20 Cool Things That Happen to You and
Your Baby During Pregnancy
By Myrah M.
Pregnancy is the most mundane yet magical experience in the world. We tend to take for granted the absolutely jaw-dropping, miraculous weirdness that is the creation of a new human being because it happens to people all the time. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the process.
You miss your period. You take a pregnancy test. Fast forward 9-ish months and, wow, you have a baby. Do you know how many cool things had to occur for this to happen? Hundreds, if not thousands, of fascinating hormonal, emotional, and mechanical changes take place. Let’s look at 20 of them.
The first 12 weeks of pregnancy are when the most complex changes occur for mom and baby. You may not see too many differences on the outside, but a whirlwind of activity is taking place on the inside.
- The second the ball of cells (blastocyst) that will become your baby implants in your uterine lining, chemical changes take place. Enzymes are secreted and signals are sent to your body to create a safe, cozy, blood filled nest for the developing embryo. One hormone secreted by the blastocyst is called human chorionic gonadotropin (HcG), and this hormone tells your ovaries to take a rest and stop releasing eggs. HcG might be at least partially responsible for morning sickness, and it’s also the hormone that pregnancy tests measure. Some cells from the blastocyst change and form the placenta . This temporary organ makes it possible for your baby to receive nutrients and oxygen during development, and it also increases hormones (mainly estrogen and progesterone) that trigger changes in your body to make it ready for pregnancy and childbirth.
- Estrogen and a hormone called prolactin start early to prepare your breasts for nursing. They stimulate the growth of new milk ducts, which is why large, sore breasts and nipples are often one of the first signs of pregnancy.
- The flood of estrogen and progesterone you experience in the early days of pregnancy can do a number on your emotional state. It is common for women to feel tired, experience mood swings, and feel more emotionally sensitive than usual. The mood swings may not be enjoyable, but knowing that the cocktail of hormones coursing through your body is supporting your baby’s growth is pretty cool.
- You may not know that your blood volume will increase by almost 50% throughout your pregnancy, but it does. About 6% of this growth occurs in the early weeks of pregnancy. This helps your body supply enough oxygen to you and your baby throughout your pregnancy. Don’t be surprised if early in your pregnancy you notice veins on your chest and breasts that you’ve never seen before. They’re temporarily more visible because of the extra blood in your body and will go back to normal after birth. Be gentle when flossing and brushing your teeth while you’re pregnant. All that blood can make your gums swollen, and they might bleed more easily than usual.
- Your baby is doing most of the heavy lifting during the first trimester. The foundation for everything he or she will eventually become is being laid. Nervous system, eyes, ears, reproductive system, brain, fingers, toes, face, and even fingernails are all developing. This is arguably the most mind-blowing and incredible process that takes place during pregnancy. Meanwhile, your body is doing everything it can to ensure that the baby’s work goes smoothly and has the best chance for success. No wonder you’re tired.
Many people start enjoying their pregnancy more in the second trimester. Some of that first trimester fatigue and moodiness may have mellowed, morning sickness may lessen, and your pregnancy starts to be visible. You can even hear your baby’s heartbeat with an at-home fetal monitor about this time!
- You may notice a little baby bump towards the end of the first trimester, but it will become more obvious as you move into the second trimester. Your baby is growing like wildfire. During weeks 14-26 it will multiply approximately 7 times in size! Now you feel truly pregnant instead of just a little puffy around the edges. And, you may even be able to hear your baby’s heart beat with an at-home fetal doppler monitoring system!
- . One of the coolest things about pregnancy is when you first feel a little flutter in your belly. Was it gas? Well, maybe. But it also might be your baby doing a somersault in your uterus. Feeling your baby move and kick is alien and amazing. It can bring home the reality that there is a human being sharing your body and increase your excitement about your pregnancy. Many people begin feeling fetal movements (or “quickening”) between 16-25 weeks. Some may feel movement even earlier.
- During the second trimester, your baby starts to be able to hear you. Sing a song, have a chat, read a story. Not only will it help you bond with your baby, but it will help your baby bond with you. Babies are learning even while in the womb, and newborns can recognize mom’s voice once they arrive in the outside world.
- You may notice that when you’re out and about your baby is calm and not moving much, but once you come home and lie down for a nap, they’re doing backflips and seemingly trying to kick their way out of your belly button. This is because during the second trimester, babies develop sleep-wake cycles. They even have REM brain waves during sleep, meaning they’re dreaming. When you’re active, you’re gently rocking your baby to sleep. When you settle down to sleep, they wake up. Is this cool? Sort of. It’s great to know that your baby is developing and growing as intended, but you might also wish you could have some uninterrupted sleep.
- Sucking and swallowing begin around week 16, and the fetus is swallowing amniotic fluid by week 21. This early breathing practice strengthens your baby’s lungs and helps get them ready for life in the outside world.
