Pregnancy Symptom Soothers
Morning sickness, sure. But the bleeding gums, leg cramps, carpal tunnel -- you certainly weren't, uh, expecting those. Your growing bump may bring on a whole slew of lesser-known (and downright strange) pregnancy symptoms. But don't worry too much. "As uncomfortable as these conditions may be, many actually indicate a normal, healthy pregnancy because they're simply triggered by your expanding uterus or changing hormones," says Russell Fothergill, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. But these days you don't have to sit back and suffer: "Luckily, we've found that small lifestyle changes can go a long way in relieving the most common complaints," he says. Ease those preggo pains by tonight with this expert advice.
Preggo Pain: Morning Sickness
Memorized the tile pattern on your bathroom floor? No one knows for sure what causes nausea (which, as you've probably noticed, can strike any time of day, not just the morning), but it's likely related to adjusting to early hormonal fluctuations, says Jessica Bienstock, MD, perinatologist and director of the ob-gyn residency program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Up to 80 percent of women will feel better by the second trimester.
* Don't let yourself get too hungry. Try to nibble on something even before you get out of bed (stick a box of saltines in your night table, for example).
* Eat candied ginger or take a ginger tablet; numerous studies have found it helps soothe a queasy tummy.
* Ask your doc about taking a B6 supplement -- the vitamin has also been linked to nausea relief.
Preggo Pain: Sore Breasts
Your boobs may have started aching even before that stick turned pink -- it's one of the earliest signs of pregnancy for many women. Tender breasts are caused by boosted blood volume, another side effect of those initial hormone surges, says Bienstock; the soreness usually subsides by the middle of the second trimester.
* Consider wearing a sports bra during the day and even to bed at night if the pain's really bad.
* Buy new bras that will accommodate the growing boobs. (Money-saving trick: If you're planning to breastfeed, save a ton of cash by buying nursing bras and wearing them now.)
Preggo Pain: Mood Swings
This side effect is probably more than a little torturous for your poor hubby, your mom, or whoever gets the brunt of those pregzilla jabs. Blame the hormones -- as well as the combo of other symptoms like nausea and headaches. "The first trimester is basically like three months of PMS," says Fothergill.
* Get to the root of the problem: If you're more cranky when you're tired, aim for a better night's rest (see slide 7).
* Anxious about labor or adjusting to parenthood? Vent to your partner, since he's likely sharing your same concerns.
* Don't underestimate the power of exercise. Even a short walk can release mood-lifting endorphins and provide respite from work stress, says Fothergill.
Preggo Pain: Heartburn
As many as 80 percent of pregnant women experience that burning feeling after meals, says Joel E. Richter, MD, professor and chair of medicine at Temple University School of Medicine. The hormone progesterone weakens the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus, making it easier for food to back up into the throat. Plus, later in pregnancy your growing uterus puts pressure on your stomach, making lunch more likely to lurch northward.
* "Start by eating smaller meals, especially dinner," says Richter. "And finish your last meal a few hours before bed so you can sleep on a relatively empty stomach."
* Steer clear of fried and fat-packed foods; they take longer to digest so there's a greater chance they can back up.
* Pop Tums (or a similar antacid) to settle your belly after meals (stow a box in your purse and car so you always have them handy). They're safe during pregnancy -- and if you get them calcium enriched, they're a good calcium source to boot.
Preggo Pain: Hip and Back Soreness
That basketball belly is causing your center of gravity to shift more and more every day. This means back muscles have to work a lot harder to maintain posture, which can cause pain, especially toward the end of pregnancy. The hormone relaxin, which loosens pelvic bones to prep for labor, can spark joint pain near the hips.
* Splurge on a prenatal massage. "It reduces knots and boosts circulation, which helps back muscles recover faster," explains Fothergill.
* Stretching and prenatal yoga also work for similar reasons. Two moves we love: Slow, deep bends from the hips, as though you're trying to touch your toes (do this sitting down later in pregnancy) and cat/cows -- a yoga pose in which you get on all fours and curl your back up like a cat's, then back inward like a cow's.
Preggo Pain: Poor Sleep
From the life's-not-fair school of thought comes this case of mom-to-be irony: You know zzzs will be in short supply once baby arrives; but it's also surprisingly hard to get a decent night's sleep while expecting. Let us count the ways: Waking up to pee, heartburn, adjusting to side-sleeping -- we could go on and on.
* Get yourself a preggo pillow -- it can be a veritable lifesaver. Try body and wedge types to see what works for you.
* Avoid TV as a fall-asleep tool; it can actually stimulate your brain and keep you awake. Read a magazine in dim lighting instead.
* If heartburn's not an issue, munch on a small carby snack -- like a couple of cookies-- before bed. A recent study found this may hasten slumber by boosting serotonin and tryptophan, two chemicals involved with sleep onset.
Preggo Pain: Bleeding Gums
Has your mouth turned into a minefield lately? "Hormone surges make you more prone to plaque and bacteria, which makes your gums more sensitive," says Sally J. Cram, DDS, consumer advisor for the American Dental Association. "Even a little plaque buildup can make you likelier to bleed during brushing."
