For something so many of us will do, it's still a bit of a mystery.
When we put out a call on Twitter asking parents if there was anything about pregnancy and giving birth that they wished they knew beforehand, the amount of replies was staggering. For something that so many of us go through, it seems that the vagaries of pregnancy are still very much a mystery (at least, until you’re confronted with them yourself). So we’ve decided to delve into the nitty gritty of pregnancy, childbirth, and the lesser- spoken-about ‘fourth trimester’, in the hope of illuminating the momentous event a tiny bit more.
While much of what we will discuss is less than pleasant, we don’t mean to scare anybody off getting pregnant. Many mothers assured us that their experiences of pregnancy and childbirth, though definitely a bit terrifying, were also wonderful and life-affirming. But we believe that it’s important to talk about it in all its (sometimes gory) glory, so that no parent-to-be is left feeling alone, wondering if it’s ‘just me’. We’re not going to cover everything, of course, but here are some of the most common pregnancy issues that came up.
“You’re glowing!” is well and truly a pregnancy cliché at this stage (not one you’d turn your nose up at, though). But as likely as you are to be a gleaming goddess, you could also be sweaty, spotty, or losing your hair. Oh, and absolutely wrecked. Glam!
“Pregnancy hormones will very commonly have the effect of improving the appearance of skin and hair, but that’s not always the case,” says Fionnuala Breathnach, consultant at the Rotunda Hospital and Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at RCSI. Prof Breathnach is a regular contributor on Real Talk With Real Mums, a podcast created by the HRB Mother and Baby Clinical Trial Network to discuss the realities of pregnancy and childbirth.
“Some people who, for instance, are prone to skin problems like acne, may see a bit of deterioration in their skin during pregnancy. But most people would report that if anything, their skin and the condition of their hair improves during pregnancy.”
Speaking on our podcast The Glow Up, influencer Rosie Connolly said that her skin broke out during both of her pregnancies: “I’ve suffered with acne for years and I can get it under control when I’m not super hormonal, but as soon as you put the [pregnancy] hormones in it just goes bananas.”
Rosie also revealed that her hair thickened while she was expecting – this is down to rising oestrogen levels, which keep the hair in the ‘growing phase’ of the cycle for longer, so less of it falls out than usual. However, hormonal imbalances can also trigger hair loss (and the two things can happen within the same pregnancy). Really, it seems like anything could happen. What fun.
Quite a few mothers who responded to us on Twitter reported that pregnancy played havoc with their teeth (we’re talking breakage, gum infections, and all that jazz), something we’d never even considered possible. Prof Breathnach says that while there isn’t a link between pregnancy and dental problems, expectant mothers should be very conscientious about their oral hygiene.
“Pregnancy doesn’t make you more prone to dental issues, but what is important in relation to teeth is that any dental infection or upset does need to be treated promptly,” she advises. “Oral hygiene is important, because there is a known association between untreated dental infections and preterm labour.” So don’t put off any dentist appointments while you’re cooking that baby.
We’re all well aware now that pregnancy makes you balloon in many different ways. While she was expecting her second child, singer Jessica Simpson charted the swelling of her feet on Instagram, and her followers joined her in celebrating when she could finally see her ankles again.
Swelling is caused by progesterone, the most dominant pregnancy hormone, and almost every pregnant woman will probably deal with swollen hands or feet at some point. You might have heard of some famous pregnant ladies talking about ‘pregnancy lips’ – both Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian have claimed their bigger pouts were a side-effect of being up the duff. This could be so, but Prof Breathnach warns that facial swelling during pregnancy is not normal, and may indicate preeclampsia (a potentially dangerous condition characterised by high blood pressure). As it happens, both Bey and Kim suffered from preeclampsia during their pregnancies, so definitely look that ‘pregnancy lips’ gift horse in the mouth.
Also be aware that, contrary to expectations, swelling in hands and feet can actually worsen after delivery. “The day after a baby is born, a woman can look at her feet and be devastated to find that they’re way more swollen than they were. That’s normal, it just reflects the big fluid shifts that happen in your circulation around the time of delivery. When the baby is about a week old, all of that will start resolving itself,” says Prof Beathnach.
This might happen slower than you’d like, or not at all, in some cases. Several mothers told us that their feet spread during pregnancy and never returned to their pre-baby size – or if they eventually did, took a few years to do so. So hang on to your nice shoes, just in case.
Most of us only became aware of the condition hyperemesis gravidarum through Kate Middleton, who dealt with it during all three of her pregnancies. Hyperemesis is basically a fancy term for ‘puking all the time’, and it can last for some, most, or indeed the entire duration of a pregnancy. It is estimated to affect 1-2% of pregnancies in Ireland, and women who have experienced it tell us it is pretty rotten (to say the very, very least).
Hyperemesis very often leads to dehydration, and while Prof Breathnach says it is unusual these days for women to be hospitalised with the condition, they may require an IV drip (sometimes done on a day ward) to replenish fluids. Unfortunately, very little is known about what causes it. Says Prof Breathnach:
“We have a pretty poor understanding of why some are more susceptible to nausea and vomiting and others are not, but it tends to be the case that if a woman gets these symptoms in her first pregnancy, it will be that way for all of her pregnancies. There’s obviously a genetic component to it that is poorly understood.”
Comedian Amy Schumer was very open about suffering from hyperemesis during her first pregnancy, even posting a video of herself dashing off to vom just before walking out on stage for a gig. “Could anyone hear me throwing up upstairs?” she asks the audience afterwards. “I did a show last night, I’m doing a show tonight and I’ve been throwing up all day.” In case you didn’t already know, women are fierce.