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Natural Pregnancy Support

The Quick Cheat-Sheet On Body Changes to Expect During Pregnancy

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Healthy body changes are inevitable during pregnancy. A lot goes into making a tiny human, especially when your body is the vessel for that human’s life! The most supportive thing your can do for yourself is to love your changing body, there’s no space for self-judgment when you’re pregnant (quite literally).

Not all changes discussed here will happen for every pregnant woman or every pregnancy you may have, but when you know what to expect there are fewer surprises and so much about pregnancy can be a surprise for a first time mommy. It’s not all bad news! I’m just giving you the honest facts and there’s lots we can do with natural pregnancy support

Weight Gain

There’s no perfect amount of weight gain during pregnancy. Even though some research may recommend that you only need to eat an extra 350 calories a day (that’s about two cookies), I subscribe to the philosophy that you should eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Opt for healthy, nutritious meals most of the time but it’s okay to give in to your cravings too! If you are considered a “high-risk” pregnancy due to weight, please be mindful of your specific dietary concerns.

What to Expect: First Trimester

  • General fatigue – It’s tiring making a human!
  • Nausea/ vomiting – Potentially due to gradual displacement of gastro-intestinal organs upwards as the uterus enlarges, or the presence of hCG
  • Breast tenderness – Due to estrogen and progesterone developing the breast tissue for milk production
  • Blood pressure – It falls for the first 20 weeks, normalizes in the second trimester, and increases in the third
  • Increased heart rate and respiratory rate – To accommodate increased metabolic processes
  • Nasal congestion – Progesterone can affect the respiratory mucosa and lead to increased respiratory infections and mucus production
  • Sleep – It’s common to sleep more in the first trimester, and less in the third trimester

What to Expect: Second Trimester 

  • Leg cramps – Occur due to calcium stores being taken for fetal skeletal development
  • Reflux/ Heart burn – Due to slower stomach emptying, and progesterone decreasing the esophageal sphincter tone allowing stomach acid to raise into the chest
  • Increased urinary frequency – Due to increased progesterone, displacement of the bladder upward, and the bladder not emptying completely so it feels like you have to go more often!
  • Increased UTIs and yeast infections – Due to more urine collecting in the bladder and attracting bacteria, and estrogen causing vaginal pH changes
  • Increased vaginal discharge – This occurs because there is extra blood flow to the reproductive tract
  • Diarrhea or constipation – Both result from either increased or decreased motility of food in the intestines. The bowels are a little too relaxed under the influence of progesterone during pregnancy
  • Hemorrhoids, varicose veins, vulvar varicosities – More blood volume can cause venous pooling and the enlargement of the uterus can also exert extra pressure
  • Stretch marks – The growing fetus demands more space!
  • Foot growth & hip flexibility – The same hormone, progesterone, that loosens the pelvic ligaments for labour, loosens the ligaments in the feet. Don’t worry they shrink back

What to Expect: Third Trimester

  • “Hives- like” rash – Typically presents on the belly and legs. It is more common when carrying multiples, but the cause is unknown
  • Cholasma – Areas of darker skin on the face stimulated by estrogen and progesterone, which goes away after labour or breastfeeding. Can occur during any trimester  
  • Linea nigra – Vertical line on the belly due to increased melanocytes. Can occur during any trimester

Signs of Labour

  • “Nesting” – Desire to clean/organize weeks to days before labour
  • Dropping of the uterus – 2-3 weeks before labour
  • Loss of mucous plug – Clear, pink, or bloody fluid days to hours before labour
  • Water breaking – Gush or trickle of fluid that signifies cervix dilation
  • False labour “Braxton Hicks” – Contractions that are irregular, they don’t get more frequent or stronger, they stop when talking/ resting/ moving positions, only felt in the abdomen and pelvic region
  • True labour – Regular contractions at 30-90 sec intervals, continuous, increase in frequency and strength, start in lower back and move to abdomen

Self-care is critically important when it comes to pregnancy. Make sure you rest when you need to and find support we you need to. Also make sure you check-in with your doctor or midwife and let them know if you experience unexpected or concerning symptoms.

Book an appointment with Dr. Sumner. Learn about pregnancy nutrition too!

References

Descamps, P., Marret, H., Binelli, C., Chaplot, S., & Gillard, P. (2000). Body changes during pregnancy. Neuro-Chirurgie46(2), 68-75.

Singh, S., & Urooj, A. (2015). Influence of Pre-Pregnancy Weight, Food Habits and Lifestyle on Gestational Diabetes. Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science3(2), 156.

Pomeranz, M. K., & Dellavalle, R. P. (2015). The skin, hair, nails and mucous membranes during pregnancy.

Murkoff, H. (2016). What to expect when you’re expecting. Workman Publishing.

Davis, E. (2004). Heart and hands: a midwife’s guide to pregnancy and birth. Random House Digital, Inc..

The “All You Need To Know” Guide to Hormone Changes During Pregnancy

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You’re pregnant! Now what happens? Whether your journey to pregnancy has been a roller coaster ride, or a pleasant surprise, all women go through similar hormonal changes during pregnancy. The female body is absolutely incredible, resilient, and intuitive when it comes to pregnancy. It knows exactly what to do, even if you’re unsure of what might be happening in your body! Don’t worry; in this post I will guide you through all of the hormonal changes during pregnancy so you know exactly what’s going on. I also offer tons of resources for natural pregnancy support. After all, knowing what is happening in your body can make you feel more empowered and in control during your pregnancy. Let’s see how incredible the body can be!

