Pregnancy is filled with a great deal of physical and emotional changes. Some of these changes, especially the physical ones, can cause a great deal of discomfort.
Pregnant women may experience breast changes during pregnancy. This is due to the increase in mammary tissue in preparation for the production of breast milk after the birth of the baby. This increase in tissue may be more pronounced in some women than others. Some women may find their breasts to be excruciatingly sore, while others just find them mildly tender.
To help address the pain that may come with breast changes, it is important to have a good fitting bra, preferably made of natural fibers, such as cotton. It is important to ensure that the bra fits properly. Do not put off adjusting your bra size as the pregnancy continues and the breasts continue to swell, as doing so may cause even more discomfort and pain. Instead, consider purchasing a maternity or nursing bra which may offer more flexibility, or arrange for frequent fittings throughout your pregnancy to ensure a good fit. If soreness is an issue especially at night, considering wearing a supportive bra to bed as well as during the day.
Clean your breasts with warm water only, avoiding soaps, shampoos, lotions and scrubs, as these may irritate the nipples and skin.
If your breasts are leaking colostrum, you may want to consider using nursing pads in your bra to prevent wet spots on your clothing. There are two types of nursing pads; disposable and reusable. Both types suit the purpose well, however, many women find their nipples may become chafed, cracked or sore when using disposable nursing pads because the plastic lining of the pad traps moisture against the nipples, preventing proper air circulation.
Nausea and morning sickness are among the most famous of pregnancy symptoms, yet to many, one of the least pleasant symptoms. This nausea is thought to be the result of major hormonal changes, and is usually resolved by the fourth month of pregnancy, after the body has had time to adjust to the increasing production of pregnancy hormones. Nausea and morning sickness are often worse in the morning (earning itself the nickname of “morning sickness”) due to an empty stomach. The woman may notice her nausea is worse when she has an empty stomach.
Eating small meals throughout the day, as well as several snacks may help ease nausea by preventing the stomach from fully emptying. It is also important to remain hydrated, but refrain from drinking large amounts of fluids in short periods. Instead, sip on clear fluids such as water, apple juice and grape juice. Avoid foods that are spicy, or incredibly strong in odor.
If your nausea is still not improved, you may consider over the counter lozenges known as “Preggie Pops” or “B-Natal Pops.” These lozenges contain high amounts of B-vitamins, which are thought to help control nausea and morning sickness. You may also speak with your caregiver about starting a vitamin B-6 regimen.
If your nausea becomes so extreme that you are unable to keep foods down, or cause you to become dehydrated, call your caregiver immediately. There are medications available that your doctor may use to control your nausea and provide you with very much needed nutrients.
Pregnancy takes a great deal of energy and that expansion of energy can take a toll on a woman’s body, causing her to feel more tired than usual, or extremely fatigued. This is, although unpleasant, completely normal.
Try to maintain a regular schedule that includes a consistent bedtime. Do things at a pace that is comfortable to you, stopping to take a rest when needed. Be sure to get eight hours (or more, depending on your needs) of sleep a night. If possible, take short naps in the afternoon to help alleviate fatigue.
If you are concerned about anemia being the cause of your fatigue, consult with your caregiver as soon as possible.
Many pregnant women find themselves with the urge to use the restroom more than they recall having needed to prior to their pregnancy. This is due in part to the increased size of the uterus placing pressure on the bladder. This discomfort tends to increase in intensity towards the end of the pregnancy and there is little that can be done to alleviate this discomfort.
Ensure that you are wearing loose fitting, cotton underwear to avoid chafing and irritation, which could lead to infection. If you are concerned about leaking urine, considering using pantiliners or pads in case of accidents. If your urine burns, stings, or smells especially foul, be sure to visit with your caregiver to discuss the possibility of a urinary tract or bladder infection, as these infections are more common among pregnant women.
Headaches are common in pregnancy and can be triggered by a large array of factors, such as dehydration, constipation, stress, and high blood pressure. They can occur at any stage of the pregnancy.
Lie quietly in a dimly-lit room and try to relax. Experiment with hot or cold packs at the base of the neck and on the forehead. Ensure that you are adequately hydrated, and consume clear fluids such as water and apple juice frequently. Occasional use of Tylenol is often permitted while pregnant, however, you should discuss its use with your caregiver before deciding to use it.
