Of all the signs that Allah SWT has placed in this world for human beings to contemplate upon and testify the Oneness of their Lord, the growth and sustenance of a developing baby in the uterus of her mother is one of the many miracles of Allah SWT that boggles the mind.
Aisha Al Hajjar, founder AMANI Birth, explains the built-in protections for the baby that are placed by Allah SWT in detail in her childbirth education program for mothers and expectant families. The inclusion of normal physiological adaptations of pregnancy in the AMANI Birth student materials not only offers reassurance to the worried mind of a mother, but also reaffirms her faith that Allah has designed and created a woman's body perfectly to bear this task of carrying a pregnancy and birthing her baby to term.
During the 279 days (40 weeks) of an average pregnancy, there are a myriad of changes that take place to support the development of the fetus and to prepare the mother's body for labor, postpartum and lactation.
A few of the key physiological adaptations that impact the maternal anatomy and physiology are illustrated below:
- The Reproductive System: Comprising of the vagina, cervix, uterus and breasts, all of these structures undergo changes to create a fertile and thriving environment for the baby to grow. The uterus, for instance, increases its blood flow to the uterine arteries (these arteries also increase in diameter while cleverly decreasing their overall vascular resistance). These changes accommodate the increased blood flow to the placenta, which is the main transfer source of nutrients and oxygen to the baby. The cervix, essentially a structure of the uterus itself, which effaces and dilates to help give way to the baby, also increases in mass and width during pregnancy. Increasing amount of estrogen hormone has a direct affect on the blood supply to the cervix, which increases as a result, giving the cervix its soft texture while giving a chance to the cervical glands to proliferate and secrete a thick mucous eventually forming the infamous 'mucous plug'. This mucousy barrier plays an important role in protecting the uterus and the baby from potential infectious agents. The breasts also undergo increased vascularisation. Due to the dilation of the superficial veins, the breast skin may give a marbled appearance. The nipple areas primarily may become sensitive and tingly to touch and feel all because of the engorgement of blood.
- The Cardiovascular System: This organ system fulfills a tremendous demand that pregnancy places on a mother's body, the physiological changes that transpire over the course of gestation are most notable. Cardiac output and maternal blood volume increase by approximately 30-50% during pregnancy due to the contribution of both the endocrine hormones and the mechanical effects of the increased demand on the cardiovascular system.
- The Digestive System: Early pregnancy symptoms are heralded with many mothers experiencing nausea and vomiting, which can be attributed to the sudden surges of pregnancy hormones. Food cravings and odor sensitivity are also commonly reported during the first trimester. However, as pregnancy progresses the intestines get tucked at either side and behind the growing uterus. The stomach is pushed upwards, into the diaphragm. Moreover, the sphincter between the stomach and esophagus is relaxed due to pregnancy hormones, causing heartburn symptoms as stomach acids can now backwash more easily into the lower esophagus. The food that mothers eat spends a longer time in the gastrointestinal tract- from 14 to 48 hours - to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients.
- The Urinary System: Due to the relaxation of all muscles in a pregnant woman's body, the ureters (the duct by which urine passes from the kidney to the bladder) also reduce in their peristaltic activity, giving way to possible urine stasis and thus making mothers more susceptible to urinary tract bacterial overgrowth. Mothers may start experiencing and increased frequency of urination as early as sixth week of pregnancy, as although the uterus is still relatively small, the weight of pregnancy causes the uterus to slightly tilt forward which then creates pressure on the bladder, and hence, the urge to urinate.
[It's your turn! Comment below to tell us how many of these physiological changes did you experience, or are experiencing, during your pregnancy? Is it comforting to know that many of these adjustments are normal, and in fact, expected? Share your challenges and achievements!]
[Image Credit | Suhyeon Choi @ Unsplash]