Common pregnancy complaints
Do take care of yourself at this important time and don't suffer in silence! Help yourself with some of the hints outlined below and seek assistance from your healthcare provider, complementary therapists or specialist physiotherapists. Attending specially supervised pregnancy exercise classes can also help you to keep in shape and feel healthy.
Always seek advice from your healthcare provider before taking any supplements including over the counter herbal preparations. If you are in doubt about taking any medications or supplements, or chemicals in general around the house, please contact Medicines Line.
As your body compensates for the additional weight of your growing baby at the front of your body, a combination of pregnancy hormones causing muscles and ligaments to relax, poor posture and weak abdominal muscles can result in your back muscles over-compensating, causing a dull backache, which can spread to the buttocks and down the legs.
- keep your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles strong by attending regular, specialised pregnancy exercise classes
- don't lift heavy objects, if you can avoid it, but if you do have to lift things (such as your older children), ensure that you use a good technique, bending your knees and keeping your back straight as you lift
- if you have children already, get into the habit of sitting or squatting down at their level to comfort or cuddle them instead of picking them up, or sit on a chair and bring them up onto your lap
- Don't wear high-heeled shoes as these just make your posture worse
A visit to a pregnancy masseur and/or specialist physiotherapist may also help. Any sharp pains should be discussed with your healthcare provider as these may be a sign of other conditions.
As your baby grows, it takes up increasing space inside you. The baby can push up the diaphragm making it more difficult for you to take deep breaths, which you need to do when exercising or exerting yourself.
You can only really avoid breathlessness by taking it easy and avoiding over exertion. If you do get out of breath, sit down until you get your breath back or you run the risk of fainting.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Water retention in later pregnancy can cause pressure to be exerted on the carpel tunnel (a bunch of nerves running down your arm and wrist). This can result in a tingling sensation (or pins and needles) in your thumb and fingers (particularly the first finger).
You can ease the sensation by raising your hands above your head and wriggling your fingers. At night-time, keep your hands raised slightly on pillows. For severe cases, you healthcare provider may prescribe a wrist support or medications.
Hormanal changes during pregnancy can cause mineral and electrolyte levels to fluctuate in the body. These changes can make cramps, which are a sudden painful tightening of the muscle, more likely to occur. Pregnancy cramps most commonly occur in the calf and feet muscles and become more common in the third trimester.
If a cramp occurs, stretch the muscle out and apply firm massage to alleviate the cramp. Don't point your toes that makes things worse!
Discuss any regular cramps with your healthcare provider as they may be a sign of a dietary deficiency.
During pregnancy, hormonal changes result in a relaxing of the gut wall which can make it more difficult for you to move your bowel which in turn can cause constipation.
You can keep constipation at bay by drinking plenty of water, eating a high fibre diet - dried apricots, figs and prunes are great natural fibre providers - and exercising gently and regularly walking is a great help.
Ensure that you go to the toilet as soon as you feel the need too. You need to avoid straining when you go to the toilet or this can then lead to haemorrhoids - see the haemorrhoids section below for the ideal position to use when on the loo!
If necessary, take a fibre supplement from your local pharmacy (check with your healthcare provider first). An excess of iron (particularly from iron supplements) can also cause constipation, however, in this case you will notice a considerable darkening of the stool.
Feeling faint is a sign of a lack of blood flow to the head. When you are pregnant, your body has to work harder than usual to pump increased blood around the body. If you stand for too long, stand up too quickly or over-exert yourself, your blood may not keep up with you resulting in a loss of blood flow to the head and you feeling faint.
Sit or lie down quietly until the feeling passes and take it easy. If symptoms persist and occur often, ensure that you advise your healthcare provider as this may be a sign of other conditions.
Haemorrhoids / Piles
Haemorrhoids (or piles) are varicose veins in the anus. They are caused by relaxation of valves in the veins around the anus during pregnancy, the pressure and weight of the baby and straining because of constipation.
They can be very painful using an iced sanitary towel (wrapped in material) can offer some relief or try a localised anaesthetic cream from your pharmacy (ask your healthcare provider for advice). Otherwise, they need to be treated with surgery after you have completed your family.
The best way to avoid haemorrhoids is to:
- avoid constipation
- use a good positional technique when passing a motion on the toilet to avoid straining (see below)
- wear support stockings
- avoid sitting with crossed legs
OK, so how does this image of Rodin's The Thinker help here. Well I'm not good at drawing so this is a good starting point!
The best position to use when sitting on the toilet to avoid straining is as follows:
- ensure that your knees are slightly higher than your hips either by placing your feet on a small step or by raising onto the balls of your feet
- lean forward at the hips, keeping your back straight
- put your elbows on your knees
- brace to make your waist wide - push into your waist not your bottom
Use this position after the baby too to avoid straining.
