe again.
"If your breathing pattern has not returned to normal after the birth, seek help from a therapist who specialises in post-natal care such as a Women’s Health Osteopath/Physio, a Visceral Osteopath or MommyMot™ therapist," Gill suggested.
Generalised body pain
"Some women may experience joint pain, pelvic pain or back pain during pregnancy," Gill says.
"Sometimes this can be in quite a small specific area or sometimes this pain can travel perhaps into the buttocks or down the leg or radiate round to the front of the pelvis.
"It is important to remember how much the body is changing through pregnancy plus adapting to the growing baby who, quite frankly, has no concerns with what it is pressing on, or kicking into."
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If you require temporary pain relief it is advised to talk to your pharmacist regarding appropriate pain medication during pregnancy.
"But if pain persists there is help out there with women’s health specialised osteopaths and physiotherapists who can assess where your body might be struggling, give advice, exercises or refer back to your GP for follow up if required," Gill advises.
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