Fertilization

It starts with an egg breaking free from the ovary during ovulation.

If that egg is fertilized with sperm, the fertilized egg begins differentiating into a group of cells called a trophoblast. This occurs about 6 days after ovulation. It is this trophoblast that produces the pregnancy detection hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). On average, hCG is detectable in your urine 10 days after ovulation/ fertilization.

hCG

When your egg ruptured from the ovary, it left behind its outer coat called the corpus luteum. It is the job of hCG to maintain the corpus luteum so that the corpus luteum can make progesterone and estrogen to support embryonic growth. If your egg is not fertilized and you do not produce hCG, the corpus luteum slowly disintegrates and you will get your period. hCG is present throughout your whole pregnancy but reaches peak levels around week nine to ten, at this point the placenta is able to take over hormone production.

Estrogen

Estriol (E3) is the predominant form of estrogen during pregnancy. Cholesterol from your circulation enters the placenta and is required to make all steroid hormones. The production of estrogen depends on the mother and the fetus. You work together with your baby to make estrogen! Here’s how it happens:

  • Cholesterol enters the placenta and turns into pregnenolone
  • Pregnenolone is converted into DHEA in the adrenal gland and liver of the fetus
  • DHEA crosses back into the mother’s circulation
  • Mommy uses the enzyme aromatase to convert DHEA into estriol

Phew!! Now that’s teamwork!

What does estrogen do?

  • Develops breast tissue
  • Supports the lining of the uterus
  • Increases blood flow to the uterus – and everywhere else which can cause rashes and venous stasis
  • Stimulates fetal organ development
  • Relaxes smooth muscle – causing reflux and constipation
  • Closer to term, it stimulates prostaglandins to promote uterine contractions and helps ripen the cervix with the hormone DHEA

Progesterone

Compared to estrogen, progesterone production is easy! It is made entirely by the placenta. Mommy doesn’t have to do anything. Just like estrogen, progesterone is made from cholesterol. It is first converted to pregnenolone, and then it becomes progesterone.

What does progesterone do?

  • Allows for implantation of embryo – if you’ve gone through IVF you make take a progesterone supplement during your third trimester to ensure embryo stickiness!
  • Suppresses the maternal immune response – this prevents rejection of the fetus and can stabilize immune conditions like multiple sclerosis
  • Maintains the placenta
  • Supports the lining of the uterus
  • Prevents uterine contractions
  • Relaxes smooth muscle – causing reflux and constipation
  • Loosens pelvis ligaments to prepare for labour

Thyroid Hormone

There are two thyroid hormones to take note of during pregnancy. T4 is an inactive, precursor hormone. T3 is your active thyroid hormone, which is derived from T4. Elevated estrogen levels promote elevated T3 and T4 to help with metabolism and regulation of steroid hormones.

 

hPL

Human placental lactogen is secreted by the placenta in order to help mom break down fats and carbohydrates for the baby. Unfortunately, this hormone opposes insulin so it can lead to insulin resistance in mom; this is why you may be screened for gestational diabetes at the end of the second trimester.

Cortisol

Cortisol is your “stress” hormone. As you near 40 weeks of pregnancy, cortisol production from the baby’s adrenal glands increases. This increase makes the uterus more sensitive to contractions; it also increases estrogen in the circulation and decreases progesterone to allow for even more contractions! You may be familiar with Braxton Hicks contractions, which are false contractions that occur from pressure on the uterus, not from elevated estrogen.

Oxytocin

Get ready to push! Oxytocin is made by mommy and is responsible for dilating the cervix and stimulating strong uterine contractions for delivering baby. After delivery, oxytocin is stimulated by the baby suckling on the nipple and promotes milk let down.

Prolactin

Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates your breast tissue to make milk. Estrogen promotes prolactin secretion from mom’s pituitary gland to prepare for lactation, but you will not typically begin lactating until after birth because the high amounts of estrogen and progesterone inhibit prolactin from acting on the breast tissue. After delivery when the hormone levels decrease, prolactin can then promote lactation. When the baby sucks on the nipple, prolactin and oxytocin are secreted to produce milk. Prolactin can be a “natural birth control” if you produce enough of it and breastfeed frequently, this is because prolactin inhibits ovulation.

After Birth

Hormones begin to normalize immediately after the delivery of the placenta, and are back to pre-pregnancy levels by day five post-labour. That’s really quick! It is this spontaneous change in hormones that can lead to low mood in the post-partum period. Being more aware of the influence of these hormones on your body will help you understand what you’re feeling and hopefully help you cope with the symptoms.

Book an appointment with Dr. Sumner. Learn more about pregnancy nutrition too!

References

Kumar, P., & Magon, N. (2012). Hormones in pregnancy. Nigerian medical journal: journal of the Nigeria Medical Association53(4), 179.

Hendrick, V., Altshuler, L. L., & Suri, R. (1998). Hormonal changes in the postpartum and implications for postpartum depression. Psychosomatics39(2), 93-101.

C,L. S., PhD. (2014). Physiology (5th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.

Chakrabarti, S., Morton, J. S., & Davidge, S. T. (2014). Mechanisms of estrogen effects on the endothelium: an overview. Canadian Journal of cardiology30(7), 705-712.

Byrns, M. C. (2014). Regulation of progesterone signaling during pregnancy: implications for the use of progestins for the prevention of preterm birth. The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology139, 173-181.