We round up some of the surprising things that can happen to both body and mind during pregnancy...
Pregnant women are often asked if they’ve had any crazy cravings, and while the desire to eat a lump of coal or chow down on a pile of soil is quite rare (a condition known as Pica), hankering after a particular kind of food much more than usual is very normal. Common ones are potatoes, salty snacks, apples, milkshakes, popcorn and ginger beer. It’s usually due to hormonal influences and often peters out after the fourth month. It’s worth discussing any cravings you have with your LMC (particularly if they’re for something non-edible).
You might think that your teeth wouldn’t have much to do with all the goings on in your uterus, but hormonal changes can upset your gums, causing them to swell and bleed easily.
Some women find that their libido surges during pregnancy and they feel sexier than ever before, particularly after the tiredness and nausea of the first trimester has dissipated. The good news is that if you’re feeling up for it, sex is completely safe during a normal, low-risk pregnancy. There are a few scenarios where it should be avoided though, such as placenta praevia (a condition where the placenta lies very low in the uterus and covers the cervix) or if membranes have been ruptured, you’ve experienced unexplained bleeding or threatened pre-term labour. Your LMC will of course be across this and will let you know if sex is a no-go.
Emotions are often heightened during pregnancy thanks to those hormones again – so don’t blame yourself if you well up over a photo of a cute puppy or start crying while watching a sad story on the news.
For some women those heightened emotions, hormonal changes and thoughts about the big changes that await you can lead to a more serious scenario of antenatal depression and/or anxiety. Although it’s less well known than PND, it’s not uncommon and needs to be taken seriously and treated appropriately. Symptoms to look out for include excessive worry that is not assuaged by reassurance; difficulties sleeping; having obsessive compulsive thoughts; experiencing negative feelings about yourself or the baby; ceasing to find enjoyment in things. If you or someone you know is showing ongoing symptoms of anxiety and depression and/or is not coping day-to-day then it’s crucial to get help. Talk to your GP or LMC and they will be able to help find you the right support through the perinatal mental health service.
Surprising facts about labour
Pooing during labour is a common one for women to worry about and while the idea of such a thing occurring might seem mortifying right now, the surprising thing is that if it does happen you probably won’t realise – and you’re unlikely to care! The good news is that most of the time the need to poo occurs early on during labour when you’re still able to get to the bathroom. This will clear things out before you reach the pushing stage. When baby passes through the birth canal its head presses against your bowel just before it comes into contact with your perineum so it can cause a bowel motion at this stage. Don’t feel bad though – it’s nothing your LMC hasn’t seen a thousand times before, it means you’re pushing the right way and best of all your baby is almost there!
Of all the old wives’ tales about how to induce labour the most scientifically valid is the one about sex. This is because you release oxytocin (the labour hormone) when you’re aroused and particularly with nipple stimulation. Semen also contains prostaglandins – the substances that help to soften the cervix. Walking and gentle exercise can also help. The theory about eating something extra spicy is based on the idea that upsetting your bowel can in turn get your uterus moving, however there are no guarantees that it will lead to anything more than a trip to the loo.
Easy as 1, 2, 3…
Rather than one process, labour is actually viewed as occurring in three distinct stages.
Stage one - is when the cervix dilates and you start to feel regular, mild contractions and finishes when your cervix is fully dilated at 10cm. This phase is also broken down into three parts: Latent – this is when your cervix thins out and dilates to 3cm. Contractions are usually 10-20 minutes apart and last for 15-20 seconds. They gradually move closer together until they occur every five to seven minutes and last 30-40 seconds. Active – your cervix will dilate from 4cm to 8cm. It will take about an hour to dilate each centimetre, faster in women who have had a baby before. Contractions will now be moderate to strong, coming every two to three minutes and lasting about one minute. Transition – your cervix dilates from 8cm-10cm. Your contractions will be strong, coming every two minutes and lasting 60-90 seconds. This is the time when you might feel anxious, desperate, even angry, due to the extra adrenalin coursing through your body.
Stage two - of labour is the pushing stage. The cervix is dilated to 10cm and once your LMC has given the all clear you will start pushing with each contraction. As your baby crowns at the vaginal entrance, you may feel a burning sensation as the tissues are stretched to their utmost. Your LMC may advise you to ‘pant’ or breathe fast and shallow, which helps prevent you from pushing for a few seconds. This allows your skin to stretch a little further and hopefully prevent tearing or an episiotomy (a cut to the vaginal entrance and perineum that must be stitched after delivery).
Stage three - usually lasts less than two hours with a first baby, and less than an hour with subsequent babies. During this stage, the placenta comes away from the wall of your uterus and is delivered.
You might also like
Lean on me: Birth Support
Carolyn Tranter is the founder of The Doula Academy and is passionate about her unique role supporting women through childbirth and early motherhood. She explains how a doula can support a mum-to-be during birth as well as postnatally.
When your days are busy taking care of your family's needs it's easy to neglect your own. Prioritising your wellbeing is essential - for everyone's sake - so try these simple tips to keep you healthy and happy this winter.
Doing all the right things for your growing baby is important, but make sure you take care of yourself too with these handy tips for staying comfortable during pregnancy.