If you're pregnant, especially for the first time, you're probably expecting some big changes. You know your hormones are going to shift, your mood may take a hit and your belly is going to grow dramatically. You might even be expecting symptoms like nausea and joint pain.
“For some women, pregnancy changes everything," says Elikem Amable, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Henry Ford Health. "Not only do you experience physical changes — your body shape, increasing blood volume and growing uterus — but your mood, emotions and relationships also shift."
Lesser-Known Pregnancy Changes
People often view pregnancy as an idyllic time when anything is possible. And for some women, it is. But for other moms-to-be, pregnancy is fraught with challenges. No matter which category you fall in (and even your own pregnancies can differ), you'll have a better experience if you know what to expect.
From bleeding gums to a killer sense of smell, we asked Amable for 10 lesser-known changes that can happen during pregnancy.
- Your gums may bleed. You may know that blood volume increases during pregnancy, but some women are surprised to discover their gums bleed more frequently. Usually, this isn't cause for concern, though bleeding gums can also be a sign of gum disease. "To be safe, continue with your routine dental care, but make sure you tell your dentist you're pregnant," Amable says.
- You could develop food aversions. You've probably heard about pregnancy cravings, but less discussed is the fact that many women can't tolerate certain foods. "If your body rejects it, don't eat it," Amable says. "Usually aversions get better during the second trimester." In the meantime, be sure to continue taking your prenatal vitamin daily.
- You might pee unexpectedly. It's fairly common knowledge that pregnant women have to pee frequently, but many women don't realize they can't always control the urine flow. The reason: Your bladder sits underneath your uterus, so as your baby grows there's increasing pressure on your bladder. Leaks typically happen when you're coughing, sneezing, exercising or laughing uncontrollably.
- Your sense of smell may be heightened. The flood of estrogen in your system can put your sense of smell on high alert. It's an evolutionary defense mechanism to ensure pregnant women know they're in danger or about to eat something rotten or foul.
- You might produce more saliva. Unfortunately, extra spit is a common side effect during pregnancy. You can thank your hormones for that, too. Nausea can also increase saliva production, since it acts as a warning mechanism that you're about to vomit. "Some women have to carry a cup with them so they have somewhere to spit," Amable says.
- Things might taste weird. In addition to extra saliva, you may notice that things taste strange. You might notice a metallic taste in your mouth or discover you can't tolerate your usual toothpaste. Fortunately, these odd flavors tend to subside during the second trimester.
- You may get constipated. The extra progesterone your body needs to support a pregnancy has an unfortunate side effect when it comes to your gastrointestinal tract: It slows things down. You can prevent constipation from wreaking havoc on your life by drinking more water, upping your fiber intake and getting sufficient exercise.
- You could develop hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids during pregnancy are to be expected (see #7 above). All that pressure down there can cause the veins in and around your rectum to swell. The end result: hemorrhoids. Pregnancy hemorrhoids can be painful or just itchy. In either case, they usually resolve after pregnancy.
- Your skin may change. "Acne, skin tags, stretch marks and changes in skin color are common during pregnancy," Amable says. Some women develop random blotches. Others have a dark line that runs right down the belly, called the linea nigra. Whether you're facing acne, dark spots or inexplicable rashes, most skin changes disappear after birth. The key exception: stretch marks.
- Your head might hurt. "Headaches, especially early in pregnancy, are very common," Amable says. There are a variety of reasons why headaches happen, including dehydration and pregnancy hormones. It is important to notify your midwife or doctor if your headaches or migraines worsen or do not improve with the use of Tylenol. This may be a sign of a serious underlying condition.
A Safe and Healthy Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be an amazing opportunity for growth and change, but it can also be stressful. In fact, it's known to exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
People don't talk about their debilitating morning sickness or grape-sized hemorrhoids. They don't discuss their skin tags or pregnancy acne. "That silence can make expectant moms feel even more isolated and alone," Amable says.
Your best defense: A solid support system. Establish quality prenatal care, rely on your partner or family members where you can, and consider finding a group where you can share your experiences with other expecting moms.
Elikem Amable is a certified nurse midwife. She sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center - Detroit Northwest and Henry Ford Medical Center - New Center One in Detroit.