There are impacts of pregnancy on the body that you expect—stretch marks, swollen feet, and morning sickness. And then, as TikTokers are increasingly discovering together, there’s a host of other, lesser-known side effects, including worsened vision, hair loss, new moles and dark spots, losing your teeth from calcium deficiency, and—per a viral TikTok trend making the rounds this first week of 2023—“pregnancy nose.”
Pregnant people have lately been sharing before-and-after-style videos of their faces, specifically revealing how pregnancy made their noses larger. To be clear, pregnancy nose—or pregnancy rhinitis—is real. Pregnancy in general drastically impacts hormones and blood flow, and pregnancy rhinitis occurs as a result of increased blood flow to mucus membranes across your body, resulting in swelling in these areas. Because noses have mucus membranes, pregnant people’s noses can become enlarged during pregnancy and are also susceptible to prolonged congestion.
In one before-and-after video, TikToker Alex Jacobson, @alexjoelenejacobson, reveals her significantly wider-appearing nose at the end of her pregnancy, explaining that she “did not gain any weight during my pregnancy,” and when she checked into the hospital, she “was 15 pounds lighter” than before her positive pregnancy test. “It was not from weight gain, but purely from swelling and all of the water I was retaining,” Jacobsen says in the video. “Between all of my break-outs and how swollen my face was, my face hurt so bad.”
Dr. Rachel Neal, a Georgia-based OBGYN and fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Jezebel she’s treated many patients who experience “pretty benign, pretty harmless” changes like “pregnancy nose”—for example, “their cheeks will get a little bit bigger, or their nose will grow.” Neal is glad to see TikTok trends provide people with more information about what they can expect upon becoming pregnant. “Pregnancy changes your body in so many ways, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where I, as a physician, would be able to prepare somebody for every possible thing that could happen,” she said.
Other examples of “pregnancy nose”-Tok:
“So if u saw me while pregnant, no tf u didnt,” the caption of one TikTok against a viral, initially upbeat then aggressively downbeat sound, reads.
Another TikTok with the same sound is captioned, “not my finest hour or 9 months.”
“Pregnancy nose” videos are, overall, lighthearted and fun, oft inviting kind comments from fellow new moms and pregnant people. Yet, there’s also something undeniably foreboding about the trend: Why are so few of us aware of pregnancy rhinitis, or for that matter, all the other pregnancy-based side effects? So many pregnancy-related conditions, whether pregnancy nose or postpartum depression, can be especially blindsiding and stressful, precisely because they’re so unexpected.
The rising cultural fascination with pregnancy-related body horror content doesn’t seem to extend from voyeurism or schadenfreude, like all the horror movies increasingly exploiting pregnancy as fodder for shock factor. Instead, this trend is about reckoning with a culture of silence, secrecy, and stigma surrounding pregnancy.
For a long time, pregnant people have been expected to weather a minefield of pregnancy-related complications and ailments without complaint, and certainly without warning. The conversations happening on social media are changing this and giving space for people to talk about shared experiences and help prepare each other. “I don’t want people who have had some of these more benign or cosmetic changes that happen in their pregnancy to be shamed or made to feel bad about how their body has changed,” Neal said. “But I do think social media can be helpful toward building community with other people that are going through something similar to you.”
Early on, young people are routinely failed by sexual health education classes. Upon becoming pregnant, people are inevitably hit with one surprise after another, often left blindsided by lack of warning about major issues—for example, that pregnancy can induce severe calcium deficiency resulting in your teeth rotting without proper care, or that fetal cells remain in the pregnant person’s body for decades (or sometimes permanently).
Many would probably still choose to be pregnant, knowing these potential side effects exist, of course—but it’s a problem that so many people can be forced to make an uninformed choice, given how drastically and permanently pregnancy affects the body. Reproductive health providers can help address this, Neal said. More people planning to become pregnant should recognize the “underutilized value of the preconception visit” to ask all questions you might have about any aspect of pregnancy before becoming pregnant. But just as important as hearing and acknowledging other people’s stories, Neal emphasizes, is recognizing how unique each pregnancy is: “Just because it’s happened to a friend doesn’t mean it will happen to you.”