If You Suffer From These Common Pregnancy Problems, You Are Not Alone!
Pregnancy is an exciting time, but it also brings along a variety of symptoms we, as women, would rather do without!
As your baby grows, your body has to adapt and sometimes this gives rise to ailments such as backache, constipation, swelling and cramps.
Each pregnancy is different and you may not have any of these complaints or you may have them all!
I will do my best to explain why these ailments occur and give you some tips on what to do about them.
These are the most common complaints:
Constipation during pregnancy is caused by the hormone progesterone which relaxes the intestinal muscles resulting in sluggish bowel movement.
Prevent constipation by:
- Drinking lots of fluids, eating foods rich in roughage or fiber and exercising (walking or swimming) to stimulate the bowel.
- Prune juice, hot water with lemon, fruit juices and vegetable juices are good for softening the stool and stimulating bowel movement too.
- Foods such as fresh or dried fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grain breads and cereals are also good for preventing constipation.
Also check with your doctor whether the mineral and vitamin supplement you are taking is contributing to your constipation. If all these fail, consult with your doctor before taking any laxatives.
Backache which can result from weight gain, the growing uterus causing a change in posture, putting strain on your back and the softening of the ligaments in the lower back and pelvis, which put a strain on the joints. As your baby grows, especially during the third trimester, your center of gravity moves forward and you will compensate by leaning backwards, putting strain on your lower back muscles.
- Wearing low heeled shoes with good arch support (no high heels), exercise and resting whenever you can.
- Choosing a chair that supports your back or use a cushion behind your back when sitting.
- You may also consider wearing a maternity support belt.
- Massage therapy can also be helpful. Choose one experienced in prenatal massage.
- If your mattress is too soft, put a piece of hardboard under it to make it firmer.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects and bend your knees, keeping your back straight when lifting or picking up something.
- Exercising in water, especially classes specific for pregnant women, may help to ease back pain during your pregnancy.
- Join a prenatal yoga class for stretching exercises and for learning relaxation techniques.
- If your back pain is very painful, seek medical advice with regard to what medications you can take and/or therapies you can utilize.
Leg And Foot Cramps
Leg and foot cramps are common during pregnancy, especially during the second and third trimesters and often occur at night. The exact cause of these painful muscle contractions is unknown.
Here are some things to try that may help to prevent leg and foot cramps:
- Stretching exercises before bed: standing at arm’s length from the wall, place your hands on the wall and move your right foot behind your left foot. Keeping your right knee straight and your right foot on the ground, slowly bend your left leg forward. Keep your back straight and your hips forward. Hold that stretch for about 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
- Alternatively, try stretching by flexing and releasing each foot about 10 times before going to bed.
- Choose shoes that are comfortable and have good support.
- Avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods of time by getting up and walking around or sitting down with your feet up every now and then.
- Eat more magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grain foods, dried fruit and beans. Alternatively discuss taking a magnesium supplement with your doctor.
- Stay hydrated by making sure you have a bottle of water available and drinking lots of fluids.
- Regular low impact exercises such as walking, swimming and water exercises may also help to prevent leg cramps.
- If a leg cramp occurs, gently stretch the calf muscles on that leg by pulling your foot up towards you (toes up, heel down) and massage the muscles. A heat pack or warm bath may also help to alleviate the cramp.
Cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) is usually caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI), but can also be caused by things such as vaginal deodorants, douches, perfumed soaps, vigorous sexual intercourse or anything that causes bruising of the urethra.
Women are particularly prone to urinary infections because the urethra (tube to the bladder) is short and lies close to the anus. Bacteria that are harmless in the bowel, such as E.Coli, can then enter the urinary tract and cause an infection in the bladder.
During pregnancy the muscles around the urethra relax in early pregnancy allowing bacteria to gain entry more easily and later in pregnancy, your growing uterus presses on the bladder preventing it from emptying completely. The residual urine in the bladder then acts as an incubator for any bacteria that find their way to the bladder.
Symptoms include: having to urinate frequently, burning or stinging on urinating, blood in the urine, urine having a strong or “fishy” smell and you may also have a fever.
If you suspect that you have cystitis, it is best to contact your doctor so that a urine sample can be sent for analysis to see if an infection is present. Your doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics and/or treatment to flush out the bladder and make the urine a more hostile environment for bacteria to grow in.
Preventative measures you can take include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids,
- Avoiding potential irritants such as perfumed soaps, bubble baths or vaginal deodorants.
