Every woman’s body responds differently to pregnancy, but there are some common symptoms you might experience during this period. Natalie Nelson spoke to midwife Jeanell du Plessis to find out what body discomforts to expect during pregnancy and how to ease them.
Pregnancy is a life altering event filled with joy, excitement and … body discomforts. These arise from the spectacular changes that your body is going through to grow a new little human being.
The strange thing about these body discomforts is that they are totally unpredictable. You might experience some, none or all of them. They might also vary in severity, explains midwife Jeanell du Plessis. Each of your pregnancies may present the same discomforts or none of the same discomforts, and in varying degrees as well.
Here are some of the most common discomforts, what causes them, ways to ease them and when to worry.
Heartburn is the horrible sensation that feels like a fire is erupting in your chest, causing awful discomfort right up to your throat. One cause of heartburn is the production of progesterone, says Du Plessis. Progesterone is responsible for relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus, allowing it to stretch easily. Progesterone also relaxes the valve that separates the oesophagus and the stomach, allowing stomach acid to come back up and cause the burning sensation, says Du Plessis.
This is why you can experience heartburn from very early on in pregnancy, not just when your little one is taking up much needed space in the abdominal cavity.
How to ease heartburn:
- Eat several small meals a day
- Eat slowly
- Drink fluids between meals and not with meals
- Don’t eat greasy, fried or ‘heavy’ foods
- Avoid citrus fruits and juices and spicy foods
- Don’t lie down after a meal.
Seek medical help if none of these suggestions ease the heartburn in any way. Your caregiver can suggest a
suitable antacid to help you relieve the heartburn.
The extra retention of fluid is needed to soften the body, enabling it to expand as baby grows. It is thought that the pregnancy hormone, aldosterone, is responsible for this. The enlarging uterus also interferes with blood flow from the legs to the heart, resulting in a ‘backing up’ of fluid in the veins of the legs, which seeps out into the surrounding tissue. This can be exacerbated by standing for long periods of time.
Coping with fluid retention:
- Drink more fluids, helping to flush the body
- Avoid caffeine and salty foods
- Elevate your feet regularly
- Wear flat, comfortable shoes
- Avoid tight clothing
- Consider using support stockings
- Mild cardio exercises, especially in water to improve circulation.
Du Plessis recommends that you seek medical help if you notice sudden swelling or rapid weight gain. This could be an indicator of pre-eclampsia.
Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements coupled with hard, dry stools and is common during pregnancy. The pregnancy hormone progesterone is found to be responsible for this.
Progesterone relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract, making the digestive system sluggish. Constipation needs to be treated as quickly as possible as it will only get worse, resulting in piles and
How to ease constipaton:
- Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid caffeine
- Eat high-fibre foods
- Exercise regularly
- Change your prenatal supplement if the iron content is high.
Seek medical help if constipation does not ease up and becomes extremely painful. If it is coupled with abdominal pain, or you pass mucus or blood, or if constipation alternates with diarrhoea, you should also see your medical profession.
Morning sickness is something of a misnomer, because it is hardly ever contained to the mornings, it is not a sickness, and it is not necessarily confined to the first trimester either. It is, however, thought to be caused by an increase in the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone.
Morning sickness is primarily experienced as nausea, and is sometimes coupled with vomiting. In most cases it goes away after the first trimester, but some women experience it all the way through pregnancy.
How to ease morning sickness:
- Nibble on crackers before getting out of bed
- Avoid heavy, fatty meals and strong smelling foods
- Eat small meals throughout the day
- Eat slowly
- Sniff lemon, mint or orange essential oils
- Wear an acupressure band.
Seek medical help if your vomiting becomes so severe that you risk becoming dehydrated, or if flu-like symptoms develop with your nausea or vomiting.
Body aches are common throughout pregnancy, usually peaking during the third trimester when the pressure is really on – literally. Luckily these aches are simply an indication that your body is preparing itself for childbirth.
Pressure builds up in the body as the uterus and baby grow and ligaments soften (thanks to the hormone, relaxin). The back, abdomen, groin area, hips and thighs are the usual niggly spots. Sciatica is a painful ache that runs from the lower back down through one leg.
Apart from gravitational pressure and baby’s fight for space, the change in one’s centre of gravity causes strain on muscles that are not used to having the job of keeping you upright and balanced.
How to ease body aches:
- Do not lift heavy objects
- Lie down as often as possible
- Do preggie-safe stretching exercises
- Massage the affected areas
- Seek chiropractic treatment
- Use Kinesio Tape®.
Seek medical help if the aches don’t subside, or they become debilitating.
Fatigue usually hits heavily during the first trimester, abates during the second trimester and returns in the third trimester. The first trimester fatigue is due to the vast amounts of energy required to build the placenta. During the last trimester the weight of baby and the increased blood volume increases fatigue. This is also coupled with sleep quality that tends to take a turn for the worse during this trimester because of discomfort, constant bathroom runs, vivid dreams, leg cramps and just general discomfort.
How to ease fatigue:
- Don’t overexert yourself
- Try to rest as much as possible during the day
- Keep hydrated and eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly and breathe deeply
- Lighten the load – cut unnecessary social engagements, reduce workload, etc.
- Use pillows for support behind the back, under the tummy and between the knees when asleep.
Seek medical help when fatigue is coupled with hopelessness, as you could be experiencing a bout of depression.
Dizziness and light-headedness during pregnancy are relatively common. Fainting is quite rare, but it does happen. This can happen because progesterone relaxes the walls of your blood vessels, causing your blood pressure to fall.
In the second and third trimesters, the size and weight of the uterus and baby combined can put pressure on the blood vessels. If you stand up too quickly, you may experience postural hypotension – when blood does not have enough time to reach the brain. Another reason for dizziness is that blood sugars may be too low.
How to prevent dizziness:
- Stand up slowly
- Don’t stand too long
- Don’t skip meals: keep your blood sugar stable
- Snack on salty foods like pretzels if your dizziness is caused by low blood pressure.
Seek medical help when your feeling faint is coupled with bleeding or unusual and particularly painful abdominal pain.
Though these discomforts are common and normal, do not hesitate to contact your caregiver if you have any concerns or worries about what you’re going through.
And don’t forget, these discomforts will pass, and they are definitely worth it!