The Second Trimester of Pregnancy: What to Expect
In the first trimester, you’ve experienced just how much it takes out of you to grow a little embryo 24/7 while going about your daily routine. The good news is, relief is around the corner as you move into the second trimester.
The second trimester is the pregnant person’s sweet spot. You begin to feel the return of your energy, appetite, and a sense of control over your routine. You are still housing a growing fetus so you will continue to experience your fair share of growing pains along the way. However, it’ll be a more gradual change and much less intense than the first 12 weeks. Once you’ve hit this welcome breaking point, embrace it.
Here’s what can happen in the second trimester, week-by-week.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 13 + 14
Body and mind
As the uterus continues to expand, your belly is also starting to stretch and grow. If this is your second pregnancy, you may notice your body is changing much more quickly than with your first. In subsequent pregnancies, the body tends to adjust to the growing uterus faster than the first time.
You’ll begin to notice some distinct changes in your breasts as they prepare for incoming breastmilk. You may be seeing your first stretch marks as a result of these new changes.
It’s also around this time you may experience leukorrhea: a white, odorless vaginal discharge. Leukorrhea is a result of major hormonal changes. It is normal for pregnant individuals to experience this discharge regularly. If the discharge significantly changes in color or is accompanied by a strong, foul odor, let your healthcare provider know as it might be a sign of infection.
How to cope—Stay moisturized
Pick up a belly butter to keep your skin moisturized. Don’t be fooled by the name; you can use belly balms on your belly, breasts, thighs, hands—anywhere! A good moisturizing balm can help with healing stretch marks over time. It will also help relieve itchy skin as your body grows.
I found myself uncomfortable with these growing areas. They were unfamiliar to me. For me, this meant my belly, breasts, and thighs. The practice of moisturizing these areas was a small gesture that made me focus on them for a few minutes each day. Over time I become less uncomfortable and more appreciative. The more I prioritized giving these areas a few minutes of care and attention, the less frustrated I felt by them changing, even if it was only for a few minutes during the day.
The fetus is approximately 3.75 inches long, weighs around 1.25 oz, and is covered in lanugo—a fine and soft hair on the skin. The head and arms are starting to become more proportional. Brain development allows the facial muscles to begin working.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 15 + 16
Body and mind
The intense early pregnancy symptoms are subsiding, and you are glowing! “Pregnancy glow” is a result of a 30-50 percent increase in blood volume. The increased circulation can cause your face to be brighter. Additionally, your oil glands are working extra hard, so while you may feel more oily, others see you as bright and lovely.
Your weight may have been fluctuating in the first trimester due to morning sickness, but steady weight gain begins in the second trimester. The recommended weight gain is based on a pregnant individual’s BMI level. Your healthcare provider will talk about what to expect for your pregnancy.
How to cope—Eating for you
As your early pregnancy symptoms decrease, adding a variety of food back to your life may seem more appealing. It’s advised to add an extra 300 calories to your diet each day during the second and third trimesters. Despite the saying, you are not eating for two. Adopting a well-balanced diet filled with nutrient-rich vegetables, proteins, whole grains, fruit, and healthy fats. Pay close attention to foods rich in protein, calcium, iron, folate, and vitamin C. These nutrients will benefit you and your baby through the duration of your pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum recovery.
Weight gain is entirely normal and necessary during pregnancy. For some, it can be hard to see the number on the scale growing. Keep in mind that as your body grows, it’s taking on extra material that is not usually there—a growing baby, a growing placenta, a growing uterus, growing breast tissue, increased fluid levels, increased blood volume, amniotic fluid, maternal fat, protein, and nutrient storage. These things add up! If a healthy number on the scale continues to give you anxiety, don’t watch the scale. Ask the nurse to take the number privately and only focus on it if there are concerns or if there’s a need to discuss further.
