You have probably heard about morning sickness—and may think that it is the only side effect of pregnancy. Oh if only that was the only discomfort you experience during pregnancy. In fact, each stage of pregnancy has its associated aches and pains.
For the first trimester of pregnancy, you will experience huge hormonal changes that are largely responsible for morning sickness. Many newly pregnant women report sensitivity to certain smells that are off-putting, such as coffee. They also feel nauseated due to these hormonal swings. Though “morning sickness” is the common term, women can feel nausea at any time throughout the day. Morning sickness is called such because this nausea is more common when you have an empty stomach. To combat this nausea, many women eat several saltine crackers immediately after awakening. It is also important for pregnant women to eat small meals throughout the day, even though their appetites may increase. For most women, nausea vanishes by the fourth month of pregnancy.
Though nausea is one type of abdominal pain, the other type is more of a shooting pain caused by the abdominal tissue stretching. These pains may occur in both your stomach and your upper thighs, since the uterus is pushing on those areas. To combat these pains, you can bend forward to ease the tension. You can also apply a heating pad to the affected area, though if the pain is agonizing you should contact your doctor.
Besides nausea, constipation is also common for pregnant women. To prevent constipation, pregnant women should eat fiber-filled foods such as fruits and vegetables. Pregnant women should also drink water or other hydrating fluids frequently throughout the day, and exercise to keep their digestive tract moving. During constipation, they should take laxatives or stool softeners so you do not strain during bowel movements, and cause hemorrhoids.
As your belly expands, you may also notice your feet and ankles swell. This swelling is caused by the heavier uterus placing pressure on the veins and arteries in your legs, which causes blood to pool in your feet and ankles. You may also get varicose veins as a result of this swelling. Laying down and raising your legs above your body will help alleviate the pressure. Moreover, you should avoid eating foods high in salt, because salt contributes to fluid retention and causes more swelling.
Another common side effect of your expanding uterus is backaches. Your back is adapting to the new weight of your uterus, which causes muscles in your back to strain and cause soreness. You can do back-strengthening exercises and use a heating pad to help reduce the backaches. You should also wear low-heeled, but not flat, shoes to help redistribute your body weight evenly.
Besides your back, your uterus will also place pressure on your bladder. This causes the frequent urge to urinate that is so common among pregnant women. Though there is no way to prevent these urges, many women wear “roomier” clothes that place no extra burden on their bladders.
Other areas of your body will change due hormonal triggers. Your breasts will enlarge and may even feel sore, especially in the first and last trimesters of pregnancy. Your breasts may also leak a milky fluid called colostrum, which is completely normal. If your breasts become so large as to cause discomfort, you can wear a maternity bra to provide extra support.
Besides body-specific changes, many women report feeling more tired throughout pregnancy. To regulate their sleeping schedules, they go to sleep at an earlier time and may wake up earlier. Doctors recommend pregnant women to exercise by walking or bicycling, though this may not be encouraged for women who have more difficult pregnancies.
Women additionally report spells of dizziness throughout pregnancy. These spells are caused by the hormone progesterone, which directs more blood flow to the uterus and away from the head. To combat these spells, you should eat regularly and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Moving around regularly also helps maintain your blood circulation.
Many women state that one of the most difficult side effects of pregnancy is difficulty falling and staying asleep. This is especially true during the last few months of pregnancy, when finding a comfortable sleeping position becomes more elusive. Many women place a pillow below their knees or under their feet to alleviate the swelling in their legs. Other women lie on their left side, which is known to boost blood circulation.
Heartburn is another reason why pregnant women have difficulty falling asleep, because the uterus pushes more stomach acid up the esophagus. Heartburn is also why it is so important for pregnant women to eat small meals throughout the day and eat more slowly. They should also avoid lying down after eating—if they feel tired, they can sleep on an armchair or a bed with an elevated headrest.
Whether lying down or standing, pregnant women also experience painful leg cramps caused by uterine pressure. One way to prevent them is to do leg stretches before bed, or by lying on the side to boost circulation. Exercising and elevating the legs whenever possible will also go a long way to reduce leg cramps.
Stretch marks are pregnancy’s main effect on the skin. These marks usually appear on the areas affected by the uterine growth, such as the stomach, hips, thighs, and buttocks. Though stretch marks fade after pregnancy, they never fully disappear. To reduce their visibility, pregnant women can include vitamins C and E in their diet, as well as continually apply lotion to their skin. Despite the claims of many body products, stretch marks occur under the first layer of skin, which is why they never completely vanish.
One of the more alarming—though still normal—symptoms of pregnancy are Braxton-Hicks Contractions. These “fake labor pains” are brief muscle contractions that usually occur during the second trimester of pregnancy. If you get them, shift positions to ease the discomfort. You should also call your doctor to make sure these contractions are Braxton-Hicks.