The Side Effects of Pregnancy No One Talks About

Making a baby has some seriously unsexy side effects that make everyday symptoms of pregnancy, like constipation and hemorrhoids, seem easy breezy—stuff so unpleasant, even your closest friends have probably kept their lips zipped. But rest assured they, too, have dealt with snoring, stretch marks and unwanted secretions.

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 under one condition: Let’s normalize these lovely signs of pregnancy and make it a safe (albeit somewhat embarrassing) place for expectant women to swap stories and enjoy some solidarity. After all, laughing through pregnancy makes for a more healthy pregnancy, right? (And it’s good for your mental health!)

Stretch Marks Aplenty

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. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), these marks 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 postpartum, but they won’t completely disappear. (Stretch marks are not to be confused with varicose veins, which are swollen, twisted veins that lie just under the skin and usually occur in the legs.)

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 causing back pain and achy hips that want to toss and turn. Hormonal changes and a compressed bladder can increase urination and have you visiting the john at least once a night. Bonus: Even if your bladder isn’t bursting, pelvic floor changes can cause incontinence which will leave you in need of a bathroom more regularly.)

However, none of these complaints is quite as embarrassing as the snoring that affects many moms-to-be. Shalini Paruthi, MD, medical co-director of the St. Luke’s Sleep Medicine and Research Center, says, “About 30 percent of pregnant women experience snoring due to hormonal 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 or experiencing shortness of breath 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

While morning sickness may seem as run-of-the-mill for pregnancy as bloating, mood swings and backaches, you may be surprised to find out it’s name is a bit misleading. “Morning sickness” is a cruel misnomer perpetuated by unknowing plebeians. The fact is, most women experience some degree of nausea and a super keen sense of smell 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. Many pregnant women experience heartburn as well, which only makes eating that much more unappealing.

Although morning sickness 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. Seize the opportunity to eat even a small amount when food cravings strike. 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 the pregnancy complication hyperemesis gravidarum, or extreme nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Keep your obstetrician or health care provider 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?

You may have heard that from the moment you see the positive pregnancy test, a bounty of beauty perks are on the way. 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 until after your due date, 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, pregnancy 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 as an early sign of pregnancy (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 early pregnancy, 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. At least you get a break from thinking about birth control for a while!) 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 skill.

Later in the third trimester, 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 common side effect 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.

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By Ginny Butler

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