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Second Time’s the Charm? Changes you can expect after your first pregnancy

Why do you show so quickly after your first pregnancy?

By Heather Turgeon |

I didn’t really need to pee on a stick to know I was pregnant this time around.

With my second baby just a tiny, embryonic ball of dividing cells two weeks after conception, I was already struggling to button my pants. And the pace hasn’t let up: I was clearly pregnant to the outside world well before the end of my first trimester, smuggling a basketball by the second, and lately I’ve been assaulted with, “Woah, you look like you couldn’t go another week!” and “Any day now, huh?” Meanwhile, I’ve still got six weeks of major growing to do.

It’s a common experience for second-time moms: the belly makes itself known well before it did the first time around. And I’ve stumbled on a host of other unexpected quirks that come with carrying a second or third baby. Some are good, some are bad – and all add to the consensus that no two pregnancies are exactly alike.

Bigger Bellies: The explanation for the bold belly growth with a second child is that a first time mom has better muscle tone in her uterine and abdominal muscles. After each pregnancy, the skin, muscles, and surrounding ligaments have been stretched, so when the pregnancy hormones kick in, they take their round shape earlier on. The Mayo Clinic’s Guide to Pregnancy describes it, “Like a balloon that’s easier to blow up the second time around : ” It has nothing to do with having a bigger baby per se (at 12 weeks, a baby still weighs under an ounce, so she’s not the culprit). The looser muscles of the expanding uterus and abdomen just let everything out sooner. On the high side, even though many second-time moms feel bigger earlier on, the growth tends to level out as the pregnancy progresses.

Changes in Morning Sickness: But it’s not just my belly shape that surprised me this time. I was nauseous off and on during the first trimester, for example, when I didn’t have any morning sickness with my son. There’s no clear explanation as to why sore tummies plague certain pregnancies and not others, but how we respond to the chemistry of gestation varies from woman to woman, and could easily change in between pregnancies too. Morning sickness is linked to the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which rises precipitously in early pregnancy and coincides with nausea. Genes play a role: you’re more likely to be sick if your mom and sister were, and if you were sick with a first baby. And there is evidence that the fetus’ sex factors in – studies have shown that slightly more women with severe morning sickness are carrying girls, and, in fact, female pregnancies are associated with a higher spike in HCG.

Differences in Mood: My husband swears he knew I was carrying a girl because I acted differently than with our son – I was feeling ickier, toting crackers around the house, with slightly more edge and snappiness. He’s right that it has felt different: I have more pelvic pain; my belly is shaped less like a beach ball and more like a torpedo; and, whereas my son seemed to roll and dance in the womb, she’s constantly shaking, hiccupping, and practicing black belt karate. I’m not sure I buy my husband’s girl theory as much the notion that I’m carrying a different human being and, three years later, I’m also a slightly different person.

Easier Labor: The upside, as I hear from all my friends and my doctor, is that, barring complications, labor and delivery are speedier and easier the second time around. The average firstborn labor is somewhere between 12 and 20 hours, with moms pushing for an hour – the average for second-timers is around eight, with 20 minutes of pushing. The same “we’ve-done-this-before” principle that guides the belly out faster in the beginning helps the muscles accommodate baby’s entry into the world faster too.

Whatever the reason, I take the uniqueness of this pregnancy, in all its wincing pains when I roll over in bed at night or get a foot-kick to the ribs, as a reminder that this baby – who I somehow can’t picture as anything but my curly blond son in female form – is actually going to be her own distinct, special little being.

Editor’s note: Our beloved Heather Turgeon has had a baby girl since this posting. Congratulations Heather! She’s a lucky little one and we hope the labor was indeed easier.