By the end of week 16, your fetus is about 5.3 inches long and weighs 2.5 oz. The ears and eyes are in their final positions, and the skeleton is visible during an X-ray. Urinary and circulatory systems are now functioning. Blood vessels are visible as they form because the skin is still translucent.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 17 + 18
Body and mind
Your baby has been bouncing around inside the amniotic fluid for a while, but during these weeks you’ll start to feel your baby’s movements for the first time. It can feel similar to gas bubbles or a quick fluttering sensation.
Your organs are starting to shift as your uterus continues to grow. Your intestines move up and outward towards your abdomen. Your cardiovascular system is affected as well, and you may experience dips in your blood pressure from time to time. Be careful with any quick change of motion as you’ll feel a little more light-headed than usual.
How to cope—Get better sleep
Around week 20, doctors recommend a pregnant person avoid sleeping on their back. With a growing uterus, resting on your belly is no longer an option, either. Side sleeping is the way to go from here. It can take some time to find what is most comfortable, especially if you are an avid belly or back sleeper. To help you sleep better, try some of the following
- Invest in a good body pillow or pregnancy pillow to keep yourself comfortable
- Adopt a bedtime routine that includes relaxation yoga, breathing practices, or writing to put your mind at ease
- Steer clear of foods that trigger heartburn. If that’s every food, talk to your healthcare provider about options for relief
- Diffuse a blend of essential oils you find relaxing
The fetus is around 6.29 inches long and weighs 5.5 oz by the end of week 18. If you talk to the baby or play music, it may hear you as it is beginning to develop a sense of hearing.
The fat tissue is forming, which helps regulate temperature and metabolism. It also helps to fill out some of the more delicate features. The umbilical cord is lengthening and becoming stronger.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 19 + 20
Body and mind
You are halfway through your pregnancy! Overall, you might be feeling more energized. You may be experiencing some growing pains in the form of sciatic nerve pain or round ligament pain.
Sciatic nerve pain is from the pressure of the baby. You may feel discomfort from your lower back to your butt or legs. There are a variety of stretches you can do to help provide relief.
Round ligament pain is due to your expanding uterus. Thick bands from your groin to your abdomen support your uterus. As your uterus grows, these ligaments stretch and thin out, resulting in occasional cramps or sharp pains. The pain goes away after a few minutes to a few hours. You may often feel them as you change positions, laugh, or sneeze.
These pains are normal pregnancy symptoms, but it’s always good to inform your healthcare provider, especially if the pains persist or worsen.
How to cope—Take advantage of your energy
Despite what some may say, individuals who are pregnant are not extra fragile. Take advantage of your renewed energy and stay active. If you want to work out during pregnancy, go for it! If you don’t want to be limited to prenatal yoga, switch it up. Swim or pick up some weights. Working out during pregnancy can have prenatal benefits. It can:
- Help relieve aches and pains
- Aid in better sleep
- Help your emotional and mental health
- Prepare you for the intensity of labor and delivery
If you aren’t into working out, try to move your body daily to reap some of the benefits. Go for walks in your neighborhood or at a local park for a change of scene. Grab your partner, a friend, or your favorite podcast to keep you company.
Vernix covers the fetus. Vernix is a white substance that helps protect the skin from becoming irritated by amniotic fluid. It also helps in the birth canal during labor. You’ll see the vernix once the baby is born. Many new parents often opt to delay their baby’s first bath so the vernix can act as a natural skin protectant and moisturizer after birth.
Your baby is also beginning to produce meconium. Meconium is a dark black, tar-like substance made up of amniotic fluid and digestive secretions. You will have the pleasure of seeing this in your baby’s first few poopy diapers.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 21 + 22
Body and mind
You’re still reaping the benefits of the second-trimester sweet spot. If you are experiencing a healthy pregnancy, I’d argue this is the most comfortable part of the process. Enjoy this time of feeling relatively comfortable.
You may experience some swelling at the end of the day, and varicose veins may appear from the pressure of your growing uterus and increased blood flow. Continue drinking lots of water and kick your feet up throughout the day to keep the swelling down. If you find yourself experiencing rapid swelling, your healthcare provider will be looking for signs of preeclampsia—a pregnancy condition classified by sudden high blood pressure and protein in your urine. Regular prenatal care will keep a watchful eye on these signs.