- Toilet hygiene to prevent contaminating the urethra with bowel bacteria,
- Drinking cranberry juice which is said to contain a natural antibiotic that prevents urinary infections and
- Including celery and parsley in your diet as they act as a mild diuretic helping to flush out the bladder.
Hemorrhoids (piles) are painful swollen varicose veins in the anal area and rectum. Hemorrhoids do not just occur during pregnancy. Anyone can get them. During pregnancy, hormones relax the veins and coupled with your growing uterus pressing on the major veins and constipation, these varicose veins (hemorrhoids) form in and around the anus and rectum.
The good news is that they should disappear within weeks after your baby is born.
Signs that you may have hemorrhoids: itching, aching or soreness around the anus, bleeding when having a bowel movement, pain or discomfort on passing a stool and feeling a lumpiness around your anus.
Coping with hemorrhoids during pregnancy (how to ease the pain):
- Soak your bottom in warm water several times a day or
- Apply cold compresses to the anal area several times a day or
- Soak cotton pads in witch hazel and apply to the anal area (remember to change pads frequently) or
- Use medicated wipes made specifically for people with hemorrhoids or
- Ask your doctor to recommend a hemorrhoid cream that is safe to use during pregnancy.
- Avoid constipation, which will make the piles worse, by drinking lots of water and eating foods high in fiber.
- Instead of using dry toilet paper to clean the anal area, use moist toilet paper and pat rather than rub the area clean.
Headaches during pregnancy are common especially during the first and third trimester. The exact cause is still unknown.
In the third trimester, headaches are more likely to be due to a combination of factors such as poor posture associated with tension, stress, lack of sleep, dehydration and low blood sugar.
If your headaches are frequent, persistent or severe in the third trimester, you should get your blood pressure checked as a potentially life-threatening condition called pre-eclampsia needs to be excluded as a potential cause.
You should contact your doctor if your headaches get worse or are more persistent, different from normal or associated with blurry vision, swelling of your hands and face, abdominal pain or sudden weight gain.
Tips for preventing headaches during pregnancy:
- Try and pinpoint what triggers your headaches by keeping track of what you eat and drink and what activities you do over several days. Hopefully you may be able to establish a pattern of what triggers your headaches and you can then avoid that trigger.
- A sudden withdrawal of caffeine may trigger headaches, so do a gradual withdrawal from caffeine products.
- Try to do regular low impact exercise.
- Drink lots of water to keep hydrated.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep by taking naps and relaxation time.
- Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, listening to relaxing music or prenatal yoga.
- Pregnancy can be a stressful time for some women and it is important to develop coping techniques for managing your stress.
- Manage your blood sugar levels by eating frequent small meals.
- Prenatal massages relax the muscles and ease tension, which may help to prevent recurrence of your headaches.
If a headache strikes, lie down in a dark quiet room and apply a cold compress to the back of your neck. If you need medication, it is best to discuss your options with your doctor first.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) can cause painful hands, pins and needles or tingling in the fingers, numbness, burning sensation in the fingers, sharp darting pains from the wrist and stiffness. CTS occurs in approximately 30% to 50% of pregnant women.
The carpal tunnel is a small passage in the base of the palm where nerves and tendons pass through to your hand and fingers. Fluid retention (swelling) during pregnancy causes this narrow passage to become compressed and the nerves inside the passage become squashed, causing the symptoms of CTS.
In most cases, symptoms will resolve within 6 to 12 weeks after the birth of your baby.
It is not possible to prevent this happening, but it is possible to manage your symptoms with the following:
- Elevate your wrist whenever you can (sitting or resting) and do not leave your arm hanging by your side for long periods,
- Pinpoint positions or tasks that make your symptoms worse and avoid these,
- Avoid any heavy lifting,
- Try and keep your wrist in a neutral position (not flexed or extended),
- Apply a cold compress for about 10 to 15 minutes to the affected wrist every few hours and
- Wear a wrist splint, especially at night to keep your wrist in the neutral position.
Gentle exercises such as making a fist and then opening your hand, spreading the fingers may also help to reduce the swelling. Speak to a physiotherapist for advice on exercises.
Varicose veins during pregnancy are most likely to appear during the third trimester. The hormone, progesterone, relaxes the walls of the veins. In addition you have an increased volume of blood circulating through your body and a growing uterus compressing the major veins in the pelvis, slowing down the flow of blood from your legs to the heart.
If you have a family history of varicose veins, this increases the chances of developing varicose veins during pregnancy. All of these factors combined cause the veins in your legs to become swollen, sore and unsightly.
