Whether you’ve been pregnant or not, you know that pregnancy is no walk in the park, physically, emotionally, or otherwise. Feet might swell, morning sickness may last all day, and emotions can be more unpredictable than ever. But there’s also so much crazy stuff that can happen that no one seems to tell you about. Look, there’s certainly such a thing as TMI — and if women knew every single detail about pregnancy in advance, we’d be a little worried about the human population’s ability to carry on. However, we also think knowledge is power, and if you’re planning to have a kid, you should have a heads up about, well, what to expect when you’re expecting.
While some of these symptoms and side effects are just plain weird, others can create a ton of stress and anxiety. (Which is kind of a side effect in and of itself — more on that later!) After all, when you’re pregnant, the stakes of your health feel higher. You’ve got a tiny new responsibility to worry about, and a scary symptom feels doubly scary. Not good!
So for the sake of education — or, maybe, as a little extra birth control — we present an insider scoop into the wild world of WTF pregnancy symptoms.
Imagine my surprise when I dutifully seesawed my minty REACH between my teeth one night early in my first trimester, only to be greeted with a shining-like torrent of blood in return. It was actually just one spot in my bottom row of teeth, just right of center, but I couldn’t even look at a carrot the wrong way without my bathroom turning into a crime scene.
Swollen gums in pregnancy are referred to as pregnancy gingivitis, the delightful result of hormonal changes that boost blood flow throughout the body, including to the gums, rendering them more irritable, sensitive, and swollen. Hormonal changes “can also make it harder to fight infections, sometimes leading to bloody gums,” says Jennifer Kerns, MD, MPH, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. So pregnant women should stay on top of their oral hygiene habits and schedule regular dental checkups. Warning: “While not all bleeding gums mean there is periodontal disease, periodontal disease is associated with preterm birth, so visit the dentist if bleeding gums become a problem in pregnancy,” Dr. Kerns says.
Next Level Hypochondria
First time preggos are notorious for calling their OB at the drop of a hat, but I took the cake. The following are real, actual phone calls I made to my OB’s office during my first pregnancy:
“I accidentally ate deli turkey. Will the baby be okay?”
“I accidentally ate blue cheese from Trader Joe’s that may not be pasteurized. Should I make myself throw up?”
“I woke up sleeping on my back. Do you think I cut off blood flow to the baby?”
“I forgot that I was pregnant and rested a hot mug of tea against my belly for a few minutes; did I overheat the baby’s brain?”
I swear to you, I am not making this up.
Pregnancy is a new experience, and so much of it can feel (and, in fact, is) out of our control. Not everyone is as much of a freak as I was. But ask around, and you’re bound to find a surplus of women who have gotten themselves into a pickle by googling various pregnancy symptoms. Hopefully my ridiculousness will serve as a source of comfort to other expectant moms, and make you feel better about the occasional semi-frantic phone call to your doctor.
Addie*, 40, had a healthy sex drive to begin with, but pregnancy shot it into another stratosphere. “I would call him from the office and make him meet me at home. It didn’t matter if it was daytime, nighttime, middle of the night — it was all the time.”
Many pregnant women chalk their teenage-like sex drive up to surging hormone levels and augmented blood flow down below. Dr. Kerns notes that each woman’s experience is different, but for women who notice an increased sex drive in the second trimester, “it’s possible that the decrease in nausea and fatigue from exiting the first trimester is partially responsible.”
*Not her real name.
Bye-bye, Bladder Control
Now that Lisa Rinna is modeling for Depends, it’s created a safe space for me to reveal that, on more than one occasion, I peed all over myself while pregnant. I remember one event in particular: I had a dreadful cold, made worse by the fact that this was my first pregnancy and I was fearful of everything, so I refused to take any cold medications. (By Baby #2, I was basically popping Sudafed just to get me through an average Monday.) I’d just emerged from a steamy shower when a particularly robust sneeze hit me, and it was about 50% more than my bladder could handle. The result: A smallish puddle on our lovely Brazilian cherry hardwood floors that left me sobbing these pathetic, snot-rattled sobs — something along the lines of, “I’m so disgusting. Why is this happening to me? I’m like a puppy!”
What’s happening: Easy one: Your baby is basically standing on your bladder.
Many women think pregnancy means a 40-week get out of period jail pass. But the reality is, up to half of all pregnant women experience bleeding or spotting during their pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes. Christy*, 36, bled throughout both of her pregnancies. “The first time, I started bleeding pretty significantly very early on,” she says. “My doctor thought I was having a miscarriage, but when I reached the six-week mark, I went in for an ultrasound, and he saw a heartbeat.” Christy continued to bleed off and on for the next 12 weeks and even wound up in the ER during her third trimester. “I basically thought I was having a miscarriage every week throughout the whole pregnancy,” she says. The good news? Her son was born perfectly healthy.
What’s happening: In Christy’s case, the cause of her bleeding was asubchorionic hematoma, a condition in which blood collects, pools, and can leak through the cervix. Many women with this condition continue on to have a healthy pregnancy. Still, Dr. Kerns says any vaginal bleeding in pregnancy is reason enough for a visit to your health care provider to rule out a potential miscarriage. “Later in pregnancy, spotting or bleeding can occur after sex, but it can also be a sign of labor or bleeding from the placenta,” she says. Never feel embarrassed about dialing your doctor and asking them to squeeze you in.
More Craziness With Your Vagina
Some women notice more discharge when pregnant; others get so sweaty that they need to wear maxi pads. At some point during your last month, you’ll pull your underwear down and see something called a “mucous plug.” Ashley*, 33, developed varicose veins (yes, there) while carrying her twins. “By 20 weeks, the veins on the left side of my vagina were about the size of a golf ball, and remained that way through delivery. I still worked out and was free to have sex if I wanted, but we didn’t.” (Fortunately, Ashley’s veins shrunk back down after delivery.)
*Not her real name.
My friend E’s feet swelled up during both of her pregnancies — to the point where if you gently pressed her ankle with a finger, her flesh remained indented for a not insignificant length of time. It was like that old school Pillsbury commercial where a finger pokes the little Doughboy’s belly, only kind of sad and with no cute giggle.
But it’s not just swelling — many women’s feet actually grow longer, too. I somehow escaped the swelling, and my feet never grew beyond their already sizable size 10 status. What they did do, in fact, is shrink almost a full size; I can now wear size nine to nine and-a-half, tops.
What’s happening: Pretty much everything gets bigger when you’re pregnant, and your feet want in on the party. First, your body retains more fluid during pregnancy, plus your growing uterus places pressure on your veins, hampering the return of blood to your heart and leading to swollen ankles and feet. Next, the same hormone that allows your pelvis to open up and pop out a baby also causes the ligaments in your feet to loosen up, so the bones can spread out (and often don’t go back.) As for why my feet shrank? Dr. Kerns has no idea, but at least I have better luck on Zappos now.
By: Leslie Goldman