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Pregnant belly vs weight gain: How to tell the difference

Many women may consider that their pregnant belly is stomach bloating.

Pregnant belly vs weight gain: How to tell the difference
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As we go through different life stages, our bodies change. A great example of this is pregnancy: in the beginning, we might notice the early signs of a pregnant belly.

But others might mistake this for simply having a big lunch or navigating a bloated stomach. So, how can you pinpoint the difference between a pregnant belly and weight gain?

If you're experiencing bloating or have a pregnant-looking stomach, without the morning sickness and you've got a negative home pregnancy test, we're rounding up all the differences between a pregnant belly vs fat belly, why you may have a bloated belly and what you can do to reduce existing belly fat in a sustainable way.

The difference between a pregnant belly and weight gain

Sometimes, pregnant women don't even know they're pregnant because the pregnant belly doesn't show until the 12-week mark. Up until this point, many women may just consider that their pregnant belly is stomach bloating.

Following the 12-week mark, the uterus expands to accommodate the growing baby, making the belly feel harder instead of soft [1].

On the other hand, a fat belly is softer and you'll also tend to see fat layers on the stomach rather than a protruding belly with a smooth dome as you would with a pregnant belly [1].

If you're gaining weight, it's likely that you're also experiencing weight gain in other areas aside from your belly including your thighs, breasts and face, which can also help you tell the difference between a fat belly and a pregnant belly.

Symptoms of pregnancy

Ultimately, if you're trying to figure out whether there's a suspected pregnancy on the horizon or you're experiencing weight gain, the best thing you can do is a pregnancy test — especially if you're sexually active.

To help demystify the pregnant belly vs fat belly difference, here are some of the most common pregnancy symptoms:

Hard low belly

Generally in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, your pregnant belly gets harder and feels tighter because your body is changing and your stomach is expanding to make room for the baby. As the uterus continues to grow it pushes against your abdominal wall, which causes firmness in your belly [2].

Fatigue

Fatigue and excessive tiredness are common signs and symptoms of early pregnancy which is caused by an increase in progesterone (the sex hormone) — this is needed to help the baby grow and maintain the pregnancy [3]. Make sure you're getting enough sleep and eating iron-rich foods to prevent anaemia in pregnancy.

Heartburn and indigestion

Heartburn and indigestion are common during pregnancy because of the pressure from the expansion of the uterus on organs near the lower abdomen [3].

To manage heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy, it's recommended that you avoid eating before bed, sleep with your head raised and avoid fried foods, spicy foods, and caffeine [3].

Increased dizziness

Increased dizziness during pregnancy is also common because of low blood pressure and low blood sugar as your body changes, which affects your metabolism. Dizziness can happen as your blood vessels dilate and widen to increase blood flood to your growing baby, which can cause blood pressure drops [4].

If you're experiencing increased dizziness during pregnancy, make sure you avoid standing for long periods of time, eat regularly, avoid baths or showers that are too hot and get up slowly when you're sitting or lying down.

Frequent urination

Frequent urination is another common symptom of pregnancy because of an increase in bodily fluids and swelling of the uterus which presses against the bladder [3]. In the first few weeks of pregnancy, many pregnant women feel like they need to go to the toilet a lot more than usual.

Changes in breasts and nipples

Pregnancy symptoms go beyond just an inflated belly, but changes in your breasts and nipples happen too.

When you're pregnant, the breasts usually become a lot fuller, swollen and tender and the skin surrounding the nipple changes colour, usually becoming darker and veins in your breasts are more noticeable [3]. Any discomfort in the breasts usually goes away after a few weeks once the body gets used to the hormonal changes happening in the body.

If I'm not pregnant, why do I have a bloated belly?

There are a bunch of reasons why you might experience a bloated belly and it's way more common than you think. Anywhere between 10-25% of people experience abdominal bloating and 10% of people have bloated bellies regularly [5].

Let's take a look at some of the common reasons you may have a bloated stomach.

Chronic stress

Anxiety and chronic stress can cause stomach bloating and is sometimes called a stress belly because you feel stress in your gut and it disrupts the digestive system.

Sometimes, stress slows down digestion, in turn causing constipation, bloating and even pain which leads to a bloated belly [6]. In some cases, persistent stress can make conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) a lot worse.

Food intolerances

Food intolerances can cause bloating, abdominal pain, nausea and diarrhoea [7]. A common food intolerance that can cause bloating is lactose intolerance which affects about 70% of people [7].

