Becoming a mother is one of life’s greatest gifts, and pregnancy is an unforgettable journey that leads to that beautiful destination.
After all, it is not every day that a new life grows inside you. Those 40 miraculous weeks you spend carrying your child in your womb is an experience like no other.
It may not be all rainbows and butterflies, but it does have its perks — like that famous pregnancy glow that makes your skin look rosy and shiny all the time, or the fact that you can pretty much ask your partner to give in to your every whim.
But does pregnancy also mean having to give up your ideal body?
As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll not only gain weight, but you’ll also notice a lot of changes happening in your body — from your breasts to your back to your hips and thighs.
Know what changes to expect in your body during pregnancy as you read the rest of this article.
Fetal Development in a Nutshell
Before diving into the body changes you should expect while you’re pregnant, let’s first talk about how your baby develops.
Pregnancy starts once the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus in a process called implantation. Four weeks into the pregnancy, the embryo is about an inch long with a head, nervous system, and heartbeat that’s still too faint for an ultrasound scan.
It is during the 12th week that the embryo develops into a fetus, measuring around 3 ½ inches long. At 16 weeks, the fetus’ limbs are properly formed, complete with moving joints, fingers, toes, and nails. The baby’s sex also becomes apparent.
At 20 weeks, the baby measures around 6.5 inches and is able to move around and rotate with ease, thanks to the amniotic fluid inside the womb. In fact, this is when you also start feeling your baby’s movements.
Though babies reach full-term at 40 weeks, some may be delivered as late as 42 weeks. Your baby’s weight increases by half a pound per week during the final four weeks of your pregnancy.
The average weight of a newborn is 7-8 pounds, while its length is about 18-22 inches.
Changes in the Mother’s Body
The hormone progesterone plays a huge role from the very beginning of your pregnancy. It prepares your uterine lining for implantation and makes your muscles relax so that your uterus does not contract until labor starts.
A common early symptom of pregnancy is morning sickness, which happens because of the increased human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone in your body. Its levels peak during the eighth to 11th week of pregnancy, making you feel nauseous all the time.
Another hormone at work during pregnancy is estrogen, which is largely responsible for the increased blood flow in your body. This is important for nourishing your baby and also gives you that healthy pregnancy glow.
You also won’t gain a lot of weight during the first three months, usually just around two pounds.
Most of these early signs and symptoms disappear as the second trimester rolls in. However, changes in your blood flow and blood vessels can lead to bleeding gums, nosebleed, dizziness, and fainting spells.
Your estrogen and progesterone levels also continue to increase, triggering the production of melanin that darkens your skin color. Because of this, you may have some brown or gray patches on your skin called melasma.
In the third trimester, you’ll start feeling more and more tired and uncomfortable because of your baby’s growth and rapidly expanding girth. You’ll also experience constipation, urinary frequency, and ankle swelling — a result of the peaking of estrogen and progesterone levels at around 32 weeks.
Know more about the changes in specific parts of your body as you read along.
It is during the eighth week of pregnancy that expecting moms are starting to experience breast tenderness. This is largely due to the side effect of increased estrogen levels and blood flow in your body.
Breast enlargement starts to happen at 12 weeks, thanks to the increase in the size and number of veins at the surface of your breasts. Your areolae may also grow larger.
At around 20 weeks, your breasts may already be two cups bigger. Your areolae will also darken because of the increased production of melanin in your body.
Prolactin, the hormone that develops your breast tissues for lactation, increases toward the end of your pregnancy. Your breasts may start leaking drops of colostrum — your first breast milk — even before your baby is born.
At eight weeks, you may experience lower abdominal pains due to the stretching of your pelvic muscles and ligaments.
You’ll notice a very soft swelling in your lower abdomen at 12 weeks, as the uterus is now enlarged. Your uterus will continue to expand as the weeks go by, moving out of the pelvic cavity and reaching your belly button during the 22nd week. That’s when your baby bump becomes noticeable.