During pregnancy your blood volume increases, particularly during the first and second trimesters. It is this increase in blood volume that can cause headaches. They should ease in the third trimester. Paracetamol can be taken (recommended dose only), it is important not to take Ibuprofen during pregnancy.
If headaches continue during the third trimester and get worse, please let your healthcare provider know as this could indicate a blood pressure problem.
The weight of the baby, combined with pregnancy hormones, can cause a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to 'stress incontinence' and general incontinence. 'Stress incontinence' is when you wet yourself slightly when you laugh, cough, jump or sneeze.
To lessen your chances of incontinence, ensure that you keep your pelvic floor muscles strong by practicing regular exercises see your physiotherapist or attend a specialised pregnancy exercise class.
The muscles of the Pelvic floor are extremely important for the support of the internal organs as well as bladder and bowel function. The muscles can become strained and weakened during pregnancy and childbirth, leading to Pelvic floor dysfunction and continence problems (amongst others).
Heartburn is a painful sensation in the upper part of the chest. It occurs when stomach acid rises up the oesophagus (wind-pipe) and causes a burning sensation. It is common during late pregnancy as the baby takes up increasing room and reduces the space available for your stomach. Hormonal changes can also cause a relaxing of the valves between your stomach and wind-pipe which can also increase the likelihood of heartburn.
To lessen the chances of heartburn:
- eat small, regular meals
- avoid fatty, rich or heavily spiced foods
- avoid lying down immediately after meals
- if necessary, sleep propped up on a pillow
Alkaline substances, such as low-fat milk, can help reduce the acidity in your stomach.
Anti-heartburn preparations (antacids) are also available from your local pharmacy discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider before taking any medications.
The causes of morning sickness aren't fully understood, some people never have any sickness at all, whilst others suffer from 'all-day sickness' for virtually the whole of their pregnancy. However, in general, morning sickness strikes in the first trimester from about 8 weeks until 14 weeks.
A drop in blood-sugar is thought to be one of the causes of nausea. As blood sugar levels are often low first thing in the morning when you wake up, this is the most likely time for the nauseous feeling to occur; and hence the name "morning sickness". Others, however, have a natural sugar-low in the afternoon and often feel ill in the evening.
These are strategies for coping and trying to stave off pregnancy nausea:
- eat small regular meals
- eat a couple of dry crackers/dry toast first thing in the morning
- reduce fatty foods
- reduce highly sweetened foods
- eat ginger based products - ginger biscuits, ginger tea, crystallised ginger
- ensure that you drink adequate fluids (preferably water), but drink slowly and avoid too much fluid intake with meals
- salty foods - rice crackers, vegemite toast (without butter), saladas
- icy poles or crushed ice
- fruit tingles
- get plenty of fresh air
- visit a homeopath or acupuncturist
- plan simple, plain meals - or get others to cook for you
- don't lie down immediately after eating
There are medications if things get really, really bad - but if you read some of our viewer stories about morning sickness, the babies always seem to end up healthy and a good weight in the end!
Oedema / Water Retention
During pregnancy there are increased fluid levels in the body. This can present itself as swelling and puffiness, particularly around the feet and ankles. The likelihood of water retention increases towards the end of the pregnancy.
Water retention can be uncomfortable, and you can try and lessen the occurrence and discomfort by:
- avoiding standing for long periods
- resting - with your feet up
- wearing loose clothing
- rings and shoes may become tight
Your health care practioner will check for signs of oedema, particularly swelling around the hands and face, during antenatal visits as it can be sign of pre-eclampsia.
The skin around the abdomen has to stretch during pregnancy to accommodate the growing baby in the uterus. Sometimes the skin fibres weaken as they stretch resulting in red spidery 'stretch marks', which can occur on the abdomen, thighs and breasts. You can try to lessen the likelihood or severity of stretch marks by applying moisturisers or special 'stretch mark' creams during and after your pregnancy.
Pregnancy hormonal changes can cause an inbalance of natural bacterial levels in the body, leaving you more susceptible to a thrush infection.
Thrush is best treated with preparations available from your pharmacy but ensure that your let your pharmacist know that you are pregnant to ensure that you get the correct medication for you.
Hormanal changes that cause a relaxation of the valves within your veins, together with an increased blood volume and the additional weight of the baby can cause irreparable damage to the valves in your veins particularly in your legs, but can also occur in the anus (haemorrhoids) and vulva. The valves in veins are one-way valves allowing blood to travel one-way only. Under pressure, these valves can get damaged and blood pools back behind the vein causing unsightly (and sometimes painful) bumps and bulges.
Take plenty of rest with your legs up and exercise gently to try and reduce the likelihood of developing varicose veins. If necessary, wear support stockings.
Varicose veins can only be treated surgically once they have formed.
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