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Six surprising ways your body changes during pregnancy

Over the course of nine months, a pregnant person's body adapts in incredible ways to support growing life. We spoke to Urban pro Concetta – an osteopath and lecturer at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine – about some of the less talked about musculoskeletal transformations and how specialist pregnancy treatments can help.

Collage of a pregnant person holding their baby bump and a woman with their newborn baby

"Wait, pregnancy does what to my body?!"

While some pregnancy symptoms are well known, like weight gain, mood swings or food cravings, others like back pain or tooth problems often fly under the radar. But don’t be alarmed, many of these are temporary. And many have simple solutions to help alleviate your discomfort which we’ll go into below.

01. Your body retains more fluid

Swollen feet, ankles and even hands

You’ve heard about weight gain and swollen feet, but did you know that it's in part due to fluid retention? Many pregnant people notice mild swelling in their face, hands, ankles and feet. It often becomes more noticeable as you approach your third trimester.

Drink plenty of water and avoid excess salt

Drink plenty of water to help flush out fluids, avoid caffeine and excess salt, and elevate your feet regularly. Both gentle exercise and pregnancy massage will also help get your lymphatic system moving, helping you flush out any toxins and alleviate fluid retention. (Massage isn't advised during the first trimester.)

02. Your teeth can loosen

Hormones affect your dental health

As well as an increased risk of cavities thanks to acidity changes in your mouth, your teeth can actually loosen during pregnancy. Rising progesterone and oestrogen levels can temporarily loosen the tissues and bones that keep your teeth in place. Some women also report having sore or swollen gums which can be exacerbated by excess plaque.

Visit the dentist (it's free) and keep up good dental hygiene

If you live in the UK, you're entitled to free dental care during and for 12 months after pregnancy. If you're suffering with morning sickness and vomiting, don’t brush your teeth straight away as the acid will have softened them slightly. Rinse immediately to clear away the acid, then brush an hour later.

A woman with glowing, dewy skin demonstrates self facial massage techniques
woman with freckles smiling in sunlight

03. Your skincare needs might change

Brighter skin for some, oiliness for others, and new marks

Your skin might look brighter during pregnancy (known as the ‘pregnancy glow’) as the amount of blood in your body increases by around 45%. You might find you have a clearer complexion and less dryness, too.

But it isn’t the same for everyone. Some women find their skin gets oilier leading to pregnancy acne. Patches of skin might get darker too, with hormonal-induced hyperpigmentation common.

When it comes to the skin on your body, you might find you're itchier than usual as your skin stretches over your belly. Stretch marks are common, and so too is the appearance of a dark line on the lower abdomen, known as the linea nigra (or linea negra).

Moisturise often and relax with a skin-balancing facial

Moisturise regularly to maintain a healthy skin barrier. This will soothe itching and help your skin stretch over your expanding belly. This can also help minimise stretch marks. If you're struggling with acne or related skin changes, or you just want some much needed pampering, try a relaxing pregnancy safe facial.

04. Your hair and nails grow stronger

Thick, lustrous hair (but not just on your head)

You might notice your hair thickening during pregnancy, especially around the second trimester. Hair might show up in unexpected places too, such as your face, arms, legs and back. Things usually return to normal after childbirth, with some experiencing postpartum hair loss.

Nails, like hair, often get stronger but a small section of women find that their nails split and break more easily.

Regular scalp massage can relax you and boost hair health

To anticipate any postpartum hair thinning, get into the habit of massaging your scalp for longer when you wash your hair. You can use almond oil or coconut oil to making it an even more relaxing experience, boosting blood flow to the root of the hair.

If your nails are brittle, it’s easier to keep them short and to avoid harsh nail polish removers.

Pregnant client lies on massage table receiving a back massage

05. Your back and shoulders change shape

Stress can make these changes more noticeable

”It’s remarkable how  the body adapts to accommodate a new life,” says Urban osteopath Concetta. "While a growing belly, enlarged uterus and back pain are widely recognised, other changes might take new mums by surprise, such as:

  • Hyperextended knees

  • Inward curving of the spine (known as lordosis or ‘swayback’)

  • Changes in the curve of the mid-back region and neck

  • Drooping of the shoulders

  • Changes in upper back musculature

“But fear not,” Concetta says. “These adaptations are a normal part of the process. Alone they’re not a primary cause of pain during pregnancy, but can contribute to discomfort when other factors – like poor sleep, stress, overload – are in the mix.”

The right kind of movement can help

As these adaptations lead to changes in your sense of balance, try exercises to help you adjust. Side to side lunges or squat and lift repetitions can really help. Look for pregnancy classes like pilates and yoga for tailored exercises and advice.

Because of the way your body changes during pregnancy, your previous exercise routines may be harder but keeping active, gently exercising, stretching and getting out the house will really help your body and mind.

If you're struggling with back pain, pelvic pain, or headaches try a consultation and treatment with a pregnancy trained osteopath. They can help alleviate your pain in the session and give you advice on stress management tools, breathing exercises, or physical exercises to help you manage longer term. 

06. Varicose veins, haemorrhoids, and constipation

Pregnancy puts pressure on your veins

Varicose veins can happen when blood pools into veins that have been enlarged by pregnancy hormones. Haemorrhoids (or piles) are varicose veins in the rectum. These enlarged blood vessels can itch, bleed and be very uncomfortable. They often come hand in hand with constipation as straining can enlarge the veins of the rectum.

Boost your circulation with massage and exercise

Keep your circulation flowing by avoiding sitting or standing for too long. Gentle exercise, compression socks, and elevating your feet will also help with blood flow. Pregnancy massage has been proven to increase circulation, relieve stress and improve mood.

A fibre-rich diet, drinking plenty of water, and regular exercise will help keep your bowel movements regular which in turn helps prevent constipation and haemorrhoids. Laxatives can help short term, as can daily probiotics. If you do have haemorrhoids, talk to your doctor about treatment creams.

Other pregnancy changes and FAQs

Osteopathy can help ease discomfort during pregnancy and prepare you for a healthy recovery after childbirth. It does this by:

  • Alleviating pain and discomfort: Osteopathic manual therapy can help alleviate pain and discomfort during pregnancy. Your osteopath will also recommend life-style changes to achieve longer lasting results, including stress management tools, mindfulness skills, breathing exercises, or exercise rehabilitation.

  • Identifying key factors contributing to aches and discomforts: We often see pain as a biomechanical fault or misalignment. In reality, pain is the expression of a complex picture and requires a much more individualistic solution.

  • Improving sleep: Sleep problems are common during pregnancy, especially in your third trimester. Your osteopath may help you develop a sleep routine, advise relaxation techniques or use manual therapy to ease physical discomfort and promote relaxation.

By focusing on self-care, seeking support when needed, and being patient with your body, you can really improve your experience of pregnancy. You may feel nervous about the different pregnancy symptoms or the emotional challenges ahead. But don’t forget it’s also a great opportunity to learn about yourself and prepare for the journey of motherhood.

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to care for yourself during pregnancy, and what's most important is finding what works best for you.

Yes, it is safe, as long as the osteopath in question is trained to work with pregnant people.

Pregnancy-trained osteopaths have studied obstetrics, the anatomy of the pelvis, and the specific body changes during pregnancy. They will have learned all about the different stages of pregnancy and how to safely treat potential musculoskeletal conditions. Many will also continue to stay up-to-date with the latest advances and best practices for treating pregnant women through courses like MummyMOT.

To find a pregnancy-trained osteopath or physiotherapist on Urban, just browse individual bios before booking.