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How Your Pregnant Belly Will Change During Each Trimester

All bumps are unique! Here’s what you can anticipate as your pregnant belly grows over the course of the next 40+ weeks.
ByMarygrace Taylor
Updated
October 21, 2021
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Image: monkeybusinessimages/ Getty Images

While there’s (usually!) no mistaking a pregnant belly when you see one, every woman’s bump is unique. Still, how you’ll look—and when you’ll pop—as the weeks and months roll by isn’t a total mystery. You can expect a fairly predictable progression as you move through the different pregnant belly stages. Here’s what your bump may look and feel like during the first, second, and third trimesters—plus, what to expect for your post-pregnancy belly.

When Will My Pregnant Belly Start to Show?

Whether you’re eager to show off your budding bump or hoping to hide your pregnancy for a few more weeks, it’s natural to wonder when your belly will start to show. There’s no milestone marker, but there is a typical path of pregnant belly progression. Many pregnant people’s bellies start to show around the 20-week mark. But that’s just a rough estimate, and in fact, it’s completely normal to start showing several weeks sooner, or later, experts say.

“A woman’s own body weight distribution plays a big role,” explains Cindy Duke, MD, an ob-gyn and clinical assistant professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Medicine. A plus-size pregnant belly might not have a defined bump; women who carry more fat tissue around their middle might not notice a visible protrusion until their third trimester, while those with less-than-average body fat might start to show earlier.

Your age and medical history are also factors in your pregnancy belly growth. Women who’ve already given birth tend to show earlier and have bigger bumps compared to first-time moms. After a previous pregnancy, your belly muscles are not as tight and start stretching out a little quicker, Duke says.

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Other things can affect the size and shape of a mom-to-be’s bump: Being pregnant with twins or multiples will, of course, result in a bigger pregnancy belly bump that appears earlier, says Duke. What’s more, baby’s position can potentially cause a bump to appear wider.

Your Pregnant Belly: The First Trimester (Weeks 1 to 13)

It’s your little secret for now, and while others won’t know you’re expecting just by looking at you, it’s possible you might notice a difference in your belly during those first few weeks—and you may very well feel pregnant (hello, morning sickness and fatigue). But you’re likely still a ways off from looking like you’re having a baby.

Baby is growing and your uterus is expanding every day, of course. But both are still so small that they’re not all that noticeable from the outside. (Even at 13 weeks, your little one is only the size of a lemon!) That said, “your uterus is starting to push your intestines and stomach upwards, so you start to have this bloated appearance and your pants might not fit as comfortably,” says Marquita Anderson, MD, an ob-gyn with Texas Health Physicians Group in Bedford, Texas.

Bloating can affect the way your early pregnancy belly looks too. Surging hormones, plus minerals like the iron in your prenatal vitamin, can lead to gas and constipation, which can make your stomach look more puffed out than usual. The veins around your belly might start to be more prominent too, as your body makes more blood to support your growing baby. Nevertheless, you’re probably the only one who’ll notice this change.

It’s a great time to start taking weekly milestone belly photos. It’s true that your 8-week pregnant belly picture won’t show much, but you’ll appreciate the photographic evidence of progression throughout the weeks and months.

Your Pregnant Belly: Second Trimester (Weeks 14 to 27)

You still might not notice much of a bump when your second trimester starts. But by midway through, that’ll start to change—and by the trimester’s end, you’ll likely have a sweet, rounded belly.

Around the 20-week mark your uterus will have grown up to your belly button, which for many women causes their belly to noticeably protrude or pop. “For some people it can feel like it happens overnight. One day you just reach this threshold where it seems like everybody is noticing,” Anderson says. Even then, it’s more your expanding uterus than the baby that’s giving you that round look, she notes. At 20 weeks, baby is still less than a pound and only about the size of a banana. And when your bump first becomes visible, it’s normal for it to seem like it’s growing more upwards than outwards, Duke explains. (That’s your stomach and intestines being pushed up to make more room for your uterus.)

It’s not just the size of your bump that’s really changing these days. Some time during your second trimester, you might start to notice a dark, vertical line running down the center of your abdomen. That’s your linea nigra, a common but harmless pigmentation caused by changing hormones. This pregnant belly line will typically fade within a few months after giving birth.

Wondering why your pregnant belly sometimes feels hard and other times feels soft? Don’t worry, that’s par for the course too. Many women in their second and third trimesters start to notice Braxton-Hicks contractions, sporadic “practice” contractions caused by the tightening and relaxing of your uterine muscles. These occasional, irregular spasms aren’t anything to worry about, and they’re not a sign that your body is going into labor. Call your doctor, though, if the contractions start to feel like they’re coming in regular intervals, go on for more than an hour or become progressively stronger or closer together, Anderson says. Those could be real contractions, which could be a sign of preterm labor.

