These are not necessarily indicators that you are having a “difficult” pregnancy. They’re just your body’s way of coping with the extraordinary task of growing a new life within the boundaries of your existing one. Fortunately, many of pregnancy’s little annoyances can be alleviated — if not eliminated — easily, safely and without medication. Following is our list of nagging pregnancy symptoms, their causes and self-help tips on getting relief.
1. Bladder control
In a strange coincidence of biology, pregnant women think about visiting the bathroom roughly as often as the average man thinks about sex — every 17 seconds. Your circulatory volume is up. Your uterus is crowding your bladder. Ideally, you’re drinking more fluids than normal. The pressure is on. No actual cures here, but a few helpful tips:
- Do Kegel exercises (contract, hold and then relax your pelvic-floor muscles) whenever you think of it to prevent “stress incontinence,” or leakage.
- Don’t decrease your overall fluid intake, but do limit it in the evening if nighttime urination is a problem.
- Empty your bladder completely. Early in pregnancy, do this by leaning forward while urinating. In the third trimester, lift your belly slightly as you urinate.
The severity and duration of “morning sickness” (which defies its name by striking at all hours) varies, but mild to moderate nausea usually tapers off between the 12th and 16th weeks. Its cause remains a mystery, though surging hormones are the leading suspects.
- Wear acupressure wrist bands, available in drugstores.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. If soda crackers and bananas are all you can stomach, they’re better than nothing.
- Drink eight to 10 glasses of water every day. Then refer to pesky problem #1.
- Stop and smell the lemons. Seal a slice or two in a plastic bag for a quick whiff on the run.
- Steep two small pieces of fresh ginger root in boiling water for five minutes to make a stomach-settling ginger tea. Or learn to love ginger ale and gingersnap cookies.
- Eat a piece of fruit or a few crackers before getting out of bed, and/or have a high-protein snack before bedtime to raise your morning blood-sugar level.
- If your prenatal vitamin is turning your stomach, ask your doctor if you can switch to a folate-only supplement until your nausea subsides.
- Consult your doctor if vomiting becomes severe. In a small percentage of women, it can be a health-threatening medical condition.
Unfortunately, pregnancy hormones affect the sphincter that forms a barrier between the esophagus and stomach, allowing acids to percolate upward. The plot thickens as your growing uterus crowds your digestive organs. To help douse the fire:
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Chew your food thoroughly. Eat every bite as slowly as possible.
- Avoid spicy or greasy foods.
- Remain upright for at least an hour after eating.
- Keep your upper body as upright as possible when you sleep by propping yourself up with pillows or elevating the head of your bed.
- When heartburn strikes, have some milk or yogurt.
- Ask your doctor about taking calcium-based antacids.
4. Constipation and hemorrhoids
These two nuisances often work in tandem. Pregnancy hormones, abetted by certain vitamin and iron supplements and, sometimes, a nausea-inspired diet of crackers and milk, can make your digestive tract sluggish. Then constipation can cause hemorrhoids, which can develop from straining. Your burgeoning uterus also may contribute to hemorrhoids by decreasing the amount of blood flow into and out of your pelvic region. To keep things moving:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Prunes, however unglamorous, really do work.
- Exercise every day (choose from a 30 minute walk, 20 minute swim or a gentle prenatal yoga class).
- Eat yogurt to aid digestion.
- Don’t delay when you get the urge to move your bowels.
Avoid straining during bowel movements. Keeping your feet on a step stool or box will help.
- When hemorrhoids flare up, use flushable wipes instead of toilet paper, and sit in a shallow tub of very warm water.
- Do Kegel exercises regularly to increase blood flow to your pelvic area.
- Ask your doctor if a change in your iron supplement might help.
Pregnancy hormones loosen your joints, while your ballooning breasts and belly play havoc with your centre of gravity. No wonder backaches are among pregnancy’s most common complaints. It’s important for women to start building their abdominal muscles [which support the back] early in pregnancy, before they get stretched out. However, during pregnancy you should avoid doing ab-strengthening exercises.
- When possible, don’t stand or sit for prolonged periods.
- When you do stand or sit, rest one foot on a box, stool, low shelf or a couple of telephone books. In the kitchen, pull out a low drawer.
- If you sleep on your side (the left is preferable during pregnancy to allow for maximum flow of blood and nutrients to the placenta), keep your knees bent and put a pillow between them; tuck one under your abdomen, too, if it needs support. If you sleep on your back, use pillows to support your thighs and back.
- Get a prenatal massage. (Make sure you find a qualified therapist.)
- Stick to flat-heeled, supportive shoes.
- Bend at the hips, not the waist, and lift with your legs bent so you’re not using your back.
- Do pelvic tilts.
- Swimming or yoga are great for gently strengthening and stretching out tummy muscles and the lower back. You can also try walking through water deep enough to cover your belly. The resistance of the water helps tone the muscles.
- Consider a “belly bra” or other supportive device.
Have you got any tried and tested tips for combating pregnancy aches and pains? We'd love to hear from you!