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Discomforts

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As your body grows a new human being, it has to undergo significant change and take on considerable additional stress. All of this work means that there are several discomforts that you may experience. This page contains information on many of them, and, most importantly, tells you about remedies that might help ease them. The discomforts covered here are:

What you may be experiencing: For seasonal allergies, itchy eyes or throat, congestion, watering, red eyes. For a mild allergic reaction, you may also have hives and itchy skin. Around 1/3 of people find their symptoms worsen during pregnancy, and about the same number find that symptoms actually improve when pregnant.

 

Remedies:

  • Avoid allergens as much as possible:

    • Check for mold, and attempt to correct the issue if found.

    • Keep windows closed when pollen or pollution levels are high, and consider wearing a mask outdoors.

    • Keep windows open as much as possible if pet dander or mold is an issue.

  • A humidifier may help with nasal congestion.

  • Vapor rub can be used and may cause relief from congestion.

  • Saline nasal spray may help, but avoid nasal pots/flushing.

  • So-called 'first-generation' antihistamines are commonly recommended, and are believed to be safe during pregnancy. In particular, chlorpheniramine, hydroxyzine and dexchlorpheniramine are recommended.

  • Most commonly available over-the-counter antihistamines are thought to be safe during pregnancy, including loratadine (e.g. Claritin), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and cetirizine (e.g. Zyrtec).

Allergies (Seasonal or mild reaction)

Allergies

Backache

Backache

What you may be experiencing: pain in the upper back (during the first trimester) or lower back (second half of pregnancy), which tends to worsen as the pregnancy progresses and with every pregnancy. Around 70% of people experience this. Upper back pain is often caused by the growing breasts putting additional strain on the back, and lower back pain is often caused by the weight of the uterus pulling the back out of its normal alignment, causing something called lordosis.

 

Remedies:

  • When lifting, you should put your feet apart, with one slightly in front, and should stoop and use your legs to take the weight.

  • Regular exercise like yoga, swimming and pelvic rock/tilt exercises may help. Don't stand still for too long.

  • Heat and cold may both help alleviate pain. Try a heating pack or warm bath or shower, or an ice pack wrapped in a towel.

  • A massage, back rub, acupuncture or working with a chiropractor may help relax painful muscles.

  • For upper back pain, a well-fitting bra may help take the weight of growing breasts off your back.

  • You should wear flat, supportive shoes and not heels, which cause the spine to bend into worse alignment.

  • For sleeping, have a supportive mattress and use carefully-positioned pillows to help straighten your back.

  • Try abdominal support (maternity girdle, supportive belly band or sacroiliac support belt).

Breast tenderness

BreastTenderness

What you may be experiencing: increased sensitivity of breast and nipples and/or tingling sensations. As early as the first 2 months of pregnancy, your breasts are already starting to prepare for baby as estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and hPL prime your mammary glands for breastfeeding. This means blood flow to your breast is increased (and you might notice more veins in the chest and breast area). You might also have noticed a change is size and weight of your breasts as your milk ducts and glandular system grow, and, when you self-check your breasts, you may feel little ‘lumps’.

 

Remedies:

  • Wear a comfortable and supportive bra; some women will need to get fitted during this time because of the changes in the breast.

  • Take acetaminophen if necessary for pain relief

Carpal Tunnel syndrome

What you may be experiencing: A nerve running through the carpal tunnel in the wrist gets squashed, causing tingling, numbness or altered sensation in the front of the thumb, index and middle finger and part of the ring finger. Carpal tunnel syndrome that is caused by pregnancy will usually disappear after birth. The nerve can be compressed by edema, inflammation of the tissue, or anatomical distortion. During pregnancy, weight gain and edema are the common causes of the reduction in size of the passage for the nerve.

To check for carpal tunnel syndrome, bend your wrists and push the backs of your hands together for 60 seconds. You shouldn’t have discomfort if you don’t have carpel tunnel syndrome.

 

Remedies:

  • Wear a splint at night to place the wrist in a neutral position

  • Yoga or aerobic exercise might provide relief

  • Take 25mg of B6 daily along with a B complex supplement and night splinting

  • Nerve gliding techniques or wrist manipulation help some individuals.

  • If symptoms are severe, injections of steroids or surgical release of the nerve might be recommended.

