We spoke with Dr. Robert Atlas, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Maryland's Mercy Medical Center, to find out more about these common ailments and how to deal with them. As it turns out, these eight pregnancy body changes are as normal as they are uncomfortable.
A boost of hormones is to blame for a host of skin changes that many pregnant women find troubling. "Some women acquire chloasma during pregnancy, which is a darkening of the skin on the face," explained Atlas. "It's also quite common to have a darkening of the areolas and a dark line down the middle of the belly, called the linea negra." Unfortunately, this skin darkening is sometimes permanent. You can minimize the splotches and darkness by using good makeup and avoiding the sun.
Pregnancy hormones increase hair growth for luscious, flowing locks. Of course, this can become a problem when the luscious locks are located on your nipples, belly and face. "It's normal to notice increased hair growth on the body," said Atlas. "If they're troubled by hair growth, women can wax or undergo electrolysis without any concerns for the health of the baby."
A pregnant woman's increased blood supply often surfaces in engorged veins, which can appear as varicose veins in the legs and even the vulva and vagina. "Vaginal swelling is rare in pregnancy," reported Atlas, "but varicose veins are not. If you have a family history of varicosity, wear 15-20 mmhg compression stockings during pregnancy to prevent the appearance of varicose veins — because once they appear, they're there for good."
Some pregnant women report that vaginal discharge increases so much that they think they're peeing their pants, especially in the third trimester. Your body's extra supply of estrogen is to blame, unfortunately, and Atlas reported there's not much you can do about it. The good news is that increased discharge can sometimes stave off uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous vaginal infections.
If you think that your pregnant body is the only thing that's moving a little slower these days, we're sorry to report that you're wrong. "The progesterone of pregnancy can relax your esophageal sphincter, which can induce burping and indigestion," said Atlas. Moreover, your intestines will also slow to a crawl to absorb nutrients from your food. There's not much you can do about the burping, but you can minimize the gassy feeling by cutting down on sodas, fruit drinks, milk and veggies like cauliflower and cabbage.
Since your blood supply increases so drastically during pregnancy, it's not surprising that your capillaries pay the price. You may see a tinge of blood on your toothbrush, or your nose may start bleeding for no apparent reason as a result of the extra blood pressure on the capillaries in your nose and mouth. "If you get a nosebleed," warned Atlas, "it's really important to pinch firmly at the base of your nose rather than tilting your head back to stop the blood flow. If you tilt your head back, blood will drain into your stomach."
Don't feel alarmed if tiny red bumps or skin tags appear on your belly. "Many women complain of red bumps that look like spider bites," said Atlas. "These are caused by increased estrogen, and they'll go away once your hormone levels return to normal." Skin tags, unfortunately, may not simply disappear once your baby is born. You'll likely need to visit a dermatologist to remove the tags once your little bundle arrives.
Surprisingly, hemorrhoids are a form of increased varicosity, since they're just veins engorged with blood. "The constipation of pregnancy is linked to the development of hemorrhoids, so one of the best ways to prevent painful hemorrhoids is to avoid constipation," reported Atlas. He instructs pregnant women to drink a lot of water to keep the bowels moving.
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