* Step up your at-home care -- brush twice a day and floss at least once a day.
* Go for more frequent pro cleanings (every three months instead of every six), says Cram. "Many women see some bleeding and then back off from brushing and flossing, but that's the worst thing you can do because it creates a vicious cycle," she says. "If your gums look redder than usual, let a dentist check it out."
Preggo Pain: Headaches
Those throbbing temples are usually just a side effect of other preggo body changes, like from feeling nauseous in the first trimester or from back strain later in pregnancy. (FYI: Up to 80 percent of pre-pg migraine sufferers may find they feel better while expecting, according to the National Headache Foundation. "Many women get migraines because of hormonal changes right before they get their periods each month, so pregnancy is basically a nine-month hiatus from that," explains Fothergill.)
* Head off the pain by applying a warm washcloth to your face for sinus headaches or a cold one to the back of your neck for tension headaches.
* Lie down for a cat nap in a dark room and massage your temples to get blood flowing to the area.
* Think an empty stomach might be the culprit? Have a small snack -- but watch for certain foods that tend to trigger migraines, like chocolate or aged cheese.
* Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safe, but avoid other pain relievers. Aspirin and ibuprofen have both been linked to certain birth defects.
Preggo Pain: Leg Cramps
As many as 30 to 50 percent of pregnant women experience those sudden, middle-of-the-night charley horses. "The exact cause is unknown, but your leg muscles may be overworked from carrying extra weight," says Fothergill. "Another theory is that you may have certain mineral imbalances, like not enough calcium, potassium, or magnesium." (Experts believe these nutrients help muscles contract properly.) But if the pain feels sharp and sudden -- like it's radiating down one leg -- it could be sciatica, which is actually caused by the uterus compresses spinal nerve endings.
* A quickie leg massage can get blood flowing and knead out cramp-triggering knots, so have your partner give the gams a rubdown.
* Try this move from Dr. Bienstock: Stand facing a wall, about a foot away. Keeping your heels on the floor, walk your hands slowly up the wall -- giving calves a nice, deep stretch.
* Suspect your diet might be the problem? Talk to your doc; he or she can determine whether a mineral supplement is right for you.
* Know that sciatica will ease up as the baby shifts around, but in the meantime, use a heating pad or try warm (not too hot) baths.
Preggo Pain: Cankles
Forgotten what your pre-pg ankles look like? You're probably suffering edema, or swelling, of the legs and arms. "Fluid tends to pool in the legs during pregnancy because of increased blood volume and compression of certain veins caused by the expanding uterus," says Bienstock. (In severe cases, excess swelling can be a sign of preeclampsia, a condition that's also marked by sky-high blood pressure, but some puffiness is usually normal.) Your doc should be on the lookout for preeclampsia after the second trimester, but let her know if you're worried about your bloating.
* Unfortunately, there's not a ton you can do to relieve swelling now, but trust that it will go away once the baby's born, says Bienstock.
* Rev your circulation by propping your feet up. If you sit at a desk all day, invest in a foot rest.
* Consider giving swimming a go -- it's a great form of exercise that gets you moving without putting any additional any pressure on your limbs.
Preggo Pain: Carpal Tunnel
That achy feeling you get in your wrists after hours of nonstop typing is more likely to strike during pregnancy; experts estimate that anywhere from 2 to 35 percent of women experience some form of it. "Excess fluids in the wrist press on the median nerve, which can ignite numbness, tingling, and pain in the wrist and fingers," says Tracy Sax, MD, a neurologist at the Oregon Clinic.
* As with edema, there's not a lot you can do to prevent carpal tunnel, but elevating your hands and taking breaks for wrist massages may help.
* "Watch your salt intake -- keeping it under 2,300 milligrams a day can stop swelling by reducing water weight gain," says Sax.
Preggo Pain: Varicose Veins
You were expecting some stretch marks, but what's the deal with those purply, twisty veins in your legs? "As your uterus expands, it compresses the major veins in your legs, so blood doesn't flow as quickly as did pre-pregnancy," says Fothergill. "As the fluid pools in these blood vessels, it can cause them to expand and get that dark, bulging look."
* The same thing you'd do to treat cankles -- keep those legs elevated.
* The jury's out on how well support hose really work, so if you're anti granny tights, we say it's okay to skip 'em.
Preggo Pain: Hemorrhoids and Constipation
Talk about a pain in the you-know-what. Hemorrhoids are basically just varicose veins in your rectal area, but constipation -- another lovely pregnancy symptom -- can make them worse. "Constipation tends to strike pregnant women because the hormone progesterone slows your digestive track, so food doesn't pass through as quickly," says Bienstock.
* You've probably heard this, but drinking lots of water and upping your fiber intake are the best ways to improve digestion.
* Aim for insoluble fiber (the kind found in leafy greens, whole grains, and fruit with the skin on) -- trade your daily glass of OJ for the actual orange, for example.
* If you're already prone to digestive woes, then consider taking a fiber supplement like Metamucil.
* To relieve hemorrhoids, try an OTC cream (like Preparation H) or witch hazel pads to soothe swelling.
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