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CarpalTunnel

Constipation

Constipation

What you may be experiencing: Constipation is a difficulty in emptying the bowels, and often involves hard feces. The muscle contractions that move food through your bowel become weaker during pregnancy, more fluid is reabsorbed from the bowel, and your bowel may be moved or squashed by your growing uterus, slowing down the transit of food. Lastly, constipation might be caused or worsened by a reduction in exercise levels, changes in your diet, or iron supplements.

 

Remedies:

  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day, more if you're spending time outdoors in the heat or if you exercise a lot.

  • Eat prunes or drink prune juice - a natural laxative.

  • To help get muscles that move food through your bowel working effectively each day, have warm drinks (such as water or tea) when you get up. You may find that a cold drink after the warm one provides additional benefit.

  • Ensure you're eating a diet that's high in fiber, like greens, celery or bran. Limit refined carbohydrate intake.

  • To increase blood flow and muscle efficiency in your bowels, exercise daily by walking and contracting abdominal muscles. Good posture and body mechanics can also help.

  • Try to empty your bowels as soon as you feel an urge to do so. Do not hold on and wait for a more convenient time.

If all of these methods in combination fail to work, you can try medications such as bulk-forming laxatives, stool softeners, or glycerin suppositories. Stimulant laxatives should be avoided during pregnancy.

Fatigue

Fatigue

What you may be experiencing: a state of extreme tiredness. Up to 95% of people experience this at some stage during pregnancy. The reasons for pregnancy fatigue are not well-understood. People tend to experience it in the first trimester and/or the third trimester. Possible causes are increased energy requirements, weight gain, and changes to the muscles and bones that make ordinary movements more difficult. Your blood volume also increases during pregnancy, and you produce more plasma than red blood cells, which results in a perfectly normal form of anemia, but this may cause feelings of fatigue.  Progesterone might also play a role. Disrupted sleep in the third trimester, sleep deprivation, anxiety and fear of childbirth also appear to increase the likelihood of fatigue.

 

Remedies:

  • Understand that fatigue is very normal. Fatigue in the first trimester generally disappears by the second.

  • The fatigue may serve a purpose – to force you to rest. Ensure that you get enough rest and sleep, using complementary and alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation to assist with relaxation, if they help.

  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

  • Counter-intuitive as it seems, exercise can counteract fatigue

  • Social contact may help improve symptoms.

If your fatigue is extreme or persistent, it’s possible that you have anemia, and your midwife will screen you for this.

Headache

Headache

What you may be experiencing: Tension headaches are usually mild to moderate, with pain in both sides of the head or neck. The pain isn’t in pulses or brought on by exercise. It doesn’t involve light or sound sensitivity, nausea or vomiting. Fluctuating hormone levels and changes in the circulation may cause occassional headaches. Dehydration and low blood sugar levels may also cause headaches. Eyesight might change during pregnancy due to normal fluid retention, causing eye strain and leading to headaches. Anemia might also cause headaches since levels of oxygen reaching the brain are slightly reduced.

 

Remedies:

  • Drink relaxing teas such as chamomile.

  • Massage, yoga and chiropractic care may help.

  • Drink plenty of water - a glass every two to three hours.

  • To avoid low blood sugar levels, eat a little food, often. Avoid caffeine, chocolate and sugar.

  • Simultaneously soak hands and feet in hot lemon water.

  • Ensure you are getting enough sleep.

  • If you think your eyesight might have changed due to your pregnancy, consider having your prescription checked and buying new glasses or lenses to avoid headaches from eye strain.

  • Acetaminophen can be taken if other remedies are not successful, and your midwife may recommend other medications.

Heartburn

Heartburn

What you may be experiencing: burning sensation in the throat or the chest. Relaxin, a pregnancy hormone that helps soften the ligaments of the pelvic bones can cause other muscles to relax, such as the lower esophagus sphincter. This means that if the stomach is full, the contents of the stomach and stomach acid can easily go back up into the esophagus. The stomach acid is what causes the burning sensation. There are other factors playing a role in this common discomfort as well: the hormone progesterone slows food digestion. This means the stomach may be full for longer, allowing more time for the acid to back-track. As your pregnancy progresses, the stomach also gets slightly displaced because of the growing baby and uterus.

