The epic journey of pregnancy, the 9 month long rollercoaster ride that so many women embark on, is one filled with endless bodily changes. For better or worse (hey, some people are optimists), these bodily changes are necessary to sustain the life of a newborn nugget that will be ready to pop out after 9 months.
From the moment of conception, the body undergoes a series of changes. Along the way, some changes become more visible, such as the protruding stomach and swollen ankles. Other changes, however, remain unseen, yet significant nonetheless.
While the body changes on the outside, there are plenty of internal changes going on to the organs. If you really think about it, the body needs to physically change to carry a baby. This means not only growing bigger on the outside, but also shifting around on the inside. Yeah, organs literally have to change and adapt for the sake of the baby.
One of the most important organs (ok, probably the most important organ), is the heart. And just because of its status as keeping life alive, the heart isn’t exempt from changes to accommodate the body. Find out just how the heart changes along the way with pregnancy.
12 Pumps Twice As Much Blood
This one makes total sense since the body is now making room for two. Expectant moms eat for two, exercise for two, use the toilet twice as much for two...and the heart also pumps enough blood for two. It is really important, therefore, that the heart is looked after doubly well so that it can do a top notch job twice as well during these 9 months.
Since the heart does need to up its game when carrying a baby, it is important that you do everything you can to give it the best chance to pump that blood well. This includes eating well, staying away from fatty foods, and exercising regularly. Of course, don’t overdo it with the exercise, but do remind your cardiovascular system that it’s still gotta get moving throughout the weeks!
11 Heart Rate Increases To 80-90 BPM
This one happens because the heart’s cardiac output, or the amount of blood it is pumping around the body, increases so much during pregnancy. The cardiac output actually increases by about 30% - 50% depending on the woman. As such, the heart rate has to increase to keep up with the demand and supply ratio here.
The normal resting heart rate of the average female is 70 beats per minute. Throughout pregnancy, this increases to a steady 80 or 90 beats per minutes. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s a whole lot more heart palpitations happening every 30 seconds! This will all slow down around the 30 week mark of pregnancy. But be prepared, the heart is going to have to increase that rate again during labor when the cardiac output rises by another 30 per cent!
10 Fluid Levels In The Heart Increase Too
While there are definitely more red blood cells floating around the body, released from the heart, this isn’t the only thing that is pumping around even more with pregnancy. The actual volume of blood increases by around 50 per cent for the average woman, but the amount of fluid increases as well. This is because the heart needs to inhale and pump out more oxygen to supply mom and baby, and these fluids are the most reliable mode of transportation for the oxygen.
What this means for you, however, is that there is more fluid retention in the body. And what that means is that there is swelling. Get ready for swelling in the legs, swelling in the tummy, and even swelling around the wrists. Hey, cankles are the new trend - rock them with pregnancy pride!
9 Labor Changes The Heart’s Rhythm
The heart has quite the journey along the 9 months of pregnancy, but the fun doesn’t end for a while. Of course, the fun and games of labor take a toll on every part of the body. The heart is amongst those parts that certainly feels the effects.
After the fluctuations, increased blood volume, and blood pressure bouncing around all over the place, the heart finally makes it to labor. But here, what is waiting is yet another 15%-30% of cardiac output, or blood flow. This is basically because, with each contraction of the uterus, a bunch of blood gets pushed back into the circulatory system. Also, your emotions and stress levels rising makes the heart pump even more blood as a response to the anxiety and overwhelming physical feelings.
8 Varicose Veins Explained
When it comes to pregnancy, the heart and uterus are never going to get along. Just accept that right here and now. Basically, the uterus puts stress on the heart at every stage of the trimesters, and the heart just has to take it all like a champion.
First, the growing uterus makes the heart move position because it puts too much pressure on the diaphragm. And then, the uterus interrupts the return of blood from the legs back to the heart. The bigger it gets, the less blood can make the important journey back. The heart just wants the blood back, but the uterus is just getting in the way. If you’re looking for the reason behind varicose veins in the upper legs, this is why. Good one, uterus!
7 The Heart Changes Size
Things are shifting around in the body more than just the uterus expanding. As that part of the female anatomy that was once the size of a peach becomes more watermelon-esque, so must other parts of the body shift around to make way for it. The growing uterus puts additional pressure on the diaphragm which actually pushes the heart upwards.