If you have other symptoms with your headaches, such as blurred vision, high blood pressure, and nausea, contact your caregiver immediately as this could be a sign of preeclampsia, especially in the third trimester.
Dizziness can occur at any point during pregnancy. This dizziness may be caused by dehydration, but may also be causes by the hormone progesterone which causes the blood vessels to dilate, making it more difficult for blood to reach the upper parts of the body when changing positions. Dizziness may also be related to poor eating habits, or even issues with your blood sugar. If you are concerned about your blood sugar, schedule an appointment to see your caregiver as soon as possible.
When resting, try to lie on your left side and avoid switching positions quickly. If you need to switch positions, do so slowly, changing from one position to another, gradually and calmly. Move around often when sitting or standing for long period of time, and eat a well balanced diet to prevent issues with your blood sugar.
Prenatal vitamins coupled with dehydration due to the higher fluid demands of the pregnant body often leave a pregnant woman constipated. Constipation in pregnancy may also be caused by pressure from the uterus onto the rectum as well.
To avoid constipation ensure you are drinking 64 ounces of water a day, as well as two glasses of fruit juice (such as apple or prune) per day. Increase your fiber intake by eating foods rich in fiber, or adding a fiber supplement to your diet. Avoid straining while making a bowel movement. If constipation becomes a more serious issue, discuss the use of laxatives and stool softeners with your caregiver. He or she will know which medications are safe for use during pregnancy.
Hemorrhoids appear as swollen veins on the anus. They can be quite uncomfortable and cause pain, and even bleeding. Hemorrhoids are thought to be caused by the increase in pelvic pressure, as well as the increase of blood volume during pregnancy.
Avoid constipation, following all of the tips to alleviate and prevent constipation as constipation may make hemorrhoids worse, and even more painful. Do not strain during a bowel movement. Try to change positions frequently, as remaining in one position may irritate or make hemorrhoids worsen. If hemorrhoids are causing a great deal of pain, ice packs to the anus or a warm bath several times a day may provide temporary relief. If the hemorrhoids continue to worsen or do not improve, schedule an appointment to discuss possible treatment options.
Bleeding & Swollen Gums
The increase of blood volume in a pregnant woman’s body, coupled with specific hormones can cause the gums to become swollen, inflamed and irritated. Brushing your teeth may leave your mouth feeling raw, and even bleeding.
Do not stop brushing or flossing your teeth because of bleeding or gum pain. It is important to keep up with your oral hygiene. If brushing is painful, consider using a child’s toothbrush or other softer toothbrushes, that may be less irritating to the tissue. Continue regular dental care, and if you are concerned with your teeth and gums, discuss these concerns with your dental provider.
Many women, when pregnant, find that they must change their sleep positions. Changing sleep positions is a hard habit to break and can be uncomfortable and even stressful, however, sleeping on your back may cause the weight of the baby to cut off proper circulation through your body, and sleeping on your stomach can be quite uncomfortable.
Getting a bedtime routine down can help you when it comes to winding down for the evening. Try drinking warm milk, or if you’re not a fan, add some flavoring, like mint, to the milk and make it an at-home-steamer. Avoid taking sleep medications, including over-the-counter sleep medications, unless instructed to by your caregiver. When sleeping, try to lie on your left side, as this provides optimum circulation. If lying on your side is uncomfortable, try using a body pillow under your arms and between your legs. If you do not have a body pillow, use several pillows, placing one under your arms, one between your knees, and one behind your back.
Heartburn & Indigestion
Heartburn and indigestion are a common plague of pregnancy, and can be quite uncomfortable, starting as a burning in the stomach that rises into the throat. Heartburn and indigestion can be caused by eating certain types of foods, however, many times it is unavoidable due to the hormonal changes in pregnancy, and the uterus compressing the stomach, possibly pushing acids and digestive juices further up than they should be.
