A woman’s body does amazing things in order to bring a new life into the world. You’ll need to know how your reproductive system functions to support your baby’s growth. And you should also understand how pregnancy affects your heart, lungs, and other body systems. Just click on the body part and detailed information will appear below.
Heart During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, to push the extra fluids around your body, your heart works twice as hard as before. To do the extra work, the resting heart rate speeds up from a normal pre-pregnancy rate of about 70 beats per minute to 80-90 beats per minute.
Breasts During Pregnancy
While you are pregnant, your breasts will get bigger. As soon as the sixth week of pregnancy, your breasts may grow a whole bra-cup size. Your breasts will feel firm and be more tender, and you may experience an occasional tingling sensation or shooting pain.
You may find that the veins in your breasts are closer to the surface, more numerous, and larger than usual. The nipple and the areola–the area around the nipple–may change, too. The small glands around the nipple may become raised and lumpy and change colour.
You may notice that your nipples are leaking or that if you put any pressure on your breasts a fluid appears. This fluid is colostrum, the fluid that will nourish your newborn until your breast milk comes in a few days after you give birth.
Lungs During Pregnancy
Changes in the levels of certain hormones during pregnancy, the increased demand for oxygen as well as the physical effects of an enlarging abdomen all have an effect on breathing. Pregnant women typically breath more deeply and at an increased rate, lowering the carbon dioxide in the blood and generating a sensation of shortness of breath as a result. The breathlessness may be relieved by posture (ie standing or sitting up straight) and slowing down the speed at which you attempt to do things.
Blood During Pregnancy
By the end of your pregnancy your blood volume increases by about 40-50% more than normal. The extra blood will bring nutrients to the foetus and help your kidneys cleanse extra waste products. The extra volume helps protect you and your baby from changes in blood pressure when you lie down or stand up. A larger blood volume also serves as a surplus during childbirth, when you will lose some blood.
Joints During Pregnancy
The bones in your joints are connected, supported, and strengthened by tough tissues called ligaments. The hormones of pregnancy soften these ligaments–especially the ones in your pelvis–and help them become more flexible. Then, during delivery, the joints in the pelvis “give” more easily to allow a smoother, easier birth.
The increased flexibility and softening of the ligaments around the pelvis can contribute to backaches during the last part of your pregnancy. Other ligaments may stretch during pregnancy, causing aches in your lower back, legs, and feet. Ask your health care professional about pelvic tilt exercises to help avoid the backaches. (See Exercise on this site for an example.)
Placenta and Foetus
After an egg is fertilised, it is referred to as an embryo for the first 8 weeks. After that, your developing baby is known as a foetus. The lifeline between you and your unborn baby is the placenta. The placenta is essentially a blood-filled organ bounded on one side by you and on the other by the foetus. The placenta allows oxygen and nutrients to pass from you to the foetus and passes waste products from the foetus into your body for disposal.
Skin During Pregnancy
There are many changes that take place in the skin during pregnancy, and they differ a lot from woman to woman.
Some of the extra blood flowing through your body goes to your skin. Your skin becomes warmer and sweats more.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause your body to produce more pigment, which may lead to skin colour changes. Almost all women experience some darkening of the skin.
If you already have dark marks on your body–birthmarks, moles, freckles, or recent scars–they may become darker during pregnancy, especially after exposure to sun. You may also get some oddly shaped brown splotches that are made more obvious by sunlight.
A line about the width of your thumbnail may appear down the middle of the stomach. It should begin to fade soon after delivery and should be completely gone within several months.
Much of the skin returns to its usual colour after delivery, but the areas around the nipples, the genital area, and the stomach may remain dark.
Stretch marks will appear on the breasts, stomach, thighs, and buttocks of most women. These marks will be pink during pregnancy, but after delivery they become smaller and rather silvery. Women with darker complexions may find that the stretch marks are more noticeable because of the contrast in colour.
The other vital part of your developing baby’s life support system is the amniotic fluid. This fluid supports the foetus while allowing free movement, helps maintain a constant temperature, cushions and protects the foetus, and receives materials excreted in fetal urine.
Be prepared for the many changes that will occur in your body during pregnancy.
The placenta is connected to the foetus by the umbilical cord, which is made up of 3 blood vessels. Two of the vessels carry blood from the foetus to the placenta for cleansing; the third carries oxygen and nutrients to the foetus.
Kidney During Pregnancy
Your kidneys work to filter your blood and cleanse it of waste products. During pregnancy, they work harder to clean the increased amount of blood in your body.
Uterus During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your uterus will grow, from the size of your fist to a size capable of holding a 4.5 kg baby. By the end of your pregnancy, your uterus alone will account for about 900 g of your weight gain.
Throughout your pregnancy, if you put your hand over your uterus, you may feel the muscles tensing and releasing–contracting. These so-called Braxton-Hicks contractions, which are very slight and painless, occur at irregular intervals. These contractions help your body get ready for giving birth.
Bladder During Pregnancy
As your uterus grows, it puts pressure on your bladder. You will find that you need to urinate more often than usual. The extra urination may be annoying, but don’t cut back on fluids to control it. You need that fluid.
Vagina During Pregnancy
When you are pregnant, increased blood flow and hormone levels will cause your vagina to become more swollen than usual.
Vaginal discharge typically increases during pregnancy. A sticky, clear, or white discharge is normal. However, if the discharge is bloody, watery, or has a bad odour, you should call your doctor. In any case, you should not douche during pregnancy–it can cause serious problems. Instead, wash the genital area often and dry carefully. Wear cotton underclothes for comfort.
Teeth and Gums During Pregnancy
Some of the hormones of pregnancy can make your gums swell and bleed. But keep flossing and brushing, perhaps with a softer brush. You should also keep up with your regular dentist visits. Pregnant women are at greater risk for cavities and gum disease. And don’t worry if you need local anesthesia, just let the dentist know so that precautions can be taken.
Hair and Nails During Pregnancy
Because of increased circulation and metabolism, your hair grows faster during pregnancy. Most women’s hair also seems thicker during pregnancy because the usual amount of hair “fallout” doesn’t occur. After delivery, much of the hair that didn’t fall out during pregnancy falls out, leaving many women worried. Be assured that this is part of a normal cycle–you’re not going to go bald!
Your nails will also grow faster during pregnancy. However, you may find that they may be more brittle and split or break more easily than usual.