At your first prenatal visit, your doctor will likely give you armfuls of brochures that cover every test and trimester. Many books and websites are also devoted to what to expect during your pregnancy.
But despite all this information, pregnancy can take any soon-to-be mom by surprise.
“If your doctor hasn’t mentioned any of these topics during your visits, it’s probably because pregnancy affects each woman in different ways,” said Dana Nelson, CNS, administrative director in Akron Children’s maternal fetal medicine center. “For example, some pregnant women experience morning sickness in the morning, some feel it all day and some never have it.”
At any point during your pregnancy that you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor, regardless of how unrelated or trivial they may seem. Pregnancy doesn’t just change your body – it affects the rest of you, too.
Here are 10 physical and emotional changes that might surprise you:
- The nesting instinct. Many pregnant women experience the nesting instinct, a powerful urge to prepare their home for the baby by cleaning and decorating. Or perhaps you’ll want to tackle long overdue projects, such as organizing the garage or closets. This desire to prepare your home can be useful because it will give you more time to recover and nurture your baby after the birth. But be careful not to overdo it.
- Inability to concentrate. In the first trimester, fatigue and morning sickness can make you feel worn out and mentally fuzzy. But even well-rested pregnant women may be forgetful or have trouble concentrating. A preoccupation with the baby is partially the cause, as are hormonal changes.
- Mood swings. Premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy are alike in many ways. Your breasts swell and become tender, your hormones fluctuate and you may feel moody. If you suffer from premenstrual syndrome, you’re likely to have more severe mood swings during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor if you also have sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits and intense mood swings lasting longer than 2 weeks.
- Changes in bra size. Along with an increase in breast size due to increased levels of estrogen and progesterone, your bra size may be affected by your ribcage. When you’re pregnant, your lung capacity increases so you can take in extra oxygen for yourself and the baby, which may result in a bigger chest size. You may need to replace your bras several times over the course of your pregnancy.
- Skin changes. The pregnancy glow is one of many skin changes you may experience. Acne is common because the skin’s sebaceous glands increase oil production. Some women develop brownish or yellowish patches on their faces, called chloasma or the “mask of pregnancy.” And some will notice a dark line on the lower abdomen, known as the linea nigra (or linea negra). Existing moles or freckles may become bigger or darker. The areola, nipples, genitalia and anal area may also darken. Except for the darkening of the areola, which is usually permanent, these skin changes will likely disappear after you give birth.
- Changes in hair and nails. During pregnancy, your hair may become drier or oilier, change color, grow faster and fall out less. However, most women lose a lot hair in the postpartum period or after they stop breastfeeding. You may also find hair in unwanted places, such as the face, belly or around the nipples. Extra hormones can make your nails grow faster and become stronger. Or you might find your nails split and break more easily. Neither hair nor nail changes are permanent.
- Shoe size. Because of extra fluid, many pregnant women experience swelling in their feet and may have to wear a larger shoe size. Slip-on shoes in a larger size may be more comfortable, especially in the summer months.
- Joint mobility. During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone known as relaxin, which is believed to help prepare the body for childbirth. The relaxin loosens the ligaments in your body, making you less stable and more prone to injury. It’s easy to overstretch or strain yourself, especially the joints in your pelvis, lower back and knees. When exercising or lifting objects, go slowly and avoid sudden, jerky movements.
- Varicose veins, hemorrhoids and constipation. Varicose veins, which are usually found in the legs and genital area, occur when blood pools in veins enlarged by pregnancy hormones. They often disappear after childbirth. Hemorrhoids, which are varicose veins in the rectum, are also common. Hemorrhoids can be extremely painful, and may bleed, itch or sting, especially during or after a bowel movement. Coupled with constipation, another common pregnancy woe, hemorrhoids can make going to the bathroom very uncomfortable.
- Leaks, gas and more. Some women never experience their water breaking before labor begins – a doctor may need to rupture the amniotic sac when they arrive at the hospital. Others may feel an intense urge to urinate that leads to a gush of fluid. In other cases, there’s just a trickling sensation down the leg because the baby’s head prevents most of the fluid from leaking out. Since amniotic fluid is replaced every 3 hours, you may continue to leak fluid until delivery. During labor, you may vomit or feel nauseous. Diarrhea and gas can also occur. While you’re pushing, it’s not uncommon to lose control of the bladder or bowels.
“As unpleasant or embarrassing as some of these pregnancy surprises may be, they’ll be worth it in the long run when you meet the best surprise of all – your new baby,” said Nelson.