Pregnancy Pains: Dealing with the Not-so-Awesome Stuff

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Being pregnant is exciting and joyful, except for the discomfort, aches, and weird body changes. Learn how to deal with all of it, for a much smoother pregnancy.

Nausea / Vomiting

More than half of pregnant women deal with morning sickness, although it can occur anytime of the day, usually in the first trimester, between the 6th and 12th weeks. Many women deal with nausea and vomiting throughout their entire pregnancy, leading to a miserable experience. To prevent vomiting, try eating crackers a few minutes before getting out of bed in the morning. Eating smaller meals throughout the day should also help, and delaying a nap immediately following a meal can help to start the digestion process. Avoid spicy foods that could irritate the stomach. Drink fluids at least a half an hour before meals, but avoid anything to drink while eating. This will keep the consistency of the food in your belly thick, and prevent anything from coming up. Drink water and ginger tea, get plenty of rest, and exercise. All of these things help to alleviate nausea. Most importantly, avoid eating or smelling anything odorous, like fish or foods heavy in spice. If you still can’t keep anything down, and vomiting is becoming unbearable, see a doctor. They can make sure there aren’t any worrisome causes, and can prescribe you with anti-nausea medication that can help.

Joint Pain / Carpal Tunnel

There are many things that can cause joint pain during pregnancy. First, the weight gain can put extra stress on the joints, leading to inflammation. This inflammation can also be caused by excess fluid build up in the lower extremities and the joints. Try to keep off your feet as much as possible, and elevate your legs whenever possible to help take the stress off those knees and feet. Hypothyroidism can also lead to joint pain, although initial lab tests taken early in a pregnancy usually rule out this possible diagnosis right away, so this condition will rarely catch someone by surprise. It is also common to develop carpal tunnel, but like many other ailments, it usually subsides after delivery. Increased fluid retention mixed with hormones, paired with any repetitive use of the hands and wrists, can lead to worsening symptoms. Refrain from strenuous activity using the hands, or take precaution using ergonomic solutions to help wrist posture. Carpal tunnel tends to be worse at night when the fluid moves from the lower extremities upward, so to prevent it, sleep with the hands elevated on a pillow. If necessary, use your doctor’s recommended NSAIDs for pain relief.

Back Pain / Sciatica

Back pain is a common ailment among pregnant women. The extra weight carried around puts stress on the back muscles and can cause significant posture changes. Hormones and stress can also cause back pain. The weight gain and the shifting placement of internal workings can push into the nerves of the back, leading to sciatica or other nervous conditions. Fortunately, the pain will most likely subside after birth, and the body will gradually go back to normal. There are ways to ease up on the pain to make it more bearable. Exercise can help strengthen the back muscles and increase flexibility. Talk to a physical trainer or a doctor about what types of exercise are best for this type of pain and safe for keeping that precious cargo safe. Heat or cold compresses can also be effective. Start with an ice pack a few times a day to reduce swelling, then switch to heat after a few days. Taking a warm bath (taking care not to submerse the belly) can relax the muscles. If the pain is still prevalent, consider a chiropractor or an acupuncturist. Lastly, avoid bending over, wearing high-heels, or sleeping on your back.

Indigestion / Heartburn

Many women experience heartburn, often for the first time, during pregnancy. Hormones released by the placenta relax many muscles in the body, including the lower esophageal sphincter which separates the stomach and esophagus, resulting in stomach acid that creeps up toward the throat, and can be quite unpleasant. The hormones also slow down digestion, causing the food to sit in your stomach longer, increasing the heartburn even more. The second and third trimesters are usually worse, as the baby pushes up against the organs in the abdominal cavity, pushing the acids up as well.

 
Morning sickness affects about half of pregnant women

There are many ways to treat heartburn, although it is likely to be a daily battle until delivery. Avoid foods that trigger excess bile production or distress, like spicy or acidic foods, caffeine, processed meats, high-fat or fried foods, carbonated drinks, or chocolate. Although dairy products seem to relieve the pain, it doesn’t take long for the acids to break down the milk and turn acidic, making the heartburn worse very quickly. Don’t eat before lying down, and try sleeping elevated. Also, keep your meals smaller and more frequent, and don’t drink a lot of fluids during meals, because this will top-off your stomach and lead to more spill-out. Drink plenty of water between meals rather than during. Avoid smoking (which you should not be doing anyway), because this can stimulate your stomach to produce more acid. The best treatment is to stock up on antacids that are high in magnesium or calcium, but low in aluminum, aspirin, and sodium. Sometimes, doctors may prescribe medications to help, but many are unsafe for pregnant women.