You also store more fat deposits on your waist and love handles, causing you to lose your hourglass figure. As your uterus pushes up your ab muscles, your love handles or muffin top becomes more and more prominent as well.
This is especially true for plus-sized women who carry more of their weight in their midsection. It results in a B-shaped double belly that may or may not turn into a D-shaped single belly as the pregnancy nears its term.
You’ll also notice a dark line running along the middle of your belly. This is called linea nigra, which occurs as a result of your body’s increased melanin production.
During the third trimester, your baby continues to grow and your tummy expands to accommodate it. As a result, your abdominal muscles will separate, and you may notice stretch marks forming on your tummy.
A handful of women even develop umbilical hernia — an abnormal bulge caused by abdominal fat or part of your small intestine pushing against the abdominal wall. You can see or feel this on your belly button.
For around 50% of first-time moms, you’ll notice a considerable relief in pressure on your upper abdomen at 36 weeks, when the baby’s head descends into the pelvis in preparation for delivery. This significantly lessens symptoms like constipation, heartburn, and breathing difficulty.
At your 40th week of pregnancy, your uterus would have expanded from your pelvis to the bottom of your ribcage. This stretches the abdominal skin to its limit and causes maximal abdominal muscle separation, known as diastasis recti.
Diastasis recti is the thinning and widening of your abdominal muscles as your stomach continues to expand. It makes your belly stick out because of the separation of your ab muscles.
Affecting two-thirds of pregnant women, this condition is more common among women who had been pregnant more than once, as their muscles have already stretched before.
You’ll start experiencing low back pain in your seventh month of pregnancy, as your baby becomes heavier in your womb. This is also partly due to the separation of your abdominal muscles during your third trimester, as it means you have less support from your abdominal muscles, causing your spine to work overtime.
Your body’s changing weight distribution also shifts your center of gravity, causing your lower back to curve and your shoulders to move back a little. It affects your posture and makes your buttocks appear more prominent.
There’s also the presence of back fat, which manifests as skin folds peeking out of your bra band just above the waistline.
Arms, Buttocks, Hips, and Thighs
As your pregnancy progresses, your body retains more fat and water for the baby, resulting in as much as 30 pounds of weight gain on your arms, back, flanks, abdomen, thighs, and buttocks.
Although most of the weight gain you experience is due to water retention, the fat you gain is for nutrient storage. Your body creates deposits of fat and other nutrients to help you produce breast milk once you start nursing.
But despite more fat accumulating in your buttocks and the widening of your hips, your gluteal muscles may weaken, resulting in the appearance of a flat butt.
During the second trimester, your buttocks may sag because of the hormone relaxin, which relaxes all your skin, soft tissues, and pelvic muscles in the uterus and cervix in preparation for delivering a baby.
You’ll also have some stretch marks on your thighs and buttocks as your skin continues to expand to accommodate your growing body.
Your estrogen levels rapidly increase during the third trimester, causing your body to store fat in different areas — particularly your abdomen, thighs, and hips. These areas need to be strong enough to support your growing baby and its upcoming delivery.
However, this fat accumulation also results in the development of unsightly saddlebags, which are extra fat deposits in your outer thighs.
You might also notice fat accumulation over the deltoid muscles over your shoulders and upper arms, which might discourage you from wearing sleeveless clothing during your pregnancy.
Because of the increased blood flow to the area, your vagina may feel and look swollen. Its color may change from pink to blue or purple as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. You’ll also notice a white discharge from your vagina in your eighth week of pregnancy.
At your 40th week, your cervix starts to open in preparation for childbirth. You’ll experience sharp pains in your vagina as this happens.
What Happens Next?
Just as there are many changes happening to your body during pregnancy, so are there changes after you’ve given birth. After all, your body does not automatically go back to its pre-pregnancy state in an instant.
Continue reading about the body changes you should expect when you’re breastfeeding your newborn.