Nearly all the changes in your body that you can see and feel, such as enlargement of the breasts, deepening, pigmentation of the skin, and slight breathlessness on exertion, are due in one way or another to the increased production of a range of female and pregnancy hormones. Early in pregnancy your ovaries are responsible for the main output, but very quickly the maternal supply beings to be overtaken by that from the placenta. The output of hormones is colossal. For instance, at any time during an average menstrual cycle, the maximum daily output of one key hormone, progesterone, would be a few milligrams a day; towards the end of pregnancy this rises to as much as 250mg a day. All the hormones cause changes to take place in your body’s structure and processes so that it can support and nourish our developing baby.
Though some women do glow with good health during pregnancy, there are some changes to the skin that are not so flattering. They usually, however, disappear shortly after the birth of the baby.
Some degree of darkening is a universal characteristic of pregnancy, although its depth varies according to skin color. Blondes, redheads, and even brunettes who have pale skins may see little change, whereas olive-skinned goes several shades darker, and areas like the nipples, areolas, abdomen, and genital region remain dark brown for the rest of their lives.
These occur in the skin under several different conditions. The first is in adolescence when we grow quickly. The second is whenever we put on a large amount of weight in a short time, and the third is during pregnancy. The underlying cause is always the same – tearing of collagen bundles. Collagen is the “skeleton” of the skin; its network of elastic bundles allows the skin to stretch with movement or with a change in size or shape.
Pregnancy can have an unpredictable and quite dramatic effect on hair. Curls may straighten out or straight hair become curly and these changes can remain after your baby is born. Some women’s hair becomes luxurious and shiny; others lifeless or greasy. Even body hair may become more or less apparent. Most women’s hair becomes oilier, particularly towards the end of the pregnancy, due to the very high level of progesterone in the blood, which stimulate the sebaceous glands on the scalp.
Teeth and Gums
The high levels of progesterone that are produced during pregnancy will make the margins of the gums around the teeth soft and spongy, predisposing them to infection. It is therefore essential that you are meticulous about oral hygiene, making sure that you brush your teeth after every meal and particularly after eating anything sweet. Make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as you know you are pregnant and ask him if you should have any special care.
Legs and Feet
Leg cramps are those painful muscle contractions (typically in your calves and your feet) that tend to occur in the middle of the night during pregnancy. They can be totally excruciating, so you will want to do whatever you can to avoid them: Making sure you are consuming adequate amounts of calcium, and soaking in a warm tub and stretching out your calf muscles before going to bed.
Swelling and Fluid Retention
Swelling is another common pregnancy related complain and one that tends to become more bothersome as your pregnancy progresses. It occurs because your body retains extra fluid during pregnancy. It’s not unusual to have slightly swollen ankles, particularly during warm weather or after spending a day on your feet.
Changes in the breasts during pregnancy may be one of the earliest signs of the pregnancy that you become aware of. Most women with an average 28-day cycle will notice a definite enlargement of the breasts by week 6-8 of pregnancy, two to four weeks after their first missed period would have started. The breasts will feel firm and generally tender and have more and large veins then usual running close to the surface of the skin. Tingling is common, as are occasional stabbing pains. The breasts are composed mainly of millions of tiny milk glands plus their small ducts, joined together to come out at the nipple. Although there is almost certainly some overlap in the effect of hormones, estrogen stimulates the growth of the ducts while progesterone stimulates enlargement of the glands themselves.
Up until now we have been focused on different physical changes of being pregnant-those worries that have you pacing the floor at 3.00 a.m., and those annoying complaints that you can have you counting down the minutes to delivery day!