Pregnancy is an exciting time, but let’s be honest… There are plenty of not-so-fun “side effects.” There’s more to pregnancy than just an expanding waistline, but try not to be too overwhelmed by this list. There’s plenty you can do to be prepared for the “joys” of pregnancy that no one talks about.
When to Call the Doctor
The simple answer: Call your doctor if anything is bothering or worrying you. You know your body and if your instinct tells you something is off, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Specifically, call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Bleeding or fluid leaking from the vagina
- Sudden or severe swelling in the face, hands or fingers
- Severe or long-lasting headaches
- Discomfort, pain or cramping in the abdomen
- Fever or chills
- Vomiting or persistent nausea
- Discomfort, pain or burning during urination
- Blurred vision or other vision problems
- Sense a change in the baby’s movement after 28 weeks (less than 10 movements in 2 hours)
Aches and Pains
As the uterus expands and the baby’s weight adds pressure to the body, many women experience pain in the back, abdomen, groin and thigh areas.
To ease the aches and pains, try:
- Lying down
- Applying heat
If the pains don’t seem to get any better, call your doctor.
A woman’s breasts increase in size and fullness in preparation for breastfeeding. They might feel full or heavy and become tender or uncomfortable. During the third trimester, some women experience leaking. It’s colostrum, the first milk that your breasts produce for the baby. It’s a thick, yellowish fluid and it contains antibodies that protect your baby from infection. It’s perfectly normal – but if it becomes noticeable, put a nursing pad in your bra. During pregnancy, your nipples can become dry and cracked. Use a heavy moisturizing cream (containing lanolin) and avoid using soap, which can be drying and irritating. Finally, be sure to wear a comfortable, supportive nursing or maternity bra.
The growing blood vessels early in a pregnancy, the pressure of the expanding uterus on blood vessels and the increased need for food can all cause dizziness, lightheadedness and even (in rare occasions) fainting.
To feel better, try the following:
- Standing up slowly
- Lay down on your left side
- Avoid sitting or standing in one position for a long time
- Eat healthy snacks or small meals frequently
- Stay cool – don’t let yourself get overheated
Dizziness or lightheadedness can be discussed at a regular visit, but call your doctor as soon as possible if you faint.
Hemorrhoids are swollen and bulging veins in the rectum, causing itching, pain and bleeding. And nearly half of pregnant women will suffer from them.
They are common in pregnancy for several reasons. During pregnancy, there is an increased amount of blood in the body, which can cause the veins to enlarge. The expanding uterus also puts pressure on the veins in the rectum. And constipation (also common in pregnancy) can make hemorrhoids worse. The good news? They usually improve after delivery.
To help prevent and treat hemorrhoids:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Eat fiber-rich foods like whole grains, leafy green veggies and fruit
- Try not to strain for bowel movements
- Talk with your doctor before taking a laxative or using witch hazel or ice packs to soothe hemorrhoids
During pregnancy, your body will change the way it processes calcium. This can cause cramps in your legs or feet, often at night.
To prevent and ease leg cramps:
- Eat plenty of low-fat, calcium rich foods
- Get regular mild exercise, like walking
- Talk to your doctor about a prenatal vitamin containing calcium
- Stretch your leg muscles
- Use heating pads or warm, moist towel on the cramped muscle
Nosebleeds and stuffiness are common during pregnancy due to the increased amount of blood in your body and hormones affecting the tissues of your nose.
Be sure to blow gently when you blow your nose, and if you do get a nosebleed, squeeze your nose between your thumb and finger for a few minutes. If your nosebleeds don’t stop in a few minutes or are frequent, see your doctor.
To relieve nasal stuffiness, drink plenty of water and use a humidifier in your bedroom. Before you take any over-the-counter meds, be sure to talk with your doctor.
Shortness of Breath
As your baby grows, your expanding uterus will put pressure on all your organs, including your lungs. If you find yourself short of breath, try some of these tips:
- Take long, deep breaths
- Stand up straight
- Use an extra pillow and sleep on your side
Most women experience swelling in the face, hands or ankles at some point during pregnancy – and more noticeably towards the end. If swelling or weight gain comes on suddenly, call your doctor. It could be a sign of high blood pressure called preeclampsia or toxemia.