 

Remedies:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals to prevent the stomach from overfilling

  • Eating more slowly

  • Avoiding spicy foods and any foods that you normally find hard to digest or that cause you to produce gas

  • Digestive enzymes or papaya enzymes

  • Drinking milk before, during and after meals

  • Not lying down immediately after eating or eating too close to bedtime

  • Raising the head of the bed 4-6” for sleeping

  • Reducing fat intake

  • Over the counter antacids, not to exceed daily intake limits. Consult your midwife about limits.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids

What you may be experiencing: pain, discomfort and, maybe even bleeding from your anus and rectum. The important pregnancy hormone progesterone relaxes veins throughout your body. Sometimes the veins in the anus/rectum region get too relaxed, and along with any straining for bowel movements, the veins become enlarged, swollen and even protrude. Progesterone also contributes to constipation, which can also cause haemorrhoids.  Throughout pregnancy, the uterus enlarges and can cause pressure on the walls of the veins within your pelvic floor.

 

Remedies:

  • A raw potato compress applied to affected area

  • Witch hazel compresses, such as Tucks pads

  • Using a stool when sitting on toilet for a BM to help alleviate any straining

  • With inflamed or broken tissue, 400IU or more Vitamin E inserted into anal canal can help heal tissue

  • Over-the-counter remedies are available. Check with your midwife before using these.

Insomnia

Insomnia

What you may be experiencing: inability to fall asleep – either at bedtime or after waking up in the middle of the night. Pregnancy hormones may contribute to insomnia, especially the type of insomnia where one wakes for no apparent reason. Insomnia in pregnancy can also be attributed to the physical discomforts as the pregnancy advances. This includes getting up often to go to the bathroom, leg cramps, not finding a comfortable position to sleep in, etc. It’s also common for many mothers to feel anxious during this exciting, transition time in their lives. Anxiety is another reason why a mother may have trouble falling and staying asleep.

 

Remedies:

  • Exercising, but not right before bed, as this can make the baby more active and hence increase insomnia

  • Practicing deep relaxation

  • Use of essential oils, such as lavender

Itching

Itching

What you may be experiencing: itchy skin on belly, breasts or even rest of body. Also called ‘pruritus gravidarium’ – this can occur in 3-14% of all pregnancies. As your skin is stretching, you may experience itching sensations. True pruritus is a result of elevated estrogen and progesterone levels in a pregnant person’s body, which can interfere with how your liver is excreting bile.

 

Remedies:

  • Eating liver-healthy foods such as beets, dark greens and lemon juice

  • Eating foods rich in choline such as egg yolks, wheat germ and brewer’s yeast

  • Taking oatmeal baths for comfort

If other remedies fail, you may find comfort from applying an antihistamine cream or low-potency steroid cream

Leg cramps

LegCramps

What you may be experiencing: tight cramping, spasms in leg muscles, especially the calves. Again, pregnancy hormones may be to blame for leg cramps. The hormones of pregnancy can affect your calcium, magnesium and potassium levels as well as preventing the calcium from doing its job effectively in your muscles. Electrolyte imbalances are also common in pregnancy, mainly due to dehydration, and can increase the chances of having cramps.

 

Remedies:

  • Drinking enough water

  • When stretching leg, flex foot instead of pointing foot

  • Magnesium 350mg before bed

Low blood pressure when lying down

LowBP

What you may be experiencing: feeling dizzy and lightheaded when you are lying down on your back. When lying on your back, if the weight of your uterus pushes down on blood vessels including the large vein that moves blood from your lower body back to your heart, the blood flow can be restricted. This means that less blood gets back to the heart, and so it causes your (arterial) blood pressure to drop, which would cause you to feel light-headed or dizzy.

 

Remedies:

  • Simply knowing that this is normal might put you at ease

  • Change positions slowly, rolling to your side

  • Carefully sit up

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Nausea and vomiting

NauseaVomiting

Up to half of all people experience nausea, with or without vomiting, during pregnancy. Sometimes called ‘morning sickness’, these symptoms can occur at any time of the day, though it’s usually most pronounced on an empty stomach which is usually in the morning, hence the name. The exact cause of nausea/vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) is unknown, although there are many theories surrounding this common discomfort, such as: hormonal changes in pregnancy, possibly including the increased hCG and estrogen; a slower digestion process in pregnancy due to progesterone and causing low blood sugar; or simply a woman’s genetic predisposition to NVP.

