Your body during weeks 13 to

This month begins your second trimester, what's sometimes called the golden period of pregnancy. The name is apt. The side effects of early pregnancy taper off, but the discomforts of the third trimester haven't yet begun. Plus, your risk of miscarriage is now greatly reduced. New sensations are common during this time.

The changes that began in your first weeks of pregnancy are increasing and accelerating — and becoming more obvious to others. Here's an overview of what's happening and where.

Your hormones

Throughout your pregnancy, hormones are released by your placenta, ovaries, adrenal glands and pituitary gland. Your hormone levels are continuing to increase this month, influencing the growth of your baby and affecting every organ system in your body.

Your heart and circulatory system

Your circulatory system is continuing to expand rapidly. This expansion may be tending to lower your blood pressure. In fact, during the first 24 weeks of your pregnancy, your systolic blood pressure (the top number) will probably drop by five to 10 points, and your diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 10 to 15 points. After that they'll gradually return to pre-pregnancy levels.

You may be experiencing dizziness or faintness during hot weather or when you're taking a hot bath or shower. This occurs because heat makes the tiny blood vessels in your skin dilate, temporarily reducing the amount of blood returning to your heart.

Your body is continuing to make more blood this month. Right now, the extra blood you're producing is mostly plasma, the fluid portion of blood. During the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, you produce more plasma, more quickly, than you produce red blood cells. Until your red blood cells have a chance to catch up, they're outnumbered, resulting in lower concentrations.

If you don't get the iron you need this month to help your body make more red blood cells, you may become anemic. Anemia results when you don't have enough red blood cells in your blood, and therefore not enough of the protein hemoglobin to carry oxygen to your body's tissues. Anemia can make you tired and more susceptible to illness, but unless the anemia is severe, it's unlikely to hurt your baby. Pregnancy is designed so that even if you're not getting enough iron, your baby is.

Increased blood flow throughout your body may be causing some new unpleasant signs and symptoms this month. Your nasal tissues may be swollen and fragile. You may be producing more mucus, resulting in nasal stuffiness and congestion. You may also have nosebleeds or bleeding gums when you brush your teeth, even if you never did before. About 80 percent of pregnant women experience gum softening or bleeding. None of these problems will harm you or your baby, but they can be disconcerting and annoying.

Your respiratory system

Stimulated by progesterone, your lung capacity is increasing this month. With each breath, your lungs are inhaling and exhaling up to 30 percent to 40 percent more air than they did before. These changes in your respiratory system are allowing your blood to carry large quantities of oxygen to your placenta and baby. In addition, they're allowing your blood to remove more carbon dioxide from your body than it does normally.

You may notice that you're breathing slightly faster this month. You may also be experiencing shortness of breath. Two-thirds of all pregnant women do, usually beginning around the 13th week of pregnancy. This is because your brain is decreasing the carbon dioxide level in your blood in order to make it easier to transfer more carbon dioxide from your baby to you. To do this, the brain adjusts your breathing volume and rate. As a result, many women feel short of breath.

To accommodate your increased lung capacity, your rib cage will enlarge over the course of your pregnancy, by two to three inches in circumference.

Your digestive system

Increased amounts of the hormones progesterone and estrogen during pregnancy tend to relax every smooth muscle in your body, including your digestive tract. Under the influence of these hormones, your digestive system has slowed down. The movements that push swallowed food from your esophagus down into your stomach are slower, and your stomach also is taking longer to empty.

This slowdown is designed to allow nutrients more time to be absorbed into your bloodstream and reach your baby. Unfortunately, when you combine it with an expanding uterus crowding out other organs in your abdomen, this slowdown may also be causing heartburn and constipation, two of the most common and uncomfortable side effects of pregnancy. You may be experiencing these unpleasant side effects this month.

About half of all pregnant women experience heartburn. It results when digestive acid backs up into the esophagus, the tube that leads from your throat to your stomach. When this happens, stomach acids irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing the telltale burning sensation.

The story is much the same with constipation, which also affects at least half of all pregnant women. It's caused or at least encouraged by a slowed digestive system and pressure from the ever-expanding uterus on the lower bowel. In addition, your colon absorbs more water during pregnancy, which tends to make stools harder and bowel movements more difficult.

Your breasts

Your breasts and the milk-producing glands inside them are continuing to grow in size this month, stimulated by increased production of estrogen and progesterone. Skin darkening around the rings of brown or reddish-brown skin around your nipples (areolas) may be especially noticeable now. Although some of this increased pigmentation will fade after you've given birth, these areas are likely to remain darker than they were before you were pregnant. Your breasts are likely continuing to feel tender or sore, or they may feel fuller and heavier.

Your uterus

As your uterus is expanding to make room for your growing baby, so too is your abdomen. This will begin to be much more noticeable this month.

Now that you're in your second trimester, your uterus is heavier. It's also higher and more forward, which is changing your center of gravity. Without even knowing it, you may be starting to adjust your posture and the ways you stand, move and walk. You may at times feel as if you're going to tip over. This is normal. You'll return to your more graceful self after your baby is born.

