When it comes to pregnancy, there are changes happening left, right, and centre to the female body. This is actually in quite a literal sense! From the external shape of the body changing as that baby bump grows bigger to the internal organs shifting around to accommodate the growing uterus, the female body really does experience it all from the moment of conception.
This journey of pregnancy is a strange and interesting one for the female body. Not only do the obvious changes occurs, but there are also more subtle changes going on as well. For instance, pregnancy makes the heart pump twice as much blood around the body, it causes the internal body temperature to rise, and it also messes with the muscles along the way.
This is kind of clear, since the whole body shape has to shift to support the extra weight happening in the belly. But if you actually stop and think about how the muscles physically change, you’ll notice that it is kind of unsettling. Pretty much from head to toe, there are some bizarre alterations going on with the muscle shape and development.
Pregnancy is one weird rollercoaster ride, and here is what it does to a woman’s muscles.
On top of a protruding belly, many pregnant women end up with slightly rounded shoulders. This somewhat Hunchback of Notre Dame look isn’t particularly appealing, but pregnant women ought to rest assured that it isn’t their fault. The muscles simply can’t handle the curve.
So while you’re struggling along with the hormonal changes and mood swings, spare a thought for your upper back muscles that are starting to sag and cave in. They have a lot of weight on their shoulders, quite literally, so need some extra support. Stretching your shoulders each morning will help to keep the muscles activated to lessen the slouching nature of your posture. And of course, a deep tissue massage in the shoulders never goes astray to release some of the tension. Here’s looking at you, partners and best friends of heavily pregnant women!
The human body really does know what it's doing when it comes to pregnancy. It is so well prepared that it has all bases covered. In fact, sometimes the human body is a little bit over prepared. And while it gets a round of applause and pat on the back for putting in the effort, sometimes things could be toned down just a little.
For instance, during labor and delivery, a hormone called relaxin is released. This seeps into the pelvic muscles to make things relax (as the name suggests) and ease the pressure of dilation. This is awesome. Good job, body. However, sometimes the body gets a little over excited and releases relaxin too early. This makes the body too relaxed and can cause some muscle pain around the hips and pelvis. They just aren’t ready to relax yet, ok!
The muscular changes during pregnancy mess around with more than just the internal workings of the body. They literally change how a pregnant woman sees the world. We all rely on our centre of gravity to keep us balanced and upright throughout the day. So, what happens when this centre of gravity changes?
Well, you might just find out during pregnancy! Obviously, this time when the body is changing throws things a little out of whack. It also literally throws you off balance. This is because the stomach and uterine muscles have to stretch and expand so much to accommodate the growing baby. This is better known as the baby bump. As the baby bump gets bigger, the body gets confused with the extra weight at the front, and has to shift the centre of gravity to keep you balanced. So no one can blame you if you’re a little wobbly on the feet during pregnancy!
Ok, this point isn’t to make expectant moms expect to start shrinking to half their size, it isn’t that extreme. However, there is some reverse growth that happens when the baby starts weighing the pregnant body down. So, just how do pregnant women shrink?
Well, it isn’t as straightforward as waking up in the morning and having your pants suddenly too long at the ankles. Rather, the ‘shrinking’ is because the pelvic muscles have to tip forward to counterbalance the load of the baby bump. This shift in position makes the pubic bone and tailbone move backward. As a result, the arch in your lower back gets more pronounced, and alters the perspective of your height. Don’t worry, you’ll grow back once the baby is out!
The hips are designed to flex, but the muscles that do the flexing are going to get a whole lot tighter with pregnancy. The hip flexors, or the iliopsoas, have to bear quite the brunt of the expanding uterus. The hips take a lot of pressure during pregnancy, and when this pressure gives way, the hip flexors really feel it.
Basically, there is a big shift in postural balance during pregnancy. This throws the hip flexors out of alignment. It can cause some dull aching pain but not normally anything too serious. This pain is because the hip flexor muscles are tightening as a way to keep the uterus sorted. Stretches help a lot to ease the tightness, as well as some deep heat muscle cream if the pain is really uncomfortable.
While it's normally men that dream of those dreamy pec muscles standing out of their chest, it turns out a quick way to achieve tight pectoral muscles is simply to carry a baby. Obviously, a lot of changes occur around the chest region when a woman conceives a baby. This is just one of the lesser expected changes
The most obvious chest changes that happen with a growing baby are the fact that the breasts jump up about 20,000 bra sizes, or so it seems, and they become more squishy and slushy with the milk production that is going on. Then there are the darkening areolas (skin around the nipples) and the general pain and discomfort that comes with it all. But, the good news is that under all these changes, the pectoral muscles are tight and sharp. Looking good!
A part of pregnancy is just the saggy butt. No one likes it, no one ever said it looks good, but at least no one is going to judge you for not having a peachy rear end when you wear comfortable leggings in public. There has to be at least one perk of pregnancy, right?
The reason that the butt gets a little less toned and a whole lot more saggy is because the muscles literally weaken. This isn’t your fault and unfortunately you can’t rectify with a billion squats each day. You’re fighting a bigger force of hormones with this one. Since there are so many hormones being redirected to the pelvic area to support the growing baby, the gluteal muscles also get their fair share of them. In response to the hormonal overload, they kinda just collapse like a weak bridge. So really, just save the squats for post-pregnancy.
