The second trimester of pregnancy often brings a renewed sense of well-being. The worst of the nausea has usually passed, and your baby isn't big enough to crowd your abdominal organs and make you uncomfortable. Yet dramatic pregnancy symptoms are on the horizon. Here's what to expect.

Second trimester pregnancy: Your body

During the second trimester of pregnancy, you might notice physical changes from head to toe.

Larger breasts
Stimulated by estrogen and progesterone, the milk-producing glands inside your breasts get larger during the second trimester. Additional fat also might accumulate in your breasts. Although some of the initial breast tenderness will likely improve, nipple tenderness might continue throughout the pregnancy. A supportive bra is a must.

Growing belly
As your uterus becomes heavier and expands to make room for the baby, your abdomen expands — sometimes rapidly. Starting in the second trimester, expect to gain 3 to 4 pounds (about 1.4 to 1.8 kilograms) a month until delivery.

Braxton Hicks contractions
Your uterus might start contracting to build strength for the big job ahead. You might feel these warm-ups, called Braxton Hicks contractions, in your lower abdomen and groin. They're usually weak and come and go unpredictably. Contact your health care provider if the contractions become painful or regular. This could be a sign of preterm labor.

Skin changes
As blood circulation to your skin increases, certain areas of your skin might become darker, such as the skin around your nipples, parts of your face and the line that runs from your navel to your pubic bone. Sun exposure can aggravate the issue. When you're outdoors, be sure to use plenty of sunscreen.

Stretch marks
You might notice pink, red or purple streaks along your abdomen, breasts, upper arms, buttocks or thighs during the second trimester of pregnancy. Your stretching skin might also be itchy. Moisturizers can help. Although stretch marks can't be prevented, most stretch marks eventually fade in intensity.

Nasal and gum problems
As pregnancy increases your circulation, more blood flows through your body's mucous membranes. This causes the lining of your nose and airway to swell, which can restrict airflow and lead to snoring, congestion and nosebleeds. Increased blood circulation can also soften your gums, which might cause minor bleeding when you brush or floss your teeth. Switching to a softer toothbrush can help decrease irritation.

Dizziness
Your blood vessels dilate in response to pregnancy hormones. Until your blood volume expands to fill them, your blood pressure will fall and you might experience occasional dizziness. If you're having trouble with dizziness, drink plenty of fluids and rise slowly after lying or sitting down. When you feel dizzy, lie on your left side to restore your blood pressure.

Leg cramps
Leg cramps are common as pregnancy progresses, often striking at night. To help prevent leg cramps during pregnancy, stretch your calf muscles before bed. It also helps to stay physically active and drink plenty of fluids. If a leg cramp strikes, stretch the calf muscle on the affected side. A hot shower, warm bath or ice massage also may help.

Shortness of breath
Your lungs are processing more air than they did before your pregnancy. This allows your blood to carry more oxygen to your placenta and the baby — and might leave you breathing slightly faster and feeling short of breath.

Vaginal discharge
You might notice a thin, white vaginal discharge. This acidic discharge is thought to help suppress the growth of potentially harmful bacteria or yeast. You might want to wear panty liners for comfort. Contact your health care provider if the discharge becomes strong smelling, green or yellowish, or if it's accompanied by redness, itching or irritation. This could indicate a vaginal infection.

Bladder and kidney infections
Hormonal changes slow the flow of urine, and your expanding uterus might get in the way — both factors that increase the risk of bladder and kidney infections. Contact your health care provider if you notice a burning sensation when you urinate, or you have a fever, abdominal pain or backache. Left untreated, urinary infections increase the risk of pregnancy complications.

Second trimester pregnancy: Your emotions

Pregnancy is a psychological journey as well as a biological one. During the second trimester, you might feel less tired and more up to the challenge of preparing a home for your baby. Strike while the iron is hot! Check into childbirth classes. Find a health care provider for your baby. Read about breast-feeding. If you plan to continue working after the baby is born, get familiar with your employer's maternity leave policy and investigate child care options. In some areas, you can't start too soon looking for child care.

As your pregnancy progresses, changes in your body's shape and function might affect your emotions. Some women feel a heightened sexuality during pregnancy. Others feel unattractive — especially as their bellies grow. If you're struggling with your body image, share your concerns with your partner. Express love and affection in ways that help you feel most comfortable.

While anticipation mounts, you might worry about labor, delivery or impending motherhood. Remember that you can't plan or control everything about your pregnancy. Instead, learn as much as you can. Focus on making healthy lifestyle choices that will give your baby the best start.

Appointments with your health care provider

During the second trimester, your prenatal appointments will focus on your baby's growth, confirming your due date and detecting any problems with your health.

Your health care provider will begin by checking your weight and blood pressure. He or she might measure the size of your uterus by checking your fundal height — the distance from the top of the uterus (fundus) to your pubic bone. Pelvic exams are often unnecessary during the second trimester, unless something unusual needs to be explored.

At this stage, the highlight of your prenatal visits might be listening to your baby's heartbeat with a special device called a Doppler. Your health care provider might suggest an ultrasound or other screening tests this trimester. You might also find out your baby's sex — if you choose.

Be sure to mention any signs or symptoms that concern you, even if they seem silly or unimportant. Talking to your health care provider is likely to put your mind at ease.