I’m a guy with a wonderful wife (The Tyrant) who is now 16 weeks pregnant. This is our first child so we’re both newbies to the whole pregnancy and parenting thing.
My cluelessness as to the various physiological changes that take place in a woman’s body throughout her pregnancy have become embarrassingly clear each time The Tyrant has a new and strange pregnancy symptom pop up.
I’m not talking about the stuff that everybody knows about (yes, a woman’s uterus and breasts grow larger during pregnancy). I’m talking about the pregnancy symptoms I never heard or read about before my wife experienced them.
Below is a list of the strangest pregnancy symptoms The Tyrant has experienced — and their underlying biological causes. If you’re newly pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, knowing what these symptoms are and knowing they’re normal may prove helpful for you.
I’m also writing this article for the sake of other soon-to-be fathers out there. Empathize. Your wife/partner is undergoing massive physical, mental, and emotional changes. It’s important for us to understand this reality while providing love and support throughout the pregnancy.
14 strange pregnancy symptoms I never knew about
1. “Pregnancy brain.”
Susan is a talented designer/graphic artist with a strong clinical & research science background. She can work for 6+ hours straight on the same project without noticing how much time has elapsed — at least she could before she was pregnant.
Over the past couple of months, her work productivity has plummeted because of a near-constant mental fog and inability to stay focused on a particular project for more than an hour or so. One day, she jokingly told me that she’s suffering from “pregnancy brain.”
Apparently, she didn’t coin this term and “pregnancy brain” is a real and quite common phenomenon.
What causes pregnancy brain?
Pregnancy brain is the result of a combination of factors:
- Lack of sleep and lack of quality sleep.
- Massive hormonal shifts.
- The brain rewiring itself towards a more emotion-centered default mode to help ensure a bond with the newborn baby. A woman’s brain actually shrinks in size during pregnancy to become more efficient at mothering!
2. Frequent urination.
I pee a lot. I also drink a lot of water and herbal tea throughout the day. For years, I unsuccessfully tried to get The Tyrant to drink more fluids throughout the day. Instead, she’d just make fun of me for peeing so frequently. No more!
Now that she’s pregnant, Susan is constantly thirsty. And she’s constantly peeing. Unfortunately, having to get up and pee several times throughout the night also diminishes her sleep quality.
What causes frequent urination during pregnancy?
Turns out there are two things responsible for having to pee a lot during pregnancy:
a) The obvious culprit is the additional human being formed in proximity to the mother’s bladder, which puts pressure on the bladder during the first and especially third trimester. (During the second trimester the uterus rises into the abdominal cavity, so the pressure isn’t as bad.)
b) During pregnancy, mom gets flooded with a pregnancy hormone called hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). This hormone increases blood flow to the pelvic area (for obvious reasons) and kidneys (to help flush waste out of the body more efficiently).
3. Exhaustion and need for extra sleep.
I figured that creating another human being inside of your body is exhausting work, but it never dawned on me that pregnant women would need 2-3 extra hours of sleep each night for a total of 8-10 hours (and/or supplemental naps).
The Tyrant never took naps before pregnancy. Now she takes naps several times per week. She’s also giving Bob the Cat stiff competition for who can sleep the most hours.
What causes exhaustion and the need for extra sleep during pregnancy?
Pregnant women need more sleep due to the energy exerted and physical stress endured by creating a new human from their own bodies. (Not to mention creating an entirely new organ — the placenta — during the first trimester.) Plus, the reduced quality of sleep due to increased discomfort and pee interruptions means they need more total sleep time.
4. Mood swings.
A couple weeks ago, The Tyrant and I were relaxing watching a show. An ad comes on, so I tune out. Next thing I know, The Tyrant has tears in her eyes and is sniffling…
I wasn’t sure what I’d done wrong or right, but sensing my anxiety she pointed towards our computer screen and said (sniffling), “It’s so sweet!”
It turns out that The Tyrant had been moved to tears by an ad for facebook groups featuring a dad taking his daughter to a baseball game. While she does have a remarkable emotional capacity, I can not adequately express how highly unlikely it would be for The Tyrant to be moved to tears by such a commercial under normal operating conditions. Other similar episodes have since occurred.