Weeks 28 through 40 are a time of growth and refinement. The baby is putting on the finishing touches while mom’s body starts actively preparing for childbirth.
- Your baby’s brain goes through intense and rapid development during the third trimester. Neurons are forming, brain size is growing, and motor skills are increasing. Your baby can stretch, kick, make grasping motions, and suck its thumb.
- You may start to notice an unusual new fetal movement. You’re sitting on the sofa, quietly watching tv, and all of a sudden you notice your belly rhythmically moving…blip, blip, blip, blip. Your baby probably has the hiccups. Doctors aren’t sure why babies in utero get hiccups. Many think it may be triggered by swallowing amniotic fluid or may be a natural part of lung development. Whatever the cause, it’s an interesting and normal part of pregnancy.
- In the last part of your pregnancy, you may experience increased back and/or joint pain. This doesn’t sound great, but the reason for it is actually pretty neat. Throughout your pregnancy you’ve had a hormone called relaxin in your system. Its main job is to loosen your joints and ligaments. Towards the end of pregnancy, relaxin levels increase and prime your body to be ready to move a baby through your pelvis. Your hips might widen, and the symphysis pubis, a joint in the front of your pelvis, can now stretch and move as your baby makes its way down the birth canal.
- You will start noticing more and more Braxton Hicks contractions. These are short and relatively mild contractions that, unlike real labor contractions, often stop if you change your position, use the restroom, or have a snack. They are irregular and aren’t intense enough to prevent you from sleeping. You may have felt some in the second trimester, but they become more frequent in the third. Braxton Hicks contractions are getting your uterus and cervix ready for the real thing.
- Toward the end of the third trimester your cervix begins to prepare for the big job ahead of it. Throughout your pregnancy there has been a mucus plug stopping up the entrance to the cervix. It has protected you and your baby from potential infection throughout your pregnancy. As your due date approaches, your cervix begins to slowly thin out and shorten. You may notice your mucus plug coming out at the end of your pregnancy. This is a sign that birth is fast approaching.
Fourth Trimester- 12 weeks postpartum
If you’re lucky enough to have a complication-free vaginal birth, know that your baby receives some really cool benefits from it. The physical stress of moving through the vaginal canal actually squeezes fluid out of the newborn's lungs, which prepares them for taking their first breath. Another interesting benefit of vaginal birth is that your baby is exposed to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal that cultivate a healthy gut microbiome in the newborn. This has been proven to improve immune function and may be protective against developing asthma and allergies in the future.
If you do have a c-section, all is not lost. Breastfeeding can help seed your baby's gut biome, and you can talk to your doctor or midwife about possibly giving your baby probiotics.
- Immediately after birth, your body is flooded with the hormone oxytocin. It causes you to relax, bond with your baby, and some even say it helps moms forget the pain of childbirth. Oxytocin is released every time your baby nurses. Along with making you feel calm and close to your child, oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions. Your uterus grew pretty darn big during your pregnancy, and contractions stimulate something called involution. This just means your uterus is shrinking back close to its pre-pregnancy size. Your uterus will shrink 1-2 cm a day, and oxytocin released during breastfeeding can speed up the process.
- Let’s talk about breastfeeding. Not everybody can breastfeed, and of course that’s ok. At the end of the day all that really matters is a healthy and happy mom and baby, and that looks different for everybody.If you choose to breastfeed, however, know that it’s an amazing and symbiotic process between you and your baby. The first milk you produce is called colostrum. Colostrum is a miracle substance that is dense with nutrition and antimicrobials that stimulate your newborn's immune system.
As your baby nurses, complex signals are sent to your brain that cause hormones to release and stimulate production of more milk. The more your baby eats, the more food your body makes. Don’t forget to hydrate! Breastfeeding physically benefits you and your baby. Your baby receives protective antibodies from your milk at every feeding, and moms who breastfeed have decreased risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure.
- Your newborn has some interesting primal reflexes they will lose over time. One of the most important and obvious is the rooting reflex. If something touches your baby’s mouth or cheek, they will turn towards the touch with a hungry little sucking mouth. This is an instinctive reflex that helps your baby latch onto your nipple or a bottle to feed. This reflex fades after about 4 months, but by then your baby is a nursing pro.
- Perhaps the coolest thing to happen to mother and baby in the postpartum period is the development of their unique and deeply intimate relationship. Moms and babies can almost immediately recognize each other by smell, and new mothers quickly learn to identify their own baby’s cry. This is a time of getting to know each other and learning to respond to each other's cues that sets the stage for a lifetime of love and care between you and your child.
There are many more incredible and awe-inspiring things that happen during pregnancy, but this is a start. Enjoy the process and try to appreciate how cool the common miracle of growing a new human being really is.