How to cope—Make a birth plan
Now is a great time to think about what you want during and after birth. Creating a birth plan is a common practice to help you think through and articulate what you want through labor and delivery and beyond. It’s important to remember, while we may put together our best-case scenario, birth plans are meant to be flexible. Our body often has a different plan than what we lay out on paper.
Sign up for a birthing class and a breastfeeding class through your healthcare provider and take your support person with you, so you are both on the same page. Some individuals opt to work with a doula as well. A doula is a birthing coach who is trained to provide informational, emotional, and physical support before, during, and after birth.
The fetus is about 11 inches and 1 lb. The rapid growth spurt is slowing to more regular speed. Your baby is starting to stretch out, and measures from head to heel. Before this, measurements were taken from head to buttocks. The fetus is swallowing amniotic fluid, and the digestive system continues to mature.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 23 + 24
Body and mind
The uterus is almost the size of a soccer ball and sits directly on top of your bladder. This extra pressure can lead to more frequent bathroom breaks and stress incontinence. A laugh, cough, or sneeze may cause you to leak urine or pee your pants. It can be embarrassing, messy, and annoying but it’s a common pregnancy woe. If you are experiencing some incontinence, carry some period liners or a change of underwear just in case.
How to cope—Plan for parental leave
Now that you are in the second half of your pregnancy, it’s a good idea to start preparing the workplace for your maternity leave. If you haven’t already, learn about your employer’s maternity leave policies. You’ll want to know what to expect and to understand your rights as a pregnant individual. Maternity leave policies are not equal across workplaces, and paid maternity leave is still not mandatory. Many individuals have to use a combination of workplace policy, short-term disability, personal days, and unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time to get the desired time off.
It’s impossible to know how labor and delivery will go or what the postpartum experience will look like for you, both physically and mentally. It’s best to inform yourself and have a plan in place but reevaluate as needed.
Explore your partner’s parental leave options too. More and more companies are adding parental leave policies to the workspace.
The fetus is measuring over 1 lb and is 11-14 inches long. Their skin is starting to fill out and taste buds have formed. It is experiencing rapid brain growth and their lungs are becoming more complex.
The Second Trimester: Weeks 25 + 26
Body and mind
You’ll receive a glucose screening test between weeks 24 and 28. It’s around this time the placenta produces a large number of hormones that could cause insulin resistance. The test evaluates how your body processes sugar. No preparation is needed. You’ll receive a highly sweet drink to consume. If you like thick, syrupy Kool-Aid, it’s your lucky day. If not, it can be a struggle to get through the bottle. Once you finish, you’ll wait an hour with no additional food or drink and have your blood drawn to test for gestational diabetes.
How to cope—Connect with your support system
You are approaching the end of your second trimester! Set aside time to connect with your partner. It’s a new and exciting time for both of you but also a time that can be stressful with so many unknowns. Be intentional about spending time together. Go out on a date. Check in on how you are feeling. What worries do you have? What things are you particularly appreciative of right now? Some couples schedule a “babymoon” trip to get away before the baby arrives. If funds are low or time is restricted, plan a romantic activity or staycation in your hometown.
If you don’t have a partner, surround yourself with a community of support. Planning a getaway or outing with friends can be rewarding in its own way. Connecting with those you love over your fears, excitements, and appreciations through this significant life change is valuable.
The fetus is measuring around 13.38 inches and 2lbs. It is responding more to sounds as their little ear nerves develop and mature. Lung development is advanced through swallowing amniotic fluid.
Featured image by Eylül Aslan
Author Bio Amanda Panneton has built a career around using her words as a freelance writer and marketing professional. She finds writing to be a powerful tool in creating connections within the never-ending journey of motherhood, womanhood, and relationships. You can find her musings on motherhood and more on Instagram at @amanda.panneton.