Why are pregnant women always complaining? The simple answer is that a pregnant woman’s body is always changing. When this is said, many think of the physical changes that one can see or feel. However, even though these physical changes are important, the true question is what causes these physical changes? Physical changes to a pregnant women’s body are the result of physiological changes. What is a physiological change? To understand what this kind of change is, the term physiology must be understood.
Physiology is “the branch of biology dealing with the functions and activities of living organisms and their parts, including all physical and chemical processes” (Dictionary). Because the human body has a set of ways in which its processes are synthesized, when another human life is being harbored in the body, these processes have to be modified to fit the needs of the fetus. Therefore, all the major outward changes that a pregnant woman experiences during her gestational period are the result of the physiological changes happening under the “epidermis. There is no way to go over every single physiological change that contributes to the physical changes that are seen during pregnancy, but one can start from the root. Once an egg is fertilized by a sperm cell, the egg can travel though the female reproductive tract for as little as two days or as long as six days. Once the egg makes its way to the uterus (womb), it implants into the uterine lining. There, a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin is released. This is the hormone that starts it all.
It enters through the mother’s blood circulation and basically tells the body that there is another life being produced that needs to be supported and that changes need to be made. This is the earliest “pregnancy specific” hormone, and it is normally tested for when determining whether a woman is pregnant or not. The production of this hormone is generally responsible for the frequent urination patterns during the first trimester. Higher levels of human chorionic gonadotrophin causes more blood to flow to the pelvic area and kidneys, thus provoking the kidneys to eliminate waste a lot faster than before pregnancy occurred (Brewer pg. -20).
For a pregnancy, not all the hormones and changes are exactly new to the body’s processes. For example, progesterone before pregnancy is used in small amounts to control the menstrual cycle from going out of control and to regulate other pre-maternal aspects of the female reproductive system. When pregnancy comes, progesterone comes in large amounts; it is required throughout the whole pregnancy. The levels rise steadily until the birth of the child. During the first few weeks of a pregnancy, the amount of progesterone produced from the corpus luteum (a temporary endocrine gland of the ovaries) is enough to maintain pregnancy.
At this very early stage, progesterone has many diverse functions which are very important to the establishment of the pregnancy. This includes processes like increasing the blood flow to the womb, stimulating glands in the uterine lining (the endometrium) to produce nutrients that sustain the early embryo, stimulating the uterine lining to grow and become thickened, and helping to establish the placenta. As the placenta forms and grows, it develops the ability to produce hormones. The cells that the placenta is composed of, known as trophoblasts, are able to convert cholesterol from the mother’s bloodstream into progesterone.
Between the sixth week to the ninth week of pregnancy, the placenta takes over from the corpus luteum as the main producer of progesterone. As well as being vital to the establishment of pregnancy, progesterone also has many functions during mid to late pregnancy, including: being important for correct fetal development, strengthening the muscles of the pelvic wall in preparation for labor, preventing the muscles of the womb from contracting until the onset of labor, and preventing lactation until after pregnancy. The amount of progesterone decreases back to its original small amount very quickly after delivery.
Thus progesterone is the perfect example of a hormone that normally exists in the functions of the female body, but is amplified during pregnancy (Hormones). High levels of progesterone and estrogen are imperative for a healthy and successful pregnancy, but they are often the cause of many of the most common and unwanted side-effects in the mother. These hormones especially affect the brain. It can take a very long time for a mother to get used to the higher level of hormones in the system. As a result, mood swings can be very common.
The vast majority of pregnant women will experience “morning sickness. ” Morning sickness can be defined as “a feeling of nausea, at any time of day, which may lead to vomiting” (Brewer). Doctors do not know the exact cause of it, but it is likely to be caused by the rapid increase in estrogen and progesterone, human chorionic gonadotrophin, or a closely related thyroid hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone which decreases during early pregnancy. However, every pregnancy is different. This sickness is probably caused by a combination of all these hormonal changes.
Morning sickness usually starts around the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy and should diminish by weeks twelve to sixteen of pregnancy. In some cases, the women suffer throughout the entire pregnancy with morning sickness, whereas; other women may not experience any nausea. Relaxin is a hormone that starts to be produced by seventh week of pregnancy and is produced throughout the rest of pregnancy. Around the seventh week is normally when women tend to experience pain and discomfort in the pelvis and lower back during the first trimester.
This experience is due to the production of relaxin. The hormone relaxes the mother’s muscles, joints, and ligaments in order to make room for the growing baby. This expansion is what causes the great discomfort. The effects of relaxin are manly in the pelvic region; softening the joints of the pelvis can often lead to pain in the area. The softening of the joints can also decrease stability, and some women may notice it is harder to balance. There is also an increase in constipation because relaxin reduces gut motion so that the fetus can grow.
Although uncomfortable and frustrating at times, all these side-effects will usually lessen or even subside by the end of the first trimester. (Hormones) As any person can obviously see, pregnancy really changes a woman’s body anatomically. So, how do the physiological changes contribute to the anatomical changes? As a woman’s uterus expands, there may be aches and pains in the back, abdomen, groin area, and thighs. Many women also have backaches and aching around the pelvic bone. This will increase as the pressure of the baby’s head increases, as the weight increases, and as the joints loosen as a result of relaxin.
Many pregnant women complain of pain that runs from the lower back, down the back of one leg, to the knee or foot. This is called sciatica. It is thought to occur when the uterus puts pressure on the sciatic nerve. Many pregnant women complain of constipation. Signs of constipation include having hard, dry stools; fewer than three bowel movements per week; and painful bowel movements. Higher levels of hormones due to pregnancy slow down digestion and relax muscles in the bowels leaving many women constipated.
Plus, the pressure of the expanding uterus on the bowels can contribute to constipation. Many pregnant women complain of dizziness and lightheadedness throughout their pregnancies. Fainting is rare but does happen even in some healthy pregnant women. There are many reasons for these symptoms. The growth of more blood vessels in early pregnancy, the pressure of the expanding uterus on blood vessels, and the body’s increased need for food all can make a pregnant woman feel lightheaded and dizzy. During pregnancy, blood volume increases greatly. This can cause veins to enlarge.
Plus, pressure on the large veins behind the uterus causes the blood to slow in its return to the heart. For these reasons, varicose veins in the legs and anus (hemorrhoids) are more common in pregnancy. Varicose veins look like swollen veins raised above the surface of the skin. They can be twisted or bulging and are dark purple or blue in color. They are found most often on the backs of the calves or on the inside of the leg (Body Changes and Discomforts). There are essentially an infinite amount of changes a pregnant woman goes though during pregnancy.
The body does not normally function with two lives inside of it, so it is somewhat of a scientific phenomenon that it does during pregnancy. These physiological changes have to happen to make the system work as a whole, or else the mother would die because the baby would soak up all of the mother’s resources. The amount of work the body has to go through to have a child is a lot of times over looked in life because, even though society may know the after effect, very few have any idea of the insane amount of stress that the body is going though so that the woman and the baby can stay alive for the forty weeks that they are one.