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Common Pregnancy Woes

As your pregnancy progresses, your body is undergoing significant changes. For one thing, your uterus will ultimately grow to about 1,000 times its normal size! As a result of these changes, many women experience discomfort. You should feel free to talk to your doctor about your concerns. In the meantime, here are some common pregnancy changes and advice for coping with them from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Why It Happens

Nausea and vomiting are especially common during the first three months of pregnancy -- and "morning sickness" can occur any time of the day. Although the exact cause is unclear, experts believe that rising hormones play a role. Nausea and vomiting should lessen by about the 14th week of pregnancy.

What to Do

  • Eat crackers or dry toast before getting out of bed in the morning.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Some women find that cold drinks that are bubbly or sweet are best.
  • Get lots of fresh air.
  • Instead of three large meals, each five or six small meals a day.
  • Try the BRATT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and tea.

When to Be Concerned

Call your doctor if your nausea and vomiting are so severe that you can't keep any food or liquid down, you lose weight quickly, vomit blood, or have reduced urine output or dark urine. You could have a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum which can lead to the loss of weight and fluid.

Why It Happens

Carrying approximately 30 extra pounds can put stress on your back muscles. Another cause: Many women adopt a swayback posture to offset the additional weight they are carrying. Stretched and weakened abdominal muscles also contribute.

What to Do

  • Sleep on your side on a firm mattress. Tuck a pillow between your legs for added back support.
  • Skip high-heeled shoes. Instead wear low heels (but not flats) with good arch support.
  • Get off your feet whenever possible. Sit in a comfortable chair and put your feet up on a stool or ottoman.
  • Apply a heating pad or warm water bottle to ease the pain.

When to Be Concerned

If you have severe back pain that doesn't go away or gets worse. It could be a sign of a kidney infection or preterm labor.

Why It Happens

Iron supplements can cause constipation (infrequent bowel movements), and hormonal changes can mean slower digestion. Plus, near the end of pregnancy the pressure that the uterus exerts on the rectum can add to the problem.

What to Do

  • Drink plenty of liquids (experts recommend eight glasses a day). Also, drinking prune juice can help make you more regular.
  • Opt for high-fiber foods like raw fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain bread, and bran cereal.
  • Walk. Light exercise can aid digestion.

When to Be Concerned

Talk to your doctor if the above steps don't offer any relief. He may suggest a bulk-forming agent such as Metamucil or Citrucel to make your stool easier to pass. Never take laxatives during pregnancy.

Why It Happens

A common problem among pregnant women, heartburn results when pregnancy hormones cause the muscle valve between the stomach and esophagus to relax. When this happens, stomach acids cause a burning feeling in the throat and chest. Indigestion is caused by slower-than-normal digestion during pregnancy. The result: bloating and gas.

What to Do

  • Swap three large meals a day for five or six smaller ones.
  • Avoid foods likely to bother your stomach, including spicy, greasy, or fatty foods and citrus or fruit drinks.
  • Don't eat or drink close to bedtime, and don't lie down right after meals.
  • Sleep with your head propped up on a few extra pillows.
  • Drink liquids between -- instead of with -- your meals.

When to Be Concerned

If the above suggestions don't give you relief, ask your doctor about taking antacids. Avoid over-the-counter heartburn medications since they haven't been proved safe during pregnancy.

Why It Happens

Hemorrhoids -- painful, itchy varicose veins in the rectal area -- are caused by the extra blood present in the pelvic area as well as the pressure of the uterus on the veins.

What to Do

  • Ward off constipation by drinking lots of fluids and eating a high-fiber diet.
  • Avoid gaining too much weight. Keep your gain within the range suggested by your doctor.
  • Move around instead of standing still or sitting for long periods of time.
  • Apply ice packs or witch hazel pads to the area to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • Soak hemorrhoids in water a few times a day.

When to Be Concerned

Hemorrhoids aren't dangerous, but they are uncomfortable. They may improve during your pregnancy, but straining during labor can bring them back. Your doctor may be able to suggest creams or suppositories that are safe.

Why It Happens

Swelling of the hands, face, legs, ankles, and feet is normal. It's caused by the extra fluid that develops in your body during pregnancy. Swelling tends to be worst in the third trimester.

What to Do

  • Sit with your feet up often, and sleep with your legs propped up on pillows to keep fluids from building up in your feet.
  • Drink eight to ten glasses of water a day.
  • Change positions frequently.
  • Avoid sleeping on your back in late pregnancy.

When to Be Concerned

If you are badly swollen or you have sudden swelling in your face or hands, contact your doctor. This could signal a problem such as high blood pressure.

Sources: Planning Your Pregnancy and Birth, Third Edition, by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.