How to Soothe Common Pregnancy Symptoms
A healthy pregnancy is nothing short of miraculous. Here is your ordinary body literally blooming to accommodate a new life. But with that transformation sometimes comes … well, itchiness. And nausea. Backaches and leg cramps. And let’s not forget hemorrhoids. Or the 3,000 trips you take to the bathroom every night.
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. "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.
Fortunately, many of pregnancy’s little annoyances can be alleviated — if not eliminated — easily, safely, and without medication. Following is our laundry list of nagging pregnancy symptoms, their causes, and self-help tips on getting relief.
- RELATED: 23 Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
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 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.
Morning Sickness Cures:
* 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.
* Wear acupressure wrist bands, available in drugstores.
* Drink eight to 10 glasses of water every day.
* Stop and smell the lemons. Seal a slice or two in a plastic bag for a quick whiff on the run.
* Consult your doctor if vomiting becomes severe. In a small percentage of women, it can be a health-threatening medical condition.
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 Dr. Bienstock. The soreness usually subsides by the middle of the second trimester.
Sore Boob Cures:
* 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.)
This side effect is probably more than a little torturous for your poor husband, 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.
Pregnancy Emotion Cures:
* Get to the root of the problem: If you're more cranky when you're tired, aim for a better night's rest.
* 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.
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 Dr. 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.
* Chew your food thoroughly. Eat every bite as slowly as possible.
* Remain upright for at least an hour after eating
Hip and Back Soreness
Pregnancy hormones loosen your joints, while your ballooning breasts and belly wreck havoc on your center of gravity. No wonder backaches are among pregnancy’s most common complaints. Plus, the hormone relaxin, which loosens pelvic bones to prep for labor, can spark joint pain near the hips. “There’s some controversy as to whether you can tone up a stretched muscle, so it’s important for women to start building their abdominal muscles (which support the back) early in pregnancy, before they get stretched out,” says fitness trainer and childbirth education specialist Bonnie Berk, R.N., founder of Motherwell Maternity Health and Fitness in Carlisle, PA.
- RELATED: Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
Sore Back and Pelvis Cures:
* Splurge on a prenatal massage. "It reduces knots and boosts circulation, which helps back muscles recover faster," says Dr. 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.
* 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 another short object.
* If sleeping on your side (the left side 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.
* Stick to flat-heeled, supportive shoes.
* Bend at the hips, not the waist, and lift your legs bend so you aren't using your back.
* Do pelvic tilts.
From the life's-not-fair school of thought comes this case of mom-to-be irony: You know zzz's 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 pregnancy 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 book or magazine in dim lighting instead.
* If heartburn's not an issue, munch on a small carby snack before bed. A recent study found this may hasten slumber by boosting serotonin and tryptophan, two chemicals involved with sleep onset.
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."
Bleeding Gum Cures:
* 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."
Those throbbing temples are usually just a side effect of other pregnancy body changes, like nausea or back strain. But FYI: Up to 80 percent of 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 Dr. Fothergill.
Pregnancy Headache Cures:
* 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.
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 Dr. 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.
- RELATED: Leg Cramps During Pregnancy
Leg Cramp Cures:
* To relieve a cramp while it’s happening, flex your foot upward.
* A quick 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.
* Keep circulation going with regular cardiovascular exercise.
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.
Carpal Tunnel Cures:
* There's not a lot you can do to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome, 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 Dr. Sax.
* The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that yoga can help alleviate carpal tunnel syndrome.
* Buy carpal-tunnel splints, available at any pharmacy, to wear at night.
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 Dr. Fothergill. "As the fluid pools in these blood vessels, it can cause them to expand and get that dark, bulging look – also known as varicose veins."
Varicose Vein Cures:
* Don’t sit for prolonged periods and don’t cross your legs. Don’t stand for long, either. While standing, lift your heels, flex your ankles, and work your calf muscles so they can help pump blood back to your heart.
* Stop wearing tight clothing, as well as thigh-high and knee-high stockings.
* 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.
* Raise the foot of your bed 3–4 inches.
* Lie on your side (preferably the left) and elevate your legs whenever possible.
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 Dr. Bienstock.
Constipation and Hemorrhoid Cures:
* 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.
* 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.
* To relieve hemorrhoids, try an OTC cream (like Preparation H) or witch hazel pads to soothe swelling.
* When hemorrhoids flare up, use flushable wipes instead of toilet paper, and sit in a shallow tub of very warm water.
Your circulatory volume is up. Your uterus is crowding your bladder. Ideally, you’re drinking more fluids than normal. During pregnancy, the urge to urinate strikes more than ever.
Bladder Control Cures:
* 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.
Chronic Sinus Congestion
As hormonal changes dry out your mucous membranes, your sinuses may protest by staging what seems like one long, stuffy cold. The best non-medical help comes from added moisture.
* Use saline nose spray or drops.
* Use a humidifier, especially at night.
* Lean over a bowl of hot water with a towel over your head. Or run the shower for a few minutes and inhale the steam.
Your skin’s response to pregnancy depends on a number of different factors, chief among them heredity and hormones.
Skin Problem Cures:
* If you’ve developed dark patches on your face, use sunblock to prevent more.
* Try benzoyl peroxide lotion for acne.
* Lotions and oils probably won’t prevent stretch marks, but they can combat itching and other discomfort.
* To avoid abdominal itching, wear non-irritating, natural-fiber clothing; switch to a dye- and perfume-free laundry detergent; and soak in an oatmeal bath.