Constipation / Diarrhea

The same hormones that cause heartburn and muscle relaxation during pregnancy can cause other sections of the gastrointestinal tract to act differently. Many women find themselves running to the bathroom frequently with diarrhea or are unable to make a bowel movement at all. Pay close attention to your diet. Eat healthy foods, and increase the intake of fiber. Also, drink a lot of water. This will help keep your bowel movements regular, and decrease the chances of either extreme. Also, medications and vitamin supplements are high in iron, sometimes leading to constipation. If this is the case, have your doctor prescribe you a low-dose stool softener.

Hemorrhoids

This is common among women who have had constipation. Pushing too hard to pass a bowel movement can lead to blood vessels becoming swollen, and pushing their way out near the surface of the anus. The area can become itchy and painful and will sometimes create bloody stools. Avoiding constipation is the first part of the battle against hemorrhoids. Eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of fluids, paired with adequate stool softeners can help alleviate the need to push so hard. Practice your kegel exercises. Not only will they help to strengthen the vaginal canal in preparation for birth, but they can keep your bottom strong and prevent the muscles from being weak or swollen. Don’t stay in one place too long. Sitting all day can put a strain on the muscles and veins in your bum and inhibit pooling. If you must sit most of the day, change positions frequently, and take breaks to get up and walk around to keep the blood flowing. Use medicated wipes like Tucks, which use Witch Hazel to help soothe the hemorrhoids, and avoid pushing too hard to release the clog. Usually, bowel movements return to normal within a few weeks or months post-partum, as long as a proper diet is being maintained.

Swelling

Swelling in the extremities during pregnancy is very common in the feet, legs, ankles, face, and hands. The body naturally retains more water and blood to prepare for the growth of a healthy baby. The extra fluids help the pelvic area expand to assist in making room for that growing bundle of joy to make its departure. Changes in body chemistry and other factors sometimes shift the fluid into the extremities, causing swelling and sometimes pain. This can also happen if you stand for long periods of time, intake high amounts of caffeine and sodium or low amounts of potassium, or if the seasons are bringing high heat. While slight or gradual swelling is normal, sudden or intense swelling could be a sign of preeclampsia and should be brought up with a doctor immediately. To alleviate swelling and pain, lay with your feet elevated often throughout the day. It may be helpful to invest in support socks or stockings, and avoid wearing high heels. Try to keep off your feet for long periods of time, and rest often. Try using a cold compress to lower swelling, drink plenty of water, and limit your salt/sodium intake. The swelling can be a major pain-in-the foot, especially when you can’t fit into those cute new flats, but you can look forward to the swelling going away within a few days post-partum.

Cramping / Contractions

For feet varicose veins, try laying on your left side.

Cramping throughout pregnancy is a common complaint and not necessarily a sign of something gone wrong. Round ligament pain can happen as the muscles in the uterus expand, in preparation for the growing fetus, a common and harmless problem. Many times cramping can be as simple as constipation or gas. In rare cases however, it could be a sign of something more serious, like ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, placental abruption, or preeclampsia. Commonly with these problems, the pain is localized, and accompanied by drainage of blood or other discharge, and possibly a spike in body temperature or blood pressure. Also, it can often progress from cramping to stabbing-like pain. Sometimes, women have contractions caused by pre-term labor or experience Braxton-Hicks contractions. These types of cramps are more severe than common pregnancy cramping, and without monitoring and control, could potentially lead to early birth. If the cramping comes in waves of tightness and pain that lasts for a minute or longer, coming a few minutes apart, call your doctor or go to a hospital immediately. Any pain or cramping that is constant, stabbing, excruciating, or accompanied by discharge of any kind should be checked out by a doctor ASAP. There are numerous possibilities, both good and bad that could cause this pain, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Don’t try to diagnose yourself, and allow yourself to remain calm. The doctor should be able to suggest the best type of treatment based on the condition, if necessary.