What causes mood swings during pregnancy?
In addition to being chronically exhausted (which impacts your emotional state), pregnant women are also experiencing surges in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which cause all sorts of changes in your brain chemistry and mood.
5. Nose bleeds and gum bleeding.
Out of nowhere, The Tyrant will suddenly get severe nose bleeds. Her nose is stuffed up a lot now as well.
She also noticed her gums bleeding when brushing her teeth and flossing. What the heck?
What causes nose bleeds and gum bleeding during pregnancy?
This was nuts to me: by the end of pregnancy, a woman’s body will increase its total blood volume by 50%! That’s a lot of extra blood.
Throughout pregnancy, there’s also a lot more blood flow (in addition to blood volume), so spots like gums and mucous membranes in your nose are much more prone to bleeding.
6. Food aversions.
I’d always heard about weird food cravings during pregnancy (e.g. pickles and ice cream). But I had no idea pregnant women would develop extreme food aversions to foods they typically love.
Two examples here: The Tyrant loves her nightly glass of red wine. Months back, one night the red wine stopped tasting good to her, so she disappeared for a while. She came back into the living room a short while later and handed me a (positive) pregnancy test strip. Yep, she — thus we — realized she was pregnant because wine stopped tasting good to her.
The most frustrating one for both of us is that she normally LOVES vegetables. After all, we have an edible landscape stuffed full of organic produce. Throughout most of the first trimester, she couldn’t stomach any leafy greens, but her desire for fresh fruit went through the roof.
As we get into the second trimester, The Tyrant is finally beginning to eat some veggies again.
What causes food aversions during pregnancy?
The research literature points to a couple of likely factors here:
a) The increasing amounts of the pregnancy hormone hCG (see #2 above), which doubles every two days during the first trimester. In addition to other effects, hCG makes your appetite, food cravings, and food aversions go cuckoo.
b) Some sort of innate defensive aversions that could serve to reduce foodborne illnesses. Before humans regularly washed our hands and our food, one might imagine that eating a big bowl of raw leafy greens was riskier than it is today.
7. Super smell.
I would bet money that The Tyrant could outperform a bloodhound in a smelling competition right now. Her sensitivities to smell are through the roof.
Almost daily, she’ll exclaim, “Ugh, what is that smell?!” I just shrug because I don’t smell a thing.
What causes hyper-sensitivities to smells during pregnancy?
Here again, it looks like the culprit is the hormone hCG. It also makes perfect sense to have a mechanism that makes pregnant women less likely to ingest or be near foul-smelling substances, thus reducing health risks from pathogen exposure.
8. Pain – specifically round ligament pain.
Yes, even I knew that pregnant women experience breast pain/sensitivity as their mammary glands swell. I also knew that walking around with 30 pounds of additional weight could cause joint pain. I just didn’t know about all the other aches and pains that can occur throughout pregnancy…
My records indicate that The Tyrant uses the word “ow!” 435% more now that she’s pregnant. The other day I had to help her up from a laying down position because lifting herself up was causing bad “round ligament pain.”
What causes round ligament pain during pregnancy?
The uterus is supported on both sides by cords of connective tissue, aka round ligaments. As you might guess, these ligaments have to undergo some serious stretching as the uterus grows throughout pregnancy. During certain movements, spasms in these ligaments can cause deep stabbing pains in the pelvic region.
9. Evening sickness.
Everyone has probably heard of morning sickness (even me). Nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. Thankfully The Tyrant has only experienced nausea, not vomiting. And nausea is considered a good indicator for a healthy pregnancy, not something to be concerned about.
However, “morning sickness” is a misnomer. As researchers have pointed out: “Less than two percent of women had nausea only in the mornings. Eighty percent of women experiencing nausea distributed across all of the days’ time periods.”
Nausea is most severe during the first trimester and often abates during the second trimester. The Tyrant’s nausea is getting better now, but during the first trimester it was pretty rough. Interestingly, she felt fine in the mornings and terrible from late afternoon-evening. Evening sickness?
What causes evening sickness and pregnancy nausea?
If you’ve read through the previous pregnancy symptoms and causes on this list, you might have guessed the answer… Research seems to indicate a causative link between the levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG and pregnancy nausea.