More than this, there is another bizarre and unexpected reason that the heart needs to shift locations slightly during pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy, the heart actually grows in size. There is about a 12 per cent increase of the heart’s size while pregnant, thanks to a combination of hormones, blood composition, and blood flow. This means that the heart needs to upsize its space during these crazy 9 months of baby growing.
6 Blood Pressure Levels Rise And Fall
First up, generally speaking, blood pressure levels stay within the same range of the normal blood pressure range before getting pregnant. The levels will fluctuate and vary, but if there is anything extreme, or if there are known issues with the blood pressure, that is the doctor’s territory and should be checked.
Typically, the blood pressure won’t change too much in the first trimester. This is when the heart is still in happy land and doesn’t really realise the changes to come. However, the levels can start bouncing around during the second and third trimester, purely because of the physical stress that the body is now under. Of course, doctors will keep a close eye on these numbers and all that jazz during prenatal check ups. No one wants to mess around with the blood pressure!
5 The Heart Is Wary Of Preeclampsia
There are some factors that can turn a happy, steady pregnancy into one that is at-risk of problems. Amongst the list of these things is preeclampsia. This is when the blood pressure levels are too high and there is too much fluid retention going. And that’s right, this happens because of the heart.
Essentially, the heart and preeclampsia don’t want to get together. If they do, it's a question of what came first and what will happen next. Preeclampsia can put a lot of strain on the heart because it is demanding too much pressure at once. Likewise, an unhealthy heart can result in an increased chance of preeclampsia. And you don’t want this condition during pregnancy. No one does. So keep the heart healthy, well fed, and well exercised!
4 Exercise Keeps The Heart At Low Risk
It is a common fun fact that the best thing one can do for the body is exercise regularly. This doesn’t mean going hard at the gym 5 days a week and posting endless muscle selfies with weights in the background. Rather, it means that the average adult should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day. Again, this can be varied between running, jogging, yoga, etc. It just means moving for 30 minutes actively.
For pregnancy, since there is so much going on with the heart, exercise is super important. And of course, during pregnancy, as the trimesters progress, exercise will need to be adapted to suit the body. That is why there are prenatal gym classes, yoga classes, and swimming groups available. Do whatever you can to help the heart out as it goes through these changes!
3 Laying On The Back “Crushes” The Heart
Ok, first up, this is in no way a literal thing. Of course, the heart doesn’t actually get crushed just by laying on the back. However, it isn’t exactly the most ideal position to lay down. While it can be really comfortable to lay on the back, staying for a prolonged period like this puts a lot of pressure on the heart.
The best position to lay on is on the left side of the body. This is called the SOS position (Sleeping on Side) but it is literally like the answer to an SOS call from your heart. On this side of the body, the heart has more space to pump the blood around. This means that more blood and nutrients can swivel through the veins and make their way to the placenta, which is super important for the baby!
2 The Heart Moves Around During Pregnancy
This isn’t to say that the heart moves from left to right, up and down, whenever it feels like over the 9 months of pregnancy. By no means is it literally bouncing around the body. However, the actual position of the heart in the body does change throughout the trimesters.
The heart starts off sitting comfortably in the middle of the lungs which are in the centre of the chest, although there is a slight lean from the heart towards the left lung. The internal body structure changes throughout pregnancy with the growth of the uterus. The heart responds to this uterine growth by shifting position ever so slightly. The uterus pushes on the diaphragm which makes the lungs compress slightly, so the heart has to shift to try and give the lungs more space. Crazy stuff going on inside!
1 It Doesn't Like Right Side Sleeping
The heart loves when a pregnant woman lies on her side. This is way more comfortable than the back, and the body can just forget about lying on the front with that baby bump sticking out like it does. More specifically, the heart loves when a pregnant woman lies on the left side. As for the right side, it isn’t such a fan.
Lying on the left side of the body during pregnancy promotes an even heart rate and steady blood flow. It allows oxygen to circulate the best keep the nutrients making the rounds around the body. More so, lying on the side is really comfortable for pregnant women. If you add a pillow between the legs and prop some support behind the lower back, you’re in a winning position. Stay there as long as you can!
Sources: Livestrong.com, Msdmanuals.com, Medscape.com