Sleep Disruption

Sleep disruption is common among pregnant women, and while they need to anticipate the lack of sleep in the future, it’s important to get plenty of it now. From pregnancy through the years following, women learn how to cope with daily life on minimal sleep. Frequent urges to use the restroom get women running to the bathroom more and more often as the months progress. Heartburn and belly tightness, as well as a lively fetus using the liver as a soccer ball, keep women awake constantly. The best way to help tackle the night-time insomnia is to avoid naps during the day. Try drinking non-caffeinated tea, taking a warm bath (without submersing the belly), or trying doctor prescribed sleep aids. Maintaining a good diet, staying hydrated, and exercising can also help to ensure a good night’s rest. Try not to drink too much liquid before bed to cut back on a full bladder, and prop yourself up with a few pillows to promote good breathing and comfort. A good night’s rest will help keep you and baby healthy and keep emotional health high as well.

Weight Gain / Cravings

Most women crave something during pregnancy, and commonly, it’s strange. Some women notice they are suddenly having a hankering for anchovies in their mint chocolate chip ice cream, while some women notice they suddenly have lost their taste for salads with their favorite blue cheese dressing. Every woman has different cravings, but one thing they practically all have in common is the fear of turning into a whale by the time they give birth. While some people theorize that women crave what they are lacking in nutrients, others are skeptical, arguing that no one could possibly be craving the nutrients contained in a brownie fudge sundae, or worse, a handful of dirt. Wait, did you just say dirt? Yes, dirt. Some women crave dirt, cigarette butts, or laundry starch, and as incredibly unhealthy and dangerous as this could be, women do try to consume this stuff. This condition is known as pica and is thought to be related to an iron deficiency. If you are craving anything other than traditional food, talk to your doctor. There may be a bit of truth to the lack of nutrients leading to cravings, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to over-indulge in anything sweet, savory or sudsy. When you are craving that apple pie a-la-mode, consider eating just an apple, and ditch the sugar. It may be that you want the fruit, and the pie just sounds good. If you just want that slice of pie, try going for a walk instead, or calling a friend. Try to distract your brain from thinking about delicacies. To prevent random bouts of hunger and snacking, eat a large early morning meal, as this can help you stay full and may prevent the urge to splurge. Make sure you are taking multi-vitamins, that can help to ward off the need to supplement in excess food. Most importantly, allow yourself a treat once a day, but keep it small. Giving in every so often will help you keep control and makes it easier to keep that urge from building up until you break, and race to the buffet line. Pay close attention to what you are putting in your body. You are not just feeding yourself, but your little one too. And remember, if you want to fit into those jeans from before you got pregnant, stay strong in your quest for health.

Lack Of Appetite

This happens to a lot of women too, for a number of reasons. Some women become nauseated so often in their pregnancy, they can’t fathom eating often due to the fear of getting sick. Also, as the baby grows larger, typically around the third trimester, it pushes up on the stomach leaving little room for food. In such cases, eat smaller meals more frequently, and make sure they are high in nutrients. Foods high in fiber tend to keep you full longer, are usually loaded with good vitamins and minerals, and don’t easily come back up.

Varicose Veins

One of the many “joys” of pregnancy is varicose veins. These unsightly veins are purple or bluish in color, sometimes squiggly, and can be seen pushing through the skin in the legs. They can be itchy, throbbing, or feel like they are burning; but some women don’t feel them at all. They are caused when the growing uterus presses on the inferior vena cava, a large vein that runs along the right side of the body and puts pressure on the veins of the legs. Paired with the increased amount of blood in your veins and the relaxing of the walls of the vessels, the veins swell and push outward toward the skin. The best treatment is to take the strain off your legs by elevating your legs as much as possible and by wearing good quality support hose. It also helps to sleep on your left side, decreasing the pressure on the vena cava. Make sure you are staying within the recommended weight range for your stage of pregnancy, and get plenty of exercise to maintain healthy circulation.

Abdominal Itchiness / Stretch Marks / Skin Changes / Linea Negra

With skin stretching to the extreme, it is no wonder why your belly becomes so itchy. Fight the urge to scratch it, and massage your belly with a good quality cocoa butter or moisturizing lotion several times a day, especially after bathing. This will also help to battle against stretch marks and other skin changes. Some women may have acne caused by increased hormones, which can be treated with a strict cleaning regimen for your face.

