How to Care for Your Changing Body

Adapted from the following babycenter articles: "Sleep Aids During Pregnancy" "Pregnancy Weight Gain: What to Expect" "Morning Sickness" and "16 Pregnancy Sanity Savers".

Weight Gain
Whether or not you've struggled previously with your weight, you may have a hard time accepting that it's okay to gain weight now. Try to keep in mind that the extra weight is important for a healthy pregnancy and will eventually come off after you've had the baby. Rather than watching the scale, concentrate on eating nutritious meals, cutting out junk food and exercising regularly (after first checking with your healthcare provider).

Many women suffer from back pain during pregnancy, which can make sitting, standing and walking difficult and disrupt your sleep patterns. If pain is severe or comes on suddenly, speak to your healthcare provider about pain relief alternatives. Otherwise try these methods for reducing discomfort and getting a good night's sleep.

  • Exercise. Early in pregnancy, start an exercise program (under your healthcare provider's supervision) that includes simple stretching or yoga to strengthen and stretch back and leg muscles.
  • Treat yourself to a massage to relax and loosen tight back muscles. Visit a professional with experience working with pregnant women, or cajole your partner into performing a soothing foot rub.
  • To get a good night's rest, try sleeping on your side with a pillow between your bent knees to support your lower back. Later in your pregnancy, you may need additional support for your back and abdomen. Use regular pillows or choose from a variety of maternity wedges and full-length body pillows.

Swollen Ankles and Feet
Because your body retains more fluid during pregnancy, you may experience swollen legs, ankles and/or feet (edema), particularly during your third trimester. Fortunately, this is a temporary condition that will disappear soon after the baby is born. Until then:

  • Stay off your feet as much as possible.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Avoid sitting or standing for long periods.

Note: Call your healthcare provider if you notice sudden swelling in your hands and face. It could signal a dangerous pregnancy condition called preeclampsia.

Itchy Skin
It is not uncommon to feel itchy as the skin on your belly and breasts expands. Some women also find that their palms and the soles of their feet get red and You may also find that certain conditions that normally make you itchy (such as dry skin, eczema, or food allergies) make you even itchier when you're pregnant.

To reduce discomfort, avoid taking hot showers or baths, use mild soap and moisturize liberally with an unscented lotion.

Intense Itching
Severe itchiness in the second or, more commonly, third trimester can be a sign of intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, a liver problem that affects up to 2 percent of pregnant women and may spell trouble for your baby. Call your doctor or midwife immediately if you think you have cholestasis. If you do, you'll need to have blood tests to check your liver and ultrasounds to check on your baby.

Stretch Marks
Not all women get stretch marks. Because they appear in areas where the skin has stretched rapidly due to weight gain, you may reduce your chances by gradually adding pounds, and not exceeding the recommended weight for your body type. If you do get them, there are several options for minimizing their appearance. Some studies have shown that topical ointments such as tretinoin cream may help, however they must be applied soon after you give birth. (Note: Some topical treatments are not safe to use while you are pregnant and/or nursing, so consult with your healthcare provider.) There's some evidence that laser treatments can help restore the skin's elasticity and pigmentation; if you're interested, talk to a dermatologist. Unfortunately, this type of cosmetic procedure isn't covered by insurance.

Pregnancy's pleasant surprises: The sight of a pregnant woman brings out the civility in people. Grocery baggers volunteer to help you out to your car. People hold doors open for you. Everyone smiles at you. Enjoy it while it lasts! Here are a few more of the perks of pregnancy:

Fast-growing fingernails: Sometime around the fourth month, your nails may start to grow faster than usual. They may also become softer or more brittle, and develop tiny grooves. They should return to normal within a few months postpartum.

A luxuriant head of hair: During the second trimester, you might notice that your hair looks extra healthy and full. You're not actually growing more hair - thanks to pregnancy hormones, you're just losing less.

The proverbial "glow": Also during the second trimester, you may notice that your skin looks brighter than usual. Hormones are partly responsible, but an increase in blood volume also brings more blood to the skin, giving it a luminescent look.

A newly ample bosom: It's common to go up a cup size or two during your pregnancy, so you may have some new cleavage to show off!

Most of the bodily changes associated with pregnancy are temporary, so try not to fret too much about them. Instead, concentrate on the joyful event to come.