It was not immediately obvious when I was first pregnant with my eldest. I had cravings (you can read about that here), but I didn’t feel something was completely off with a pregnant-looking stomach until I went to put on a pair of jeans.
I’d worn those jeans the week before, and now I was standing there, unable to button or zip them. For many women wondering the difference between a bloated belly vs. a pregnant belly, simply not fitting into pants that usually fit isn’t the only indicator of weight gain or a pregnant belly.
The main differences between a fat belly and a pregnant belly can be seen in this photo here. This pregnant belly vs. fat belly picture shows you the differences. You have a bloated belly on the left, and on the right, that’s a pregnant belly.
The bloated belly has more of a sag to it. The pregnant one upholds more firmness. Also, you can see the belly button changing with the pregnant belly. That won’t happen with just a regular old bloated stomach.
Telling the difference between a baby bump and belly fat can be tricky in the early stages. A bloated stomach in early pregnancy usually happens to women who have had babies.
My no-fit jeans happened just before 8 weeks, just to give you an idea.
So, now you’re wondering if it is a fat or a pregnant belly, aren’t you? Not to worry… here’s what to know!
How can you tell if you’re pregnant or just getting fat?
Well, the most obvious way to know is to take a pregnancy test. If you haven’t gotten your period, have been having sex, and are late, you should definitely take one.
But for some of you, you may not have a regular cycle in the first place. So, not getting your period at normal intervals may not raise any red flags. It’s not like you will feel fetal movement at this stage of the game, either.
For me, my second pregnancy had me feeling off when I was just a few weeks in. But since I’d been down that road before, I suspected pregnancy. True that I had a bloated stomach in early pregnancy here; I was still lugging some excess weight from my first child.
If you want to look at other ways to see if you’re pregnant or just getting fat besides taking a pregnancy test, or it’s still early on and you’re not sure that test will be accurate, consider the following things…
For most women, before weight gain or pregnancy even crosses your mind, you may feel unwell. Sometimes, that’s just in the morning, earning it the name “morning sickness,” but it can be any time of day for many others (myself included). This tends to happen anywhere between the first 2 weeks and 8 weeks after you’ve conceived.
But nausea doesn’t happen to all women. I’ve had friends who never once felt any hint of nausea wash over them.
Not being able to go
Another thing that didn’t happen to me was constipation. If anything, I became more regular. I was amused by the way it came out in one long coil. TMI, I know, but I’m trying to help.
If you were regular with bowel movements and now you’re struggling to poo, it could be due to the pregnancy hormone known as progesterone, which can slow down your bowels. Of course, it could be that you ate too much cheese or something else, so look at what you’ve been eating, as it might just mean you’re backed up from food.
Having to pee a TON
I can speak from experience that having to pee more often than usual is one of the biggest clues. I remember having the urge to pee with my eldest before I knew I was pregnant. It was sudden and urgent; I’d never experienced anything like it.
Now, if you’re like me and drink lots of coffee in the morning, you probably have to pee often. But if you keep having to pee many times in an hour, it may be a sign that you’re not getting fat… you’re pregnant.
Another cause of this frequent urination – pregnancy tends to make you thirstier as breastfeeding does. It’s your body’s way of getting more fluids to the baby. So if you feel like you could drink the ocean and you keep having to pee, you may just be pregnant!
Before I knew I was pregnant with my eldest, I remember sitting on our bed for a moment before going somewhere. I awoke with a start hours later, barely making it out the door on time.
I was stunned that I had fallen asleep like that. It was way out of character for me.
Pregnancy hormones and the growth of a baby inside you can lead to fatigue. Feeling more exhausted than usual without any exertion? That pregnant-looking stomach may be a real belly bump!
I can’t recall if I experienced any spotting during early pregnancy, but for some of you, if you are wondering if you’re bloated from overeating pasta or you’re pregnant, check your undies!
Vaginal spotting in the 6th to 9th weeks is relatively common.
You may notice a slight spotting 6 to 12 days after conception, which can also come with cramps if you’re very perceptive. This may be your first clue if you’re actively trying to make a baby!