 

Remedies:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day

  • Eat dry crackers or toast before getting out of bed

  • Drinking carbonated beverages may help settle the stomach

  • Sucking on hard candies

  • Avoid being around strong or offensive odours

  • Acupressure points, either with a wristband or seeing an acupuncturist, may help alleviate symptoms

  • Ground ginger capsules, up to 1g daily, may be taken with meals

  • Doxylamine (Unisom) 12.5mg orally up to 4x a day.

  • Pyridoxine (B6) 2.5mg orally up to 3x a day.

    • Doxylamine and Pyridoxine may be taken together

Painful Intercourse

PainfulIntercourse

What you may be experiencing: pain or discomfort in the vulva or vagina during sexual intercourse, which is called 'dyspareunia'. As well as general vaginal sensitivity, progesterone causes the muscles that support veins to relax, causing fluid to sometime build up in the veins of the vagina or pelvis, which may play a role in causing the pain or discomfort. This engorgement of the veins may also cause vulvar varicosities, which can also be quite uncomfortable. People often find that their emotional response to intercourse changes during pregnancy, or that they become concerned about the safety of penetration or orgasm when pregnant, and either of these can cause tension which leads to discomfort.

 

Remedies:

  • Simply changing the positions used for intercourse may be enough to relieve the discomfort.

  • If you're experiencing emotional tension around intercourse, a full conversation with your midwife might help resolve some of the issues and allow you to approach it in a more relaxed or positive way.

  • If you're concerned about the safety of sexual intercourse during pregnancy, talk to your midwife about your personal situation.

Round Ligaments Discomfort

RoundLigaments

What you may be experiencing: cramping, pulling, stretching sensations on the side(s) of your belly. The round ligament supports the uterus. This is a very common discomfort experienced during pregnancy. This sensation happens as the uterus expands and grows, which means the ligaments also stretch and grow, making them more sensitive to sudden movements, certain positions and to toning contractions by the uterus.

 

Remedies:

  • Pelvic lift exercises may alleviate the pressure on the ligaments

  • Wearing a fitted maternity belt may also decrease pressure on the ligaments

  • Take it slowly! When you are changing positions, such as rolling from one side to the other in bed, take your time. Sudden movements may aggravate the tension and cause pain

  • You may find that good support from pillows when sleeping provides some relief

  • Make sure you get enough rest

Sciatica

Sciatica

What you may be experiencing: a sharp sudden pain that may start in your lower back or pelvis and the pain may radiate down into the back of one leg. This common discomfort is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve that runs through the pelvis, hip joint and down the leg. As the uterus and baby grow, pressure on this nerve may cause discomfort or pain. Since the pelvic joints are looser in pregnancy due to the hormone relaxin, they can shift and also cause irritation to the sciatic nerve.

 

Remedies:

  • Resting in a side-lying position, on the opposite side of the affected leg, may relieve some pressure

  • Hot or cold applied to affected area

  • Certain yoga stretches such as alternating cat/cow pose and other stretches for the hamstrings, glutes and hips

  • Chiropractic care may re-align pelvic joints and alleviate pressure off the nerve

For acute pain, taking acetaminophen may help; not exceeding 4000mg/day (consult with midwife if taking acetaminophen frequently)

Swelling (edema)

Swelling

What you may be experiencing: swelling caused by fluid getting trapped in your body’s tissues. During pregnancy, it's most common in feet and ankles, but may also affect hands or face. The flow of blood in the veins of your legs slows, and the pressure there and in the pelvic veins builds up during pregnancy. Higher estrogen levels, which you have during pregnancy, mean that fluid more easily leaves the veins. The combination of a slow, higher pressure flow in more 'leaky' veins means that more fluid leaves the veins and is retained in the tissues that surround them, causing swelling.

Swelling.JPG

Remedies:

  • Elevate your legs periodically during the day, and lie on your side when resting or sleeping.

  • Wearing graduated compression or support hose (knee-high, thigh-high or full-length) can help reverse the pooling of blood in the veins of your legs. To make this as effective as possible, you should put them on just before getting up (when edema will be at its lowest point).

  • Eat more protein and fresh vegetables, and drink plenty of water.

