Baby and You

Common Pregnancy Ailments

As well as iron deficiency, there are also other common ailments that could occur in pregnancy. Mum Plus One outline some of these irksome complaints, but the message from the health professionals is clear – if in doubt, check it out

BACKACHE

It is very common to get backache or back pain during pregnancy, especially in the early stages.

The NHS has some top tips (www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/backache-pregnant/)

on how to avoid and ease back pain in pregnancy:

  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight when you lift or pick something up from the floor
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects
  • Move your feet when you turn to avoid twisting your spine
  • Wear flat shoes to evenly distribute your weight
  • Try to balance the weight between two bags when carrying shopping
  • Keep your back straight and well supported when sitting at work and at home – look for maternity support pillows
  • Get enough rest, particularly later in pregnancy
  • A massage or warm bath may help
  • Use a mattress that supports you properly – you can put a piece of hardboard under a soft mattress to make it firmer, if necessary
  • Go to a group or individual back care class

If your backache is very painful, talk to your GP or midwife as they may be able to refer you to an obstetric physiotherapist. Also contact your GP or midwife as soon as possible if you have back pain and you:

  • are in your second or third trimester – this could be a sign of early labour
  • also have a fever, bleeding from your vagina or pain when you pee
  • lose feeling in one or both of your legs, your bum, or your genitals
  • have pain in one or more of your sides (under your ribs)

CRAMP

Cramp is often experienced in the legs and feet and commonly at night and usually in the later stage of pregnancy. It is a sudden sharp pain brought on by an involuntary spasm. It can be very painful and make it hard for you to move. The cramps can last from a few seconds to 10 minutes. When the spasm passes, you will be able to control the affected muscle again.

The best way to avoid cramp is with regular gentle exercises and stretches, particularly in the ankles and legs. Rotate your feet in both directions several times daily and bend and stretch your feet up and down. You can ease an attack by rubbing hard on the muscle or pulling your toes firmly up towards you and rotating your foot.

Call your GP or midwife immediately if you have pain, swelling or tenderness in your legs as this can be a sign of a serious condition called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

CONSTIPATION AND HAEMORRHOIDS (PILES)

During pregnancy, many women experience constipation, which can be very uncomfortable. It’s caused by hormonal changes in your body as well as diet, and the best way to treat constipation is by trying to avoid it.

It is important to maintain a high fibre diet, including wholemeal grains, fruit and vegetables and pulses, washed down with plenty of water. Eating more fibre will keep your bowel movements regular because it helps food to pass through your digestive system more easily.

Gentle exercise should also help. Exercise stimulates your bowels and if you’re sedentary and sitting a lot, this can cause constipation. Going for a daily walk can help ease constipation. Speak to your doctor about ways to safely treat constipation during pregnancy.

Constipation can cause or aggravate piles – large and swollen veins in the anus area that can feel itchy or painful. You may also experience some bleeding and it can become uncomfortable or even painful.

Symptoms usually disappear after childbirth, but there are some things you can do to ease the discomfort. So, eat plenty of fibre to avoid them. Exercise regularly and avoid standing for long periods. If painful, sooth with a cold, wet cloth. If the pain persists, speak to your midwife about available ointments.

DRY EYES

Hormonal changes when pregnant can affect your eyesight and it is common for pregnant women to experience dry eye symptoms. The condition occurs due to a lack of moisture in the eyes.

There are a number of ways of reducing dry eyes such as taking regular breaks if using a computer screen, using a humidifier to moisten the surrounding air, minimising the use of eye make-up and protecting your eyes from heat, wind, dust or smoke by wearing sunglasses. The dry sensation can be made worse with dehydration, so drink more water.

Using lubricant eye treatments, such as drops, gels, sprays and ointments can add extra lubrication to dry eyes. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about the best treatments. Some over-the-counter products may not be suitable for you while you’re pregnant.

Most women find their vision returns to normal soon after giving birth, but it’s always important to visit your optician or GP just in case these problems are a symptom of something other than hormonal changes.

DRY SKIN

It’s common for pregnant women to have dry skin during pregnancy and, again, hormonal changes are often to blame! As your stomach starts to stretch, it loses its elasticity and skin may become dry. A rise in body temperature, which naturally occurs during pregnancy, can cause itchiness and irritation and trigger dry skin.