To keep swelling to a minimum:
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water a day
- Avoid caffeine and salty foods
- Rest with your feet elevated
- Ask your doctor about wearing support hose
Teeth and Gum Problems
A pregnant woman’s teeth and gums need special care. Pregnant women with gum disease are more likely to have premature babies with low birth weight, resulting from the transfer of bacteria from the mother’s mouth to the baby during pregnancy.
Be sure to have a complete oral exam early in your pregnancy – or before, if possible. Any dental work should be done early, as urgent dental treatments can be risky. Be sure to tell your dentist that you are pregnant. If you experience bleeding gums, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and be sure to floss twice daily.
The increased blood in your body can cause veins to enlarge. In addition, pressure on the large veins behind the uterus can slow the blood flow back to the heart. As a result, some women suffer from varicose veins, which look like swollen veins raised above the surface of the skin, most often on the back of the calves or the inside of the leg. To reduce the chance of getting varicose veins, avoid wearing tight knee highs or trouser socks and sit with your feet raised as often as possible.
The hormones in your body can slow down digestion and relax muscles in the bowels, causing many women complain about constipation during pregnancy.
To stay more regular, try the following:
- Maintain a fiber-rich diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water
- Avoid caffeine
- Get regular, mild exercise.
Heartburn and Indigestion
Almost every pregnant woman complains of heartburn or indigestion at some point. Pregnancy hormones slow the digestive tract, causing food to move slower, resulting in indigestion. Hormones also relax the valve that separates the stomach from the esophagus, which causes heartburn. The bigger the baby gets, the more the uterus pushes on the stomach, making heartburn common later in pregnancy.
To avoid heartburn and indigestion:
- Avoid greasy and fried foods
- Eat 6-8 small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large ones
- Eat slowly
- Maintain a healthy weight gain
- Eat small chips of ice or drink small sips of milk to soothe burning
- Ask your doctor before taking an antacid
Stretch Marks and Other Skin Changes
Most women worry about stretch marks, but in reality, only about half of pregnant women get them. Stretch marks are red, pink or purple streaks in the skin, usually appearing on the thighs, buttocks, abdomen and breasts, caused by the stretching of the skin. Creams and lotions will help keep your skin moisturized, but unfortunately they don’t prevent stretch marks. Most marks will fade after delivery.
Some women notice other skin changes during pregnancy. Nipples may become darker and some women develop a dark line from the belly button to the pubic hairline. Brown spots may appear on the face as well. All are caused by hormones and will likely fade or disappear after delivery.
Tingling and numbness is also common during pregnancy. Caused by swelling tissues in your wrists, the symptoms should disappear after delivery. Many women experience itchy skin on their feet, hands and abdomen. These are also caused by hormones – and stretching skin – and should also go away after delivery.
These tips should help any discomfort:
- Use thick moisturizing creams
- Use gentle soaps
- Avoid hot showers or baths that can dry your skin
- Avoid itchy or hot fabrics
Rarely, itchiness can be a sign of a serious liver condition called cholestasis. If you have nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice or fatigue with the itchiness, call your doctor immediately.
Throughout your pregnancy, you can expect to feel tired – especially in the first trimester. This is perfectly normal – creating another human is hard work! Fatigue is just your body’s way of telling you to rest.
However, as your body grows, it will become harder to get a good night’s sleep. The baby’s movement, bathroom runs, increased metabolism and leg cramps can all affect your ability to sleep.
These tips should help:
- When you’re tired, rest
- Try to get 8 hours of sleep at night and a short nap during the day
- If you feel stressed, try to find ways to relax
- Sleep on your left side
- Avoid eating large meals in the evening
- Get mild exercise
- Avoid long naps during the day
The amount of weight you need to gain during pregnancy depends on your weight pre-pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women with normal weight should gain 25-35 pounds. Underweight women should gain 28-40 and overweight women should gain 15-20. Talk with your doctor about how much weight you should gain and monitor it during the course of your pregnancy.
Is it Safe to Have Sex?
In a word, probably. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, sexual intercourse is safe throughout pregnancy. For some women, pregnancy increases their sex drive. For some, it decreases. If you’ve had problems during your pregnancy or miscarriages in the past, your doctor might tell you to avoid intercourse. Call your doctor if sex causes pain, bleeding or leaking fluid.