Your Changing Body: Trimester by Trimester
Head-to-toe changes you may not expect when you're expecting
Side effects: Frequent urination, bladder infections, itchiness
You knew you would go to the bathroom a lot, but you may not have known that you would go so little, so frequently. That's because the bladder never completely empties during pregnancy; it's 30 to 50 percent full at any given moment as a result of progesterone's relaxing effect on the muscles. At the same time, the kidneys work about 40 percent harder to remove waste from both you and the baby. Aside from the uncomfortable sensation of never emptying your bladder, this phenomenon also increases the risk of urinary infection -- and may make it harder to detect when you have one. If going to the bathroom becomes painful at any time, contact your obstetrician.
You may experience itchiness during the third trimester, especially on your abdomen. It's typically the annoying but harmless result of hormones and stretching skin. If it becomes intense or prolonged, though, tell your doctor; it could indicate a liver problem known as choletasis.
Legs and Feet
Side effects: Cramps, varicose veins, swelling
Cramps in your feet and calves are normal in the second and third trimesters, and may be caused by either fatigue or the uterus putting pressure on the nerves in your legs.
Varicose veins and swollen feet are two other ailments that usually occur once your baby has made her physical presence known. At that point, the weight and position of the uterus impairs blood flow, enlarging already swollen veins in the legs, rectum (hemorrhoids), and vulva. As they become more visible, they'll sometimes create discomfort. Your feet are likely to swell as part of the fluid-retention process, and because of your increasing weight.
An End in Sight
As you observe the changes taking place in your body, take comfort in knowing that what pregnancy gives, childbirth most often takes away. Around three hours after delivery, some hormone levels return to normal, says Dr. Moore, often quickly eliminating many bothersome side effects that have lasted for months.
In the days following my daughter's birth, I remember gleefully stretching my feet and pointing my toes (no cramps), walking up the stairs (without losing my breath), and ceremoniously dropping my bottles of antacid in the trash one by one. Ultimately, I was left with the one effect of pregnancy that really lasted: Her name is Anna.
Contributing editor Barbara Rowley's most recent book is Baby Days, a collection of activities for young children.