The woman, the myth, the legend. We constantly hear about the wonders of pregnancy and its effects on the body. You either turn into a beautiful fairy-like goddess or you’re in the most discomfort you’ve ever been in throughout your whole life. What is true, what is not? Why does the body do what it does when we’ve been gifted the miracle of life? There’s a lot more to it than you might think. To answer these questions, we called on our favorite leading OBGYN. She gave us a big, wonderful list of what happens when you’re pregnant, from increased libido to darkened areolas.
Dr. Lucky Sekhon is a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, a board-certified obstetrician, and a gynecologist. She has particular expertise in fertility preservation (egg freezing), LGBTQ family building, and in-vitro fertilization. While Dr. Sekhon maintains a busy clinical practice, she continues to publish and present cutting edge clinical research in the field of reproductive medicine. She is passionate about educating women about their reproductive health and family building options and often volunteers at various Women’s’ Health outreach events throughout the city. We asked her your most-asked questions about all things reproductive health and the weird things it does to our bodies. She answered. Keep reading for more according to Lucky Sekhon, leading OBGYN.
Many women notice this in their second trimester, onwards. It is not that each strand itself gets thicker but more so that we lose less hair in pregnancy. This is because of the growing phase of the hair cycle being lengthened.
This increased pigmentation occurs due to the rise in estrogen and progesterone in pregnancy. Scientists have hypothesized that the evolutionary reason behind this areolar darkening is to help the newborn baby find the nipple and latch! This nipple darkening/enlargement often lasts while you are breastfeeding and may lessen/resolve after the pregnancy and breastfeeding end and hormone levels normalize. It is also possible for it to remain indefinitely.
The pregnancy ‘glow’ is a very real phenomenon. It is from a combination of hormones, increased oil production which leaves the skin better moisturized. It can also stem from increased blood volume and blood flow to the skin. This is due to the hormonal changes of pregnancy which serve to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body.
Nail changes in pregnancy are common and can vary, depending on the person. For some, special attention to one’s diet, intake of vitamins, and due to growth factors and hormones of pregnancy. However, for some reason, they experience brittleness, or even the nail lifting more easily off the nailbed. For those whose nails tend to weaken, they may be more prone to ‘leukonychia’ where white spots of markings appear on the nail bed due to slight trauma. This is not harmful and should resolve after the pregnancy is completed.
While most people tend to experience thicker hair on their head, many will notice thinning or slowed growth of body hair – this is because of the drastic changes in the hormonal environment during pregnancy, due to increased estrogen, progesterone, and androgens. These can have differential effects on different parts of the body.
High estrogen levels can cause euphoria. Also, pregnancy in and of itself is a small miracle growing inside of you. It is a very special time. If you are lucky enough to have an easy pregnancy with very few complications or bothersome side effects, you may be able to focus mostly on the positive aspects.
Hormones, such as estrogen, play a role in controlling and moderating our sense of taste. This can lead to a common complaint of a metallic taste in the mouth. Also, it can account for pregnancy causing you to craze certain foods or to have food aversions.
The idea that there is an innate instinct that kicks in during pregnancy. It is largely considered a myth by most experts. While it is true that a parent may quickly catch on to their child/baby’s attributes in the early postpartum period. This is generally something that comes from spending time with and observing your child. It is not a built-in mechanism everyone should expect to have by the time of their delivery.
Nesting is the urge or desire to get your home ready for your new baby. Many women will experience a burst of energy and motivation to get things in order before delivery. This may be part of an evolutionary instinct. It also may stem from the boredom and frustration of being pregnant for 9 months. Or also the excitement and anticipation of the new arrival and want to ensure all is perfect.
This tends to occur most commonly in the second trimester. In the first trimester, nausea/vomiting/fatigue can detract from the libido. Later in the pregnancy, in the third trimester, there may be more abdominal/back pain or discomfort which reduces libido. The hormonal changes of pregnancy increase blood flow to the sexual organs. This includes the breasts, clitoris, and vulva, leading to increased arousal and sensitivity.
The hormonal and immune changes in pregnancy can predispose women to gum disease and tooth decay. Increased progesterone levels can lead to the loosening/laxity of ligaments. Other tissues and this can lead to teeth feeling more ‘wiggly’ than usual. However, this doesn’t translate to an increased risk of tooth loss. It is important to have regular dental check-ups in pregnancy. Periodontal disease has been associated with preterm delivery.
The pelvic muscles and bones are stretching and widening to prepare for labor. This can cause pain or discomfort with sex. In addition, vaginal dryness can occur due to hormonal changes. The increased blood flow and sensitivity to the genital area can lead to heightened sensitivity and discomfort during sex.
Increased progesterone causes sleepiness. Also, the energy demands are high during early pregnancy. Your body is producing and pumping more blood to carry nutrients to the baby. In addition, blood pressure tends to be lower due to high progesterone levels, leading to increased fatigue.
Hormonal changes increased stress/anxiety, and disrupted sleep can all contribute to ‘baby brain’. This is a form of memory loss, forgetfulness, and short attention span that can begin in pregnancy. It can be exacerbated in the postpartum period.
This is due to an increase in androgens (male-type hormones). This is more common in the first and second trimester of pregnancy. It can cause the glands in the skin to grow and produce more sebum or oil. This can clog pores which then become infected with bacteria, inflammation, and lead to breakouts.
Moles often become darker or larger to the hormonal effects of pregnancy
Additional weight gain leads to a greater tendency to sweat. Also, the hormonal changes of pregnancy can lead to sweat glands becoming hyperactive.
Bloating and fluid retention occur due to the effects of progesterone. This is an overall increase in blood volume and swelling. Progesterone has a relaxing effect on the bowel which can lead to slowed digestion, increased bloating, and flatulence.
Melasma, or dark patches of pigmentation, is caused by the body making extra melanin. This is a pigment that protects your skin from UV light, during pregnancy.
Pinkish streaks around stomach, hips, and breasts. This occurs with weight gain and stretching. Collagen and elastin stretch and snap due to pressure/tension. Essentially, stretch marks are tiny tears in the supporting layers of tissue under the skin.
Studies have shown high estrogen levels are associated with increased skin tag formation. It is caused by hyperactive growth of the outer layer of skin.
Persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and anxiety are unfortunately common in women with prenatal depression. The causes are multifactorial. Hormonal changes in pregnancy can lead to mood changes. Pregnancy can strain relationships and be an isolating time for an expecting mom. Add having to care for other young children. Or juggle the day to day responsibilities of work inside and/or outside the home. It can all get very overwhelming. It is important to share these feelings with loved ones, but most importantly, a professional. Contact a primary care doctor, obstetrician, or even a therapist, before they get too overwhelming.
Nausea is very common in the first trimester. This is due to the effects of pregnancy hormone (HCG) on the nausea center of the brain. It can also be made worse by acid reflux and slowed digestion from increased progesterone levels. For most women, nausea will subside by the end of the first trimester. For an unlucky few, it can last well into the second trimester.
While you’re here, check out Dr. Lucky’s take on the COVID-19 pandemic and pregnancy.