Remember to drink plenty of water as your skin will benefit if you keep well hydrated.

Dabbing moisturiser or lotion onto itchy areas or using an emollient in the bath should help – get advice from your GP or midwife on safe treatments. Wearing loose cotton clothing may also help to ease irritation and a humidifier may also be beneficial.

General itchiness is most likely to be harmless. However, talk to your GP or midwife immediately if your skin is inflamed or blistered, or if you have a rash, soreness, irritation or severe itching all over your body. If the itching is particularly intense on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet, it could be a serious condition called obstetric cholestasis (OC).

INCONTINENCE

Pregnancy-related urinary incontinence is a common problem. Being pregnant and giving birth can weaken the muscles that control the flow of urine from your bladder.

A poll of 1,900 women, conducted by Netmums for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), revealed one out of three women (34 per cent) developed urinary incontinence during pregnancy and the same number said the problem continued one year on from having their baby.

Pregnant women are sometimes unable to prevent a leak of urine when they cough, sneeze, laugh, move suddenly or just get up from a sitting position.

This may be temporary, because the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles around the bladder) relax slightly to prepare for the baby’s delivery.

Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles may help prevent urinary incontinence. Read more about staying active during pregnancy at: www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pregnancy-exercise/

If you have any concerns about incontinence and bladder problems, speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor.

FOOT PAIN AND SWELLING

Weight gain and hormonal changes in pregnancy have a huge impact on the body – and your feet can often bear the brunt of this! As your pregnancy progresses, your centre of gravity alters and creates additional pressure on your feet.

During pregnancy, the uterus can place pressure on your veins, preventing fluid from travelling as effectively as it once did. As a result, you may experience swelling in your feet and ankles and your footwear may no longer fit correctly too. Therefore, it’s important to wear comfortable shoes and socks and avoid tight straps or anything that might pinch if your feet swell.

To help alleviate the pressure on your feet, avoid standing for long periods and rest with your feet up as much as you can. A foot massage can also help – inform your therapist you’re expecting so they know what type of oils to avoid.

Watch your diet when taking care of your feet while pregnant, avoiding excess salt as this causes your body to hold on to more fluid. Dehydration is also another vital area to consider, so drink water regularly.

Exercise, too, should be part of your daily foot care routine, stretching your feet and calves if you’ve been sitting or driving for a long period of time – and remembering not to cross your legs or ankles when sitting. Rotating your ankles 10 times to the left and 10 times to the right is another great tip, or you could incorporate gentle exercise such as swimming into your day, remembering to check with your midwife or GP to ensure they agree it is safe for you to do so.

Call your GP if you have swelling, redness or pain as this can be a sign of a serious condition called pre-eclampsia or deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

HEARTBURN AND INDIGESTION

Indigestion is caused partly by the pressure exerted by your growing womb on your stomach, leaving you feeling full and sick. Heartburn is usually experienced as a strong burning pain in the chest as stomach acid passes into the oesophagus. If symptoms are mild, your midwife may recommend simple diet and lifestyle changes.

Up to eight out of 10 mums-to-be suffer from heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy. You can get symptoms at any point during your pregnancy, but they are more common from 27 weeks onwards.

Often women are advised to eat little and often and to sit up straight when eating. A glass of milk at night may also relieve symptoms. Cut down on caffeine, chocolate, fizzy drinks or fruit juice as well as rich, spicy and fatty foods. Also, don’t eat late at night and try to avoid eating for three hours before bedtime, as this can help to relieve the symptoms of heartburn.

See your midwife or GP if you need help managing your symptoms or if changes to your diet and lifestyle don’t work. They may recommend an antacid that’s safe to use during pregnancy. If this doesn’t help, your GP may be able to prescribe you a different type of medicine to tackle your symptoms.

If your symptoms are sudden or severe, it’s important to see your doctor immediately as it may be a sign of something more serious, such as pre-eclampsia.

