On behalf of all mothers, I apologize for perpetuating the misconception that pregnancy is cute. Now that you’ve taken the bait and begun your 40-week journey, it’s time for me to let you in on all the behind-the-scenes nasties … but only if you promise not to tell!
Everywhere a stretch mark
Maybe you’ve already begun slathering your belly in lotion in an attempt to ward them off, but what are stretch marks, and why do they attack? Tiffani Hamilton, MD, of Hamilton Dermatology in Alpharetta, Georgia, says, “Stretch marks are a form of scarring that occurs … when the skin rapidly stretches. It can no longer bounce back, and a small tear occurs.” Stretch marks are imminent any time you gain weight rapidly and stretch skin beyond its elastic ability.
The good and bad news is this: Your likelihood of developing stretch marks is largely hereditary. The elasticity of your skin is determined by genetics, so some people will stretch more comfortably while others are prone to exhibit tiger stripes as they expand.
Another unfortunate truth: The stretch marks of pregnancy aren’t limited to the belly. They can appear on the breasts, butt, thighs … anywhere you gain weight quickly. They’ll pop up suddenly as angry red-purple streaks, and they’ll eventually fade to blend in better with your skin, but they won’t completely disappear.
The best way to deal with stretch marks is to avoid them, if your genes allow it. Try to keep your weight gain slow and steady throughout pregnancy by eating healthfully and enjoying mild exercise (unless your doctor has told you not to). Even if you do everything right, however, you may still show some stripes. If your mom and your sister had stretch marks, you probably will, too.
You snooze, you snore
It’s no secret that sleep becomes elusive once baby appears on the scene, but catching Zs during pregnancy is no easy task, either. If you’ve been a back or belly sleeper, switching to a side-sleeping position can take some getting used to. Then there’s the growing belly affecting your sleep posture and achy hips that want to toss and turn. Hormonal changes and an increasingly compressed bladder can have you visiting the john at least once a night.
However, none of these complaints is quite as embarrassing as the unladylike snoring that affects many moms-to-be. Shalini Paruthi, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and director of the Pediatric Sleep and Research Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, says, “About 30 percent of pregnant women experience snoring due to hormone changes, weight gain and fluid retention, which can lead to swelling in the upper airway.” Explain to your partner that snoring during pregnancy is not abnormal and that it will likely subside after the birth. Meanwhile, quiet your midnight motor by elevating your head with a pillow and sleeping on your side. (It’s a must during pregnancy anyway.)
Let your doctor know if you’ve been snoring because it could be a sign of sleep apnea. “Sleep apnea can cause more problems during pregnancy,” cautions Paruthi. “The main warning signs for pregnant women include daytime sleepiness and morning headaches in addition to snoring, choking or gasping during sleep.”
Sick morning, noon and night
“Morning sickness” is a cruel misnomer perpetuated by unknowing plebeians. The fact is, most women experience some degree of nausea while expecting, and it is definitely not confined to the morning hours. Mild to moderate to severe nausea and vomiting can happen on the daily—and nightly—at any time or all the time.
Although it does typically subside after the first trimester, don’t expect to wake up in your fourth month suddenly feeling fabulous. The nausea gradually disappears at different times for different people. For the unlucky minority, it will last all the way through pregnancy.
The best way to calm your gut is to keep something in it at all times. Even when food sounds completely abhorrent, snack on crackers or other mild munchies to keep the barf at bay. First thing in the morning, throughout the workday, and even before bed, keep snacking and sipping water. There are lots of little remedies out there—wristbands, lollipops, ginger treats and more—that might offer some abatement. Other than that, you’re pretty much waiting out the rough patch until you feel back on your feet.
Note: If you’re so sick that you absolutely cannot keep anything down, you might be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, or extreme nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Keep your OB abreast of your situation. She may offer medication, and she’ll definitely want to monitor your weight and water intake. (You might even need to go to the hospital for IV fluids if the situation gets desperate.)
Mirror, mirror, on the wall: What the hell?
It’s true; some women glow with pregnancy, looking more gorgeous than ever before. There are, like, five of them. Everyone else gets oiliness, dryness, acne, increased sensitivity and/or dark splotches.
While most acne medications (creams, pads, pills) are off the table, there are pregnancy-specific skincare lines that work well and won’t harm baby. (Belli Skincare is a personal favorite!)
For dryness and sensitivity, moisturize often with innocuous products, and be übercautious in the sun. Lip balm with SPF helps preserve the kisser, too.
The dark splotches marring the faces of many expectant moms are chloasma, or the “mask of pregnancy.” Hamilton says you have genetic predisposition, hormones (namely estrogen and progesterone) and UV exposure to blame for this patchy pigmentation. Your best defense is excellent sun protection. Hamilton recommends selecting a sunscreen that includes zinc oxide. “After pregnancy,” says Hamilton, “lightening creams, chemical peels and laser treatments can be added to the religious application of sun protection” to reduce the appearance of chloasma.
Hair goes wonky, too—many pregnant women sport fuller, healthier hair (prenatal vitamins help, by the way)—but others notice random changes they didn’t expect. I, for one, watched my blond hair turn brassy, and all the purple shampoo in the world couldn’t get my ideal color back. A friend of mine with tight spiral curls had her locks go limp for the first time ever. It all has to do with hormones. If you’ve experienced tone or texture changes, make peace with new styles for now, and check back to see how your hair ends up after you’ve concluded breastfeeding. Your coif may return to normal, or you might be looking at a new ’do for good.
Roller coaster of desire
Your libido is likely to ebb and rise and ebb again throughout pregnancy. In the beginning, nausea and exhaustion could have you preoccupied, but by the second trimester, some ladies enjoy a renewed roar of desire as energy picks up, nausea drops and hormones surge. (Then again, some women don’t have much sexual appetite at any point during pregnancy, so there are no guarantees.) Sex during the second trimester can mean mega orgasms because of increased blood flow to the region, but you can tell your partner it’s all due to his skill.
Later in pregnancy, you’ll have a big belly to contend with, so sexual positioning could take some creativity. You’re likely to have a drop in desire as discomfort mounts and sleep becomes an elusive—but ever- beckoning—prize. Also, there’s the issue of leakage. As disturbing as it might seem, your partner’s touch can elicit leaky breasts late in pregnancy. Laugh it off together; sex is an adventure anytime, but certainly more so when you’re expecting.