Head and back aches
For those who don’t often get headaches, if you find them coming on frequently, you may get them from those pregnancy hormones. The same goes for the lower back too. It can start hurting well before the baby gets big.
I remember feeling a bit dizzy at times when I stood up quickly. Your blood pressure drops when your blood vessels dilate. Take it easy when you get up, then get a pregnancy test.
And if you’re thinking about belly bloat or pregnancy, look at your skin. Particularly your nipples. You should inspect your breasts once per month to note any changes that could be breast cancer. But the nipples during pregnancy are very telling. They get darker when you’re pregnant.
Some women get early milk production, though it is far more common for milk to turn up toward the end of pregnancy. Still, if you see a milky discharge, you shouldn’t ignore it. It could be the beginning of breastmilk or an indicator of breast cancer, something you shouldn’t ignore.
When does your stomach start getting big when pregnant?
If it’s your first pregnancy, you will likely not start showing noticeably until around 12 to 16 weeks. You may notice something isn’t right, like a bloated stomach in early pregnancy. That’s why my jeans weren’t fitting.
You can bloat, and if you get constipated, too, that will make your clothes feel like they’ve shrunk. If you’ve been pregnant, you’ll likely have an inkling of what’s happening, and you’ll start showing even before 12 weeks. This is because your abdominal wall has already stretched out and knows what’s up.
How can you tell the difference between a bloated stomach and pregnancy?
Well, again, if you want to be sure, you’ll need to take a pregnancy test or schedule an appointment with your doctor. The symptoms of early pregnancy and a bloated belly are very similar.
And if you’re wondering if pregnant bellies feel different from bloated bellies, think about how you feel when you eat too much. That fullness in the stomach and abdominal distention are classic signs of bloating.
A pregnant belly may feel firmer to the touch, but it all depends on you before pregnancy. If you’re a fit person, it may feel like a soccer ball is in there. Your height and torso size (if you have a short torso, read here) also play a role.
So, to the touch, you may not notice a thing. And you may wonder if it was all the food you ate or if you ate all that food because you’re pregnant.
Why does my fat belly look pregnant?
If you’re confident you’re not pregnant and your belly looks like it is, the most common culprit is trapped gas or overeating at once. This can make your tummy look pregnant.
But it’s not the only thing. Dietary problems are also a common thing. You may have a food sensitivity or intolerance, which can cause your belly to bloat. My friend Katie found she was sensitive to gluten. She had other symptoms, too, which she didn’t realize were coming from the gluten.
Every time she ate anything with wheat, she’d bloat up in size. Before she made the connection, she took a pregnancy test. She even went to the doctor because the test was negative. After all, her stomach kept looking huge. It was such a relief; she’d told me to find out what was causing her belly to make her look pregnant when she wasn’t.
It’s not just gluten, but dairy may trigger you too. If you’re not pregnant and bloat after eating, keep a food diary and visit your doctor. You may just see that it was something you were eating leading to your troubles.
It may not even be food, either. Using straws often or chomping on gum can cause you to swallow more air and bloat up. Even eating too fast will do this, so slow it down and savor your food to see if that will help.
Some women have apron bellies or weight gain/loss from previous births. When this happens, you can look pregnant even when you’re not.
And, of course, bloated bellies that aren’t pregnant could be a sign of something worse. There could be tumors in your stomach or intestines, a blockage in your intestines, inflammation in your gut, an ovarian tumor, or an infection. To rule these out, you should most certainly head to your doctor for a checkup to know for sure.
A final word about fat vs. pregnant bellies…
A bloated belly isn’t always a sign of pregnancy, though it could be. If you think you might be pregnant, it’s worth checking out with a pregnancy test and/or a visit to your doctor.
You know yourself best, so don’t ignore it if something suddenly feels different or changes for you. In most cases, it could be something straightforward. Perhaps you ARE pregnant, and that would be lovely if you’re looking to start a family or add to the one you have.
Or you could determine you have food sensitivity or something else which can be dealt with.
Take care of yourself, whatever the cause of your belly bloating. You deserve to feel your best!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.