Managing Symptoms of Pregnancy
The journey to motherhood has begun. You feel a mixture of anticipation, joy, hope, excitement, and perhaps a little apprehension. Unfortunately, these euphoric moments may be punctuated with episodes of nausea, constipation, and back pain. How do you get through the rest of the pregnancy without these nagging discomforts?
During pregnancy a woman's body goes through some major changes to meet the demands of her growing baby. These changes are initiated by the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone and are often accompanied by numerous discomforts. These normal side effects, which vary among women and pregnancies, are not the same as complications. (Complications of pregnancy include hypertension, anemia, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, and vaginal bleeding.) Here are some common pregnancy discomforts and tips on how to manage them:
These includes tenderness, heaviness, tingling, as well as an increase in size, darkening of the areolae (skin around the nipples), and more apparent bumps and blood vessels.
What may help: Wear a supportive bra.
Your taste may change and you may crave certain foods, especially sweets, while other food becomes distasteful.
What may help: Eat a balanced diet, eat as you desire, but avoid binging on high calorie and high fat food.
Fatigue is especially common during the first 8-10 weeks due to metabolic changes. This may also be related to poor nutrition, being overweight, lack of regular exercise, and insomnia.
What may help: Take frequent naps and rest whenever you can. Cut back on your work or daily activities. Eat small, frequent meals to keep energy levels even.
You may feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster—excited and euphoric, but also full of doubt and anxiety. You may cry easily and worry about any number of things, such as your pregnancy, the health of your baby, giving birth, your relationship with your partner, and your future.
What may help: Keep in mind that it's normal to have these feelings. Talk openly with your partner, family, friends, and supportive others. Join groups or classes for expectant mothers. You'll find that sharing experiences is very helpful.
Smooth muscles in the intestine may relax during pregnancy and lead to constipation.
What may help: Eat a lot of high fiber foods such as whole grains, fruit, and vegetables. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and get regular exercise.
As the enlarging uterus puts pressure on your bladder, you may need to urinate more frequently.
What may help: Try to reduce your fluid intake before going to bed. Also, avoid drinks with caffeine.
Varicose veins in the anus cause itchiness and pain, triggered by internal pressure from the baby and constipation.
What may help: Eat a high fiber diet with whole grains, raw fruit, and vegetables; drink a lot of water; exercise regularly. Creams are available to soothe the burning and itching.
Hormone changes can cause you to lose some hair in the weeks following delivery.
What may help: Remember that new hair will grow within a few months. Until then, you might try wearing a shorter, fluffier hairstyle. Avoid agents that damage the hair such as dyes, perms, and hot air from blow drying.
Nausea and Vomiting
"Morning sickness" can be experienced at any time of day and is usually caused by high pregnancy hormone levels, fatigue, and low blood sugar. Every woman has a different experience—some don't have any nausea, while others are sick often. Rarely does sickness become so severe and prolonged that a woman can't keep any food down and needs to be hospitalized. In most women, bouts of nausea subside by the fourth month. If you find you are unable to drink and retain fluids, contact your doctor.
What may help: Avoid foods that are high in fat, acidic, or very spicy. Have small frequent snacks of bland food to keep your blood sugar levels even. If you are nauseous upon rising in the morning, keep some dry crackers or toast next to your bed. A late evening snack may help. Avoid tobacco smoke and smells that make you nauseous.
You may notice a darkening of moles and freckles and the areolae around the nipples. Some women develop a dark line from the navel down to their pubic area, or darkened blotches on the face. These skin changes are caused by hormones and usually disappear after delivery.
What may help: Stay out of the sun or wear a strong sunscreen.
Inflammation and swelling of the gums is often caused by poor oral hygiene. During pregnancy, however, the gums may bleed easily as the result of increased progesterone and expanded blood supply which softens the gums. This increases the risk of food collecting at the base of the gums, which could lead to tooth decay and gum disease.
What may help: Practice good oral hygiene. Brush teeth several times per day, especially after eating, and use dental floss. Make sure you visit the dentist during your pregnancy.
Dark purplish, swollen veins may develop in the lower leg, causing aching and itching. These can be due to pregnancy hormones, the weight of the baby, increased blood volume, and heredity.
What may help: Avoid excessive weight gain by exercising on a regular basis. Don't stand for excessive periods of time or sit with your legs crossed. You can also try elevating your legs on a pillow when lying down, and, when sitting, keeping your legs raised. Try support stockings before getting out of bed.
Back aches are common during pregnancy and may result from increased weight in the abdominal region, bad posture, and stretching and softening of ligaments.
What may help: When bending, keep your back straight and bend your knees. Don't stay in the same position for too long—move around. Avoid heavy lifting. Try to develop good posture and don't wear heels. Try back exercises for pregnant women. A BellyBra may also be helpful. This is a special bra to support your back and abdomen.*
Indigestion and Heartburn
Indigestion and heartburn are most common during the last trimester due to increased pressure on the stomach, which causes a reflux of gastric juices into the esophagus.
What may help: Avoid fried, spicy, or acidic foods and drinks. Eat small, frequent snacks rather than several large meals. Don't drink with your meals. Elevate your head with propped up pillows when you go to bed. Don't take antacids without seeking medical help first.
You may have difficulty sleeping due to discomfort, sweating, leg cramps, the baby kicking, or the need to urinate.
What may help: Try to unwind before going to bed with a warm bath, relaxing music, stress-relieving exercises, and comfortable bed clothing.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
March of Dimes
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
*¹9/16/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Kalus SM, Kornman LH, Quinlivan JA. Managing back pain in pregnancy using a support garment: a randomised trial. BJOG. 2008;115:68-75. Epub 2007 Nov 12.
Last reviewed July 2007 by Ganson Purcell Jr., MD, FACOG, FACPE
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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