As your uterus is becoming too big to fit within your pelvis, your internal organs are being pushed out of their usual places. Plus, greater tension is being placed on your surrounding muscles and ligaments. All this growth is likely causing some aches and pains this month.

Pressure from your uterus on the veins returning blood from your legs may be causing leg cramps, especially at night. You may also notice that your navel is starting to protrude. This, too, is the result of pressure from your growing uterus. After you deliver your baby, your navel will almost certainly return to normal.

You may be experiencing some pain in your lower abdomen this month. This is probably related to the stretching of ligaments and muscles around your expanding uterus, which doesn't pose a threat to you or your baby. However, if you're having abdominal pain, tell your health care provider about it.

Your urinary tract

The hormone progesterone is relaxing the muscles of your ureters, the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder, slowing your flow of urine. In addition, your expanding uterus is further impeding your urine flow. These changes, combined with a tendency to excrete more glucose in your urine, may be making you more prone to bladder and kidney infections this month.

If you're urinating even more often than normal, feeling burning on urination or experiencing a fever, you may have a urinary tract infection. Report these signs and symptoms to your health care provider. Abdominal pain and backache also may signal a urinary tract infection. Recognizing and treating urinary tract infections are especially important during pregnancy. When left untreated, these infections are a common cause of preterm labor later in pregnancy.

Your bones, muscles and joints

This month your bones, joints and muscles are continuing to adapt to the stresses of carrying your baby. The ligaments supporting your abdomen are becoming more elastic, and the joints between your pelvic bones are beginning to soften and loosen. Ultimately, these changes will make it easier for your pelvis to expand during childbirth so that your baby can pass through. For now, these changes may be causing some back pain.

The lower portion of your spine may be starting to curve backward to compensate for the shift in your center of gravity caused by your growing baby. Without this change, you'd probably fall over. But this change in your posture may be putting a strain on your back muscles and ligaments and may be causing some back pain.

Your vagina

You may notice that you have more vaginal discharge this month. That's normal. It's caused by the effects of hormones on the cells that line your vagina. Pregnancy hormones stimulate mucus production, but most of this normal discharge is turnover of the rapidly growing cells from the vagina. These cells combine with normal vaginal moisture to form a thin, white discharge. Its high acidity is thought to play a role in suppressing the growth of potentially harmful bacteria.

The hormone changes of pregnancy can disrupt the balance of your vaginal environment. When this happens, one type of organism living there may grow faster than the others, causing a vaginal infection. If you have vaginal discharge that's greenish or yellowish, strong smelling or accompanied by redness, itching and irritation of the vulva, contact your health care provider. But don't be too alarmed. Vaginal infections are common in pregnancy and can be treated successfully.

Over-the-counter medications for yeast infections are available, but don't use one while you're pregnant without talking to your health care provider first. Because other types of vaginal infections can cause signs and symptoms similar to those caused by yeast infections, it's best for your health care provider to exactly determine what type of vaginal infection you have before you start treatment.

Your skin

The pregnancy hormones at work in your body may be starting to cause changes in your skin this month. One of the most common — skin darkening — occurs in 90 percent of all pregnant women. You may be noticing darker areas of skin on or around your nipples, in the area between your vulva and anus (perineum), around your navel, and on your armpits and inner thighs. These changes will be more pronounced if you have dark skin. Skin darkening almost always fades after delivery, but some areas are likely to remain darker than before you were pregnant.

You may also be noticing mild skin darkening on your face. This condition, called chloasma or the mask of pregnancy, affects about half of all pregnant women, mostly those who have dark hair and fair skin. It usually appears on the forehead, temples, cheeks, chin and nose. It may not be as intense as other increases in pigmentation and generally fades completely after delivery. Other changes may include:

• Darkening of the white line running from your navel to your pubic hair.

• Darkening of existing moles, freckles and skin blemishes.

• Redness and itching on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. Thought to be caused by increased estrogen production, this skin change affects two-thirds of pregnant women.

• Bluish, blotchy patches on your legs and feet, especially when you're cold. This skin change, caused by increased estrogen, will disappear after your baby is born.

• Faster-growing fingernails and toenails, or nails that are brittle or soft and grooved.

Increased perspiration and heat rash. Pregnant women often perspire more as a result of the action of hormones and the need to control the heat produced by the developing baby. This skin dampness makes heat rashes more common.

Most of these skin changes are nothing to worry about. They usually disappear after your baby is born. Changes in moles or new moles are the exception. The moles that appear during pregnancy are usually not the types that are linked to skin cancer. However, it's still a good idea to show any new moles to your health care provider.

Weight gain

You'll probably gain about a pound a week this month, for a total of about 4 pounds. It's typical for your weekly weight gain to vary somewhat —

gaining a pound and a half one week and only half a pound the next. Unless a very dramatic change in weight occurs, health care providers tend to look at long-term trends rather than changes over just one month.

Constipation Prescription

Constipation Prescription

Did you ever think feeling angry and irritable could be a symptom of constipation? A horrible fullness and pressing sharp pains against the bladders can’t help but affect your mood. Sometimes you just want everyone to leave you alone and sleep to escape the pain. It is virtually impossible to be constipated and keep a sunny disposition. Follow the steps in this guide to alleviate constipation and lead a happier healthy life.

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