Pregnancy changes your life — and your body.
You knew that your belly would expand, you’d feel more tired than usual, and you might throw up a few times as your pregnancy progressed. But you may not have expected some of the other physical changes.
Ob-gyn Michele M. Hakakha, MD, author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy, says, “Many things happen to a woman’s body when she becomes pregnant, and most are shocking: hair growth on your belly, belching and constipation, increased vaginal discharge, and hemorrhoids, to name a few.” Hakakha says, “These aren’t things that a woman usually talks about. So it’s no wonder there’s a bit of embarrassment.”
Despite the embarrassment, it’s most important to not be shy: Your ob-gyn needs to know what’s going on with you to make sure your pregnancy is on track.
1. Excess Gas
Virtually every pregnant woman gets gassy. That’s because pregnancy brings a hormonal surge that can slow down your gastrointestinal tract.
You might not be able to keep it to yourself because you don’t have the same control over your muscles during pregnancy.
When you’re not pregnant, Michelle Smith, author of Taboo Secrets of Pregnancy: A Guide to Life with a Belly, says, “Most of the time you know it’s coming and can keep it at bay until the coast is clear. [But when you are pregnant], you’ll think: ‘Oh my gosh, did I really just fart in front of my in-laws? How can I show my face again?'”
Though you can’t erase the problem, you can reduce your tendency toward gassiness with exercise and changes to your diet.
“Exercise helps increase the motility of the GI tract, allowing food to move through faster,” Hakakha says. “The less time it has to sit around and ferment, the less gas is produced. Some foods are more likely to produce gas, so the best bet is to avoid them completely: carbonated drinks, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, and dried fruit.”
Dairy products can also cause GI distress during pregnancy, leading to flatulence. “Many women start drinking milk every day during pregnancy and think it’s good for them,” Sonja Kinney, MD, associate professor in the ob-gyn department at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Medicine, says. “But they can’t tolerate milk as an adult.”
Try lactose-free milk or other calcium-rich foods if you’re lactose intolerant.
You may have heard stories about pregnant women sneezing and accidentally emptying their bladders while standing among friends or co-workers. Most pregnant women who experience stress incontinence — involuntarily leaking urine because of a jarring cough, sneeze, or laugh — only lose a few drops. But it can still feel embarrassing.
Many doctors recommend that women wear panty liners to catch leaks during the last few months of pregnancy when stress incontinence is more likely. Regular trips to the bathroom can also help.
“As the baby grows and the uterus enlarges, the baby ends up sitting right on top of the bladder,” Hakakha says. “Making a conscious effort to empty your bladder every two hours, even if you feel like you don’t have to go, will make it less likely to leak.”
3. Facial Hair
During pregnancy, hormones are responsible for hair growing in unwanted places.
Waxing or tweezing is the safest methods for hair removal during pregnancy.
“Any time it’s a cosmetic outpatient procedure not medically indicated, most dermatologists and plastic surgeons will push it off until after pregnancy,” University of Alabama at Birmingham obstetrics and gynecology associate professor Kim Hoover, MD, says. “During pregnancy, laser treatments on the face can affect skin pigment, and it may cause scarring.”
Some women develop a stronger sense of smell during pregnancy. Many develop an aversion to strong food odors, such as poultry or seafood. A smaller percentage of women begin picking up on their own scent, which can be embarrassing.
“Sometimes you can smell yourself vaginally, especially toward the end of pregnancy,” Hoover says. “It could be because you have more mucus then. Some people get worried about the odor and bring wet wipes wherever they go. But no one else can tell. Your scent hasn’t gotten stronger; your sense of smell has improved.”
Tell your doctor about any new noticeable vaginal odors to rule out a yeast infection, which can be safely treated with anti-fungals during pregnancy.
Ask any new mom about hemorrhoids, and she’ll probably have an uncomfortable story to share, if she chooses to tell you about it.
“Hemorrhoids are a sure bet when a woman becomes pregnant,” Hakakha says. “They often occur with constipation and the straining that ensues in an attempt to have a bowel movement. And we all know that constipation is one of the most common complaints in pregnancy.”
Reduce your risk of developing hemorrhoids by avoiding constipation. Stay well-hydrated, eat more fiber, and use over-the-counter stool softeners.
“Consult your doctor about supplementary fiber as well,” Smith says. “Hold your nose and stifle your gag as you force it down.”
If hemorrhoids develop, witch hazel pads and anti-inflammatory creams can help, and they’re safe during pregnancy, Hakakha says.
Pimples and unsightly outbreaks are common — especially during the first trimester — because of the additional hormones coursing through your system. Certain acne medications, such as Retin-A, are off-limits during pregnancy, but other treatments are allowed.
“Most acne washes are safe since the product does not sit on your skin for long periods of time. But ask your doctor before using any acne product,” Hakakha says. “Use topical acne medication sparingly, only on affected areas. Products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid are safe to use in small amounts.”
7. Intimacy Issues
Weight gain and other physical changes can make you feel unattractive around your partner. Don’t let that lead to communication and intimacy problems.
“Some people get embarrassed about being physically intimate,” Kinney says. “The discharge will change. There’s a potential for vulvar swelling. They feel very uncomfortable and don’t feel they look attractive.”
If you’re having trouble broaching this topic with your partner, consider inviting your partner to an ob-gyn visit, particularly if you’ve discussed your intimacy issues with your doctor at a previous appointment.
“Having a provider say that these are all normal things can help,” Kinney says.