How your body is changing

Hormones released throughout your pregnancy do two things. They influence the growth of your baby, and they send signals that change the way your own organs function. In fact, the hormonal changes of pregnancy affect nearly every part of your body.

Here's an overview of what's happening, and where:

Your hormones

Hormone production is continuing to increase this month. This increase is likely resulting in some unpleasant signs and symptoms. You might be experiencing nausea and vomiting, breast soreness, headaches, dizziness, increased urination, insomnia and vivid dreams. Nausea and vomiting may be the most significant hormone-related change you've experienced since last month.

Scientists aren't quite sure why hormonal changes cause nausea and vomiting. Changes in your gastrointestinal system in response to high hormone levels almost certainly play a role. Increased progesterone slows down the pace at which your food passes through your digestive tract. Therefore, your stomach empties somewhat more slowly, which may make you more likely to have nausea and vomiting. Estrogen may have a direct effect on the brain that triggers nausea.

Nausea and vomiting affect up to 70 percent of pregnant women. These uncomfortable problems typically begin between the fourth and eighth weeks of pregnancy. They usually subside by 14 weeks. Even though it's commonly called morning sickness, it can occur at any time of day.

For some women, nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy are accompanied by excessive salivation — an uncommon condition called ptyalism. It may be that women with ptyalism aren't producing any more saliva than usual, but that they're having trouble swallowing it because of their nausea.

Your heart and circulatory system

Your body is continuing to produce more blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to your baby. Increased blood production will continue throughout your pregnancy. It will be especially high this month and next, while pregnancy is making enormous demands on your circulation.

Despite this effort, your blood vessels are dilating even more quickly and your circulation is just a bit short of blood volume. To accommodate these changes, your heart is continuing to pump harder and faster. These changes in your circulatory system may be causing fatigue, dizziness and headaches.

Your breasts

Stimulated by increased production of estrogen and progesterone, your breasts are continuing to enlarge as the milk-producing glands inside them grow in size. You may also notice that your areolas, the rings of brown or reddish-brown skin around your nipples, are starting to enlarge and darken. This is the result of increased blood circulation. Your breasts may feel tender, tingly or sore. Or they may feel fuller and heavier.

Your uterus

If this is your first pregnancy, your uterus used to be about the size of a pear. Now it's starting to expand. By the time you deliver your baby, it will have expanded to about 1,000 times its original size.

To house your growing baby, your uterus expands from an area within your pelvis to just below your rib cage. Through this month and the next, your uterus will fit inside your pelvis. However, its increasing size may cause you to feel the need to urinate more often. You may also leak urine when you sneeze, cough or laugh. This is a simple matter of geography. During the first few months of pregnancy, your bladder lies directly in front and slightly under your uterus. As your uterus grows, your bladder gets crowded out.

Throughout these weeks, the placenta is continuing to grow and secure its attachment to the uterus. Sometimes this results in minor bleeding, which usually is normal. But if this does happen, let your health care provider know about it.

Your cervix

This month, your cervix becomes bluish tinged and continues to soften. Over the course of your pregnancy, your cervix will become softer and softer. This prepares it for thinning (effacement) and opening (dilation), necessary parts of childbirth.

By the seventh week of pregnancy, the mucous plug is well established in your cervix. This structure blocks the cervical canal during pregnancy, to prevent germs from getting into your uterus. The plug loosens and passes late in pregnancy, typically when your cervix starts to thin out and open in preparation for labor.

Your vagina

You may experience some vaginal bleeding during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. Statistics indicate that as many as 40 percent of pregnant women may have some bleeding. However, statistics also indicate that fewer than half these women will have miscarriages.

The 'warmed-up' effect

If you've been pregnant once before, you may notice that you're bigger than you were at the same time during your last pregnancy. You may also notice that side effects seem to be happening earlier this time.

You could call this the "warmed-up" effect. Like a balloon that's easier to blow up the second or third time around, your uterus may expand more quickly and easily once it has been through one pregnancy. Your abdominal muscles and ligaments have already been stretched once, so they give more easily as your uterus expands on the second go-round.

The downside is that because your uterus is getting bigger, faster, you may experience symptoms such as pelvic pressure and back pain sooner in this pregnancy than you did in your first pregnancy.

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