Every pregnancy is different, and every pregnant belly is different. You may even notice that you are feeling and carrying differently from your first pregnancy to your second. However, in most cases, human anatomy is the same from person to person. So while it’s impossible to predict what exactly your pregnancy belly will look and feel like, there are some generalizations that most pregnant women will experience.
If this is your first pregnancy, you probably have questions and concerns about what your belly will look like and how your growing baby will change your body shape. To help, we’ve broken down the belly by trimester and delved into the different types and shapes of pregnant bellies. Lastly, we will cover common belly concerns you may have. So read on to learn all about the baby bump!
The Pregnant Belly Through Each Trimester
As you journey through the 40-weeks of pregnancy, your belly will grow in size and roundness, but there are quite a few additional changes to your body that will occur along the way.
In the following sections, we break down the different stages of your growing belly and cover everything from when you can expect to show to when you should plan to purchase maternity clothes, to even when you can start feeling your baby move!
First Trimester: Weeks 1-13
The first trimester officially begins on the date of your last menstrual period. That is also the date by which your health care provider will estimate your due date.
Many women don’t discover they are pregnant until halfway through their first trimester, and if this is your first time being pregnant, you are not likely to see a belly bump until your second trimester.
Even though you might not notice any changes in the shape or size of your belly, you may notice other changes to your body. The average weight gain for the first trimester is 1-4 pounds; you will gain the bulk of your pregnancy weight in the second trimester.
First Trimester Changes & Symptoms
- Darkening of your nipples or areolas
- Gas, bloating, and constipation
- Morning sickness
- Mood swings and irritability
- Increased pulse
- Slight tightening in your clothes around your breasts and waist
- Increased urination
Second Trimester: Weeks 14-28
Your second trimester is when you will start to really show. If you’ve had previous pregnancies, you will likely start showing earlier than you did in your first pregnancy. This is because your uterus doesn’t go back to its pre-pregnancy shape or size, so your body has already done the prep work for your impending delivery.
Even if you don’t have a defined pregnancy bump yet, your clothes will feel tighter by weeks 13-16, and it might be time to consider switching to maternity clothes.
Pregnancy weight gain varies depending on your weight pre-pregnancy. However, most women will gain between 10-20 pounds during the second trimester, and two pounds of that weight will be your baby! Additionally, some weight will come from increased blood production, amniotic fluid, and the placenta.
At some point in the second trimester, you will be able to feel your baby move and kick, and you will be able to share those movements with your partner and other loved ones.
Second Trimester Changes & Symptoms
- Increase in energy
- Decreased nausea and vomiting (for most women)
- Lower back pain
- Round ligament pain
- Stretch marks and linea nigra
- Varicose veins & swelling in legs and feet
- Bleeding gums or nose
Third Trimester: Weeks 29-40
By the third trimester, there is no mistaking that you are visibly pregnant. Your growing uterus will make your bump look like a watermelon, and you are visiting your OB/GYN every two to four weeks for wellness checkups.
You are likely experiencing some back pain and round ligament pain from the weight of your baby. Using a belly band or pregnancy back brace can help alleviate some of the symptoms, especially if you are on your feet a lot during the day.
You’ll usually gain about 5-10 pounds in the third trimester, but it will depend on your size and body. It’s always best to check with your obstetrician on what is normal for your pregnancy. Some women even lose a few pounds in the third trimester.
Third Trimester Changes & Symptoms
- Fatigue may return
- Constipation and hemorrhoids
- Varicose veins & swelling in legs and feet
- Lower back pain
- Round ligament pain
- Predictable fetal movement
- Difficulty sleeping
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent urination
- Braxton Hicks contractions.
Every Belly is Different
As you enter the third trimester, you will know if you are carrying high or carrying low. Some old wives’ tales say that you can predict your baby’s gender by how you’re carrying. While these predictions are fun, they are not based on scientific evidence. In reality, the way you carry your baby weight has to do with your physical makeup and the strength and structure of your abdominal muscles.