Stretch marks are a common complaint of an expanding belly. Keep it hydrated and elastic with cocoa butter.

Many skin cleansers contain chemicals that are not safe for pregnant women, so talk to your doctor about recommended treatment. It is also common to get what is known as the mask of pregnancy, which are dark splotchy spots all over the face. This is mainly caused by the increased sensitivity of your skin being exposed to the sun. Use a high SPF sunscreen and wear a hat to prevent the spots from continuing to grow. In some women, Linea Negra becomes apparent, which is a brown colored line that runs from the navel to the pubic bone. There is no treatment for Linea Negra, but it will fade post-partum.

Mood Swings

Mood swings are confusing for moms-to-be and even more frustrating to their partners. Many women go from very happy and excited about the birth of their new baby, to depressed, anxious, or scared very quickly. It is caused from the flood of hormones surging through the body, but it does not mean that mom is going crazy, even though she may feel that way. Pregnancy is an emotional roller-coaster ride that never seems to stop for a break and may continue into post-partum. To fight the mood swings, go have some fun with a partner or your other children, and take the time to pamper yourself. Talk about your concerns with someone who will listen. If your family has a hard time understanding your concerns, consider talking with a counselor. They are there to listen and offer solutions. Find ways to decompress, get plenty of rest, and eat well. Nesting and preparing your home for your new inbound family member could also be a way to focus on the positive and give you something productive to do. If you just can’t seem to shake the depressed or anxious feelings, see a professional. You may be suffering from common emotional disorders that may or may not extend after pregnancy. They may be able to help with medication or other treatments to help you keep on track with your wellness, and help you to stay happy and healthy. Most importantly, take time to relax. There is always time to do things around the house and run errands. Focus on keeping yourself and your baby healthy and happy.

Frequent Urination / Incontinence

If you feel the need to rush to the bathroom every 20 minutes, or if you leak whenever you cough or laugh, you are not alone. Many women experience these problems during pregnancy, and afterwards, due to a number of reasons. First, the weight of the baby and other fluids pushed on the bladder are essentially squeezing the urine out of your body. The sphincter muscle that keeps urine from leaking becomes weakened or damaged, leading to emergencies. Also, the increased amount of retained fluid and potentially elevated levels of consumed liquids fill your bladder more often than your body may be accustomed. Try using the bathroom frequently to avoid leaks. It may help to keep a well-documented calendar of bathroom breaks and accidents, to help you become more aware of when you are most likely to go, before it takes you by surprise. Practice your Kegels. This can help to firm up your bladder and urethra muscles, causing less leakage.

Spotting / Discharge

Even though the reasons for spotting or discharge could be minor or nothing at all, it is best to go see your doctor immediately after any bleeding to rule out any complications, even if the bleeding has stopped. While there are many reasons for bleeding that are not threatening, like sex, pap smears, or other exams, it could be a sign of something more serious. There could be an infection, problems in the placenta, preterm labor, or a miscarriage. It is also possible you are nearing labor, even if you are far from your due date. Don’t panic, stay calm, and call your doctor. If they are not available, go to an emergency room. It will often turn out to be nothing at all, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Follow the doctor’s orders to a T for any treatments offered, as they may help prevent any future episodes or scares.

Bloody Show / Mucous Plug / Water Breaking

Bloody show or a mucous plug is a sign that labor is nearing. Not all women notice the loss of their mucous plug, just as many do not experience their water breaking before labor begins. The mucous plug is a thick membrane that plugs the opening of the cervix and falls out as the cervix starts to open up in preparation for labor. It may be thick and speckled with blood. When you lose your mucous plug, it means labor is near, but doctor’s won’t likely induce labor. When the water breaks, the sac that encases the baby tears open, leaking amniotic fluid. Sometimes the tear is large, and the water gushes out in large quantities, while sometimes it is a slow trickle. Once the amniotic sac is ruptured, labor is induced and the baby needs to come out within 24 hours, early or not. There is no way to patch the tear. If your water breaks or you notice your mucous plug or bloody show, contact your doctor.