20-week pregnant belly pictures

At 20 weeks, your pregnant belly progression is more noticable, and you may have officially “popped.” Time to shop for maternity jeans and a few other cute, bump-hugging wardrobe staples. Here’s what your belly may look like at this point in time:

Image: Kristi Tursi
Image: Heather Barager

Your Pregnant Belly: Third Trimester (Weeks 28 to 40)

You’re in the home stretch now, and your bump might be feeling stretched to the brink too. At this stage, if your pregnant belly feels tight and heavy, consider yourself an official member of the third-trimester club. By 28 weeks, your uterus—and your bump—has extended well above your belly button, Duke says. And as baby starts to put on more inches and ounces, they’ll continue pushing your belly outwards, creating a sensation of fullness or tightness in your tummy. (Between 28 and 40 weeks, your cutie will grow from the size of an eggplant to a small pumpkin!) “You’re experiencing maximal distension of the uterus, skin, and abdominal muscles because the baby is taking up so much space,” Anderson says.

All of this fast growing and stretching can cause the skin around your belly (as well as your breasts, hips, butt and thighs) to develop—you guessed it—stretch marks. There’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent them, especially if they tend to run in your family, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. But trying not to gain more than the recommended amount of weight can help, says Anderson. If your body and pregnant belly stretch marks are itchy, regular moisturizing can provide relief.

Toward the last few weeks or days of your pregnancy, you might notice your bump starting to sit a bit lower. A suddenly low pregnant belly may mean that baby is “dropping,” or descending more deeply into your pelvis as your body prepares for labor and delivery, Anderson explains. That dropping, also called “lightening,” can cause you to have a feeling of pressure in your pelvic region; if it becomes painful, let your doctor know.

Speaking of pain, some women get uncomfortable twinges in their belly button during the third trimester. Experts don’t fully understand why this happens, but it’s common and not typically cause for concern, says Anderson. It’s thought that the sensitive nerves and tendons around the belly button could be triggered when baby switches positions, causing a quick, sharp pain, she explains.

What’s more, the appearance of your navel may change too. if you’ve had an “innie” your whole life, you may be surprised to find that one day your pregnant belly button will just pop out! All that pressure on your abdomen may give you a temporary “outie;” it should return to its normal position a few weeks or months after you give birth.

30-week pregnant belly pictures

You’re almost at the finish line, and your belly will probably be the first part of your body to cross the threshold. Here’s what your bump may look like as you hit 30 weeks:

Image: Ashlee Neuman
Image: Lauren Barth
Image: Crystal Downs

Your Post-Pregnancy Belly

Once you deliver baby and the placenta, that full, hard belly won’t look the way it did throughout your third trimester. But it won’t look the way it did pre-pregnancy either. After birth, it’s normal for your belly to remain swollen for two to six weeks as your uterus shrinks back down to its pre-pregnancy size, Anderson says. As this happens, you might experience occasional dull, period-like pains.

All the while, your belly might feel unrecognizably soft, squishy and almost, well, empty. It can take some time to get used to not having a baby in there—plus, you’ll find that your abdominal muscles are stretched and weak, Anderson explains. They’ll often start to tighten on their own in the coming weeks, but if you notice your belly continues to protrude several months after giving birth, you may have abdominal muscle separation, or diastasis recti, says Duke. (Don’t worry though—there are ways to close that gap.)

Keep in mind that just because your uterus has shrunk back down to its pre-pregnancy size by six weeks postpartum, your belly probably won’t look the way it did before you became a mom. Your skin might still be loose or stretched, and it may take months or more for you to lose the weight you gained, experts say. That’s completely normal—and not something you need to stress about. After all, you just built a new person and are now focused on caring for them 24/7.

Post-pregnancy belly pictures

For 40+ weeks, you grew a human inside your belly. The so-called fourth trimester is a physical and emotional adjustment. This period of transition can feel awkward; you won’t look pregnant per se, but you definitely don’t look not pregnant either. Either way, embrace the incredible thing your body just did and celebrate your post-pregnancy belly. Here’s what it might look like hours, days and weeks after birth:

Image: Lauren Kay

How to Love Your Pregnant Belly

Some women are smitten with their bump from the get-go and others have mixed emotions about their changing bodies throughout the different pregnant belly stages. While all the feelings are normal, resist the urge to compare your someone else’s; moreover, it may be different for you from pregnancy to pregnancy. “Bumps are a beautiful thing, but no person should obsess about their bump size or stress over them. Every body is different,” Duke says.

Instead, focus those energies on taking care of yourself and attending all of your prenatal appointments to have the healthiest pregnancy possible, Duke suggests. And don’t forget to snap a few pictures of your bump as it grows. Months or years from now, you (and your little one!) will be glad you did.

About the experts:

Marquita Anderson, MD, is an ob-gyn with Texas Health Physicians Group in Bedford, Texas. She earned her medical degree from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Cindy Duke, MD, PhD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn and clinical assistant professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Medicine. A dual fertility specialist and virology expert, she earned her medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry in New York.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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