The word “discomforts” is almost too minimalistic a word for just how horrible some of the symptoms of pregnancy can be. They truly can be all consuming. I have been lucky in both of my pregnancies, to suffer only mild discomforts. Through my midwifery practice I have learned a lot and given advice to many women suffering from a multitude of problems. The following are a list of common discomforts and some simple things you can try to alleviate the symptoms.
This feels like a burning in the throat and/or mouth. It can occur anytime throughout pregnancy but is usually worst in the first trimester and late in the third trimester (where the baby squashes your stomach). It is caused by the pregnancy hormones (relaxin and progesterone) in your body that help relax certain muscle groups, called “smooth” muscles, in readiness for birth. Unfortunately your stomach and oesophagus are smooth muscles and therefore they are not as efficient in keeping your stomach acids, food and fluid where they are supposed to be.
The best thing you can do is eat small meals often, rather than 3 large meals. Take sips of water, rather than big gulps. Some people find that spicy or acidic food upset them. Don’t lie down straight after eating, wait at least half an hour for your food to digest somewhat. Don’t exercise soon after eating. The “TUMS” brand of antacids has been shown to be safe. Other brands contain aluminium as a preservative agent, which is unsafe for your baby.
Some women refer to this as “all day sickness” as this is one discomfort that ranges from non-existent to severe in different women. Some women don’t get sick at all, some get sick only at certain times of the day at the beginning of pregnancy and some are sick all day and night for the duration of pregnancy (this is rare). Some people will feel nauseous, while others will actually vomit. There is a condition called hyperemesis, where you can not retain any food or fluid and need to be hospitalised for IV fluids (this is quite rare).
Morning sickness is caused by hormones. It is usually more common in the first trimester because the placenta does not make sufficient hormones on it’s own to sustain the growing baby, so your body compensates. This means there is a greater amount of circulating hormones flowing through your whole body, resulting in sickness. Usually symptoms will gradually ease after 12 weeks when the placenta is producing enough hormones to sustain itself. Put it this way, if you’re feeling sick, your body is doing the right thing and your placenta and baby are still growing.
To deal with symptoms, try not to wait too long between meals. This is where morning sickness varies from normal sickness – eating generally makes you feel better, not worse. Some smells can set you off too, you’ll discover what these are, often its food related so it’s a good opportunity to get your partner to do the cooking! Blackmores has a morning sickness tablet that contains garlic and vitamin B6, some people find this effective though I haven’t tried it myself. Vitamin B6 (also called pyridoxine hydrochloride) is sometimes prescribed in higher doses, which is supposed to be useful, even in hyperemesis. Some people swear by ginger beer and dry crackers. For me it was hot chips and red liquorice. Try to eat a cracker before you get out of bed if you find that’s when you feel the most sick. You can try alternative therapies such as reflexology, acupuncture and naturopathy which some women find very helpful.
This is caused by the added weight of the baby, forcing changes to your balance and malposition of your spine. It is made worse by those pesky hormones that loosen your ligaments throughout your body, which causes your spine to become less stable.
Try doing mild exercise regularly to strengthen your back muscles and help keep your spine aligned correctly. Massage and chiropractic therapy can help. Don’t stay in any one position for too long as this can aggravate back pain. Try to get regular rest in a horizontal, well supported position. In severe cases a back brace may be needed.
In pregnancy you have close to a 50% rise in circulating blood volume (to enable enough oxygen and nutrients to travel to the baby). This, coupled with the smooth muscles being relaxed by hormones, results in bulging and expanding of your veins. Haemorrhoids are varicose veins in your anus.
For varicose veins is your legs, avoid crossing your legs and wear support or pressure stockings (available at most chemists). Don’t sit or stand too long in one position. Try to keep your blood pumping well through your body. For hemorrhoids, ensure you drink plenty of water (2-3 litres a day) and eat lots of fruit and veggies. Avoid straining when you open your bowels. Hemorrhoid creams, such as proctosedyl or hirudoid, are safe to use.
Again caused by pregnancy hormones. The hormones slow the peristalsis (movement) of your gut so more fluid is absorbed out of the food and thus your stools are firmer and harder to pass.
To avoid constipation, drink plenty if water and eat lots of high fibre foods (especially fruit and vegetables). Never strain or push, and assume the position of elbows on knees, heels lifted, when passing a stool. You may use a fiber supplement such as metamucil, or a stool softener such as coloxyl and senna.
Pubic symphysis pain
Yep you guessed it, hormones! Relaxin and progesterone help to relax the muscles, ligaments and joints in and around your hips and pelvis to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. The ligaments that join your pubic bones together at the front of your pelvis can become very flexible which makes the bones rub against each other as you move and walk, causing great discomfort. This is why pregnant women get the “waddle”. It is usually worse in subsequent pregnancies. In my second pregnancy I waddled from 12 weeks and was in terrible pain.
You can buy belly bands that are like a tight piece of material that stabilises and holds your pelvis together. Try to keep your knees together, especially when rolling over in bed. You may need to avoid labour positions where your knees are wide open, such as on hands and knees position. Water birth is a great option for women suffering from pubic symphysis pain.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
These can be more common in pregnancy because of the frequency of urination and the pressure placed on your bladder from the baby. UTIs are often undiagnosed in pregnancy as they can be asymptomatic. Always inform your midwife or doctor if you have any burning or stinging when you pass urine, as UTIs can lead to premature labour.
To avoid UTIs drink plenty of water and have excellent hand hygiene when using the bathroom. Cranberry juice has been shown to effectively relieve mild urinary symptoms UTIs they can be treated with antibiotics if necessary.
I never realised how overwhelming pregnancy tiredness was until I experienced it myself. There is almost nothing that compares. I even think it’s worse than having a newborn in some ways. Thankfully it is usually only bad in the first trimester, when you are growing a baby, and the last trimester, when you are carrying quite a big baby.
The only advice for this is rest when you can and rest well. I used to come home from work at 4pm, sleep til dinner at 7, then go back to sleep at 8:30. Survive however best you can, it WILL pass!
This is a tingling, numb or painful sensation in your hands, especially your fingers, caused by swelling in your wrist putting pressure on your carpal tunnel which is the tube that carries the nerves to your thumb and fingers. It is often worse at night.
To alleviate symptoms, try not to sleep on your hands. Change positions when you feel the tingling start. Try using flexed positions rather than wrists curled as this allows the nerves to stretch rather than being blocked. You can buy hand splints from some chemists but you can also try making your own, by placing a ruler lengthways down you arms from your palm, then bandaging it on to stop your wrist from curling.
There are many discomforts of pregnancy, lots of which are caused by hormones that are actually very helpful during labour. Hopefully you are one of the lucky ones who escapes severe symptoms, but if not, try to stay positive, take heart and know that you are suffering now, so that you can experience one of the greatest joys you will ever have in the future!