by: Li Jin
Your doctor has just confirmed what you are suspecting – the nausea, fatigue and depression are actually signs that you and your husband will soon be expecting a bundle of joy. After the initial excitement has worn off, you start wondering “What happens now?”
Whether you are a first-time mother or someone who has been through multiple pregnancies, every new pregnancy is bound to bring some trepidation. You feel happy yet anxious, excited yet depressed, energetic yet tired. On top of it all, you wonder if it is normal to be feeling like that!
Although you read about what is happening to your fetus, it is still hard to feel a real connection (until perhaps the third trimester when baby starts kicking). It helps to know what is happening to your body throughout the nine months of pregnancy so that you will not be unduly alarmed by the month-by-month physical, emotional and mental changes:
The most common sign of pregnancy is the cessation of the menstrual period. Yet, many women miss this sign, sometimes because their monthly cycles are not regular or because they continue to have spotting during their menstrual period even though they are already pregnant. The spotting is caused by the new blood vessels that are being formed. Only an internal or pelvic examination can tell that you are pregnant.
The initial signs would begin- morning sickness, a heightened sense of smell and decreased appetite. You might even start losing weight due to the constant vomiting and the repulsion to foods you normally enjoy. Your kidneys would also function over-effectively, giving you a constant need to empty your bladders. Still, some women may just think they are ill instead of pregnant at this point!
If you are attentive, you may notice some skin changes at this point in the form of dark patches on the face, freckles and small red spots. Some women experience dizziness and extreme fatigue from the hormonal changes in their body. You may find the smell of tea, coffee, the smells of certain perfumes or cooking oil unbearable. This period is often the hardest for most mothers because they feel so unwell.
It may not be obvious to others yet but you know that your waist has thickened and your breasts have grown bigger. You may experience dizziness or fainting spells at this point due to a drop in blood-pressure as a result of the enlarged uterus pressing on major blood vessels, or the blood pooling at your feet due to hormonal changes that widen your blood vessels.
Your organs are also adapting to the pregnancy- your stomach may start emptying its contents slower, so you may experience some heartburn and constipation. To avoid that, take smaller but frequent meals instead of the three main meals and include lots of fiber in your diet.
The good news is that the danger of miscarriage is now much less. Your breasts will feel fuller and more tender as milk sacs and fat start forming, in preparation for breastfeeding. Mood swings may be common at this point- one minute you can be cheerful and smiling, the next minute, you may feel sad, tearful or irritated.
You may start experiencing leg cramps and varicose veins as the fetus presses down upon your veins. However, you will be feeling better, now that the hormones stabilize and the fatigue, frequent need to urinate and nausea would have lessened.
Your hair and skin will develop a glow due to the increased blood flow around the body. You may need pregnancy clothes by now, not just because your pregnancy is starting to show but because you will start feeling hot! Some women will develop a dark line known as linea nigra between the navel to pubic area.
Your pregnancy starts to get exciting because you start experiencing your baby’s first movements! The skin around the nipple, the aerola, would have turned a darker shade and your nipples would be enlarged. Soon, you will start producing ‘colustrum’, a thick yellowish fluid filled with important antibodies that will nourish your baby on the first few days before the secretion of breast milk.
Your uterus would have grown so much that your center of gravity is shifted and you probably feel off-balance. If you are working, you may need to change your high heels to low-heeled pumps for now. Your doctor will usually recommend an ultrasound test this month to assess fetal growth and development, screen for birth defects, check the placenta and umbilical cord and determine whether the gestation period is correct.
Some women may suffer from more flatulence and belching and become more prone to stuffy noses and nosebleeds. Your navel will look weird because it is popped inside-out, but do not worry, it will get back to normal after baby’s delivery. You may experience sleepless nights if your baby decides to have kung-fu lessons in your womb at night!
The skin around your abdomen would be stretched quite a bit by now, so it may feel
itchy and uncomfortable. Apply lotion or moisturizing cream frequently to alleviate the itch and prevent stretch marks after birth.
Your face may look puffed up from water retention and the increased blood flow, and your appetite seem to have returned with a vengeance as you start having cravings for certain foods.
Some researchers say that these cravings, called ‘pica’, signify that you lack a certain deficiency and what you are craving may actually contain the vitamin or mineral that you lack. Check with your doctor if you have unusual cravings for non-food items such as charcoal.
Your eyes may feel gritty and dry, a condition known as ‘dry-eye’. There may be some vaginal discharge (non-bloody) and you may be getting clumsy soon as a result of your increasing bulge. Some women seem to have problems with bleeding and painful gums at this point, so use a soft-bristled toothbrush.
Your body weight is tipped to the front now and you will have problems bending down to tie your shoelaces or driving. Your fingers, wrists and hands may feel achy and numb. Your doctor will take a glucose test to determine if you have gestational diabetes.
Your body starts practicing for labor by giving you Braxton Hicks contractions, false contractions that make your abdomen go taut for a few seconds. These become more frequent as the date of your delivery draws nearer.
Your placenta will transfer antibodies from your body to the baby so that he will be protected from various bacterial infections for a few months after he is born. As your uterus is already up to your rib cage, you may find yourself short of breath and you will probably be having hemorrhoids, leg cramps and varicose veins for the rest of your pregnancy.
Your breasts would have grown three times its normal size, so you might need to change to a two-cup larger size bra to facilitate your breathing. If you intend to breastfeed later, it helps to massage your breasts daily with a warm cloth during your shower.
Backaches and breathlessness may become more regular now because your internal organs are all being squeezed together by your uterus. Getting someone to rub your back will help ease the pain. There is a lot of pressure on your bladder, which gives you stress incontinence, making you urinate a little every time you cough, laugh or sneeze.
You will feel tired most of the time as your pregnancy comes to its full-term. Your doctor may check you for pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy condition characterized by high-blood pressure, protein in your urine and oedena (swelling of the hands, ankles and face).
You may notice your varicose veins becoming more conspicuous as the progesterone hormone relaxes the blood vessels’ muscular wall. You may not have much appetite at this point because you feel so stuffed! Remember to drink lots of water to avoid swollen ankles or edema. Edema is most common during hot weather.
Standing for long periods of time or bending to lift things may strain your back so avoid them as much as possible. There might be a tingling or numbness from the pelvic region as your baby’s weight presses against your nerves. Towards the end of your pregnancy, you will practically be making your bathroom your second home because the pressure of your baby on your bladder makes you feel like urinating all the time.
The countdown begins! Your body is working extremely hard circulating blood and burning calories, which makes you feel hot all the time. Walking may be a bit uncomfortable because it feels that the baby might drop out any time- but it is just the pressure on the back of your spine.
Some women start getting emotional about the birth now- eager to get over with the birth but apprehensive about the prospect of labor. Your doctor may give you a chart to record your baby’s daily movements.
Despite the fatigue, clumsiness, bodily pains and lack of sleep, you might suddenly be overcome by a sudden burst of energy as you potter around getting the baby’s things ready for his arrival into the world. It is a normal phrase known as ‘nesting’. Do try to conserve the energy as you will need them for the process of labor later!
Braxton Hicks contractions may be very strong now and your cervix may be partially open. Pack your bags for the hospital and get ready to go once the contractions start!
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