But varicose veins can also occur on the vulva, labia or in the vagina. Here they may be small and barely noticeable or quite large and not good looking at all!
It is also common to see another form of varicose veins, small spider veins, appearing on your legs or face (can also occur elsewhere). These are usually blue or red and look like a spider web with short jagged lines.
Unfortunately varicose veins do tend to get worse with each pregnancy. The good news is that the varicose veins usually disappear within a few months after birth, but sometimes it can take longer, so you will have to be patient.
Besides being very visible, what symptoms do varicose veins cause?
- They can be tender, throb or painful,
- Your legs may feel heavy and achy towards the end of the day,
- Sometimes the skin over the varicose veins may feel itchy and
- There is a risk of thrombophlebitis, when the varicose veins become hard, red and tender, which can lead to blood clots. You should alert your doctor if you show any signs of thrombophlebitis.
If you do develop varicose veins during pregnancy, take care of your legs by:
- Putting your legs up at every opportunity as this will relieve the pressure on them,
- Avoiding standing for long periods of time,
- Avoiding sitting in the same position for too long,
- Exercising regularly,
- Maintaining a healthy diet to manage your weight gain and
- Wearing support hose (tights or stockings). Get medical advice as to which is best suited for you. They may not be sexy, but they will help.
Having varicose veins in the vagina or on the vulva or labia should not stop you from having a vaginal delivery, but your midwife or doctor will keep an eye on things at the time.
Heartburn (acid reflux, indigestion) during pregnancy (although it has nothing to do with your heart!) will plague most moms-to-be sometime during their pregnancy, particularly during the second and third trimesters.
The culprit is the hormone, progesterone, which relaxes the valve (the lower esophageal sphincter) between the esophagus and the stomach, allowing irritating stomach acid access back up the esophagus. This is aggravated by your growing uterus pushing up against the stomach.
What does heartburn feel like? If you have never experienced heartburn before, count yourself very lucky! It is a most uncomfortable, irritating, burning sensation in the chest and throat, often associated with an acidic taste in your mouth.
To reduce heartburn during pregnancy, try the following:
- Eat 5 to 6 smaller meals instead of 3 main meals,
- Sit and enjoy your meals, eating slowly (don’t rush through your meal),
- Drink liquids between meals (not with meals),
- After a meal, take a leisurely walk or sit upright in a comfortable chair for a while,
- Avoid rich, spicy, fatty or fried foods or any that trigger heartburn,
- After a meal, wait at least a couple of hours before lying down or going to bed,
- If you have heartburn at night, try sleeping with a wedge pillow to prop up your head and shoulders,
- Wear loose fitting clothes that do not put pressure on your abdomen,
- Some women find ginger helps to relieve heartburn, so give ginger ale or ginger candies a try,
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist about using over-the-counter medication for acid reflux to find out which ones are safe to use during pregnancy.
- If your heartburn is severe, your doctor can prescribe medication to safely use during pregnancy.
Your heartburn symptoms should disappear soon after giving birth.
Thrush (Candidiasis) during pregnancy is a yeast infection produced by the fungus, Candida Albicans, which leads to uncomfortable itching, irritation, redness and swelling of the vagina and vulva and is often associated with a thick, creamy discharge.
During pregnancy, the hormone, estrogen, causes higher levels of glycogen to occur in the vagina and lowers the acidity. This makes it the perfect environment for the fungus, Candida Albicans, so it is no wonder that pregnant women are more prone to getting thrush (up to 10 times).
The diagnosis is usually confirmed with a vaginal swab sent for testing. The good news is that it is easy to treat thrush during pregnancy with an antifungal cream, vaginal pessary or both. Taking oral tablets for treating thrush is not recommended during pregnancy.
While pregnant, thrush cannot affect your baby. However, if you have thrush at the time of delivery, your baby may develop thrush in his/her mouth.
Tips on how to minimize your chance of getting thrush during pregnancy by making the vagina less hospitable for fungal infections:
- Taking a probiotic supplement can help restore healthy levels of good bacteria,
- Avoid using douches, vaginal deodorants and powders, shower gels or bubble baths that can upset the pH of the vagina,
- As Candida thrives in moist warm environments, wear cotton underwear and avoid tight underwear (to allow good air circulation).
Pregnancy is definitely a unique stage in a woman’s life with the joy and excitement of a baby on the way balanced with all the crazy changes happening to your body, all part of the journey to becoming a mother. Just remember, there are plenty of things you can blame on the hormones!