When you hear someone is carrying high, it means that the largest part of the abdomen or the part that protrudes the furthest is high on the mother’s abdomen. The tighter the mother’s muscle tone, the higher the baby sits. Usually, women who are younger and are very physically active pre-pregnancy tend to carry higher.
Women who are shorter in stature may also carry higher than taller women because there is less room between the pubic bone and the top of the abdomen.
Carrying low means that the largest part of your abdomen is sitting low and closer to the pelvis. Carrying low is more common when having multiples, if it is your second or third pregnancy, or if you do not have strong abdominal muscles.
Some women also experience diastasis recti or abdominal separation. This is when your abdomen pushes upwards, and your abs stretch and split apart. If this occurs, it could give the appearance of carrying low.
If your bump is referred to as carrying wide, it might mean your baby is lying transversely or horizontally. This is a fairly common occurrence before 26 weeks. Most babies flip into their head down position by week 35.
A big belly does not always translate to a big baby, although it could. Women carrying multiples or mothers who have had babies before are more likely to have larger bellies. The size of your belly may also fluctuate depending on how much amniotic fluid is surrounding your baby. If your doctor is concerned that you have too much or too little amniotic fluid, they will order additional tests.
A small belly while pregnant is usually nothing to worry about, especially if you have a small frame or are experiencing your first pregnancy. Your doctor will begin measuring your fundal height around 20-weeks, and if they have any concerns about your belly size, they may conduct additional tests. The position of your baby may also make your belly appear smaller. For example, a baby who is more vertical than horizontal will appear to take up less space.
It is a common concern of pregnant women that their belly will never look the same post baby, and honestly, it probably won’t. But remember, you just grew and carried another human being for nearly 10-months; that’s an accomplishment to be proud of!
In the sections that follow, we address some of the most common pregnant belly concerns.
Linea Nigra (Dark Line)
Some women develop what is called linea nigra, which is a dark line that runs from top to bottom along your abdomen. The line is usually about ¼ inch to a ½ inch thick. The line was likely there before you became pregnant, but it was pale in color, so you may not have noticed it.
Doctors aren’t 100% sure what causes linea nigra, but it’s assumed it has to do with pregnancy hormones or an imbalance of hormones. If you do develop a dark line, it usually happens around month five.
Pregnant belly button
Some women develop what is known as a pregnant belly button; when your belly button pops from an innie to an outie. While this condition isn’t painful, your belly button could become irritated when rubbing against clothing. If this becomes an issue, you can use a tummy sleeve or belly band to protect your belly button.
In rare instances, you can develop an umbilical hernia. If this is the case, you will feel pain near your navel, increased pain when coughing or sneezing, and feel a soft lump in your navel.
Post-delivery, most women report that their belly button returns to normal.
Despite what lotion and cream companies claim, you cannot prevent stretch marks, as they are largely genetic Staying physically active and gaining weight gradually may help prevent them, however. Not all women develop stretch marks, and with time they usually fade.
In addition to your belly, you may develop stretch marks on your legs, arms, and breasts.
Weight gain is a common concern while pregnant, but remember you are supposed to gain weight! On average, healthy women should gain around 20 to 40 pounds while pregnant. However, if you are gaining too much or too little, your doctor will talk to you and offer suggestions.
The belly drop
The belly drop is not as ominous as it sounds, and your baby won’t suddenly drop into place with a noticeable shift. Slowly towards the end of your pregnancy, as your baby readies themself for birth, they will turn his or her head down and drop slightly into the pelvic region. Noticing this shift doesn’t mean labor is imminent, as it can happen several weeks before labor.
Give yourself time postpartum to recover from carrying a baby and giving birth before you worry about losing your baby belly. You will likely still look four or five months pregnant for a few weeks post-birth. Once your doctor gives you the ok for light exercise, start with walks and gentle core workouts to get back into exercising shape.
Having a baby is a life-changing experience, and it’s an experience that changes our body in many ways. It can help when you understand why your belly looks the way it does and know that it might take a little bit of work to get back into pre-pregnancy shape. But that’s ok. Because you are beautiful, and now have a newborn, just as beautiful, who adores and looks up to you!