Obstetrician examining pregnant woman.
By Elizabeth Garchar, MD

10 Strange (but Normal!) Body Changes to Expect during Pregnancy

Headshot Garchar Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Garchar, MD

Food cravings. Morning sickness. Sore and swollen breasts. These are all well-known symptoms that many pregnant women encounter.

But pregnancy can cause all sorts of seemingly strange things to happen to your body. I know firsthand, having experienced several of these side effects during my own prior pregnancy- and I am just getting started again with my second as I am in the second trimester now.

It can be difficult to tell what’s normal and what's not when so many changes are happening at once. So, let’s take a look at some of the less expected – but all normal – side effects of pregnancy, your treatment options and when to talk with a doctor.

1. Heartburn

Why it happens: Heartburn is very common in pregnancy. Your body produces large amounts of progesterone during pregnancy. This hormone relaxes the smooth muscle tissues to prepare for your belly to grow.

But it also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter—a muscle that usually seals stomach acid away from the throat. When lax, this bundle of muscles allows acid and food to travel backward from the stomach, causing a burning sensation in your chest.

Irritation in the throat and stomach from all that acid can lead to nausea, particularly in the first and third trimesters. Heartburn tends to get worse in the third trimester, as your growing baby pushes up against your stomach. So if your nausea comes back with a vengeance, try something for heartburn!

What you can do: To relieve the burn, try an antacid, such as Tums or Rolaids. However, some of these are full of sugar, so be careful if you have diabetes. If that does not help your heartburn, your doctor may suggest over-the-counter acid-reducing medication such as omeprazole, which can prevent heartburn before it starts.

And take heart—some research suggests that babies born to moms who have heartburn are more likely to have a full head of hair!

2. Trouble Sleeping

Why it happens: Pregnancy hormones can cause intense, vivid dreams early in pregnancy, which may wake you up. At about 10 to 12 weeks, you might notice that you need to use the bathroom more often, disrupting your sleep further. Also, as your belly grows, it makes it harder to find a comfortable way to sleep, making those all-important Zzzs even harder to achieve.

Many pregnant women also note that their babies are most active at night—babies tend to be more nocturnal, even into the newborn stage, and you may notice the activity more during pregnancy when you’re lying down making it seem like your little one is quite the night owl.

What you can do: Talk with your doctor before taking any medication or supplement to help you sleep. For many women, Unisom is a safe sleep medication. It's similar to Benadryl. Some patients feel groggy the morning after taking it. And if you struggle with morning sickness, taking a combination of Unisom and vitamin B-6 also may help reduce nausea, too.

Good old fashioned sleep hygiene and meditation are also very helpful to promote healthy sleep and are a good place to start. This includes using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, as well as using the hour before bedtime to do a relaxing routine like a shower or a nice cup of warm milk. But avoid screens, so no TV or phone time right before bed, as this sends the wrong signals to your brain.

Meditation apps that have sleep stories or guided sleep are also wonderful things to add to your in-bed routine. My favorites are Sleep Cycle and Headspace, but Calm and other similar apps are also great.

There is no reliable safety data around taking melatonin during pregnancy, so we do not recommend using it. Also, avoid over-the-counter cold medications that promise a restful sleep. These drugs may contain nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which are not recommended during pregnancy.

3. Thicker Hair, Followed by Hair Loss

Why it happens: Here’s one pregnancy side effect you might appreciate: thicker and more shiny hair. You’ll likely notice more luscious locks early in pregnancy, thanks to hormones and prenatal vitamins that keep your hair in the growing phase longer. That means less hair falls out than usual.

Don’t get too attached to your newly luscious locks. Once your baby is born, all that hair that didn’t fall out during pregnancy will. While it may seem overwhelming to lose handfuls of hair at a time, don’t panic. You’re not going bald! It is natural for your hair to thin a bit after you deliver, and it will grow back.

What you can do: If you want to try keeping the volume longer, you should continue taking prenatal vitamins, especially during breastfeeding. You could also try a topical hair strengthening concentrate such as Yerba de la Negrita, which is safe in breastfeeding as it is topical, but it's always good to mention its use to your doctor as well. Commercial hair regrowth gels and creams usually say not to use after delivery mostly because they are not tested in breastfeeding mommas, so being patient with the natural regrowth of your hair will be the safest, best choice.

4. Mood Swings

Why it happens: Women often feel more emotional when they’re pregnant. I'm not usually a crier, but when I’m pregnant like I am now, it’s not unusual to find myself bawling while watching a television show that usually would not make me even blink. While this is somewhat disturbing to my husband, it's totally normal.

Hormones can make you cry when you are happy, sad or anything in between. And all the changes in your life can be overwhelming at times. Plus, you’re likely not getting enough sleep, and that can certainly factor into your emotions.

What you can do: While heightened emotions are perfectly normal during pregnancy, if they begin to interfere with your life or especially if you are having thoughts of harming yourself, talk to your doctor. These symptoms may be signs of depression or anxiety, which can happen in pregnancy and are very important to get treatment for. Pregnancy is not a happy time for everyone, and it is important to share those feelings.

5. Nosebleeds

Why it happens: Your blood volume doubles during pregnancy to support your growing baby and to prepare you for delivery when you’ll lose some blood. All this extra blood can sometimes cause more fragile and larger blood vessels—such as those in your nose—to rupture and bleed more easily. Plus, in New Mexico, the double-whammy of dry air during summer and winter increases the risk of nosebleeds.