Instead of eating large meals, eat small meals, frequently throughout the day. Make sure you eat slowly, as eating too fast may contribute to the occurrence of heartburn and indigestion. Drinking warm liquids, such as a tea, warm milk and hot cocoa may help prevent heart burn. Avoid lying down immediately after eating. If you must lie down after eating, try to keep your head elevated above your feet, in a semi-reclining position. If heartburn persists, you may be able to take over-the-counter medications like Tums of Maalox, however, before using these medications you should always discuss their use with your caregiver.
Varicose veins are swollen and extruding veins, most commonly found on the thighs. Varicose veins are usually hereditary, but can be brought on by the increase of blood volume and the pressure of your expanding belly on the circulatory system.
Moving often and changing positions can help encourage healthy blood flow which may prevent varicose veins. Avoid positions that may cut off or discourage proper circulation, such as crossing your legs. Avoid tight fitting underwear, socks and pantyhose. When lying down, try to slightly elevate the feet to promote better circulation.
Backaches are common in pregnancy and are often the result of the excess weight being carried on your frame. It may be intensified by poor posture, and less-than-ideal sleeping positions.
Try to wear low-heeled shoes (but not flat) and avoid wearing shoes with higher heels. It may be a good idea to consider investing in a good pair of tennis shoes with proper arch support, and a very slight height in the sole of the heel area. Avoid standing or on your feet for long periods of time as this may contribute to backache. When sitting, sit with proper posture in a chair with good back support, or place a pillow at your lower back. Avoid lifting heavy objects, however, if you must, be sure to bend with your knees and not your back, squatting to lift. Always maintain proper posture.
Make sure you are sleeping on a semi-firm to firm mattress, placing a board between the mattress and box spring if necessary. When resting or sleeping, lie on your left side to promote healthy circulation and use a pillow under your arms, between your knees and behind your back for extra support.
If your back continues to hurt, try taking warm baths, showers or use a hot pack to provide relief to the area. If the ache continues to be a problem, speak with your care provider about possible treatments and suggestions to alleviate the problem.
If your backache radiates from your lower back around to the front of the abdomen, contact your caregiver immediately as this may be a sign of premature labor.
The pressure of a rapidly expanding belly on the legs can result in painful and uncomfortable leg cramps.
One of the most common causes of cramps is a lack of calcium in the body. Ensure that you are getting the proper amount of calcium from your diet, and if you feel it is necessary, discuss the use of calcium supplements with your caregiver.
Getting regular exercise may help prevent cramps as well. Be careful to wear low-heel or no-heel shoes, as during pregnancy, high heels can be quite uncomfortable and even painful on a pregnant woman’s body. Be sure to stretch your arms and legs slowly before you get out of bed, and again before you go to bed. While sleeping, try to lay on your left side, rather than on your back, as lying on your back may constrict blood flow to the legs and cause cramping.
If you have a cramp, try to stretch the leg slowly, pointing the toe away from yourself (like the foot of a ballerina) and then pulling it back toward yourself. Use gentle massage or a hot pack to treat the cramp.
Swollen Feet & Legs
The increase of weight and pressure in the abdomen from your rapidly growing uterus may affect the effectiveness of your circulatory system, causing it to slow down. This in turn, may result in water retention and poor circulation in the legs and feet, leading them to swell, this is called edema.
Avoid excess sodium in your diet, however, make sure to eat enough protein as too little protein may cause you to retain water. Make sure you are drinking 64 ounces of water per day.
Avoid standing in one place, or being on your feet too long. This may encourage swelling. Make sure to change positions frequently, and try to elevate the feet and legs when possible, especially while sitting. Avoid crossing your legs as this may discourage proper circulation. Lie on your side when resting to help promote better circulation to the kidneys, which are responsible for fluid elimination from the body. Wear loose fitting non-constricting clothing.
Pregnancy is known to commonly cause dried out sinuses and dry nasal passages. This is partly due to the hormones related to pregnancy. The nasal passages may become inflamed and swollen causing the woman to feel as though she has a nasal cold.
Avoid using nasal sprays and they may irritate the nasal passages even more. Ensure you are drinking an adequate amount of fluids (64 ounces of water per day) to help thin out the nasal mucous and secretions. Consider using a vaporizer to add moisture to the air and elevate your head while sleeping to avoid the mucous secretions from migrating to your throat, making it difficult to breathe.
Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath is a very common symptom of pregnancy, especially in the later months of pregnancy. This shortness of breath is often caused by the expansion of the uterus pressing up into the lungs, preventing them from being able to expand fully.
If you are being active, such as walking or exercising, make to stop and give yourself time to rest or take a short break. If you feel the need to really catch your breath, raise your arms over your head. Raising the arms lifts the ribcage up, allowing you to take fuller and deeper breaths than you are able to with your arms down. Avoid lying on your back when sleeping or resting. Not only can lying on your back affect the circulation throughout your body, but it can constrict the movement of the lungs, making deeper breathing more laborious and difficult.
Stretch marks show themselves as red lines on the skin. These marks are commonly found on the hips, buttocks and stomach of a pregnant woman. The lines are the result of tears in the lower levels of skin (which are not penetrable by lotions or oils). Stretch marks are thought to be hereditary and are not preventable. Although unsightly, they cause no real damage, but may itch, and gradually fade after pregnancy.
Make sure to eat a diet rich in vitamin E and vitamin C, which are essential for healthy skin. Exercise often, and use lotions and skin creams like vitamin E lotion or cocoa butter to help alleviate itchy and dry skin. Lotions will not prevent stretch marks, but they may help address any discomfort that may come with them such as burning or itching.
Vaginal discharge is often increased during pregnancy. This is partly due to hormones, and to the increased blood supply during pregnancy. When observing discharge, normal discharge should be clear or white, odorless, and should not irritate.
Be sure to choose loose-fitting underwear made with natural fibers, such as cotton or bamboo and avoid tight fitting pantyhose or jeans, as constricting clothing may cause vaginal irritation. The vaginal area should be cleaned with a mild soap and warm water. Do not douche, as it is possible to introduce infection, or introduce an air bubble into your circulatory system, or possibly break your bag of waters, if you are further along.
If vaginal discharge is discolored, burning, itching, or smells foul, schedule an appointment to see your caregiver to discuss the possibility of treatment for a vaginal infection, such as a yeast infection or bacterial infection. If you have not been checked for sexually transmitted diseases, it may be a good idea to ask your doctor to test you,
Abdominal Pain & Discomfort
Abdominal pain is common, particularly in early pregnancy when the round ligaments are just beginning to stretch out, and at the end of pregnancy, when there is little room left to stretch out. These pains may be incredibly sharp, and caused by the tissues responsible for supporting your expanding girth. These pains may continue down your thighs and may even affect your back.
Ensure you are properly hydrated. Not having enough fluids in the body can cause pain and discomfort, especially in pregnant women. Change positions and activities slowly, being careful not to make sharp and sudden movements as this may trigger pain in the abdomen. If you experience a sharp, sudden pain, bend forward to the central point of pain to try to help relieve pain and release tension.
Taking Tylenol occasionally may help these sharp pains if they are frequent, however, always discuss the use of medications, even over-the-counter medications with your caregiver before taking. Taking a warm shower or bath, or using a hot water bottle on the affected area may help relax the muscle and tissue. Massaging the area gently but deeply may also help relieve the pain.
If you have sharp abdominal pain and discomfort that is extreme, or doesn’t go away, especially with other signs of labor, call your caregiver immediately as this could be a sign of labor, or if you are earlier than 37 weeks, premature labor.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions are not true contractions, rather they are “practice” contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions are your body’s way of preparing for labor, beginning dilation and effacement of the cervix, and toning the uterus for the hard work of labor. These contractions although usually only slightly uncomfortable, may be extremely painful and feel very much like the real thing, however, Braxton Hicks contractions generally have no real pattern, frequency and vary in intensity.
When experiencing an uncomfortable or painful contraction, try to relax, making to inhale and exhale deeply, just as you would in true labor. Changing positions may also help ease these contractions and taking a warm bath or sleeping may eliminate them completely.
If the contractions continue, and gain in speed and intensity, you may be in true labor and should call your care provider or go to your birthing place to be examined. If you are less than 37 weeks, and have four or more strong contractions with an hour, you should be seen immediately as this may be a sign of premature labor.