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Pregnancy and Your Body Shape

The science behind how your body grows and changes during pregnancy.

| May 3rd, 2011

Pregnancy causes growth around your midsection, no surprise.

But it’s not just because your little sweet thing has decided to camp there for the next 40 weeks. You store extra fat during your pregnancy, which is typically deposited at the center of your body.

Don’t fret, the fat storage decreases later in pregnancy, when your baby starts to need more nutrients.

During pregnancy, the placenta secretes prolactin, a chemical that attaches to dopamine receptors in brain cells. Dopamine is the pleasure hormone associated with addictions. When you become addicted to something, it’s because a feedback loop causes you to seek things that raise dopamine levels.

QUIZ: What's Your Body Shape?

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Pregnancy and Your Body Shape

Prolactin seems to turn on addicting elements in the brain, making you want things like more food. It also has a protective element.

The hormone helps you tolerate such dramatic body changes and not have much anxiety over them as you would under different circumstances. Prolactin stimulates your endorphin system, so you feel less pain and more able to ignore anxieties. Thank nature for making this available in your pregnant state!

One stress among pregnant women is worrying about whether their bodies will ever bounce back, post-pregnancy. This fear just adds to the cascade of other anxieties.

It’s tricky to manage the psychological aspect of body image. Part of the journey is learning to revel in the miracle of pregnancy. There’s sexiness and saintliness that come along with it.

As far as your belly, a lot of people believe the shape reflects the gender of your baby. They say, you’ve got a boy if you have a basketball belly (with no fat elsewhere), and a girl gives a watermelon shape (fat all the way around, like an inner tube).

WATCH VIDEO: How Your Posture Changes During Pregnancy

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The truth is that the belly shape has to do with your genetics, body type and fitness level. Specifically the elasticity and length of your belly affects your shape. This runs from your pubic bone to your xiphoid process (the lowest junction in the middle of your chest).

Take a look at our table that shows how your body type might translate to weight gain during pregnancy. You could also calculate your body mass index (BMI) by taking your weight in pounds and multiplying it by 703. Then divide that number by your height in inches squared.

Your Body Trimester Gains (In Pounds) Total Gain (In Pounds)
Underweight before pregnancy (BMI less than 18.5 kg/m²)

First: 4-6
Second: 14-20
Third: 10-14

28-40
Normal weight before pregnancy (BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m²)

First: 4-6
Second: 10-14
Third: 10-15

 24-35
Overweight before pregnancy (BMI of 25 to 29.9 kg/m²) First: 2-4
Second: 8-13
Third: 5-8
 15-25
Obese before pregnancy (BMI of 30 kg/m² or above)

First: 2-4
Second: 4-8
Third: 5-8

 11-20
 Carrying twins

First: 5-7
Second: 18-22
Third: 12-15

 35-44

 

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