Your belly is the main attraction, but other body parts may be acting strange too.
Sure, you were prepared for the nausea and the cravings -- everyone knows about those pregnancy rites of passage. But other symptoms are somewhat less universal, and so they may come as more of a surprise. You should talk to your doctor about any pregnancy complaints to rule out something serious, but for the most part these annoyances are related to the normal changes your body is experiencing.
Bloody noses, congestion, and postnasal drip are all common in pregnancy, and they're all related to the same two causes, says Nathaniel DeNicola, M.D., an ob-gyn at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, in Philadelphia. Increasing blood volume puts more pressure on delicate vessels like the ones in your nose, but hormones are to blame too, Dr. DeNicola says. Estrogen, in particular, can make blood vessels dilate, which contributes to swelling of the mucous membranes in your nose. Luckily, much of the discomfort can be relieved by using a simple saline spray, and it should resolve soon after delivery.
You might assume that numbness, tingling, or even pain on the outside of your thighs or throughout your body is a circulation problem, but the opposite is true. All that blood you're pumping in preparation for your baby can put additional pressure on the surrounding nerves -- especially late in pregnancy, as your growing uterus may cause even more compression. To alleviate those strange sensations, try a maternity support belt, suggests Christine Greves, M.D., an ob-gyn at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, in Orlando. "It can relieve the pressure by lifting your belly up -- just like an underwire does in a bra," she says. Talk to your doctor any time you have pain in your lower extremities to rule out the possibility of a blood clot.
During her first pregnancy, Houston mom Ita Ghitman had severe carpal tunnel syndrome. "My entire arm would go numb," she says. "Once I had to hold bags of ice on it for three days because I couldn't stand the pain." What gives? You guessed it: that same swelling and pressure, which in your wrists can often lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
A wrist brace can help relieve the symptoms by stabilizing the area and minimizing movements that trigger the feelings, but the issue should resolve after pregnancy, so tell your doctor if it persists.
You may think you need glasses (or a new prescription), but vision issues during pregnancy are another side effect of fluid retention. "When you're pregnant you get swollen all over, and that can affect your eyes," says Dr. Greves. Your lenses and corneas may become thicker, and the eyeballs' pressure may change. But fuzzy vision isn't always a normal pregnancy symptom, says Dr. Greves, so mention it to your doctor to make sure it's not a sign of preeclampsia. If it checks out, don't worry: Your eyesight should return to normal after delivery. Meanwhile, you might want to avoid getting an eye exam because your vision changes may be temporary.
If you notice new fleshy protrusions, relax. Those are skin tags, and you can thank your surging hormones for them, although they can also be a result of friction, says Dr. Greves. (You might notice them as your body grows and rubs in unfamiliar places -- like underneath your breasts.) Other common skin issues include chloasma, or the "mask" of pregnancy -- tan or brown blotchy patches on the face -- and a deepening of the linea nigra, the dark vertical line on your abdomen. These marks often go away, although there's no guarantee.
You may be hyper-focused on your diet, but it's your mouth -- not what goes in it -- that can cause you stress. Changing hormones may make your gums swell, bleed, and trap food, causing irritation and increasing your risk of infection. Similarly, according to the American Dental Association, about 5 to 10 percent of women get small bumps between their teeth (called pregnancy tumors), which can also bleed and be painful. They should go away about a month after childbirth. Since gum disease can increase your risk of premature birth, make sure a dental appointment is on your prenatal to-do list, and that you're brushing and flossing twice a day.
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Originally published in the September 2015 issue of Parents magazine.