What you can do: You may not be able to prevent all nosebleeds, but there are a few things that can help:

  • Use a humidifier at night.
  • Coat the inside of your nose with a nasal spray of saltwater, over the counter names include Ocean Spray, which can help keep those vessels moist
  • Use a nasal rinse, such as a neti pot, to keep the sinuses clear.
  • Drink lots of fluids to keep your mucous membranes hydrated

If you get a nosebleed, put pressure on it using a wad of tissue. Hold the tissue there for about a minute before releasing pressure. You can also leave that tissue wad in the nose for a little while. If you are still bleeding after about 15 minutes, you should go to the hospital. However, this is very rare.

6. Swelling in Unexpected Places

Why it happens: You expect your belly to grow during pregnancy, but you’ll likely notice swelling in other areas, too. Your blood volume doubles during pregnancy, and you'll start retaining fluids to prepare for delivery and loss of fluids.

Much of this extra fluid remains in the veins but, like an oversaturated sponge, some seeps into your body tissues. This can lead to a puffy face, arms, hands, legs or feet.

What you can do: If the swelling is occurring mostly in your legs or feet, try to avoid standing for long periods of time. Take a break and raise your legs above your heart level if possible. You also can try compression socks to improve circulation. Just know if you lift your feet above your head, it will likely make you need to pee soon, so don’t do this right before bed.

While some swelling is normal, it also can be a sign of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication caused by high blood pressure. Call the doctor immediately if you experience sudden or excessive swelling, especially in the face.

7. Bigger Feet

Why it happens: In addition to swelling, the ligaments in your body stretch during pregnancy—including those in the feet. Your arch may dip lower, resulting in foot "growth" of a half-size or more.

What you can do: Get used to buying larger shoes. While your feet may return to their pre-pregnancy size after the birth, many women find their feet are permanently larger.

8. Balance Problems

Why it happens: Research suggests that one in four women fall during their pregnancy. Your growing baby bump changes your center of gravity and causes the curve of your back to become more pronounced.

At the same time, pregnancy hormones loosen your ligaments in your pelvis, hips, knees and ankles. The instability can make you feel a little loosey-goosey on your feet. Plus, swelling in your feet can even change how the floor feels underfoot!

What you can do: Pay more attention to your surroundings when moving around, especially pets that like to be under your feet. Consider removing slip-and-trip hazards such as rugs until the baby is born. One thing that I find helpful later in pregnancy is wearing a support belt under my belly. It doesn’t necessarily straighten your back, but it reminds you to correct your posture and can feel like a supportive hand to help hold your belly.

9. Skin Changes

Why it happens: As your baby grows, your skin is pulled tight and tiny tears can appear in the layers of tissue under the skin. These stretch marks can appear pink, red, yellow or brown. Most women get stretch marks on their belly, rear end, thighs, hips or breasts. The same thing can happen to anyone who suddenly starts working out a ton and gets lots of muscle or gains weight quickly.

Along with stretching skin, you also may notice brown patches appearing on your skin, particularly your face. This is called melasma and it’s associated with pregnancy hormones. Those hormones also may be why you see a dark brown line running down your abdomen. You’ve always had this line, but it was too light to see before pregnancy. Melasma and linea nigra may fade away a few months after giving a birth.

What you can do: There’s no magic cure for stretch marks, though some tricks can minimize their appearance. For starters, try to control your weight gain during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you determine how much weight you need to gain and give you guidance to avoid gaining too much. Remember, eating for two doesn’t mean eating twice as much!

Keeping your skin moisturized can help, along with the perks of relieving dry, itchy skin. There are some skin lightening creams you can try as well, but these may bleach your skin along with the problem spot. Please note that laser therapy treatments are not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Talk with a dermatologist about your options if spots or stretch marks bother you.

10. Diastasis Recti

Why it happens: Your abdominal muscles have to stretch as your pregnancy progresses. In approximately two-thirds of pregnant women, the two sides of the abdominal wall actually split apart. This condition is called diastasis recti.

In some cases, the gap closes on its own after you give birth. Often, women need physical therapy to repair and strengthen the muscles if the gap persists. This happens even in highly active women such as professional runner Stephanie Bruce, who has an amazingly firm core but still has diastasis recti three years after having her baby. The condition can safely be present and not impede on exercise or having a strong core.

What you can do: Talk with your doctor about exercises you can safely do during pregnancy to strengthen your core. The best bet is to have a strong core prior to pregnancy, if possible. This does not totally prevent diastasis as it is a natural separation, especially if you are a smaller momma to start off with. If diastasis recti doesn’t heal on its own after delivery, your doctor or a physical therapist can help with exercises or interventions to strengthen your abs.

We're Here for You

While many of these natural changes in pregnancy can be annoying or uncomfortable, they are generally normal and do not pose a danger to the health of you or your baby. However, you know your body best, so if you are concerned or something just doesn’t feel “right,” call your doctor.

Be patient with yourself. Your body is changing, and you can’t be expected to adjust to it overnight. We may be superwomen, but even we can’t do everything all the time. Don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help when you need it. Also, listen to your changing body and rest as needed—something I am not very good at and am trying to improve on during my second pregnancy.

To find out whether you or a loved one might benefit from Ob/Gyn care, call 505-272-2245.

Categories: Women's Health