  • Regular exercise and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting or standing may help.

UTI

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

What you may be experiencing: pain or burning on urination, increased frequency (need to urinate more often), cramps in your lower back or lower belly, urine that looks cloudy or bloody, or that has an odor to it, or you may not notice any symptoms at all, as they're often masked by or alleviated by pregnancy. UTIs are more common during pregnancy for several reasons, including the fact that more urine remains in the ureters or bladder, and urine sometimes contains trace amounts of sugar or protein. UTIs should never be ignored during pregnancy, even if the symptoms don't bother you, as they can lead to kidney infections and preterm labor or preterm premature rupture of membranes (your waters breaking before they should). If you suspect an early UTI, start at-home treatment immediately and arrange to see your midwife as soon as possible for diagnosis and to get antibiotics, if required.

 

Remedies:

  • Drink lots of water

  • Take cranberry capsules or drink unsweetened cranberry juice

  • Take D-mannose extract

  • If you have a full UTI that does not improve with the above, you will need to be prescribed antibiotics. Consider midwiferx.com
  • Aim to prevent future UTIs by drinking plenty of water, wiping front to back, having yourself and your partner wash before intercourse and peeing afterwards, avoiding douches and scented products in the area, urinating often and aiming to empty your bladder completely when you do (rock backwards and forwards a little later in pregnancy to shift baby's weight), and you can avoid citrus juices, caffeinated drinks and spicy food and add in probiotics.

     

Vaginal discharge

VaginalDischarge

What you may be experiencing: increased vaginal discharge that may be thick or thin, but that doesn’t smell offensive or look curd-like, and there's no itching or pain. If you do have any of these symptoms, talk to your midwife about getting a diagnosis. During pregnancy, there is increased blood flow to all the mucus membranes such as gums and vaginal tissues. During the 2nd trimester, an increase in vaginal discharge may be attributed to more production of the cervical glands as the mucous plug is forming within the cervix.

 

Remedies:

  • Clean perineal area with water (no douches)

  • Frequent changing of underwear or pad

  • Wearing breathable cotton underwear

Varicose Veins

VaricoseVeins

What you may be experiencing: swollen, bulging veins in your legs or vulva, and haemorrhoids are technically varicose veins too. Depending on the severity of the varicosity, you may have no discomfort, or the affected area may feel heavy and achy. The skin around the varicosity may feel itchy, it may throb or you may experience a slight burning sensation. There are many factors behind varicose veins in pregnancy: genetic pre-disposition; growing pressure on the uterus impeding returning blood flow of the veins in the lower half of your body; prolonged periods of sitting or standing; and the hormones of pregnancy can also cause the smooth muscle of the vein walls to relax causing an impediment in the flow. If you’ve had several children or are over 35, there’s a greater chance you’ll experience this discomfort.

 

Remedies:

  • Rest

  • Use of compression socks or stockings – put on the compression garments before getting out of bed

  • Do not sit with your legs crossed

  • Do not stand for prolonged periods of time

  • Periodically stimulate your circulation by exercising, including sitting for appropriate exercises

  • Take 600 units of vitamin E at a different time from other supplements, with milk, cheese, oils or other fatty foods

YeastInfection

Yeast Infection

What you may be experiencing: itching of the vagina or vulva or pain in this area, discharge that looks like cottage cheese or that is copious and more liquid than usual (but does not smell bad), burning on urination, a rash in and around the vulva. Yeast infections are very common during pregnancy, due to hormonal changes and the pH of the vagina, but if you've not had a yeast infection during pregnancy before, you might want to talk to your midwife before treating, in case your diagnosis is wrong.

 

Remedies:

  • Topical application of coconut oil

  • Topical application of honey (don't eat it, as this can make it worse!)

  • Apple cider vinegar bath and/or drinking apple cider vinegar mixed in water

  • Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet

  • OTC vaginal fungal creams such as Clotrimazole, Miconazole and Terconazole. We recommend a 7-day, definitely not a 1-day.

  • Avoid recurrences by:

    • wearing loose, cotton underwear and no tight clothing,

    • changing out of wet swimwear or underwear promptly,

    • drying thoroughly after washing,

    • eating foods with probiotics such as yogurt or sauerkraut,

    • avoiding douching and scented products in the area.

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