In general women seem to either love pregnancy or despise it. Though a few women do fall somewhere in between, finding pregnancy uncomfortable from time to time but not entirely miserable. When I hear of a particular woman who loved being pregnant, it was usually the case that she had little to no symptoms or complications nagging her throughout the nine months (or she happened to have a really great attitude!). The flip-side is usually true then that symptom-plagued mums-to-be find pregnancy to be way too long and way too uncomfortable.
For women who haven’t been pregnant, it can be daunting to read through a list of symptoms they may experience throughout the course of pregnancy. Sure, no one looks forward to feeling badly, but it’s good to remember that it’s so very worth it.
What’s encouraging to know is that most symptoms aren’t happening all at once. They come at different stages, last for various lengths of times, and all women experience things differently depending on current lifestyle, body chemistry, body shape, health, etc. Some women might experience a range of symptoms here and there, some might experience the whole lot, others may just have one or two things that challenge them throughout the whole time, while other women might barely notice they are pregnant besides the obvious baby bump staring back at them in the mirror. So while you can’t exactly control how your body will respond to pregnancy, you can still take measures to help ease or eliminate most nagging symptoms. Here are a few tips for managing your way through some of the common pregnancy complaints.
Nausea. Typically the first major symptom experienced in the first trimester, nausea can be a drag. A great preventative each morning is eating plain crackers in bed, along with sipping water. Let it settle in your stomach before rising to avoid getting sick. If I didn’t do this, I found myself running to the bathroom. Not very pleasant. In regards to food, some women have extreme food aversions and can’t stand the sight or smell of anything, while for others, only a few items make their stomachs turn. I remember never being hungry and not even wanting to open the fridge. It made me gag. I could only eat a few things. So to stay healthy I literally made myself eat. Bland or simple foods were ideal—apples, mashed potatoes, raw veggies, toast, etc. It’s important to keep eating. Many women also feel sick the moment their stomachs feel empty. It helps to eat many small meals and snacks throughout the day. Keep healthy snacks close to hand so you’re never without access to something. Also, avoid greasy, spicy foods, and caffeine. All can exacerbate nausea. Ginger tea or sweets can help ward off nausea. Find what works for you, and most importantly, stay hydrated. Nausea usually dissipates around week 12 (though a few unlucky women may suffer the whole pregnancy).
Fatigue. As your body works hard to create your wee bundle, you may experience fatigue at various stages – typically in the first and third trimesters. I had it worst in my first trimester and found myself lying on the couch often. Allow yourself to take it easy. Growing a baby is hard work. Some women experience fatigue in the third trimester as well. How badly you experience it really depends on how well you are sleeping at night, if you’re at home with other children all day long, what your working situation is like, etc. When possible, take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard. Even if you aren’t a napper, lying down to rest your muscles and your eyes can help rejuvenate you and get you through the day. Staying hydrated, eating well and engaging in regular, moderate exercise can also help with fatigue. Lounging around too much can actually make you more lethargic. So rest when you can, but remember that being somewhat active promotes healthy blood flow, boosts endorphins and helps stimulate all your systems!
Itchy skin. As your belly grows, your skin stretches, which can bring on quite the itch. But there are other types of itches, like all over every part of your body! This is usually caused by dehydration. I found that whenever I wasn’t drinking enough water, my skin would go ballistic and I’d get chapped lips. Though I carried a water bottle with me everywhere I went, some days I simply didn’t consume enough and it caught up with me. It’s important to stay on top of hydration because you’re supplying the amniotic fluid (which is cycled out several times a day) you have increased blood volume and you generally need to keep your body and your baby’s growing body healthy and functioning well. To avoid exacerbating itchiness even further, try to avoid really hot showers, spending too much time in the sun, and sitting too close to a fire or heater. It also helps to keep your bedroom cool at night and use heaps of body lotion.
Difficulty breathing. This was a major one for me and took some time to figure out. In general, your increased blood volume and the fact that your organs and baby begin to push up on your diaphragm and lungs can make you quite out of breath. Usually it’s completely bearable and you just have to slow down sometimes to catch your breath. For me, it was a little more serious. In addition to blood volume and baby pushing upward, I also had severely nasally congested for the last 18 weeks of pregnancy and very low iron. We didn’t figure out I had low iron until I had already suffered nearly two months with daily dizziness, near fainting spells, extremely laboured breathing and a few panic attacks from lack of breath. It was a horrible experience. But once I had my third trimester blood test it revealed what was happening. My iron was very low. It’s typical for pregnant women’s iron to plummet because baby is laying down its iron stores, but for whatever reason it affected me quite severely. After the test results came in, I immediately began taking iron supplements and increasing iron in my diet (meats, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, beans, etc.) Avoid taking iron with calcium, which inhibits iron absorption. Instead take with orange juice or another drink high in vitamin C which helps to increase iron absorption. Within two days of starting the iron supplements I felt better and breathing was much easier. If you’re suffering from lack of breath, get your iron levels checked.
Heartburn and indigestion. This can happen at various stages of pregnancy but it’s typically the most frustrating in the third trimester as hormones begin to relax your digestive organs and muscles and as baby pushes up on your stomach. Food is also typically digested more slowly and there is more acid in your stomach during pregnancy, all which can trigger the painful symptoms of heartburn. There are many different remedies and suggestions for helping ease heartburn and indigestion but I’ll just list a few. Avoid highly acidic or spicy foods, especially in the evening. Tomatoes were my biggest enemy at night! After eating a meal, stay upright and avoid lying down. Take an antacid when you go to bed, or whenever symptoms strike. And sleeping with an elevated pillow can help keep things where they should be! Foods and drinks that may ease symptoms are peppermint and camomile teas, milk and yogurt, ginger ale, lemon water, almonds and hazelnuts. And as always, stay hydrated.
Insomnia. Typically women experience bouts of insomnia during the first and third trimester. It can be triggered by a number of reasons. Your body is adjusting to an increase of hormones, you have increased urination, you may be experiencing back pain, having leg cramps, struggling with congestion, heartburn or being overheated, and just generally hyped up due to the big changes your body is undergoing. I slept my best during the second trimester. The last two months of pregnancy, however, I was waking every two to three hours and found it difficult to fall back asleep. Usually I awoke due to the aforementioned symptoms. Treating insomnia can really depend on the variety of the symptoms you are experiencing. For me it helped to take an antacid before bed, lather up with lotion, keep my bedroom cool, use two pillows to help with heartburn and congestion, and arrange a pillow under my back for the occasional back pain. I also always kept water by my bed throughout the whole pregnancy to sip as needed. The best thing I found though was to avoid worrying when I couldn’t sleep. If I was laying there for a while, I’d doodle on my iPhone until I felt sleepy again. Panicking about sleep loss only makes it worse. Stay relaxed. You will usually have enough energy throughout the next day regardless of your lack of sleep. And there’s usually an opportunity to nap if needed.
It can seem overwhelming – all the changes and little annoyances pregnancy brings – but the reward at the end of those nine months is well worth the sacrifice! Take time to talk with your LMC and do further research to find remedies and solutions that work best for you. Pregnancy is a special time and doesn’t have to be miserable. Hey, your mum went through it for you! You can do it too!