Pregnancy Uncensored: You'll Laugh, You'll Cry, You'll Wet Your Pants : The Baby Project We asked, and our audience delivered. Here, straight from women who've been there, a look at some uncomfortable, painful, embarrassing things that can happen to a pregnant body.
NPR logo Pregnancy Uncensored: You'll Laugh, You'll Cry, You'll Wet Your Pants

Pregnancy Uncensored: You'll Laugh, You'll Cry, You'll Wet Your Pants

From uncontrollable hiccups to varicose veins, some pregnancy side effects may surprise you. Baris Onal/ hide caption

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Baris Onal/

From uncontrollable hiccups to varicose veins, some pregnancy side effects may surprise you.

Baris Onal/

Last week, we asked women who've been pregnant to help us give first-time moms-to-be, or those of you who are still in the "maybe someday" category, an unsanitized look at all the embarrassing, uncomfortable, painful things that can happen to a pregnant body — things your mother/sister/girlfriend never told you.

And boy, did those veteran moms come through. From uncontrollable hiccups to varicose veins to strangely bad hair days, some side effects are unusual; others are heartbreaking.

Before we dive in, though, a warning: This list is NOT for the faint of heart.

If you're still reading, you should know that you probably won't experience all or even most of these. But just in case: words of wisdom, from women who've been there.

You Will Have No Control Over Your Gas. At All.
Erin Nitz: No one discusses the fact that when pregnant, you are completely unable to control your gas (of which there is way more of anyways). When not pregnant, all your bits and pieces down there work swimmingly, and you can sense an impending attack, prepare accordingly, and diffuse the worst of it (noise-wise at least). I'm a bit over 8 months pregnant, and swear I've never farted so much or as loud as I have at work in the past few months. ... I could care less anymore if anyone hears — but wish at least I had been forewarned.

Your Body Will Leak In Ways You Never Imagined
Anonymous: The most disgusting, surprising and annoying side effect for me has been the discharge! ... I know the books all say the amount of discharge increases, but I'm not sure anyone tells the truth: that for nine months, there is a waterfall between your legs.

Hiccups, Belching And Projectile Vomiting
Barbara Rowley: I started hiccuping, then hiccuping and belching, and finally hiccuping and vomiting in the third month, and never stopped until each baby was born. Day and night, from three to four episodes an hour, I would hiccup. It would wake me from sleep, make conversation impossible, and worst of all, it was a pregnancy side effect that many people found humorous and lightweight, even as I suffered from an inability to sleep, eat, drink, talk and so forth. Belching with projectile vomiting pretty much takes you off the invitation list for most events. ... The good news is, I can now categorically state that the way to get rid of a hiccuping episode is to down a teaspoon of sugar — or to have a baby. Both worked in my case; the latter was a permanent fix.

Don't Be Surprised By Your Unpredictable Mood
Tracy Graziani: The books talk about being teary, moody, or even depressed, but I found myself very anxious and angry. I'm normally not an angry person, and with my hormones out of whack I've found myself more than once being a complete monster. It's embarrassing, and I feel terrible about lashing out the way I have from time to time.
An anxious, depressed young woman

Depression Doesn't Just Happen After Childbirth
Emily Sweet: The most unexpected side effect that I experienced during my pregnancies was perinatal depression. I had heard all about postpartum depression and knew that I was at an increased risk for it due to some previous bouts of depression that I'd faced (and been treated successfully for). But about a week after my first (much hoped and planned for) positive pregnancy test, I was completely caught off guard when I hit what I can only describe as an emotional brick wall. My previous experience of depression was nothing compared to this. I couldn't stop crying or leave the couch, and what was most shocking to me was how negatively I felt about this pregnancy that I had so looked forward to. It was devastating. It was also clearly not something that my medical providers had much experience with.

Softening Of The Ligaments And Tendons
Janet Lafler: The pregnancy side effect that really surprised me was the softening of the ligaments and tendons. (For the uninitiated, this is due to a hormone called relaxin getting the pelvis ready for the baby's head to come through.) This manifested itself dramatically one day when I was trying to catch a BART train [public transit in the San Francisco area]. I was about 7 months pregnant. Just as I went through the fare gates, I heard the train coming in to the platform above. I knew from experience that I would be able to catch it easily if I ran up the escalator. I was feeling great and had no problem as I trotted across to the bottom of the escalator. Then I started to ascend — or tried to. I had no leverage — my legs felt like water, and I could barely get them to push me up. I did manage to get to the platform and onto the train just before the doors closed, but I was puffing like a steam engine and probably red in the face. Some nice person took one look at me and gave me their seat.

Varicose veins on the legs are fairly common during pregnancy. But not all varicose veins are on the legs. hide caption

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Varicose veins on the legs are fairly common during pregnancy. But not all varicose veins are on the legs.

Varicose Veins Are No Laughing Matter
Sarah: My most unexpected and embarrassing side effect was varicose veins — and I ain't talking about in my legs. Vulvar/vaginal varicose veins. Awful!