When you're lactose intolerant, you're not able to fully digest the lactose in milk which can cause gas, bloating and diarrhoea after consuming dairy products [8]. So, if you know you're lactose intolerant it's probably best not to eat too much cheese (sadly).

You're getting older

Unfortunately, with age comes menopause, which can cause more bloating than usual.

Oestrogen and progesterone are 2 hormones that change during menopause and increased levels of oestrogen increase the body's water retention and decreased levels of progesterone can have a diuretic effect (it helps get rid of sodium and water in your body) [9].

Since these hormones change a lot during menopause, where lots of fluctuations happen, this can cause bloating in older age.

You eat a poor diet

A poor diet is often the culprit of bloating because unhealthy foods and processed foods can stop your body from passing gas which leads to a bloating belly.

Refined carbohydrates like sugar are broken down in your large intestine. meaning they're fermented [10]. This causes a buildup of gas in the colon which could be the cause of your bloating.

Excess alcohol consumption can also cause bloating because alcohol is an inflammatory substance. This can also be exacerbated when alcohol is mixed with soft drinks and syrups [11].

Medical conditions

Underlying medical conditions can also cause belly bloating including:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Coeliac disease
  • Dumping syndrome (when food moves from your stomach to your bowels too fast)
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome [12].

If you're experiencing chronic bloating and you've tried to reduce bloating in the belly area, head to your doctor to check what the underlying cause could be.

You're on your period

During your menstrual cycle, you may experience period bloating where your belly becomes tighter and fuller in the days leading up to and during your period because of decreased hormone levels during your menstrual cycle [13].

Once your hormone levels start to increase again, bloating and other period symptoms generally get better.

Why is belly fat bad for your health?

First, let's start off by saying that there's nothing wrong with a little bit of belly fat, but excess fat isn't great for your overall health either. A fat belly, otherwise known as visceral fat belly can be concerning because it plays a role in other health issues.

Visceral fat is the belly fat type that's stored inside the belly and wraps around the organs including the liver and intestines [14].

Subcutaneous fat, on the other hand, is the fat that's stored underneath the skin and is the fat on your body you can feel. Of all the fat in your body, visceral fat accounts for 10% of your body fat and in women, gained weight tends to manifest in the lower abdomen upwards [15].

Since visceral fat is stored deep inside the belly, it can push out, sometimes giving the appearance of a pregnancy belly, baby bump or an apple-shaped belly. Visceral fat is harmful to your health because it produces hormones and chemicals that are toxic to the body [14].

Research shows that a visceral fat belly is associated with metabolic syndrome, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insulting resistance and type 2 diabetes [16]. In overweight women who've got excess weight manifesting as visceral fat, it's also linked with breast cancer.

How to approach weight loss

If you're experiencing weight gain and want to lose belly fat, approaching weight loss by making small and incremental lifestyle changes is your best bet. Here are some options to consider when you're trying to lose weight.

Eating a balanced diet

Whether you're pregnant or you want to reduce belly fat and lose weight, eating healthy foods is always the best way to approach weight loss.

Eating a balanced diet includes eating foods from all 5 food groups which can help improve sluggish bowels, help you lose belly fat, and keep extra weight off.

Juniper's Nourish Shakes can help you lose weight while still getting a dose of high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals. These meal replacement shakes are available in 5 delicious flavours, include all 9 essential amino acids, are a good source of fibre and contain more than 40% of your daily vitamin needs for immunity and overall health.

Exercising regularly

Regular exercise is an important part of weight loss and can help you with a range of health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

To make sure you're incorporating regular physical activity into your lifestyle, you should find exercises that you actually enjoy doing like going for regular walks, hitting the gym, going for a swim or even a yoga class.

Holistic weight loss programs

If you're gaining weight and nothing quite seems to work, Juniper's Weight Reset Program is a holistic program designed for long-term and sustainable weight loss.

The Weight Reset Program combines breakthrough medication that helps to regulate digestion, and decrease appetite and works to completely change your relationship with food so you can lose stubborn stomach fat, lose weight and actually keep it off.

To help you make lifestyle and habit changes, like eating a balanced diet and moving your body regularly, health coaching is provided and you also have access to a support system of other women going through the weight loss journey, too.

Plus, we personalise your experience through one-on-one health tracking and weekly check-ins with your doctor to track your biometric, mental and physical health, always making adjustments to your program to suit your individual needs.

It's worth noting that Juniper's Weight Reset Program isn't suitable for pregnant women. But if you're not pregnant and looking to lose belly fat (and lose weight) for good, our Weight Reset Program can give you the best chance of success.

It’s more than just weight loss

Thousands of Australian women have found new confidence with Juniper.

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