Physical changes in pregnancy and how to cope with them

Physical changes in pregnancy and how to cope with them

Pregnancy is an amazing and exciting time of change. However, at times it may feel like your body is not your own! Your changing hormone levels cause the physical changes you see and feel throughout your pregnancy. Some of these hormones include:
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) –the hormone that early pregnancy tests check for. Also causes nausea.
  • Progesterone –relaxes the uterus and prevents it from contracting too much. It also helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and allows you to better absorb nutrients from food.
  • Estrogen –makes the uterus grow and increases its blood supply. Increases vaginal mucous production, and stimulates changes in the breasts, water retention, body fat buildup, and skin pigmentation.
  • Relaxin –relaxes and softens your ligaments, cartilage and cervix, making these tissues more stretchable during pregnancy. Helps the pelvic joints widen during birth.
  • Oxytocin –causes the uterus to contract during labor, and is also responsible for the milk let-down reflex for breastfeeding.

    Ways to cope with the common discomforts


    Change You May ExperienceWhat May Be Causing ItHelpful Tips
    Abdominal achiness and crampingThe growing uterus stretches the ligaments which hold it in place Stand straight - poor posture can cause or aggravate this pain. Do not stand for long periods. Get up slowly, supporting your growing baby
    BackacheThe softening of the joints and ligaments of your spine and pelvis, and the increased weight of your growing abdomen puts stress on your lower backExercise and stretch regularly. Avoid high heels, heavy lifting and standing for long periods. Tilt your pelvis to relieve ache. Apply heat or ice; take a warm bath; massage. Maintain good posture
    Bleeding gumsPregnancy hormones can cause changes to your gumsUse a soft bristle toothbrush. Brush and floss regularly. See your dentist regularly
    Breast changesThe increase in hormones causes tingling, heaviness and tenderness; areola darkens and nipples enlarge in order to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding. After the fifth month, you may leak colostrum from your breasts • Wear a supportive bra that fits properly (you may need to wear it to bed as well)
    ClumsinessIncreased elasticity and softening of certain tissues around your joints. Centre of gravity and balance may be alteredMake adjustments in your environment and lifestyle. Avoid high heels. Be careful lifting and carrying objects. Watch out for wet, slippery or uneven surfaces
    ConstipationHigh levels of progesterone. Pressure from the growing uterus. Use of iron supplements Eat foods high in fiber (whole grain foods, fruit, vegetables and legumes). Drink lots of non-caffeinated fluids. Exercise regularly. Speak with your health care provider
    Dizziness/FaintingAnemia, changing positions too quickly, hyperventilation, rectal pressure, hormonal changes, hunger and low blood sugar, lower blood pressureChange positions slowly. Avoid skipping meals; have small, nutritious snacks between meals. Exercise regularly, Avoid standing still for long periods
    FatigueRapidly changing hormones, increased demands on your body as baby grows, low blood pressure and low blood sugarPace yourself and rest during the day. Eat well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly. Get as much sleep as you can.
    Frequent urinationThe growing uterus puts pressure on your bladder. Kidneys produce more urineAvoid drinking excess fluids before bed. Contact your health care provider with unusual symptoms
    HeadachesCommon during pregnancy due to stress, fatigue, hunger, dehydration, increased breast size, etc. Report a severe headache (causing blurred vision, nausea, or spots to appear in front of eyes) to your health care provider!Take a warm bath. Massage. Tension-reducing exercises (such as shoulder circles) and relaxation techniques. Heat or cold compresses. Eat small meals often and drink enough fluids. Take naps and rest throughout the day
    Hand pain and numbnessExcess tissue fluid puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels. Often occurs during the night or first thing in the morning.Avoid sleeping on hands or on your arm. Use pillows to support you. Do hand exercises and shoulder circles. Apply heat or cold packs. Talk with your health care provider.
    HeartburnDigestion slows, the amount of space in your abdomen decreases, and reflux can occur as the stomach pushes upwardsSmall frequent meals. Sleep propped up. Try not to lie down right after eating. Drink fluids between meals. Avoid foods which may trigger heartburn (i.e. coffee, chocolate, citrus, spicy foods). Consult your health care provider
    HemorrhoidsGrowing uterus puts pressure on the swollen blood vessels in the rectum. May cause pain and bleedingAvoid constipation (see above). Avoid straining to have a bowel movement. Use a sitz bath or ice packs. Speak to your health care provider
    Leg crampsPressure of the uterus on blood vessels and nerves may lead to muscle cramping. FatigueDo leg stretches and exercise regularly. Point your toes up toward your head if leg cramps do occur. Massage and apply heat. Ensure adequate calcium intake. Avoid standing for long periods
    Nasal congestion/ nose bleedsIncreased swelling in the lining of your noseAvoid dry air in your bedroom use a humidifier. Saline drops in your nose may help.
    Nausea and vomitingOften called "morning sickness", but can occur at any timeEat something before getting out of bed (sandwich, crackers) • Eat small amounts often • Avoid drinking fluids during meals • Limit fatty, spiced and fried foods • Avoid strong odors • Tap a nap during the day and rest more often • Talk to your health care provider if concerned.
    Shortness of breathAs your uterus increases in size, the diaphragm is pushed up towards the lungs making it more difficult to breathAdjust your level of activity • Prop your head up on pillows when you lay down • Slow down and relax • Wear loose fitting clothes
    Skin changesThese can include: darkening of the skin, linea nigra (line down abdomen), and stretch marks • Hormonal changes, changes in the elasticity and pigmentation of the skin, and increases in blood and fluid volumes/Moisturize skin if itchy • Avoid hot baths • Eat a healthy diet and drink lots of fluid • Limit sun exposure • There is nothing you can do to prevent stretch marks
    Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet or Varicose veinsHormonal changes and increased body weight • A small amount of swelling is normal by the end of each day; it should mostly disappear by the time you get up the next morningDrink plenty of fluids • Raise your legs above the level of your heart • Get plenty of rest • Wear loose fitting clothing and comfortable shoes • Avoid standing for long periods • Avoid wearing high heels • Do not cross your legs when seated
    Vaginal dischargeDue to hormonal changesShower or bathe daily • Do not use any bubble bath, bath oils, gels or perfume in your bath - these can contribute to yeast infections • Do not use douches
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