Ahh, the beauty of pregnancy: glowing skin, thick hair, long nails. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful times in a woman’s life. And it is—for the most part.
Pregnancy glow aside, we women know we should be realistic. We should expect our ankles to thicken up a bit, and we should accept that we’ll deal with the occasional bout of heartburn. Yes, we know that our feet will eventually inflate (along with everything else).
Still, some aspects of pregnancy inevitably come as a surprise. The fact is, pregnancy changes your body in complex and fascinating ways, and without adequate preparation, some of those changes can come as a shock. Just remember: These adjustments are perfectly natural.
What do we mean? Well, the moms we spoke to wish that someone had warned them about things like…
Constant Sneezing and Difficulty Breathing
Who would think that your nose would be affected by that little love bump? Pregnancy can cause all kinds of problems with your sinuses, and even if you’ve had issues with allergies in the past, you’re probably not prepared for this.
Pregnancy rhinitis can appear at any point during a pregnancy. Doctors still aren’t exactly sure what causes this to happen, but they believe certain hormones are to blame. In any case, this awful condition often manifests with non-stop sneezing, courtesy of your newly swollen serous-mucous glands.
The good news: You can usually treat this problem at home. If you’re suffering from pregnancy rhinitis, try taking a nasal decongestant, applying a nasal dilator strip, or using a saline flush to find relief. Don’t overdo it with the decongestants, though; overuse can lead to a frustrating rebound effect called Rhinitis medicamentosa, which sounds a lot like a Harry Potter curse and feels like one, too.
Even if your sinuses work perfectly, you’ll likely find yourself running out of breath—and no, your weight isn’t (always) to blame. Part of this has to do with your body changing. Your organs, after all, are literally moving to make way for your baby.
Additionally, pregnancy hormones do some pretty ridiculous things to your body. What things, you ask?
Things like telling your body to make extra blood or to make the capillaries and blood vessels in your lungs relax and “grow,” which should allow you to take bigger, deeper breaths more often. Pregnant women need a lot of oxygen, and those hormones are going to make sure they get it, even if that means putting you through some major discomfort.
These changes can make some women feel “air hungry,” which is exactly what it sounds like—you’ll feel like you can’t catch your breath while you’re in a sedentary situation.
If you’re feeling particularly short of breath, check your posture. Standing or sitting up straight will help alleviate any compression on your lungs, allowing you to breathe easier. Regular exercise can also help to minimize breathlessness.
Most of those feelings are normal, but if you can’t catch your breath after resting, if you feel chest pain, or if your lips or fingertips begin to lose color, be sure to seek medical attention right away.
A Super-Powered Nose
A heightened sense of smell during pregnancy is no joke. In fact, two-thirds of pregnant women claim to notice a change in their olfactory abilities in the first trimester, despite scientific evidence on the subject being inconclusive. It’s hypothesized that estrogen is to blame, and that even morning sickness is related to an overly sensitive nose (though more research is needed on the subject).
Candice Straughter, mother of two, had a tough time dealing with scent sensitivity during her pregnancies.
“Nobody told me this was possible,” Straughter tells HealthyWay. “If my windows were down in the car while driving, I would gag every time I stopped near an open sewer grate. I could smell the sewage as if it was right next to me.”
If you’re struggling with extreme smells, there are a few things you can do to keep that gag reflex at bay. First, if you can, stay away from any known smell-triggers. You can also apply a few drops of your favorite essential oil on a handkerchief and use it to cover your face if you encounter an unpleasant smell. You should probably make the switch to unscented toiletries and laundry detergents, too.
A Little Boost in…Saliva
It’s totally normal for pregnancy to increase your saliva production, so don’t worry if you’ve been waking up in a puddle.
Excessive saliva production is known as ptyalism, and while some women only notice a small difference in their spit, others might need to carry around their own personal drool bucket. Ptyalism isn’t dangerous, but it can be quite irritating. Straughter noticed a difference in saliva production during the first and second trimesters of her pregnancies, she says.
“I started producing excessive amounts of saliva 24/7,” says Straughter. “During the day, I kept a few grocery store bags with me in the car or on the go that I could spit into discreetly. I had to actually sleep with a big cup or container next to my bed at night to spit into during the night.”