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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12 thoughts on “Second Time’s the Charm? Changes you can expect after your first pregnancy

  1. Hollie says:

    I’m 14 weeks with my second (and my first baby is turning 1 next week, so my body didn’t have a huge rest in between) and I’m STILL waiting to pop! I’m not showing yet, and all these articles make me think that my belly is riding the short bus, ha ha.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I started showing at around 24 weeks… I was a little dissapointed because everyone kept telling me I would pop way earlier and in actuallity I didnt pop until even later then my first pregnancy! now were at 37 weeks and I’m feeling like Ive kinda been jipped the pregnancy belly expierence. when I tell people I’m almost to my duedate they just look at me like I must be dreaming because my belly although its still a belly doesnt look anywhere close to the bump you would expect from a second baby about ready to join the world. All well easier toning after delivery right :) .

  3. snakecharmer says:

    I totally hear you and thanks for the insight! I hardly showed at all with my first until well into my second trimester..this time? We had to start telling people around 8-10 weeks because I looked pregnant and none of my pre-pregnancy pants fit anymore! Had nausea as well in the first trimester that I didn’t with my first…and different aches and pains as well. Well, they did warn me that every pregnancy is different!

  4. Jenny says:

    This is so helpful!!! My oldest is 6 and with that pregnancy I didn’t show until my 2nd trimester and wasn’t sick at all. Now with my second pregnancy I’m 6 weeks, showing since 4 weeks, and get random nausea. It’s nice to know I’m not alone with this!!

  5. Greg083 says:

    We are trying for number 2! My first pregnancy was horrible. I was sick and throwing up for most of the pregnancy. I only got about a 2 – 3 month reprieve. And he’s a boy so I was definitely and exception to the evidence that women who have severe morning sickness are carrying girls. I’m excited about having another baby but scared of having a similar pregnancy as last time. My so called Braxton hicks contractions were actually causing me to dilate and efface early so I had to go on bed rest. I’m hoping the next time will be different.

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  7. Samantha says:

    glad to see the torpedo belly thing–I’m 30 weeks with my second and noticed this morning that my belly was definitely pointy. Glad to know I’m not the only one!!

  8. Anonymous says:

    The “relaxed” muscles and lax connective tissue is most likely caused by a condition called diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominis). If left untreated after the first pregnancy, it continues to get bigger with each pregnancy causing you to show sooner and leave you with a mummy tummy ostpartum.

  9. Roni says:

    I agree with being bigger sooner, but I actually had the opposite happen with morning sickness. With my first (a little girl) I had horrible morning sickness, this time around (a boy) I was nauseous for my first trimester but I never got sick.

  10. Rebekah says:

    I’m at 35 weeks with baby #3 and I’m a lot smaller this go round than I was with either of the other 2. I didn’t start to show until around 28 weeks.

  11. haleycawley says:

    I am 36 almost 37 with baby number two, and it felt as though I found out I was pregnant and two weeks like you could see I was pregnant. Didn’t start to be visible to everyone until the beginning of the second trimester, but when I started to show I STARTED TO SHOW!! Some people say I look adorable, other say “holy cow are you about to give birth to twins.” So I know how it feels to get those comment that you don’t actually want. I have been sick the whole time (it’s a boy) but able to control it with meds, and the pelvic pain has been unbearable at times. Really hope the labor is easier the second time around like they said…This pregnancy has really been a major struggle and we are ready to meet and enjoy him…instead of lug him around in my belly!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I am 22 and I am currently 37 weeks. This pregnancy is way different than my first. I had my daughter at 32 weeks and I didnt have any complications during my pregnancy. My labor took forever though, I went in at around 8 on the 8th and had her on the 11th of Sept. around 1 it took about ten minutes of pushing. I didn’t have any wierd cravings and I felt pretty good I didn’t even have morning sickness. Now with this one I am further along and I had morning sickness for a couple of days and my craving is ice. My ankles and feet have been swelling up. I can hardly sleep bc of her dropping and my sciatic nerves have been very painful. My belly is bigger with this pregnancy and one of my family members could tell I was pregnant before I went to retake another pregnancy test bc I just took one two days before and it was negative. I am still waiting to have this baby, I didn’t do an epidural with my first and I plan on not having one with this baby. My family keeps telling me I might change my mind since this baby is bigger.

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