It's Not All Sunshine: 8 Common Pregnancy Complaints and How to Deal

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I mean, let's be real.  Is this a pregnant fairy in a field of wild poppies??  I feel like there are images like this everywhere, and while I appreciate a beautiful photo celebrating the pregnant form as much as the next gal, I also feel they can put undue pressure on women who may not be feeling particularly goddess-like during their pregnancies. I'll be honest, during my pregnancy I did feel like a magical creature at times.  I mean, I was growing a human!  As women, that's our super power!  But it was not always awesome. Pregnancy is not all sunshine and poppies, or daisies, or whatever.  Sometimes growing a miracle is not so much fun.  If you're experiencing some of the less than fantastic parts of pregnancy, read on for some ideas that may help:

1.  Nausea

Oh, the morning sickness.  Called as such because some women experience more of the queasies in the morning, but other lucky ladies get to experience nausea and vomiting all day long.  Often this symptom will last the end of the first trimester, give or take, but for some women can last the entire pregnancy.  It is believed to be caused by low blood sugar levels, pregnancy hormones, or both.

What can you do?

Try eating frequent meals and snacks to keep your blood sugar steady.  Drink plenty of fluids, and get plenty of rest.  Some women swear by peppermint tea and foods containing ginger.

2.  Dizziness

Dizziness is also more common in the first trimester, but can be experienced throughout the pregnancy as well.  Per the American Pregnancy Association, this is often caused by rising hormones that result in the relaxing and widening of blood vessels that allow free flow of blood to your baby, but also slow the return of blood to you.  This can reduce blood flow to your brain, temporarily causing dizziness.  Dizziness can also be caused by low blood sugar, and as your pregnancy continues, it can be caused from your uterus putting pressure on your blood vessels, or from the weight of the baby pressing on your vena cava (a large vein that carries blood from your lower body to your heart) when lying on your back.

What can you do?

Make sure you are eating regularly, and getting plenty of rest.  Avoid standing for long periods of time, and maintain movement of your legs while standing to increase circulation.  After sitting or lying down, make sure you get up slowly to allow time for your body to adjust, and avoid lying flat on your back after the middle of the second trimester.

3.  Backache and Joint Pain

With the shift of your center of gravity, and the additional weight you are carrying, it makes sense that pregnancy would put additional stress on your back.  Add to this surging hormones like progesterone and relaxin that relax all your joints and ligaments in preparation for birth, and you can end up with even more strain to your back, hips and pelvis.

What can you do?

Make sure you are doing your best to maintain good posture, don't lift heavy objects, and stay active- focusing on gentle activities like prenatal yoga, walking or water excercise.  Experiment with heat, cold, and massage.  Consider complimentary therapies such as chiropractic and acupuncture.

4.  Swelling and Fluid Retention

During pregnancy, your body produces 50% more blood and other fluids, which accounts for 25% of the weight you gain during this time.  Swelling is a normal result of this additional fluid, and is needed in order to soften the body, allowing for expansion as the baby grows, as well as helping your pelvic joints and tissues to open for delivery.  This often sets in around the fifth month, and can increase in the third trimester.  If you experience sudden swelling however, it is important to contact your healthcare provider, as it could be a sign of preeclampsia.

What can you do?

Avoid standing for long periods of time, rest with your feet elevated, limit caffeine and sodium, and drink plenty of fluids.  Some women find relief in wearing compression stockings, or using cold compresses on swollen areas.

5.  Heartburn

Another thing we can thank surging progesterone levels for- unfortunately along with the rest of your body relaxing, your stomach valve does the same.  Because of this, along with your increasingly crowded stomach, stomach acid can make its way into the esophagus, resulting in wicked heartburn.

What can you do?

Try eating smaller meals, more often to avoid overcrowding your stomach, and eat slowly. You could experiment with avoiding common triggers like fatty foods, citrus, spicy foods or caffeine to see if that may help.  It's also a great idea to avoid eating right before bed, and to prop yourself up while lying down.  If none of these do the trick?  Ask your doctor about medications that may help- usually over the counter antacids are safe during pregnancy and they may decide to prescribe something stronger if your heartburn is severe.

6.  Constipation

Rising progesterone levels can mostly be blamed for this lovely pregnancy side effect as well.  The relaxation of the smooth muscles of your digestive tract can result in slower digestion, and ultimately constipation for about 50% of pregnant women.

What can you do?

Another great reason to stay hydrated, to eat small, frequent meals high in fiber, and to stay active.  All of those things can help stave off constipation, but if they do not help, talk to your provider about the potential addition of stool softeners, or looking into a prenatal vitamin with less iron which can help as well.

7.  Hemorrhoids

Along with constipation, often comes straining during bowel movements, which can contribute to our next uncomfortable symptom during pregnancy- hemorrhoids.   Hemorrhoids are basically varicose veins around the anus, which are also partially attributed to progesterone-related relaxation of the blood vessels.  Hemorrhoids may first be noticed as itchiness or pain in this area, and can result in small amounts of blood being seen on the toilet tissue.

What can you do?

Try to avoid becoming constipated by eating a high fiber diet, staying hydrated, etc., but if you do end up with hemorrhoids there are things you can do to help soothe the area.  There are many over the counter products that are safe during pregnancy, such as Tucks medicated pads, or products containing witch hazel or aloe.  You can also try warm sitz baths, alternating warm and cool compresses, and switching to pre-moistened wipes rather than toilet tissue to avoid irritating the area further.

8.  Difficulty Sleeping

Funny how, even though your body is so "relaxed" during pregnancy, it can be so incredibly difficult to sleep.  "Sleep while you can!" people warn, and it can seem like a cruel joke as you're lying awake at 2 am, or getting up 17 times per night.  Pregnancy related insomnia can stem from a number of the aforementioned side effects, or can come from pre-birth anxiety, baby's movements, or your overcrowded bladder keeping you up.

What can you do?

Comments from others that it's just "nature's way of preparing you to be up all night with the baby!" don't seem to help.  What can?  Mental relaxation is key.  Winding down before bed by taking a warm bath or shower, reading, meditating, or writing your worries down in a journal can really help set the stage for a more restful night-  even if you do get up a bunch of times to pee.  A nice cup of tea can be relaxing before bed, as can lavender essential oil, which is generally accepted as safe for use during pregnancy.  Once you've gotten relaxed, be sure to cuddle up with plenty of pillows, or even a specialty maternity pillow to ensure your changing body is properly supported for the best possible chance at quality sleep.

Written by Angie Traska of Align Doula Services, providing intuitive, attentive doula support that aligns with you.  Looking for doula support or lactation counseling in the Madison area?  Contact me here.