10. Varicose veins
Thankfully, The Tyrant has NOT experienced varicose veins, but she has noticed new veins on her body that weren’t visible before. “Look at this one! This wasn’t here before!” she exclaimed the other night as we were getting ready for bed.
What causes varicose veins during pregnancy?
Remember that 50% increased blood volume and increased blood flow mentioned in #5? Well, this also contributes to new vein formation or even varicose veins. Also, as The American Pregnancy Association notes:
“Hormonal changes can also lead to varicose veins as increased progestin levels can dilate or open the veins. In addition, during pregnancy the uterus puts pressure on the inferior vena cava (the vein that carries blood from the legs and feet to the heart), further contributing to varicose veins. Varicose veins are generally harmless, although they may become itchy and uncomfortable.”
11. Odd new skin conditions.
One of our good friends is four weeks ahead of us in her pregnancy, and her hands and arms suddenly became covered in dry blistered skin. She had no idea what caused the reaction.
As it turns out, her immune system freaked out (prone to happen when your body has another body growing inside of it) and she suddenly developed hyper-sensitive skin.
Perhaps it was a sympathy reaction, but The Tyrant pointed out a small scaly skin formation on one of her fingers to me last week. “Look at this skin thing!” she said.
I tried to express sympathy, but compared to what our friend is going through, this was more of an act than a genuine sentiment. (Sorry you’re having to find out this way, babe.)
What causes skin conditions during pregnancy?
The list of odd skin conditions that may occur during pregnancy and their potential causes are too long to list here. Generally, the causes seem to relate to hormonal changes and immune system overreactions. You can read more about them via the American Academy of Family Physicians.
12. Increased susceptibility to getting sick.
Between the two of us, The Tyrant and I have been sick three times in the past decade. Thankfully, she hasn’t gotten sick since she’s been pregnant, but she let me know early on that she had to be hyper-vigilant because women are more likely to get sick while pregnant.
I had no idea what she was talking about, so she filled me in…
Why are pregnant women more likely to get sick?
Your immune system is pretty darn amazing at fighting off foreign invaders. This is great when your battling pathogens, not so great when there’s a foreign body forming inside your uterus.
That’s why, during pregnancy, a woman’s immune system significantly powers down to allow this strange foreign invader to continue on. Unfortunately, this response is also why pregnant women are especially susceptible to getting sick.
13. Gagging when flossing and brushing teeth.
Earlier during the first trimester, The Tyrant went into the bathroom for her evening ablutions. A few seconds later I heard: “Ghack!” followed by some coughing sounds. I went in to check on her and found her taking a break from flossing.
At night, apparently flossing and brushing her teeth are especially difficult because they trigger her gag reflex.
What causes a heightened gag reflex in some pregnant women?
As best as we can tell, this is a somewhat common phenomenon but there’s not a lot of research out there on the topic. Since The Tyrant’s gag reflex seems to be strongest at night when she already feels nauseous, our bet is it’s linked to our familiar friend, the pregnancy hormone hCG.
Something that never happened to The Tyrant prior to pregnancy: heartburn. This is probably due to our good diets, consumption of lots of probiotics, and regular exercise.
However, two nights ago The Tyrant was doubled over on the floor in pain. All I could do was sit on the floor with her and rub her back and head. Heartburn. Ugh.
Thankfully, this is somewhat rare now, but is supposed to get pretty bad during the third trimester.
What causes increased and/or more severe heartburn during pregnancy?
“Heartburn occurs when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus are unable to prevent stomach acid from passing back into the esophagus. During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone causes the valve to relax, which can increase the frequency of heartburn. This allows stomach acid to pass into the esophagus and irritate the lining.”
Throughout pregnancy a woman’s body goes through a dramatic set of physiological changes. Imagine how strange and scary all of these changes and resulting symptoms must have been to women before the advent of modern medical science! Or Google!
I’m embarrassed at how little I knew (as a male) regarding all the strange pregnancy symptoms my wife is currently going through. As her partner in life, I have a duty to be present for her, sympathize with her pain, and do as much as I possibly can to ease the burden (physical and psychological) that she’s carrying.
Hopefully, sharing these strange pregnancy symptoms and their causes will help other people out there who might be going through similar circumstances.