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There are some things about pregnancy that come as no surprise: Swollen feet that have spread to a full shoe size larger, angry red stretch marks that zig-zag around your hips, belly and breasts and of course, weeping uncontrollably at any commercial that’s remotely sentimental, especially one that features dogs (don’t get me started on that heartbreaking ASPCA commercial with Sarah McLachlan singing “Angel”).
Being prepared for what’s to come can help you brace yourself for the many physical and emotional challenges that go along with being pregnant, which is why the popular pregnancy bible, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” still flies off stores shelves—and has now inspired a movie, which premiers today.
But there’s only so much you can prepare for when it comes to a major life change such as pregnancy. Bottom line: Expect the unexpected. In the meantime, here’s a heads up on just some of the surprising changes you can look forward to during pregnancy.
1. You grow more hair—all over. You’ve heard about the fabulously thick locks and longer, stronger nails that are the reward of pregnancy hormones. But what people don’t tell you is that not all hair growth is glorious—or where you’d like it to be. Peach fuzz can crop up on your belly as though you’re suddenly turning into a cuddly bear. Worse, some women grow excess facial hair and nipple hair brought on by those same hormonal changes. The good news? It’s temporary. “Most women lose a significant amount of hair in the postpartum period or after they stop breastfeeding,” says dermatologist Bruce Katz, M.D, founder of the Juva Skin and Laser Center in Manhattan. “For hair growth during pregnancy, it is best to tweeze, wax or shave unwanted excess hair.” Skip laser hair removal or depilatory creams while pregnant, suggests Dr. Katz.
2. You have crazy sex dreams. No one talks about it, but pregnancy can trigger these intense, blush-worthy sex dreams featuring everyone from your loving husband to that hot volleyball player you had a crush on back in high school. You can thank hormones and the extra blood flow to your genitals that have you starring in your very own version of “Shades of Grey” and even having full-blown orgasms—yes, orgasms—while you’re asleep. Seriously—Google it. And don’t be surprised if those erotic urges carry over to when you’re awake, especially if you’re in the feel-good second trimester.
3. You don’t necessarily want to eat everything in sight. While some women share Jessica Simpson’s cheesecake for breakfast-like cravings, others have no appetite at all thanks to either miserable morning sickness or a stomach so utterly smushed by the baby (or babies) growing inside of you it’s like you’ve had gastric bypass surgery. Fitting in food can become an unexpected challenge as you try to get in nutrients to nourish both you and your baby. That’s all the more reason to make every bite count, making sure you’re getting in plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates as well as some fat, along with prenatal vitamins.
4. People will stare at you at the gym. Rather than giving you a round of applause for trying to stay in shape as you grow a brand new human being inside of you, people may look at you like you’re a freak of nature as you waddle your way around the gym. “Sadly, a pregnant woman sighting is a rarity at a traditional gym, especially one with a big ‘ol belly,” says Equinox personal trainer and mom-to-be Lauren Greer. “I definitely observe a variety of looks, which range from ‘give it up already—you're going to get huge no matter what you do’ to ‘Oh gosh, that can't be good for the baby’ to ‘You go girl! Keep it up!’ The worst of it was when a gym member came up to me and asked, ‘When's your due date?’ After telling her I have four weeks to go, she walked off shaking her head in what appeared to be disgust.”
Gym-goers aren’t the only ones who are confused and worried about pregnant women working out. A recent study conducted at the University of Kansas School of Medicine found that women who had been physically active pre-pregnancy were actually afraid to work out during pregnancy—even though exercising when you’re expecting can be done safely. The researchers found that before becoming pregnant, almost half of the women said they exercised moderately at least 90 minutes a week. After becoming pregnant, less than 27 percent of the women kept up with their fitness routines.
“Consider this—the average woman needs to gain approximately 25 to 35 pounds for a healthy pregnancy,” notes Greer. “That's a lot of weight to be carrying 24/7. I promise you, your body will be far more equipped to carry this load more comfortably if you add resistance training to your workout routine, unless advised otherwise by your doctor.” What’s more, research shows that exercise not only benefits you but also your little MVP. According to a 2009 study, working out during pregnancy appears to improve fetal breathing movements and autonomic nervous system development (which controls involuntary actions such as the beating of your heart). Another study found that staying fit while pregnant improves your baby’s heart health.
5. Grooming becomes surprisingly challenging. If you’re used to diligently maintaining your hair down there by plucking stray strands between bikini waxes, you can forget it—mainly because you can’t even see your vagina after you’re a few months along in your pregnancy. And do you really want to blindly wield a sharp object like tweezers or a razor near your privates? Um, no. The only way to keep your nether regions from becoming an unruly jungle (unless that’s you’re thing—no judgments) is to seek professional grooming help.
When I realized that self-maintenance was completely out of the question, I made a beeline for a Brazilian at Bliss Spa. After, the understanding aesthetician kindly held up a mirror down there so I could see her handiwork as well as my now out-of-sight private parts. I looked in the mirror and my first thought was, “There you are!” It was like running into an old friend you’d been missing.
6. You go through some wacky skin changes. Many pregnant women have truly gorgeous, glowing skin—the happy result of a 30 to 50 percent boost in blood volume to help nourish your growing baby. “The greater volume brings more blood to the vessels and increases oil gland secretion, thus causing the pregnancy skin glow,” explains Katz.
But not every mamma-to-be enjoys perfect skin and a healthy, rosy hue. Some are struck with bouts of acne that rival breakouts from their teenage years, thanks to hormonal changes. However, this time around, having acne is all the more frustrating since certain pimple-taming products, such as salicylic acid as well as vitamin-A-containing treatments such as prescription tretinoin (aka Retin-A), aren’t recommended during pregnancy. But wait—there’s more: “Melasma, also known as the mask of pregnancy, is a skin condition characterized by dark, irregular patches on the face that is very common during pregnancy,” explains Katz. “This is caused by a combination of hormones in the skin and sun exposure. Skin tags [benign skin lesions] are also very common. Additionally, changes in moles occur in which they tend to get larger and darker.”
7. You feel more beautiful than ever. Even though you may have the belly of a bloated sumo wrestler or are struggling with a hormone-related beauty issue or two, you may be surprised by how incredibly beautiful—and even sexy—you feel while pregnant. I wasn’t one to show off my stomach pre-pregnancy, and I wondered—okay, feared—how I’d feel about my body as my bust and belly grew to comically exaggerated proportions. But with pregnancy came an unexpected boost in self-confidence and appreciation of what my body can do. (It also helps that I have a wonderful husband who tells me I’m a knockout every day.) I now think of my growing, basketball-like belly as my most amazing feature, so why would I keep it under wraps or hide under unflattering tent-like dresses? I’m proud of my body and feel like it has such an important purpose—growing healthy, beautiful babies—that any feelings of self-consciousness or misguided “fat talk” are happily left in the dust.
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