It wouldn’t be a rollercoaster ride without some screaming, tears, and muscles cramping up, would it. So pregnancy makes sure that it covers all bases here. Most of the muscle cramps that are going to seize things up happen in the lower part of things, especially the calves. Yes, that is the calves that are ironically also swollen from all the fluid retention.
We all know muscle cramps. They are that awkward muscle spasm that causes involuntary screaming and crying out in pain. The main reason they happen even more during pregnancy is, firstly, because of all that extra weight you’re now putting on your legs (not your fault, totally the baby’s). Also, because of the increased blood flow that comes with having an extra heart beat in the body and how the circulation has changed, more and more cramps are headed to your legs.
If there has ever been a call and a cause to get a well deserved massage, it is during pregnancy. There is no time like when the stomach is growing, the ankles are bloated, and the hormones are raging to seek relaxation at the hands of a professional. Also, the muscles really do require some extra TLC.
When carrying a whole lot of extra weight, they find it harder to relax and recover. Pregnancy puts a lot of pressure on the muscles, joints, and ligaments to support the growing baby. Since this pressure is there every day, the muscles can’t exactly take a recovery day like after exercising intensely. Therefore, they need some assistance in actively relaxing. A massage or a bath in epsom salts does the trick quite nicely. And of course, it does wonders for your required ‘me time’.
Obvious as it seems, it is worth pointing out that the uterus muscles do a whole lot of stretching over the course of those nine epic months. While we tend to think of the uterine muscles stretching and expanding, we don’t often give enough thought to how they then have to contract, once all the fun and games are over and done with.
The uterus muscles really do go through the most with pregnancy. After stretching and tightening to support the baby growing in the womb, it takes the uterus quite a while to contract back to how it originally was. The muscles have to go through a lot in the contraction process as well. This is why you shouldn’t feel ashamed for having a wobbly belly after giving birth. The muscles take time to recover!
Ah, the pelvis and its pelvic muscles. This part of the body has no idea what’s going to hit it from the moment of conception. The poor muscles around here have a whole lot of stretching, supporting, and goodness knows what else to deal with throughout the nine months of pregnancy.
Part of their role is to bring on the contractions of labor. During this time, they pretty much have to drop as low as they can go. This is the limbo, pelvis style. The pelvic floor muscles drop as much as 2.5 centimetres to get the body ready for contractions. These are the muscles that more or less hold the pelvic organs in place. So throughout pregnancy, they have to shift with the growing uterus. Then, they just have to go low to let things happen during labor and delivery.
So, as the pregnant body changes, there is a noticeable shift in where the weight sits. Yes, this is most obvious as the stomach grows and grows with the uterus that is pushing it to its new limits. As the outside of the pregnant body changes, the muscles on the inside are doing a whole lot of shifting to support this new frame.
As a result of all this, and due to an increase in lumbar lordosis, there is a distinctive shift in a woman’s centre of gravity. This means that a bit of the old wobbles on the legs can happen. If you start losing balance during pregnancy, you can actually blame it entirely on your muscles. Throw a bit of biological changes at the next person who laughs when you stumble over thin air.
When one thinks about a pregnant woman in her third trimester, there is an image that comes to mind. This is one of a woman with a protruding stomach and a seemingly curved back. Now, that just doesn’t seem comfortable for the spine, does it? Well, it isn’t.
The vertebrate muscles along the spine have to support pretty much the whole core of your body. This involves the central nervous system and all that jazz that gives you the ability to walk and move and whatnot. Now, when the whole centre of gravity starts shifting and the muscles start changing to support the uterus, the vertebrae muscles have to work to keep up. This means that they have additional pressure and strain on them to give the body the support it needs, while the stomach is trying to weigh you down on the other side.
While all this attention has been on the muscles growing, shifting, and changing throughout pregnancy, we have overlooked the important role of the muscle fibres and the sacrifices they make for the pregnant body. Muscle fibres are basically the cells or the foundation of a muscle. They are what the muscle grows off of and develops from. Muscle fibres each have different roles in the body. Some are to support endurance, some flexibility, and some just have to stretch it out during pregnancy.
Since the muscles themselves, especially the uterine, stomach, and pelvic muscles, have to stretch so much to accommodate the growing baby, the muscle fibres do as well. Since these are what support the foundation of the muscle, without a bit of stretching nothing is going to work. It sounds tiring for the whole body!
If there is ever a time to realise how interconnected the abdominal and uterus muscles are, it is during pregnancy. The changes that happen here make stomach cramps during menstruation seem like child’s play. So with the enlarging uterus as the little cluster of cells sprouts into a baby, the abdominal muscles have to stretch and grow.
The top layer of the abdominal muscles start from the rib cage and make their way all the way down to the pelvic bone. As the uterus grows and grows and keeps on growing, these top layers muscles have to separate, which causes an inevitable weakening. Yes, they come apart inside of you! So yeah, that’s pretty unsettling. If you feel your abdominal muscles are a bit weaker with pregnancy, it's because they are!
Sources: Experiencepilates.wordpress.com, Befitmom.com, Americanpregnancy.com, Babymed.com, Slideshare.net