Changes to the Female Body Caused by Pregnancy
By: Ali Haghighi, DOMP, RMO
Pregnancy changes a woman’s body in many ways. There are developmental changes as well as physiological changes that occur during the fetal gestation process. For the body to accommodate a new life, some of the structures of a woman’s body will be disrupted. Along with the structure, many bodily functions will also undergo drastic changes during every stage of pregnancy.
Some of the functional and structural changes a woman will experience during pregnancy are:
- Weight gain
- Swollen veins
- Changes in posture
- Lowered bladder control
- Higher or lower blood pressure
- Poor digestion
- Water retention
- Flattened foot arches
- Loosening of the ligaments
- Muscle aches
- An increase in fatigue
- Numbness and tingling in extremities
- Increased uterus and breast size
These structural changes are essential to prepare the woman’s body for a growing fetus as well as to help her prepare for childbirth. While essential, these structural changes also cause a myriad of difficulties. Structural alterations during pregnancy place more pressure on the muscles and joints of the body. The majority of this pressure is focused on the pelvis, spine, and ankles.
Discomfort is a normal part of the pregnancy process. A woman’s body will change shape constantly in addition to increasing in size to accommodate a growing fetus. As pregnancy progresses, changes in posture, diet, and body shape can cause pain and other temporary health complications. Women who suffer from pre-existing trauma or issues with certain parts of their body may experience even more discomfort during pregnancy. All of the ligaments in the body will loosen and soften throughout a pregnancy, which can increase the overall strain on certain joints.
Aside from that, there are additional unique changes that occur during each of the three stages of pregnancy.
During the early stages of pregnancy, the changes to the female body are more hormonal than structural. As a result, there may be minor aches, pains, and fatigue but not at the level seen during later stages in the pregnancy. Depending on the woman’s existing health, she may experience a wide range of changes during these initial weeks.
The first trimester will bring simple changes, such as fatigue and light-headedness. This is mainly caused by the increased strain on the blood supply, but can also be due to stress or excessive hunger. Constipation and heartburn are also very common during the first trimester. The uterus will begin to expand, though much slower during the first trimester than in later stages. A vast amount of hormonal changes will be taking place, which can lead to emotional upheaval, poor sleeping habits, and general achiness.
The second trimester will bring with it more drastic changes as well as much more discomfort as the fetus develops. Leg pain and swelling are common, as are muscle cramps in the lower extremities. This is caused by pressure from the growing fetus being placed on the woman’s veins, joints, and organs. Sore joints, pelvic bones, back, and hips are also common during the second trimester. The hormones generated during pregnancy loosen the ligaments in the body, making them more susceptible to stress. As the fetus grows, the natural posture of the woman’s body will change accordingly.
Postural changes are the most dramatic part of pregnancy. The body, bones and ligaments move out of their natural alignment to accommodate the growing fetus. The weight of the fetus and the enlarged breasts combined will alter the woman’s center of gravity to a more forward position. This position places more stress on the gluteal muscles, while also increasing the demands placed on the lower back. The body naturally strives to stay upright with the shoulders back, but thanks to the altered center of gravity during pregnancy, it takes more effort to do so.
Such demands on the body will cause problems such as fatigue, headaches, leg pains, and discomfort in the neck, back, and shoulders. Stomach pain, bleeding gums, heartburn, and UTI’s are also common complications seen during the second trimester.
The third and final trimester is the most difficult. The fetus will grow rapidly at this point, placing pressure on most of the woman’s bodily systems. It is normal for a woman to feel numbness or tingling in some parts of her body. This is often caused by pinched or compressed nerves and poor circulation. The posture and size of the fetus will have a dramatic effect on the mother’s ability to breathe deeply. When the body is out of alignment and posture is poorly maintained, the diaphragm’s actions can be impeded. When the diaphragm has less space to expand, it can cause difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, weakness, and general fatigue.
Hemorrhoids, varicose veins, and incontinence are also common problems that appear during the third trimester. Hip, back, and pelvic pain will increase dramatically during the last trimester due to the size of the fetus and the body preparing for childbirth. Pressure on the internal organs and joints caused by poor posture, increased fetus size, and weight gain will also increase the woman’s overall discomfort level.
The pregnancy journey is one that creates the most dramatic changes in posture and internal layout that a woman will experience in her lifetime. As a fetus grows, the womb expands and increases the overall weight of the bearer. This also causes an alteration of the center of gravity, which results in a change in posture. Poor posture causes pain in various parts of the body, including the lower back and neck. It can also trigger migraines, insomnia, poor digestion, and other complications.
Women who have high impact professions or who have small children while pregnant often feel additional stress on their body that are above the normal changes caused by pregnancy. Shortness of breath, lower back pain, swelling, sacrum pain, and headaches are all common problems seen in most women, regardless of which stage of pregnancy they happen to be.
Contact Us Today
Ultimate Health Clinic wants to make sure that you understand the changes that happen to a body during pregnancy, so you can properly prepare for them. In the next two posts, we will discuss how manual Osteopathy helps women who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth treat these changes. If you are interested in osteopathy in Holland Landing or want more information on treating pregnancy-related body changes, give us a call at (905)251-0162. We look forward to speaking with you!