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Common pregnancy complaints

Your body changes and is affected by hormones when you are expecting a child. The changes are necessary so that the baby in your womb can grow and develop. But the changing hormone balances can be troublesome and affect expectant mothers in different ways.

Some women don’t notice any changes at all, while others have complaints that come and go. For some women the complaints last all throughout their pregnancy. Here is a summary of the most common symptoms that most women experience at some point during their pregnancy.

Nausea

Nausea, or morning sickness, is a very common complaint. It usually starts at some point after the fourth week when the pregnancy hormones increase. Nausea is often worst between weeks seven and ten, and then subsides between weeks 12 and 14. Some women feel slightly nauseous, especially in the morning, while others really suffer and even vomit several times a day for a while. A few women continue to feel ill and vomit all throughout their pregnancy, and this is called severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum. If you suffer from severe morning sickness and persistent vomiting, you may be admitted to the hospital to receive fluids through an IV. Talk to your health care provider if you have severe symptoms.

You may find it reassuring to know that the body always ensures that the baby gets the nutrition it needs to develop. You don’t need to worry about the baby being affected if you vomit.

While there are no guaranteed cures for nausea, there are many home remedies that are worth trying as they have helped many women manage their symptoms. Here are som tips:

  • If the nausea is worst in the morning, it may help to eat something before you get out of bed
  • Eat small portions of food often
  • Avoid strong smells as these can increase feelings of nausea
  • Try acupuncture, an alternative medicine form that works for some people.

If you vomit, it’s important that you drink enough fluids to prevent dehydration. Take it easy and try to avoid stress. Always consult your health care provider before taking any medication for morning sickness.

Fatigue

Lots of expectant mothers feel a tiredness that has nothing to do with lack of sleep. It’s often worst at the beginning of the pregnancy when the hormonal changes are the most evident. You might need to plan a few breaks during the day in order to make it through the day and work during this period.

For some women, fatigue combined with nausea is very troublesome. It may comfort you to know that the worst fatigue is usually followed by a more energetic period in the second trimester. Towards the end of the pregnancy, tiredness is due to the extra weight from the womb and you may have problems sleeping. As your belly grows, it can be a challenge to find a comfortable sleeping position.

Iron deficiency (anemia) can also cause tiredness. Consult with your health care provider about taking iron supplements.

Constipation

Digestive problems and constipation are common pregnancy complaints. This is because the colon expands and works more slowly due to the pregnancy hormone progesterone. Taking iron supplements during pregnancy may also cause constipation. Eating a high-fiber diet that includes lots of vegetables and whole wheat can help but remember to drink lots of water too. Exercise in the form of walking, water aerobics, yoga or dance can also help your digestive tract to work better.

Heartburn

Lots of expectant mothers suffer from acid reflux and heartburn. This is because muscles that we cannot consciously control, relax slightly during pregnancy. The valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach and stops gastric acid from seeping back up the throat is one such muscle. To prevent or relieve heartburn, avoid very fatty, spicy or smoked foods. You can also try to cut back on coffee and eat smaller meals more often. Avoid lying down or bending over straight after eating.

You can also find over-the-counter drugs that may help. Talk to your health care provider about which antacids are suitable for expectant mothers.

Backache

As your uterus becomes heavier, the strain increases on your muscles, joints and ligaments, especially in the back and pelvis area. Lots of expectant mothers arch their back more as their belly grows, which puts extra strain on the lower back muscles. You may notice it as a pain in your back that gets worse during the latter part of your pregnancy.

If you have back problems, taking short rests may make you feel more comfortable and help you make it through the day. Lying on your side, with your legs bent and a pillow between your legs and feet, usually feels nice and relaxing. The right type of exercise can prevent back pain because strong muscles are more able to cope with the increased strain.

Urinary tract disorders

Feeling like you need to urinate and running to the bathroom more often are not necessarily a sign that anything is wrong. Urine production increases during pregnancy, and the growing womb puts pressure on your bladder.

When you are pregnant, the risk of suffering from a urinary tract infection is somewhat higher than normal. Left untreated, an infection can cause premature contractions and, in the worst case, preterm labor. It is therefore important to get the right treatment for any infections. Contact your health care provider if you need to pee more frequently or if you feel burning or pain in your lower belly.

Dental problems

During pregnancy the mucous membranes in your mouth swell, and your saliva changes. Your resistance to bacteria also decreases, which can result in gum inflammation and cavities. Increased sugar cravings and eating more frequently (which often helps with nausea) increase your risk of tooth decay further. You should therefore be even more careful about oral hygiene during pregnancy. Use toothpaste with fluoride, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash, and remember to floss. During pregnancy your gums may bleed easily when you brush your teeth. If this happens, try to brush more gently.

Nasal congestion

During pregnancy, the amount of blood in the body increases, causing the mucous membranes to swell, become thicker and even bleed more easily. The mucous membranes in your nose, mouth and vagina are affected.

