Physical changes during pregnancy
Pregnancy lasts for around 40 weeks, and this duration is split into three sections called trimesters. The body of a pregnant woman alters in certain ways during each of these trimesters.
First Trimester (Weeks 1-13 of pregnancy)
Right at the start of pregnancy – sometimes even before you realise you are pregnant – the hormones in your body start to change very rapidly and this has many effects such as your breasts feeing tender and enlarged, significant tiredness, nausea, vomiting, and odd cravings for certain foods.
By the fifth week, you may often feel the need to go to the toilet more frequently to urinate, and your breasts enlarge further with the nipples and the area around them (the areola) starting to grow and become lightly browned. You may feel extremely tired and it is often recommended that pregnant women rest more at this time.
Many women have no problems at this stage of pregnancy but others feel a little dizziness, light-headed, and experience the start of mood swings. By the end of the first trimester, many cases of morning sickness have settled and you start to feel better and more able to enjoy your pregnancy. Skin changes can also start to appear at this time such as pimples and acne.
Second Trimester (Weeks 14-26 of pregnancy)
In this month, you often start to feel the presence of your baby as baby starts to move, kick or punch. Don’t worry if baby has not shown signs of movement because he or she might still want to relax and just move more in the months ahead. Your breasts start to feel more and more enlarged so it is important to make sure that your support bra is correctly fitted and is the right size for you.
In this month, the skin on your stomach can begin to itch because of the skin stretching, and your nipples start to look bigger. You may find that you have to go to the toilet to pass urine more and more often, and there may also be back pain and leg cramps that start to keep you awake at night.
By this stage, back pain may become more frequent and slightly worse because of the baby increasing in size. There may also be some discomfort in your pelvis and within the hip area as the ligaments that support the uterus start to enlarge, becoming painful. After standing for a length of time, you may also notice that your ankles began to swell.
Third Trimester (Weeks 27-40 of pregnancy)
Stretch marks can appear on your abdomen by this stage but these vary widely between women – some women have barely visible marks, others have brown or reddish marks but these will often slowly fade after baby is born. There may also be pain extending from your lower back to your buttocks and down one leg or the other – this is known as sciatica – and bed rest, warm baths or heat pads to the affected area can all help with this. Piles (haemorrhoids) can be a common problem by this stage of pregnancy – these are dilated swollen veins around the rectum – and are best treated by avoiding straining and constipation, staying active, getting off your feet when you can, and taking warm baths daily if they are painful. Sleeping can start to become more difficult around this time as finding a comfortable position in bed isn’t easy.
By this stage, you may start to notice some drops of colostrum leaking out of your nipples. This is a yellowish fluid and is perfectly normal, and is the fluid that baby feeds off in the first few days of life. You may also start to feel contractions called Braxton-Hicks contractions that are like ‘practice’ contractions. These are often painless but can be uncomfortable, and may occur with more frequency when you are active and subside when you rest. The fatigue that you felt in early pregnancy may now start to return and you may also feel slightly more out of breath when exercising. This is due to baby pressing upwards underneath your ribs as he or she grows, and also because of the effect of the hormone progesterone on the breathing centre of the body.
At this late stage, don’t be surprised if you start seeing your belly button starting to stick out, and when the head of your baby settles deep in your pelvis in preparation to coming out (this is known as ‘engaging’) your breathing may feel better but you may also find that your trips to the toilet become even more frequent, along with pressure or sharp twinges in your vagina. This is quite normal.