Growing a human being is one of the most incredible miracles of life. The prenatal class I attended was full of amazing information about how our bodies and minds change to grow and deliver a baby. Whether readily apparent or happening behind the scenes, it’s stunning how well-equipped we are to nourish life and bring it into the world. As your baby bump expands and you look forward to your new addition, feel confident in how physically and mentally ready you are.
1. Your blood volume increases, giving you more radiant skin.
“Pregnancy glow” is a real phenomenon! During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by an astounding 50 percent! One-fifth of your pre-pregnancy blood supply supports the uterus alone. The increased blood supply is also necessary for the exchange of nutrients, metabolites, and respiratory gases. Not only are you nourishing your baby, but you’re also making it possible to lose 300-1,000 ml of blood during labor without compromising your health. This boosted circulation, along with the increase in hormones, can make you look gorgeous and radiant, too.
2. You grow a whole new organ.
The placenta is the only transient organ in the body. About a week after conception, after the fertilized egg has implanted itself in the uterine wall, the placenta begins to form. Once formed, the placenta and umbilical cord allow you to provide nutrients to your baby. The placenta also removes the baby’s intrauterine waste.
A lesser-known purpose for the placenta is to excrete hormones like human chorionic gonadotropin, estrogen, and progesterone, which maintain the pregnancy and prepare the mammary glands for nursing. Once the placenta’s job is done (the baby is born), it is expelled from the body.
While there aren’t many scientific studies done on pregnant women, there’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the placenta is a “smart” organ. My second labor happened extremely quickly; my son was almost born in the hospital lobby! After the delivery, my OB told me there had been a knot in the umbilical cord. He mentioned that in his experience, every time there was an issue with the umbilical cord, the labor proceeded quickly, as if the placenta knew how important it was to deliver the baby.
3. Soft tissues relax to make delivery easier.
During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin increases by ten times. This hormonal shift softens the ligaments, cartilage, and joints connecting the bones in your body, which enable the necessary shifting of internal structures to accommodate your baby’s birth. Naturally, your pelvis will need to expand quite a bit to allow your baby’s head through the pubic symphysis.
Relaxin also plays a crucial role in remodeling bone and healing soft tissue injuries. According to Birth Fit, women who “have been training and continue to train during their pregnancy likely have enhanced body awareness and joint stability.” So if you’ve been active, you can capitalize on this time to build your sensorimotor skills.
4. Your breathing capacity improves.
As the uterus expands and places pressure on the diaphragm, some women experience shortness of breath, but high levels of progesterone signal a reduction in carbon dioxide levels in the blood, so you’re actually breathing more efficiently. To oxygenate the increased blood, you’re inhaling 30 to 40 percent deeper, even if you don’t realize it. In fact, Parenting Magazine says that about a third of asthmatics have been able to go off their medication while pregnant due to this improved breathing capacity.
5. Your senses of smell and taste become more acute.
My sense of smell went into overdrive when I was pregnant. I’ve always loved the smell of coffee, but suddenly I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t tolerate even a whiff of perfume or cologne, Cigarette smoke didn’t just bother me, it made me actually angry!
For better or worse, about two-thirds of pregnant women report heightened olfactory senses. Researchers credit a high level of estrogen in the body with the superhero powers of enhanced taste and smell. The increased blood flow also transmits sensory information to the brain faster. From an evolutionary standpoint, women have to be expert tasters and smellers to avoid eating poisonous or spoiled food and exposure to environmental toxins while pregnant.
6. Your breasts change.
Starting as early as a few weeks in, you may notice your breasts feel tender and may have enlarged. Sore breasts were my first pregnancy symptom with my second baby. I was still nursing my almost-two-year-old, and I’d only had two periods since he was born, but when I woke up one morning with very tender breasts, I knew it could only mean one thing.
Breast fluctuations vary from person to person, but it’s common to expand by one or two cup sizes over the course of a pregnancy. In addition to growing to support the mammary glands, the nipple and areola may darken in color, which will help your baby seek nourishment in those earliest weeks.
To make the changes in size and sensitivity easier, American Pregnancy Association recommends “a good supportive bra.” For more information on choosing the right bra, read 3 Mistakes Moms Make In Finding the Perfect Nursing Bra Fit.
7. Your brain changes.
A five-year study published in 2016 shows evidence that pregnancy may change a woman’s brain structure in noticeable ways after giving birth. Researchers found decreased grey matter in areas of the brain responsible for analyzing how others think and feel. Elseline Hoekzema, corresponding author, noted, “These changes may reflect … a mechanism of synaptic pruning…giving way to more efficient and specialized neural networks.”
These differences could improve a woman’s ability to recognize social threats, empathize with, and nurture her baby. They also discovered that the areas with grey matter loss lit up when women looked at pictures of their own babies, signifying greater attachment to their children.
Learn more about your amazing changing body.
Watch this interactive video from the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, which shows the changes the body undergoes throughout pregnancy and includes quotes from real mothers about their firsthand experiences.
Check out this fun video on taste changes during pregnancy and how your diet may affect your baby’s developing sense of taste.
You can also follow Baby Center's week-by-week summaries to get an idea of how your amazing body and the baby’s amazing body change from week to week.
No two pregnancies are exactly alike, which only adds to the sense of wonderment about this time in life. You may not experience nine months of pure bliss or relish in every change that comes your way, but think of all the things you’re capable of while growing a whole person.
Some women have likened childbirth to marathon running, saying they found renewed sense of personal strength after going through labor.
Childbirth educators agree that most women come out of their pregnancies feeling more self-confident about the next step. As Ina May writes in her Guide to Childbirth, “I have felt incredible energy and life force through my body, and I have really been reborn a happier, healthier, and more confident person.”
So, resist the urge to sweat the small stuff on those days when your body changes seem to be getting the better of you. You are creating life; your body is stronger and more capable than you think.
Pregnancy and childbirth can be transformative experiences, but remember, you’re already an amazing person, ready both physically and mentally to grow, deliver, bond with, and raise your child.
Be you bravely,