Learn About Changes in Your Body During Pregnancy
How to deal with your changing body as you baby grows
You may have noticed certain changes in your body as your pregnancy has progressed. That’s totally normal. Many of the changes that take place in each body system are due to hormones. We have taken a closer look at some of the change you might see or feel, so you know what to expect.
Changes to your mouth
Gingivitis (swollen gums) is common during pregnancy, beginning around the second month and lasting until the middle of the third trimester. This is caused by the effects of hormones on the gum tissue, as well as an increase in plaque formation during pregnancy. The gum tissue has receptor sites for the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen causes the amount of blood that flows to the mouth to increase, which speeds up the turnover rate of cells in gum tissue. Progesterone, as well as another hormone, estradiol, produce prostaglandins, which alter the body’s normal response to inflammation during pregnancy. These changes cause the lining of gum tissue to become thinner, which may cause the gums to bleed more easily.
It is very important to maintain good dental hygiene during pregnancy. A soft toothbrush can be used to limit the discomfort and bleeding of the gums.
There is an old wives’ tale regarding pregnancy causing a woman’s teeth to become weak due to decreased amounts of calcium, which was needed to form the baby’s bones. In reality, the mother has calcium stored in her body that is used for baby. Because of the changes in her gum tissue, she may be more aware of new or existing cavities.
Increased levels of heartburn
The increased amounts of progesterone may cause the sphincter (valve) between the esophagus and stomach to relax, making it easier for secretions in the stomach to enter the lower esophagus, causing heartburn. To minimize the frequency and severity of heartburn, it may help to:
- Choose bland foods over spicy
- Eat small amounts of food at frequent intervals and avoid eating before bed
- Stay away from foods that lower the pressure of the sphincter (valve) of the esophagus, such as chocolate and caffeine
- Avoid lying down for at least one hour after you eat
- Chew gum
- Elevate the top half of your body when lying down
Talk to your physician or midwife about the use of antacids after meals and before you go to bed. He, or she, will tell you what antacids are safe to use during pregnancy.1
Difficulties with bowel movements
Constipation is a common problem during pregnancy due to the changes in the way that your body moves fluids from one place to the other, and the amount that is absorbed in the large intestine. Also, during pregnancy, the body produces large amounts of the hormone progesterone, which relaxes the muscles in the large intestine, causing everything to move a little slower.
A few things that may help with constipation are:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Eat foods that are high-fiber/bulk laxatives, such as fruits and raw vegetables
- Eat foods that are high in fiber, bran, and wheat
Talk to your physician or midwife about the use of stool softeners and/or laxatives if constipation is a problem. Do not take any medication without asking.2
During your pregnancy, you may experience hemorrhoids for the first time. They occur due to the pressure caused by the uterus, as well as increased pressure in the veins in the pelvis. If they become painful, talk to your physician or midwife.
A few things3 that may help with hemorrhoids are:
- Sitz baths
- Applying witch hazel (Tucks) to the area
- Eating foods high in fiber
- Drinking plenty of fluids
Changes in your eyes during pregnancy
During pregnancy, the cornea becomes thicker and may even become slightly swollen, especially after your 28th week of pregnancy (third trimester). This is caused by the extra amount of water in your body when you are pregnant. You may notice that your contact lenses are no longer comfortable.
There are even changes in your tears. Some women notice that their contact lenses feel greasy and your eyes dry.
You may notice a slight change in your vision. In some women, there are changes in the refractory power in the eyes. Due to the changes that occur in the eyes during pregnancy, it is recommended that you wait several weeks after your baby is delivered to have your eyes examined for prescription glasses or contact lenses.4
Changes in your nose
During pregnancy, you may experience a stuffy nose. This is due to the increased amount of water in your body, as well as changes that happen in your autonomic nervous system. If you are bothered by nasal stuffiness, talk to your doctor or midwife before using any type of nasal spray. Nasal sprays that contain the ingredient, pseudoephedrine, should not be used during pregnancy due to the risk of a specific birth defect (gastroschisis).5
Changes in your ears
You may notice that your ears seem to be stuffy, or blocked. This may be due to the changes in the mucus membranes due to the increased amount of water in your body during pregnancy.6
Changes in your sleeping patterns
It is common for pregnant women to wake up during the night, sometimes a few times, to use the restroom. Pregnancy changes the way the body handles water and electrolytes. The renal system (kidneys, ureters, and bladder) are responsible for many of the changes. During pregnancy, the kidneys hold on to extra water (to protect you and your baby in case of dehydration). They also hold on to extra electrolytes in the fluid, such as sodium, potassium, and glucose.
You may notice that your lower legs, ankles, and feet, become slightly swollen throughout the day.
During the day, when you are standing or sitting, the growing uterus puts pressure on the iliac vein and inferior vena cava, causing the extra fluid to be trapped in your legs. At night, when you lie down (especially on your left side), the pressure is removed, allowing the fluid (and extra sodium) that was trapped in your legs to be circulated through your renal system and sent to your bladder. Although this is a good thing, it often results in several trips to the restroom during the night.
To reduce the bathroom trips during the night, try resting on your left side during the evening, allowing some of this extra fluid to circulate through the renal system earlier, which may cut down on the number of bathroom trips during the night.
You may also try to drink less fluids in the evening before bed. Remember to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day though.7
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- Richter, J. (2005). Review Article: The management of heartburn in pregnancy. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 22(9), 749-757. Doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2005.02654.x
- Steinlauf, A., Chang, P., & Traube, M. (2004). Gastrointestinal complications. In Burrow, G., Duffy, T., & Copel, J (Eds.). Medical complications during pregnancy (6th ed.). Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders
- Avsar, A., & Keskin, H. (2010). Haemorrhoids during pregnancy. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 30(3), 231-237. doi: 10.3109/01443610903439242
- Omoti, A., Wazin-Erameh, J., & Okeigbemen, V. (2008). A review of the changes in ophthalmic and visual system in pregnancy. African Journal of Reproductive Health, 12(3), 185-196. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19435022
- Schatz, M. (1998). Special considerations for the pregnant woman and senior citizen with airway disease. Journal of Clinical Immunology, 101(2), S373-378. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9500732
- Kumar, R., Hayhurst, K., & Robson, A. (2011). Ear, nose, and throat manifestations during pregnancy. Journal of American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, 145(2), 188-198. doi: 10.1177/0194599811407572
- Fiadjoe, P., Kannan, K., & Rane. A. (2010). Maternal urological problems in pregnancy. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, 152(1), 13-17. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2010.04.013