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

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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