Saturday 23 March 2019

Expect the unexpected: Pregnancy is a lot more than just weight gain and funny cravings for nine months

Mums-to-be endure a lot more than weight gain and funny cravings for nine months, writes Deirdre Rooney, but thankfully, there are some nice surprises along the way, too

Stock photo
Stock photo

Growing a whole new person inside you is no mean feat. And to accomplish this enormous task, your body is put under tremendous strain, in turn triggering some serious side effects. From morning sickness to swollen feet, from big boobs to even bigger nipples, pregnancy is the gift that just keeps on giving.

Now scientists have discovered a new side effect of pregnancy - womens' voices become lower. Researchers at the University of Sussex examined 20 mothers and compared them to a control group, and found that the pitch of new mothers' voices dropped and became monotonous after they had their first baby.

Lead researcher of the study, Dr Kasia Pisanski, of the University of Sussex's School of Psychology, said, when revealing their findings: "One possible explanation is that this is caused by hormone changes after childbirth. Previous research has shown that women's voices can change with fertility, with pitch increasing around the time of ovulation each month, and decreasing following menopause. We know that after pregnancy, there's a sharp drop in the levels of key sex hormones, and that this could influence vocal fold dynamics and vocal control.

"This effect could also be behavioural," she added. "Research has already shown that people with low-pitched voices are typically judged to be more competent, mature, and dominant, so it could be that women are modulating their own voices to sound more authoritative, faced with the new challenges of parenting."

Singer Adele previously claimed that her voice became lower when she was pregnant with her son Angelo, now aged five. "In pregnancy, my voice got a lot lower, which is why 'Skyfall' is so low. I couldn't get up there for the high notes," she said. Dr Pisanski says that although some singers notice that their voice drops in pregnancy, the big drop happens after birth. The "vocal masculinising", however, is temporary, and voices return to previous levels after about a year.

So, with deeper voices added to a long list of side effects that includes back pain, frequent trips to the toilet, and stretch marks, just what else can a pregnant woman expect? It turns out there is plenty more in store for expectant mothers - and, thankfully, they're not all bad.

Thick and shiny hair:

Higher levels of oestrogen prolong hair growth, so there is less shedding of hair in pregnancy. This means a lovely full and thick head of hair for expectant mums. It does, however, all come out eventually post-partum, often in alarming clumps. But hair growth should return to normal within a year of giving birth.

Skin tags:

Skin tags are small flesh-coloured growths of skin that are attached to your body and are completely harmless. They are caused by an extra growth of cells in superficial layers of skin and often found in areas of the body where your skin rubs together or rubs against clothing, such as underneath your breasts, or on your neck or armpits. Weight gain in pregnancy can trigger them. They usually drop off themselves after pregnancy, but if they don't and they bother you, talk to your GP about them.

Bleeding gums:

Pregnancy hormones can make your gums more prone to swelling and inflammation, so they'll bleed more easily when you brush or clean between your teeth. Brushing with a soft brush will help your sensitive teeth and gums.


One of the lesser talked about side effects of pregnancy, piles can be uncomfortable, with symptoms including bleeding from your bottom, itching, and feeling like your bowels are still full and need emptying. They occur when the blood vessels in the tube that connects your rectum with your anus become swollen. In pregnancy, the hormone progesterone relaxes the walls of your blood vessels making piles a lot more likely. Also, the weight of the growing baby puts more pressure on your veins. Again, they should disappear once the baby is born and hormone levels return to normal. Drinking lots of water and eating a diet high in fibre should help ease symptoms.


Some say that heartburn is a sign you'll have a hairy baby - but really it's a sign of the hormone progesterone at work again. Experts believe progesterone relaxes the valve that separates your gullet from your stomach. This allows gastric acids to seep back up your gullet, causing a burning sensation. Eating a little and often as opposed to big meals can ease the symptoms.

Nail growth:

Some women notice they've stronger and quicker-growing nails. Again, this is down to hormones, an increased blood circulation and your pumped-up metabolism that brings more nutrients to your nails. After birth, normal growth will return.


Once again, progesterone can take most of the credit for this one. The hormone slows the transit of food through your digestive tract. Iron pills or vitamin supplements that contain iron can also trigger it. Again, plenty of fluids and a diet full of fruit and veg can help.


Tension headaches are especially common in the first trimester, often accompanying the surge in hormones. While it's not known exactly what causes them, some triggers are lack of sleep, quitting caffeine, stress or dehydration.

Better sex:

Presuming all the side effects already listed above don't kill the mood, pregnant sex can be even better than non-pregnant sex. This is because the high levels of oestrogen and progesterone increase blood flow to the pelvic area, including the vagina. This in turn increases the amount of lubrication in your vagina, while also upping arousal and sensitivity.

Varicose veins:

The relaxing effects of progesterone on blood vessels come into play once again here. Combined with more blood circulating around your body and your growing baby, the valves that control blood flow weaken, causing areas of blood to pool. This in turn makes the walls of the vein stretch and sag, with the vein showing as lumpy and blue under your skin. Varicose veins primarily show up in legs, especially towards the end of your pregnancy. They can run in the family, and you may be more vulnerable to them if you have a job being on your feet a lot. In most cases, if you didn't have them before you got pregnant, your varicose veins will shrink or disappear within a few months of giving birth.


Snoring is quite common in pregnancy. It's caused by the increased blood volume which in turn leads to expanding blood vessels, which can cause nasal membranes to swell. Congestion from other causes, such as a cold or allergies, can also cause snoring.

Radiant skin:

That famous 'pregnant glow' is the result of hormones and an increase in blood volume which brings more blood to the skin. Well, it's certainly not usually from a good night's sleep.


With more weight to carry, a change in your centre of gravity, reduced muscle control and loosened joints caused by pregnancy hormones, it's no wonder expectant mums feel clumsy. The pregnant 'waddle' adopted in later pregnancy simply adds to the awkwardness. Just be sure to take precautions to reduce your chances of falling somewhere, such as always holding banisters when climbing stairs, and avoiding risky surfaces underfoot.

Leg cramps:

Leg cramps are a bit of a mystery in pregnancy. They can be so severe, the shooting pain of a calf muscle spasm can wake you up in the middle of the night, and yet experts have yet to identify their exact trigger. It may be down to the extra weight in pregnancy making your muscles tired, and then they cramp when you're resting. Or your legs may be affected by changes to your circulation, or again the pressure that your growing baby puts on the nerves and blood vessels that lead to and from your legs.

Leaking when you sneeze, laugh or cough:

Stress incontinence is quite common in pregnancy. Again, progesterone relaxes your muscles and loosens your ligaments, leading to weakness in the sphincter muscles that control the release of urine from your bladder. Laughing, coughing, sneezing or running increases the pressure around your tummy and bladder, which squeezes your bladder. With weakened pelvic floor muscles, urine can escape. Pelvic floor exercises can strengthen these muscles.

Itchy skin:

With everything from your tummy to breasts getting bigger in pregnancy, your skin is stretched a lot. This can make you quite itchy, especially over your bump and legs. Increased blood supply to the skin can also cause an itch.


You're twice as likely to have a nosebleed when you're pregnant. Oestrogen makes your blood vessels open wider, while progesterone causes an increase in your blood supply, which in turn puts pressure on the veins in your nose. The mucous membranes inside your nose may also swell and dry out. All this can make it easier for the vessels in your nose to break open, causing you to have minor bleeds.

No periods:

You may have all of the above to contend with, but at least there's a welcome break from your monthly period. And if you breastfeed your baby, you can keep it at bay for even longer.

Irish Independent

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