When I was pregnant with my second daughter, seasoned moms advised me that some symptoms would be different this time around. While things began much the same way for me—with prescription-worthy nausea—there were definitely some noticeable differences as the pregnancy progressed. Some changes were for the better (shorter labour) and others were worse (stronger afterpains). I went to the experts for an explanation of how, and why, subsequent pregnancies can differ.
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1. You show sooner
Because your uterus doesn’t quite shrink back to its original size after pregnancy, your body already has a head start. “Your uterus has done this before,” explains obstetrician Jillian Coolen, a mother of three in Halifax. “Your ligaments and muscles have stretched and your pregnancy will show earlier.” Coolen jokes that she once made a comment to one of her best friends, also a mother of three, about how fast she was showing with her second pregnancy. “She said, ‘Just wait ’til your third! You’re going to need maternity pants the day after you get a positive pregnancy test,’ and she was nearly right.”
2. You feel movement earlier
“You’re more bodily aware,” says Nicola Strydom, a registered midwife and mom of two in Calgary. “The first time you’re pregnant, you might think the movements are gas, but the second time, you recognize the flutters as the baby’s movement.”
3. You’re more tired
Sure, during this pregnancy you also have a small child to chase, in addition to the normal fatigue of pregnancy, but that’s not the only cause. “Women in their second pregnancies often forget to take the supplements that are recommended,” Strydom says. Prenatal vitamins can affect energy levels; your care provider may also prescribe iron supplements to boost energy.
4. You have more aches and pains
The body very quickly begins to relax its joints, leading to more body aches with the second baby than the first. The hormone relaxin (which typically increases in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, then decreases to a plateau around 24 weeks), seems to be more effective during second pregnancies, reports Coolen. The baby may also lie lower in the abdomen, due to prior stretching, which can cause backaches, loose hips and round ligament pain. “I had a lot of sacroiliac [SI] joint pain and discomfort that started earlier in my second pregnancy,” says Coolen. “And I’ve definitely seen that in my patients as well. But it usually resolves itself right after the delivery.”
5. You feel more Braxton Hicks contractions
“Since you’ve felt an effective, real contraction before, your body recognizes those Braxton Hicks more,” says Strydom. “The first time, you might have just thought it was the baby moving.”
6. Your labour is shorter
“That’s a well-established medical fact,” confirms Coolen. “The uterus and cervix have been through this before, so all phases of labour, right through to pushing, are shorter for second-time moms.” One study shows that first-time moms average nine hours of active labour and an hour of pushing, while second-timers spend an average of six hours in active labour and half an hour pushing. (Now there’s something to look forward to!)
7. Your afterpains are worse
After your second baby, the uterus has less muscle tone than the first time, and is more aggressive at clamping down as quickly as possible to decrease your chances of bleeding. This results in stronger afterpains, the postpartum contractions that bring the uterus back down to size. (They may be most noticeable when breastfeeding, as nursing releases oxytocin, which can trigger the contractions.)
Experts agree that these symptoms continue to progress for subsequent pregnancies as well. As a perfectly content mom of two, I’ll just have to take their word for it.
A version of this article appeared in our October 2013 issue with the headline, “I’ll have another,” p. 71.