For example, you may suffer from a stuffy nose or nosebleeds. If your nose is congested, use a saline nasal spray. This is preferable to over-the-counter nose drops that can actually make the problem worse if used more than one week. Many pregnant women suffer for several months which is why saline is preferable (the other drops are good for a shorter cold, for example).

The swelling in your nose often becomes worse when you lie down, and it is common to snore more during pregnancy. Try elevating your head with a couple of extra pillows if you have problems with snoring.

Swollen legs and feet

Your legs, feet and hands may swell easily because you carry more fluid when you are expecting. Any extra fluid collects at the extremities of your arms and legs. The bigger your belly gets, the harder it can be to put on your shoes or wear rings. The symptoms are often worse after a long day at work or in the summer when the weather is warm. The swelling goes down if you wear compression stockings or rest with your legs raised. If you wear compression stockings, put them on early in the morning before the fluid has accumulated in your legs.

Vaginal discharge

Abundant vaginal discharge is common in pregnancy and is due to increased blood flow to the tissues inside your vagina, which discharges fluid more easily. The discharge is usually milky white and has no particular smell. However, itching, burning or a strong odor may be a sign of infection. If you have any such symptoms, contact your health care provider.

Problems sleeping

Nighttime sleep is often affected as your belly grows, and many women wake up frequently which leaves them feeling tired. It is common to make more trips to the bathroom, and back and pelvis pain may cause you to change your sleeping position often. Sleeping on your side is usually the most comfortable. Use lots of pillows and make sure your bedroom isn’t too hot. If your nighttime sleep is very affected, try to take short naps to make up for lost sleep at night.

Vaginal bleeding

Bleeding from your vagina in early pregnancy may be alarming, but light bleeding does not necessarily mean that something is wrong.

There are several reasons why you might experience bleeding during pregnancy—swollen mucous membranes, mild uterine bleeding, the placenta is lying low in the uterus (known as low-lying placenta or placenta previa), vaginal infections or miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur before week 12, and some women haven’t even realized they are pregnant, and interpret the bleeding as a regular period.

However, you should always contact your health care provider if you experience pain at the same time as bleeding, or if there is a large amount of blood. Get medical care immediately if you experience vaginal bleeding during the second trimester.

Varicose veins

Pregnancy puts extra strain on your veins, the vessels that carry the blood back to your heart. The muscular walls of your blood vessels relax during pregnancy, causing blood to pool and the vessels to swell, while the pressure on veins increases. A vein that is unusually swollen is called a varicose vein. Varicose veins are most common on the legs and calves, but they also occur around the vagina.

Compression stockings may relieve symptoms because they facilitate blood circulation in the body. You can also prevent swelling and make your legs feel lighter by regularly putting your legs up on a chair or a pillow on the couch. Some varicose veins completely disappear after pregnancy.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are a common complaint that can be a nuisance but are usually harmless. Symptoms of hemorrhoids include bleeding, burning or itching around the anus. Constipation during pregnancy often makes the symptoms worse. Wash your bottom with water after going to the toilet and gently pat the area dry. For severe discomfort, medicine is available to alleviate the pain and reduce itching, but always consult your health care provider.

Dizziness

Dizziness is common, especially at the beginning of pregnancy as blood pressure is often low then. This is partly because the blood is diluted, and partly because the hormone progesterone causes the vascular walls to relax. If your blood pressure is very low, you may feel dizzy, particularly if you stand up quickly or after sitting for a long time. Dizziness can also be caused by a severe iron deficiency. Your symptoms might improve if you take iron supplements.

You may also feel dizzy when you lie on your back—as if you are going to faint—because the heavy uterus weighs down and presses on a large blood vessel called the vena cava. This is known as vena cava syndrome. You can avoid this by not lying flat on your back.

Pre-eclampsia

During the second half of your pregnancy your blood pressure rises again. If it gets too high, it can be a sign of pre-eclampsia. This is not a common pregnancy complaint, but it is important to recognize the symptoms. If you have pre-eclampsia, you may have some of the following symptoms:

  • headache
  • vision changes
  • pain below your right ribcage
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sudden swelling of your hands, feet or face
  • feeling generally unwell

Pre-eclampsia is when you become hypersensitive and react to particles from the child and the placenta. The condition is usually discovered during a routine blood test. Most women who suffer from pre-eclampsia have a mild form that can be treated, but some may need to be admitted to the hospital for emergency care. Contact your health care provider if you have one or more of the symptoms listed above.

Skin changes

The pregnancy hormones affect the elastic tissue in the skin, and pink, red or purplish streaks often appear as the skin stretches. These are called stretch marks and often appear on the belly, breasts and thighs. Stretch marks fade after birth and become a silvery-gray, but they don’t usually disappear completely. You may also get more pigmentation in your skin during pregnancy and get brown patches on your face and body. You increase the risk of brown patches when you expose your skin to the sun, so be careful and take steps to protect you from the sun.

Source: - Myles Textbook for Midwives 16th edition Jayne Marshall Maureen Raynor