Welcome to Week 21! Many mothers-to-be will be basking in pregnancy by this stage and possibly enjoying the attention their changing figure is receiving. Over the coming weeks, as you head towards the third trimester, you may find yourself experiencing a new set of pregnancy-related physical changes, including stretch marks and varicose veins.
Most women have heard about stretch marks and, during pregnancy, might be the first time many experience them first-hand. Stretch marks are visible on the surface of the skin, they occur when the underlying layer of connective tissue is torn, as the skin expands (stretches) to make room for your baby. Some women are more likely to get stretch marks than others, although the reasons for this are not well understood. Certainly, there appears to be an inheritable component because women whose mothers got them, are more likely to observe stretch marks on their own skin. In addition, lighter skinned women are more susceptible to stretch marks than darker skinned women.
So what can you do to avoid stretch marks? Unfortunately, not much. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no scientific evidence that the various creams and moisturisers available from shops and pharmacies, have any effect on reducing or preventing stretch marks. Realistically, unless you also have very dry skin, it is probably better to save your money.
What about varicose veins? These are another physical symptom of pregnancy that you might see from week 21 onwards. They form when the valves contained within the blood vessels of your legs do not work as efficiently as they should, allowing blood to pool in the veins. Once again, not all women will get varicose veins during pregnancy, but the risk increases if other women in your family have experienced them. Predominantly a cosmetic issue, the best option is generally to try and avoid getting them in the first place, as once there, they are difficult to lose. Try to take frequent breaks, elevate your legs and minimise the amount of time you spend standing. It can also help to wear maternity stockings, which will encourage better blood flow in your legs. Exercise can also help to maintain good blood flow.
Spider veins are another common sign of pregnancy. These occur when the tiny veins near the surface of your skin, usually in your legs or face, form what looks like miniature spider webs just under the surface of the skin. Unlike varicose veins, which can cause pain, spider veins usually have no symptoms and will often disappear after the baby is born.
Your baby’s foetal age is now 19 weeks. At this stage, your developing baby will weigh about 300 – 340g, and have a crown-to-rump length of almost 20cm. Your baby will now be about the size of a carrot.
During week 21, your baby will still find he or she has plenty of room to move around in your uterus, so the gymnastics are likely to continue. You might find that your baby is starting to settle into a rhythm, with relatively consistent periods of wakefulness and activity, and reduced movement at other times. Perhaps serving as an early warning sign of what is to come, many babies demonstrate maximum activity at night time, quietening down during the day. This might make getting to sleep a challenge, but most mothers-to-be find the excitement of their baby’s enthusiastic, in utero movements makes up for any inconvenience.
Another interesting fact from week 21 of pregnancy, is that your baby will be regularly consuming amniotic fluid now and his or her taste buds will be fully formed and functioning.
“If you are choosing to avoid wearing your seatbelt in case it hurts your baby, please reconsider. There is no risk to your developing baby and wearing a seatbelt saves lives.”
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