Scientists aren’t entirely sure what causes this phenomenon yet, but studies have shown that women who suffer from heartburn or morning sickness while pregnant are also more likely to have increased saliva production.
You can’t turn off your salivary glands, so if you’re dealing with a tsunami of spittle, you’re just going to have to ride it out. Some women find relief by sucking on ice cubes, chewing gum, avoiding spicy foods, and keeping a spit cup nearby. Also, be sure you drink enough water—all that spitting can lead to dehydration.
Sweat, Sweat, and More Sweat
Okay, so pregnancy hormones affect your breathing, your sense of smell, and your spit production. You can also add this to the list: Pregnancy can make you stink.
Physiological changes in the sweat and sebaceous glands can cause your body to sweat not only in places you would expect, like your armpits, but they also cause sweat glands all over your body to go mad as well. We’re talking extra sweaty feet, back, and even your crotch.
Your body temperature also increases during pregnancy, and add the insulation of increased weight gain, and you’ll be wringing your shirt out by mid-afternoon. And you don’t just have overactive sweat gland smells to look forward to…
The influx of progesterone causes your digestive tract to slow down a lot. This gives your body more time to create gas bubbles from the food you eat—and that gas has to go somewhere. As your baby grows, your stomach and intestines shift, becoming more crowded—which explains that bloated sensation. To top it all off, the muscle-relaxing effects of these hormones cause you to have less control over passing gas.
Changes to the Skin
As rosy and glowing as your skin may initially appear, don’t get used to it. That perk can go south quite quickly! Hormonal changes can affect the biggest organ of your body—the skin—as well.
Ninety percent of women experience some kind of change in their skin during pregnancy. Some of those changes include serious acne, having your legs turned into maps by spider veins, skin tags springing up out of nowhere, and certain, more sensitive areas of your body turning a completely different color. Doesn’t that all sound great?
“I developed skin tags on different areas of my body during all three of my pregnancies,” one mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells HealthyWay.
Another anonymous mom tells HealthyWay about a patch of itchy, red bumps that popped up during pregnancy. She later found out this was a PUPPP rash, an itchy, but non-dangerous, skin disorder associated with pregnancy.
The poor mom was completely unprepared for the arrival of this condition, and it scared her.
“Neither of my midwives mentioned this condition [was possible] during my pregnancies,” she says.
Another interesting—and unsettling—skin phenomenon associated with pregnancy is called Chadwick’s sign. Ms. Chadwick shows up very early in pregnancy (six to eight weeks after conception) completely changes the color of a woman’s cervix and vulva.
All Kinds of Hair Growth
And we mean everywhere. An influx of hormones, like estrogen, cause your nails and your hair to grow noticeably faster. While a longer, fuller head of hair sounds awesome, this affects all of your hair…on all parts of your body.
Estrogen increases the growth time for your follicles, meaning you shed fewer strands, giving you a thicker looking ‘do. Your hair can also appear shinier or change texture during your pregnancy. Just be prepared: Your body hair goes through these changes, too. Be prepared to see hair pop up on your belly, face, and anywhere else.
Don’t worry about the extra fur. The growth cycle will return to normal, and all excess hair will eventually fall out once your baby is born.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to gum disease, which can cause bleeding, swelling, and discoloration. Bleeding gums, while unpleasant and gross, are somewhat normal during pregnancy. A combination of hormonal changes and a boost in bloodflow are the culprits for this little gem of an experience.
Keep gum disease on the run by brushing and flossing regularly (we know you know, but we have to say it). You might also try gargling with sea salt and making sure you get enough vitamins A and C. But if things start to get out of hand, go see a dentist. Oh, and like every last item on this list, keep your obstetrician or primary care doctor up to date on the side-effects of your pregnancy.
Ahh, pregnancy. Beautiful indeed.
But the good news is that these symptoms are a small price to pay for the extraordinary, mythic experience of bringing a human being into the world. Pregnancy is nothing if not natural, which can be a nice thing to remember when you’re sweating and drooling.