The external physical changes during pregnancy are easily noticeable, which include a significantly huge tummy, morning sickness at the initial phase and swollen ankles at the late phase of gestation. Apart from these visible changes, some primary internal bodily functions and processing can also change during pregnancy.
The chances of metabolic functioning of the body may change in pregnant women. The metabolic process in the body provides energy by converting the dietary nutrients, which is essential for proper organ functioning and maintenance of health.
During the later phase of gestation, insulin resistance occurs in pregnant women for supplying the maximum amount of glucose (carbohydrate) to the fetus and the placenta for the growth development of the baby. During this time pregnant women have experienced diabetic-like symptoms. During the early stage of pregnancy, pregnant woman’s body stores fat and last 13 weeks she burns the extra fats to maintain her energy demand.
Immune system changes
Another important internal physical change during pregnancy is an alteration of the immune system. These immunological changes help to accomplish the pregnancy along with necessary hormonal changes occurs in women’s bodies during the gestation period.
In normal conditions, the immune system helps to reject the entrance of any foreign objects in our body. Both maternal and paternal contents mix to form the embryo, therefore, acceptance of the embryo in the mother’s body requires tight regulation of the immune system to avoid rejection. It is just similar to organ transplantation. Multiple subsets of the maternal immune system have altered their number, location, and activity. The activity of monocytes (a type of WBC) is increased, whereas the number of neutrophils (another type of WBC) also increases. Both of these white blood cells have a body defensive mechanism against microbial attacks.
A type of lymphocyte named T cells, which is also coming under white blood cells plays an important role in immune system functioning. It helps to identify any particular danger, which has already encountered by the immune system, therefore it is also known as immunological memory. Therefore, during the subsequent attack of a similar foreign body, the immune system response faster and can prevent the disease. Different chemical mediators and a variety of proteins are secreted from T-cells. The released mediators support immune functioning by acting against different microbial attacks. But the disruption of the regulated functioning leads to autoimmune disease, cancer, and other chronic inflammatory conditions.
During pregnancy, alteration of immune functioning protects the fetus, but make mothers more susceptible to infectious diseases such as influenza. Therefore, doctors usually recommended the flu vaccine to pregnant women.
Women with autoimmune disease conditions have experienced symptomatic changes during their pregnancy. For example, pregnant women who are suffering from lupus erythematosus often experienced worsening their condition, while women having rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis feel better during their pregnancy. But the condition of the disease will revive after the delivery of the child. The exact reason for the changes is not clear yet, but experts believe the alteration of T-cells may contributory factor for this condition.
It is necessary to mention that some of the changes in the immune system also involved in the growth of the fetus in the womb and placental development. Immune cell subsets like T-cells and natural killer (NK) cells present in the uterus helps to maintain the balance of protein and hormones, nutrient supply to and waste product passage from the fetus. Mediators released from the immune system also helps steady growth of the placenta which supports the ongoing development of the fetus in the womb and the outcome of the pregnancy becomes successful.
Awareness provides a better understanding
Pregnant women should aware of all the above mentioned metabolic and immune functional changes. Awareness helps women to accept the changes happily and also prevent pregnancy-related mishaps like miscarriages and premature delivery. This also gives an understanding of why some women develop gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, etc.
Prospective mothers who are suffering from autoimmune diseases can also take necessary action for better management of the immune system to avoid autoimmune disease fluctuation before, during and after pregnancy.