Breast Tenderness /Cracked Nipples

As the breasts grow to sometimes monstrous sizes during pregnancy (woo-hoo for hubby!), it creates incredible tenderness and sometimes pain. The stretching skin, the inflamed glands, and protruding muscles are very sensitive. Most women notice much relief come the second trimester, which usually stays bearable until closer to labor when the milk supply increases and extreme tenderness becomes apparent again. Sleeping, hugging, or love-making might be painful. Invest in a good bra and let your partner know where it hurts and direct them how to touch you without hurting you. The areolas will also likely increase in size and become darker and more tender, as well. Some women get incredible dryness in their nipples, becoming so severe they sometimes crack or bleed. If your breasts are leaking colostrum, it may irritate the nipples more. Wipe off the milk and wash them frequently. Try a lanolin cream to nourish the skin and keep it from itching or from getting too dry. Continue this treatment throughout the post-partum months, as breast feeding will likely irritate them more.

Time progression of a pregnant woman

Gum Bleeding / Sensitivity

Pregnancy gingivitis is a common ailment for many pregnant women, even among the most avid oral hygienists. The hormone changes in the body make the gums more sensitive to plaque and bacteria in the mouth. Some women even develop what is known as a pyogenic granuloma, or a benign nodule similar to a tumor that bleeds when it is brushed. It is usually harmless and relatively painless, despite the name, and pops up most often in the mouth where gingivitis is present. It usually disappears after pregnancy, and rarely does it need to be removed, unless it is incredibly uncomfortable and causing a lot of bleeding. To battle pregnancy gingivitis before it progresses into periodontitis, increase your oral care regimen. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste at least twice a day, especially after meals, and floss regularly. Keep up on your dental appointments and cleanings, and take any prescribed antibiotics. If intense treatment needs to be done by a dentist, novocaine is safe for you and your baby. Usually, the gum bleeding and sensitivity will subside after pregnancy, as long as you continue to take care of your teeth.

Migraines

Increased hormones and stress can lead to frequent and severe migraines for many pregnant women. The migraines can be debilitating and very painful and lead to a miserable pregnancy. While the migraines typically subside after birth, many women who experienced them before pregnancy have them more frequently and severely after pregnancy. Avoid common triggers like stress, caffeine, dairy, chocolate, and extreme weather changes. Keep a headache diary to show your doctor, and together you can find the appropriate treatment. Many medications are safe during pregnancy, but more importantly, it can help you to identify your triggers. Try taking a nap with a cool damp rag or compress on your head, with the lights turned off. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga, and be conscious of what you eat.

Restless Leg Syndrome

RLS is a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move the legs in attempt to alleviate itching, crawling, tingling or burning. It isn’t entirely understood what causes restless leg syndrome in pregnant women, but it is reported that over 16% suffer from it in the last trimester. It is possible that hormone changes, vitamin deficiencies, or circulation problems could be the cause. Try avoiding caffeine and anti-histamines, since they tend to make RLS worse. Also, don’t get into bed until you are ready to go to sleep. The longer you lay still watching TV or reading, the more likely it’s going to be a long night. Medications used to treat RLS are not recommended during pregnancy, but in some cases vitamin supplements in addition to your prenatal vitamin can help. Talk to your doctor about options that are available to you. If RLS is preventing you from sleeping, take a warm bath and massage your legs. It may help to shake out the creepy-crawlies and tucker your legs out enough to get some rest.

Symphysis Pubic Dysfunction

This condition happens when the ligaments around the pubic bone become too relaxed and stretched, and cause pain in the pelvis. It can make your pelvis shift position, twist, or compress, causing a range of unpleasant sensations. Try wearing a pubic support belt, similar to a corset that pulls your mid-section back into alignment. Do exercises that will help to strengthen your core and do your Kegels (isn’t it amazing how many ailments Kegels can help to clear up?). Talk to your doctor about options for pain treatment and how it could affect your pregnancy. Very rarely, the unstable positioning of the pubic bone makes it hard to deliver naturally. Your doctor will let you know if they think it’s a better idea to perform a c-section.

 

There are many other conditions that may be apparently uncomfortable and painful during pregnancy. None of the information in this article should be used to diagnose or treat any condition in a way that is against doctors orders. It is for informational purposes only. If you feel like you have a serious condition, seek medical attention immediately.

 

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