The signs of pregnancy

April 1, 2014, 12:00 am Alison Turner womenshealth

A double line on a pregnancy test and a rapidly expanding waistline isn't the only sign of pregnancy. Here, we get expert advice on other common symptoms.

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Your body is a pretty amazing piece of work. And when you're growing another human, its many abilities can really come to the fore.

We take a look at some of the freaky, occasionally mystifying stuff that can happen to you when you’re pregnant, and ask the experts to provide us with a (reassuringly rational) explanation.

You’re really randy

“Between week 16 and 32 I was so horny!” Penny, 35

“All that extra blood in the pelvic region triggers sexual thoughts and feelings,” says Dr Gino Pecoraro, Secretary of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

“Women usually feel horny around mid-pregnancy, which is when progesterone kicks in.”

Dr Pecoraro points out this may have an evolutionary basis. “Sexual feelings bond pairs,” he points out.

“Increased libido during pregnancy may have been a way to increase the bond the father felt for the mother, ensuring he stuck around to look after her, rather than buggering off to sow his seed elsewhere.”

You crave weird stuff

“I had an insatiable craving for ice cubes. I once bought a bag of ice from the local servo.” Amanda, 30

While some women talk about experiencing strange or uncharacteristic cravings during pregnancy, there are no scientific studies to back them up, according to Women's Health health expert and GP Dr Ginni Mansberg.

“When you’re pregnant, especially the first time, your inner narcissist comes out and you give in to whatever you’re hankering after,” she says.

Also, about 30 per cent of pregnant women suffer from a persistently blocked nose, or pregnancy rhinitis.

“This is caused by the relaxation of blood vessels in the nose due to pregnancy hormones,” says Dr Pecoraro. A blocked nose can make things taste and smell different, so your likes and dislikes are likely to change.

On top of this: “Pregnancy causes altered taste sensation,” says Dr Pecoraro. “This is thought to be hormones affecting the nerves that control taste.”

You’ll also notice your sensitivity to certain smells and taste increase.

“Some women find they suddenly can’t stand the smell of meat, even to the point that it actually makes them gag,” says Dr Pecoraro.

While neither Dr Mansberg or Dr Pecoraro can explain the insatiable ice cravings, there is a condition known as pica, in which iron-deficient people – including pregnant women – crave dirt, metal or clay. Tasty.

You drool like a bloodhound

“This mainly happened at night... it was disgusting.” Jenny, 35

While excess saliva may be due to pregnancy-related nausea, some women find they have so much saliva they have to spit it out, like a charming old man on the street.

“Many of my pregnant patients speak of a metallic taste in their mouth,” says Dr Pecoraro.

“The excess saliva is produced to try and rid the mouth of that taste.”

Heartburn, a common symptom of pregnancy, is another possible cause of increased slobber. Acid censors in your oesophagus trigger salivary glands to produce saliva that has an increased concentration of bicarbonate, which is alkaline, in an attempt to neutralise the acid.

“Extra drooling could also be connected to that blocked nose,” Dr Mansberg points out.

Your dreams go crazy

“I had worrying dreams about the baby. And they were so real, I would wake up in a panic.” Diane 31

“The theory is that pregnancy hormones effect the threshold which nerves fire off,” says Dr Pecoraro.

This causes dreams to be vivid and, at times, downright weird.

“Dreaming in pregnancy is quite normal, as fears arise when we are about to face anything new ,” says Women's Health stress less expert Dr Suzy Green.

If you’re intrigued about what your dreams mean, Dr Green recommends you write it down.

“Identify the key figures, the key events and – most importantly – how you felt in the dream,” she says.

“Vivid sex dreams are also very common in pregnancy,” says Dr Mansberg. “I’ve spoken to patients who are extremely conservative, and all of a sudden they’re having these really raunchy dreams...” Naughty!

You fart like a trucker

“One night, when I was about 11 weeks pregnant, I had horrible stomach pains and was terrified I was miscarrying. A few minutes later, I farted. Turns out it was just gas – unlike anything I had ever experienced before.” Belinda, 32

Whoah. Now that sounds seriously uncomfortable.

“All those hormones surging around your body make your bowels more sluggish,” Dr Mansberg explains.

“This causes constipation, which in turn causes increased flatulence. Also, having a baby pressing on your rectum doesn’t help matters...”

You swell in strange places

“I got a haemorrhoid that had its own postcode. A midwife told me it was one of the biggest she’d ever seen.” Astrid, 36

Haemorrhoids are very common during pregnancy.

“Your increased progesterone levels open up your blood vessel walls, making them more leaky,” says Dr Mansberg.

Veins become congested with the extra blood in your circulatory system, your growing baby puts increasing amounts of pressure on your veins and the weaker vessel walls cause them to give way.

“Your vagina can also increase in size,” Dr Mansberg says.

“Some women even notice the remnants of their hymen, as it swells up with everything else.”

Increased blood flow can also turn the palms of hands red, symptoms of eczema can worsen and increased sebum production can cause breakouts.

You turn stripey

“Luckily I knew what the line down my middle was, otherwise it would have freaked me out,” Bronwyn, 37

Some women notice a dark line developing on their stomach that runs from their bellybutton to their pubic hair. This is known as linea nigra, and it’s caused by an increase in skin pigmentation where your abdominal muscles stretch and separate to make room for that rapidly growing sprog.

“Most women notice a generalised increase in pigmentation,” says Dr Cathy Reid, Honourary Secretary of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. “It’s believed to be caused by increased levels of oestrogen.”

Your nipples and vagina, as well as moles or freckles can become darker, too.

“Up to 70 per cent of pregnant women develop what is known as chloasma, or the mask of pregnancy,” says Dr Reid.

This causes darker patches on the face, usually under your eyes, across the upper lip and mid-forehead. Dr Reid reassures us it normally fades after birth.

“There are OTC and prescription de-pigmenting creams available for this sort of thing, but they can’t be used during pregnancy,” she says.

You look fabulous

“I kept getting compliments about how fresh and young my skin looked – it was great.” Carla, 32

Your skin holds on to more moisture during pregnancy, which makes it look plumper and smoother. Plus, the increased bloodflow circulating around your body gives you a nice rosy hue.

On the downside, this can make you swell up (cankles!) and cause redness, spider veins and varicose veins. Which are not so great, really.

Now, what's your vagina IQ??

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