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There’s a big difference between knowing you’re pregnant and having that telltale baby bump show the world you’re pregnant. It’s not just about strangers offering you seats and smiles and you sporting a new maternity wardrobe; it’s about finally having your outside reflect what you know inside. Your growing belly becomes your own personal billboard, shouting your news without you having to say a word—which may not be ideal for some women who would prefer to keep their bumps a secret from family, friends and co-workers for a little while longer. But for other women, the appearance of that teeny bump is a huge relief. So the big question is, When do most pregnant women start showing?
For most first-time moms, the baby bump usually arrives when they’re 14 to 16 weeks pregnant, but you might notice a change sooner. “At 12 weeks, your growing uterus can no longer hide inside your pelvis behind your pubic bone,” says Sherry Ross, an OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Instead, it starts to protrude into your abdomen.”
For some women, that shift translates to a starter baby bump. “I give my belly an A+ for being exactly on time, with the quintessential 12-week belly pop,” says Bailey Gaddis, a mom of one. Gaddis never experienced any classic first-trimester symptoms and was anxious to feel more connected to her pregnancy. “I was so relieved when I started showing,” she says. “Having a belly was the physical proof I needed.”
Other moms-to-be have to wait for that assurance to come, which can be agonizing. “I didn’t show until well after the 20-week mark with my first baby,” recalls Elisabeth Thomas, a mother of two. “I was already worried about everything, and the fact that I didn’t show until more than halfway through my pregnancy was very concerning.” Even though Thomas’s doctor reassured her that her baby was healthy, she couldn’t help but compare herself to other pregnant women and their seemingly perfect baby bumps. “People were always commenting that they couldn’t even tell I was pregnant,” says Thomas. “I suppose that was meant to be a compliment, but it just stoked my anxiety. I’d fast forward to the worst-case scenario.”
“As long as an ultrasound has determined that your baby is growing normally, there is absolutely nothing to worry about,” says Ross. Despite her anxiety, Thomas’s baby boy was born perfectly healthy.
The important thing to remember is that no two pregnancies or baby bumps are the same. With her second pregnancy, Thomas’s belly popped at 15 weeks. And taking longer to show isn’t necessarily an indication of a problem. “While we know when women typically start to show, it’s actually impossible to predict with any certainty,” says Ross. “Every woman shows differently.”
That said, there are some clues to help you figure out when you will start showing. According to Ross, here are the biggest baby-bump influencers.
1. Your weight How much extra weight you carry (or don’t carry) will determine how easy it is to see your growing uterus. Women who are thin and have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 will generally be able to see their pregnancies sooner than those with a BMI over 25.
2. Your height Taller women tend to have longer midsections and disperse their pregnancy weight more than shorter women. If you’re on the shorter side, there’s less room up and down your body, so your uterus will protrude sooner.
3. Your abdominal strength Tighter abdominal muscles mean that there’s more support and lift for your growing uterus. If your abs are stronger, they will literally hold your growing baby into your body more, which means that you’ll have a less noticeable baby bump. If your abs are weaker, your belly will probably pop sooner. Muscle strength isn’t just about clocking crunches at the gym; having an umbilical hernia or diastasis recti can also play a role.
4. The position of your uterus If your uterus is in the posterior position, which means that it’s leaning backwards toward your spine, your bump may not be noticeable at the start of your second trimester. On the flip side, if your uterus is tilted forward toward your abdominal wall, you may show earlier. The only way to know the position of your uterus is to ask your obstetrician for a pelvic exam or an ultrasound.
5. The number of pregnancies you’ve had With your first pregnancy, it generally takes the longest to show. But by pregnancy number two, your body is primed to pop about one month earlier than before. The reason? Your uterus never fully reverted back to its original size after your first pregnancy. Also, your ab muscles have already been stretched and overextended, which makes a growing uterus sit more forward in the abdomen and become noticeable sooner.
6. Carrying multiples When you’re pregnant with twins, your uterus is double the capacity, so you’ll probably start to show on the early side. However, your height, BMI, number of pregnancies and abdominal strength will still come into play.