Many mums-to-be grow thick and lustrous locks during pregnancy, while others find their glossy mane has thinned and dulled. This is due to the different hormonal environment that develops when you're pregnant. "For the majority of pregnant women, the shedding of hair will slow down, as during pregnancy individual hair strands have a longer growth stage instead of a resting period before being lost," explains Mervi Jokinen, an advisor from London's Royal College of Midwives.
The pregnant brain has long been an area of debate in scientific circles. Some studies suggest shifts in our grey matter cause memory loss - 'preg head', 'baby brain' or 'mumnesia' - while others dispute the findings, blaming scatty behaviour on factors such as a lack of sleep. Either way, expect to undergo a mental shift as you nourish the littlie inside of you. "The brain is the biggest organ involved in childbirth," says Hannah Dahlen, from the Australian College of Midwives. "Pregnant women are vulnerable to suggestion, fear and things that happened in their past.
Just be aware that issues may come up, even from hearing your mother's birth stories." And then remember where you put your keys!
From glowing skin to an onset of acne, the wave of pregnancy hormones can affect your skin in different ways. Facial skin pigmentation is common, so don't be alarmed if you notice a smattering of melatonin around your cheeks that makes you look darker, or if your freckles darken. "It's important to practise safe sun exposure and wear a hat and sunscreen as much as possible, especially in the warmer months," reminds Sydney obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Stephen Morris. "Get any moles or freckles checked if you're concerned by a change in shape or texture, or if they become irritating." And invest in a cleanser and moisturiser to suit the skin you've developed, whether it's a bit dry or if your oil glands have gone crazy.
It may surprise you to know that having a bub on board can mean altered vision and for some pregnant women this can be to the point that their eyewear prescription changes. "This occurs when water retention during pregnancy affects the curvature of the cornea and shifts the light refraction," explains Dr Gino Pecoraro, a spokesperson for The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. "Your normal water levels will return after birth, so don't spend lots of money on fancy new specs!"
Teeth and gums
Your growing bump can have a huge impact on the state of your mouth, so try to visit your dentist at least once during pregnancy. "Increased oestrogen levels make your tissues fleshier and increase in growth," explains Mervi. "The extra progesterone then relaxes the ligaments and blood vessels to allow for this growth." With defences lowered, mums-to-be can become susceptible to bleeding gums and diseases such as gingivitis. But oral hygiene is critical to bubba's health.
"We're doing a trial on oral assessments for pregnant women at the moment," adds Hannah. "There is more and more evidence on the harmful effets of poor oral health on the mother and baby. Other studies have detected oral bacteria in amniotic fluid." To maintain good gums, brush and floss regularly and see a dentist for pain or bleeding.
As a mama-in-waiting you can expect your breasts to balloon, so it's important to invest in a quality maternity bra. Choose one with thick supportive straps to wear once your existing bra starts to cut into you. "The wearing of underwire bras isn't recommended after 20 weeks, when the pressure of the wires could cause a breast infection," advises Dr Morris. And, adds Hannah, "make sure you get fitted properly because your breasts may have grown more than you thought - if you think you're a 14DD, don't be surprised if you're suddenly an 18F!"
Don't be perturbed if your nipples darken and your areolas get bigger, or if you leak colostrum towards the end of your pregnancy either - that's just the super-nutritious first milk your breasts produce and a little leak or squirt here and there is normal.
You can thank the waves of the hormone progesterone circulating in your body if your guts have gone on a go-slow. "The hormone actually relaxes your muscles, your smooth muscles in particular, to stop you going into labour," explains Hannah. "But, as a side effect, it can make your bowel a bit more relaxed and slow too!" Combat constipation with a high-fibre diet that's loaded with fruit and veg, drink lots of water, and keep up with exercise such as walking and yoga.
The same hormonal culprit for constipation is to blame for common pregnancy foes indigestion and heartburn. "Progesterone can also relax the sphincter in your oesophagus," says Hannah. "Women will sometimes get more reflux because the contents of the stomach are able to come back up the pipe, which causes that acidy, burning sensation."
Wear loose, comfortable clothing, give your meals two or three hours to digest before bedtime, avoid foods you know make the problem worse for you (such as spicy meals and fizzy drinks) and ask your doctor about a safe antacid if the problems persist.
Placental hormones in pregnancy can make it harder for you to process carbohydrates such as starches, fruit and sugars. "If your pancreas cannot meet the demand for double or triple its usual production of the insulin hormone, then blood glucose levels will rise," Dr Morris says.
"This situation is called gestational diabetes, a mostly temporary form of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy." If you notice blurry vision and excessive thirst or urine, make an appointment to see your GP.
The cause of the dreaded morning sickness remains mostly unknown, but it's probably due to a number of factors including the early rise of progesterone and lower blood glucose levels. "It makes us very sensitive to smells and food, and so we tend to be very bland in what we eat," observes Hannah.
Over 80 per cent of mums suffer from the sickness but most find it settles by 14 weeks. Contrary to its name, morning sickness can strike at any time of the day or night. If you're going through a bout of nausea, try sipping small amounts of fluid, nibbling on dry, salty crackers, chewing on ginger lollies and getting some rest.
Every woman will tell you her bladder changes when pregnant! The reason is actually twofold. "From the very first stages of pregnancy, the heart, lungs and kidney work 60 per cent harder, which means that, initially, you're actually producing more urine," explains Dr Pecoraro. In the later stages, as your uterus grows to full form, the bladder simply runs out of room.
And while it may be tempting to cut your water intake to avoid trips to the bathroom, it's important to stay hydrated. "You may be able to hold only 2ml of urine a night, but think of it as nature's way of preparing you to get up and feed a baby!"
If hormones and the pressure on your cervix produce an 'egg white' discharge from your vagina, don't panic. "It's nothing bad, just increased mucus," assures Dr Pecoraro. But if you're pregnant somewhere like Queensland in the height of summer, this hormonal shift could lead to thrush.
"During pregnancy, the cells that line the vagina can produce perfect food for the thrush fungus," he explains. If you're experiencing a lot of discharge or are otherwise concerned, chat to your GP. In the case of thrush, an antifungal cream and/or a vaginal pessary will be advised.
Many mamas find their skin becomes dry and itchy during pregnancy and can develop stretchmarks on their abdomens, thighs, buttocks and breasts. "Regular moisturising will help with irritation but may not prevent stretchmarks," Dr Morris says.
"It's best to avoid highly perfumed creams as they can cause further drying. And remember that your skin may be extra sensitive, so try not to swap washing powders and face and body creams, as you're more likely to have a reaction to something new."
With all that extra baby weight to carry around, leg cramps are common in pregnancy. "The best thing to do is grab your foot and bend it up towards your shin," Hannah advises. "If it's really distressing and keeps waking you up, magnesium and calcium - from a natural health-food store - can help to address that."
Feet and ankles
Finally, take the time to put your feet up if you experience swollen ankles, which are particularly common during summer, in first-time mothers and in those on their feet all day. "You'll probably find they'll return to normal," advises Hannah.
"The important thing is your blood pressure. If it's normal then swollen ankles are just a physiological sign of pregnancy." It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking plenty of water can help ease swelling during pregnancy, too.