Intense Hunger
Amanda Linnabary: The pregnancy books have warned me about an increased appetite, but I never thought I would have such intense hunger pains!!! I literally need to eat every two hours in order to have energy. I recommended eating many small meals throughout the day and lots of whole grains. Always carry some kind of snack with you if you're running errands.

Itching And Scratching, Itching And Scratching
MDF Greene: Horrible, UNBEARABABLE itchy, itchy, itchy, scratchy belly. Beyond-my-control itchy. Scratching made it worse, of course, but I couldn't help it. My husband would be right there saying "Don't scratch!!" and I couldn't stop! The OB/GYN nurse practitioner recommended Sarna lotion, and that did the trick. Ahhhhh, relief. I did later hear that such severe itchiness can be an indicator of a more serious problem, but I was fine once I got the Sarna.

Skin Stripes And Moles
Kristen Noble: I was also surprised when I developed a big dark stripe down the middle of my tummy, I grew a bunch of moles on my face and neck, and my skin darkened under my arms and on my chest. Immediately after the pregnancy, the darkened skin started to slough off, but I still maintain part of my stripe and ALL of my moles!

Illustration of man with pregnant woman

If You Have Migraines Now, They May Get Worse
Sarah Cook: The most miserable thing I experienced was a huge spike in the frequency, duration, and intensity of my migraine headaches, during the 2nd [trimester], and again for about two months after my babies were born. I had HORRIBLE headaches, especially whenever I nursed. I actually threw up on my poor little firstborn once, and ended up in the ER twice with intractable vomiting and dehydration due to migraine.

Wetting Your Pants — Get Used To It
Arcelia Doell: I was not prepared for how weak my bladder would actually become. I could not laugh or cough without wetting my pants. The first time it happened I thought my bag of water had broken. I wanted to go to the hospital, but my husband convinced me that I would be embarrassed when they would say that I had just wet my pants. He was right.

Praying For A Bowel Movement
Nicoline Smits: If your stools tended to be on the loose side before pregnancy, you probably have nothing to worry about, but if they are not? Oh. My. God. As I remember it — it has been 17 years and 49 weeks since my last pregnancy — I did not have a bowel movement for days, and then only with the greatest difficulty, especially during the first trimester. I suppose I could have asked for a laxative, but doctors where I lived at the time were extremely reluctant to prescribe medications to pregnant women.

... Or For Your Bowel Movements To Stop
Irene Jones: Immediately after delivery I had fecal incontinence, probably from having to strain so hard to deliver a large baby. It hit me several times, without warning. Fortunately, while at home.

A woman brushing her hair hide caption

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A woman brushing her hair

Bad Hair Days That Go Above And Beyond
J Koning: Lots of pregnancy books rave about your thick lustrous hair during pregnancy ad nauseum (which is easy to do with an expectant person), but completely neglect to mention that up to a third of your hair falls out all at once about 4 months postpartum. I was finally feeling okay with my "new normal," but then having thin hair nudged my frequent bad hair days into the "I'm not leaving the house today" bad hair day category. My advice, buy a cute hat and don't let your hair doldrums keep you in the house. It just makes you feel worse.

Stretch Marks Will Appear In Unusual Places
Anne Wright-Cunniff: Six years later, I'm still finding stretch marks in odd places. Under my arms? Come on!

There Will Be Blood
Irene Jones: [I] wasn't prepared for the profound effect a simple activity like walking up and down the stairs had on my bleeding [lochia] postpartum. In retrospect, if I had it to do over, after arriving home from the hospital I would lock all the doors, pull the shades, turn the ringer on the phone off, and put the answering machine on. Then I would go to bed for three weeks. No joke. I got really sick two weeks postpartum and wound up in bed, unable to walk. Ladies, take care of yourself, let yourself heal. You go through a lot in labor and delivery and you shouldn't be running the Boston Marathon for a while. You bleed for a reason, and it ain't because you're having a period.

Contractions Happen After Labor, Too
Amy Lovett: I knew that after the baby was born my uterus would contract back to its normal size. Nobody told me that after my second child, those contractions would be so much more painful. And a friendly nurse watching me writhe in agony told me the pain gets even worse after each subsequent child. Something nobody tells you upfront — maybe because we'd all have one-child families if we knew.

Learn How To Pronounce 'Sciatica'
KD: My oddest lingering pregnancy effect is sciatica. I knew to expect the 1/2-size-bigger feet. I knew there was a chance of weakened bladder control — though that can get better with time and work. It hadn't occurred to me that three years after I began to get sciatica (at the end of my second trimester), I would still have a painful right leg by the end of pretty much every day. It's not really incapacitating — I still take walks with my husband and our son in the evening, and I walk 10 minutes to work every day. I give our boy rides on my shoulders and chase him around. And then, most nights, my husband rubs my leg for me and wonders aloud, again, if there isn't anything to be done to help alleviate the pain. Thus far, no doctors (or midwives) have had any helpful suggestions, so I just look at my son and tell myself that I hate the sciatica, but I love my kid more.