PELVIC GIRDLE PAIN (PGP)

It’s estimated that PGP affects up to one in five pregnant women to some degree. Sufferers experience pain in the pubic area, but the hips, groin, lower abdomen, buttocks, lower back and inner thighs can also be affected because of the pregnancy hormone relaxin which opens the pelvis up for childbirth.

Call your midwife or GP if you have pelvic pain and:

  • it’s hard for you to move around
  • it hurts to get out of a car or turn over in bed
  • it’s painful going up or down stairs

These can be signs of pregnancy-related pelvic girdle pain.

You can ask your midwife for a referral to a physiotherapist who specialises in obstetric pelvic joint problems.

Pregnancy bands/girdles can be bought over the counter and may help in the second trimester to minimise problems in the third trimester.

Regular exercise may help. Safe exercises for most pregnant women include walking and swimming – always check with your midwife or GP. They can recommend exercises to strengthen your back and abdomen.

MORNING SICKENSS (NAUSEA AND VOMITING)

Despite the name, morning sickness can strike at any time. It’s thought hormonal changes in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are probably one of the causes of morning sickness. It is very common in early pregnancy, beginning most commonly between the 4th and 7th week. It usually settles by 12–14 weeks, although in some women it may last longer.

There are some changes you can make to your diet and daily life to try to ease the symptoms. Although you may not feel like it, eating something is likely to help.

Try eating little and often, avoiding fatty foods and perhaps having something dry like toast in the morning. Meals that are high in carbohydrate and low in fat, such as potato, rice and pasta, are easier to tolerate; try plain biscuits or crackers. Avoid any foods or smells that trigger symptoms. Some women find sucking mints or ice chips and drinking ginger tea can help.

A food diary can help you keep track of when are the best times for you to eat, how much you have managed to eat, and how much fluids you have been able to retain.

Be sure to speak to your midwife if symptoms are more severe, as this could be an indicator of the more serious Hyperemesis gravidarum, which can lead to weight loss and dehydration. Keeping well hydrated by drinking plenty of water is important in cases of hyperemesis.

Women should seek medical advice if they are unable to tolerate oral anti-sickness medication or clear fluids.

Nausea and vomiting and hyperemesis gravidarum can affect your mood, your work, your home situation and your ability to care for your family. Extra support from family, friends and healthcare professionals can help you.

STRETCH MARKS

Stretch marks, also known as striae gravidarum, are long and thin streaks or lines which can appear on the tummy, thighs and breasts as your baby grows and your skin stretches during pregnancy. They are often red, pink or purple to start with, before gradually fading to a silvery-white colour.

They don’t just affect pregnant women – they can happen during rapid growth of the body, such as during puberty.

They are a form of scarring on the skin, caused by it expanding and stretching rapidly, especially during the last trimester. Not every pregnant woman gets stretch marks, but they are very common and harmless – albeit irksome!

Although there’s no sure-fire way to prevent stretch marks, many mums-to-be moisturise their bump regularly to keep it smooth – check with your midwife or pharmacist about safe products.

Keeping hydrated with water will also help your skin stay supple. And certain types of food are particularly good for your skin, including oily fish, fruit, green vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and fortified cereals.

Stretch marks diminish post-birth, but don’t dissapear completely. Stretch mark creams are available over the counter from pharmacies, supermarkets and health and beauty shops that may help to lesson the appearance of post-baby stretch marks.

TEETH AND GUMS

Hormonal changes can make women vulnerable to plaque, which can lead to inflammation and bleeding gums. This is also called pregnancy gingivitis, which can lead to gum disease.

Dental care is free during pregnancy and for a year after delivery to help maintain good oral hygiene. You’ll need a NHS maternity exemption card to qualify.

Contact your dentist if you’ve noticed any changes in your teeth or gums that you think should be immediately addressed. When you go to the dentist, make sure they know you’re pregnant.

It’s very important to keep your teeth and gums as clean and healthy as possible while you’re pregnant. The best way to prevent or deal with gum problems is to practise good oral hygiene. The NHS has some top advice on how you can look after your teeth and gums in pregnancy at www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/teeth-and-gums-pregnant/

If you have morning sickness (nausea and vomiting), rinse your mouth with water as this will help prevent the acid in your vomit attacking your teeth and wait an hour before brushing teeth to prevent damage from your stomach acid.

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