Those pesky pregnancy symptoms, like nausea and—eek!—hemorrhoids, are all worth it in the end. But that doesn't mean you can't do something now to ease the pain.
Odds are you're thrilled about being pregnant. But pregnancy can also be a pain—literally. In fact, on some days labor might sound more appealing than another bout of constipation, swollen ankles or back pain. Nevertheless, it's all worth it in the end, and in the meantime there are lots of simple things you can do to relieve these common discomforts, says Marion McCartney, director of professional services at the American College of Nurse-Midwives. Of course, you may be one of the lucky ones who sails through the whole nine months with barely a gripe. But it won't hurt to know how to get through some typical challenges—just in case.
When and why it happens: "Morning sickness" is typically worst in the first trimester, but some women experience it throughout their entire pregnancy and at any time of day. "It may be a protective measure to keep us from eating unhealthy foods, it may be related to changing hormones, or it may be both," says McCartney.
Remedies: Snack on lemon drops and ginger products; avoid greasy and strong-smelling foods; and eat small, bland meals throughout the day. "Five or six mini-meals often go down better than three big ones," McCartney says. Drinking sodas, ginger ale, carbonated water and chamomile tea may help (coffee, black tea, citrus drinks and milk often make nausea worse). Wearing a seasickness bracelet or pressing on the acupressure points on the insides of your wrists, about 2 inches up your arm, also may relieve nausea. Finally, be sure to get plenty of rest: Fatigue exacerbates the problem.
When and why it happens: Any time during pregnancy. Blame prenatal vitamins that contain iron, pregnancy hormones that slow the digestive process so your body can absorb more nutrients and water (this also makes your stool harder), and an ever-enlarging uterus that puts pressure on your intestinal tract.
Remedies: Drink at least eight glasses of water a day, as well as a glass or two of 100 percent fruit juice (prune and apricot juices are good choices); eat a high-fiber diet (bran and whole-wheat cereals, whole-grain breads, brown rice and raw fruits and vegetables, especially prunes, pears, figs, apricots, celery, carrots and zucchini, are a good way to increase your fiber intake); and try to exercise daily. "If diet and exercise don't do the trick, ask your caregiver to recommend a safe stool softener, such as psyllium," McCartney says.
When and why it happens: Any time during pregnancy, but usually toward the end of the second trimester. Hemorrhoids are painful varicose veins in the rectum. The pressure of the uterus, coupled with increased blood volume, can cause these normally internal veins to swell and bulge outward, especially during bowel movements.
Rremedies: Be vigilant about doing all of the same things you do to avoid constipation (see above). In addition, avoid sitting for long periods of time; do Kegel exercises, which promote healthy blood circulation to the area; avoid straining during bowel movements and clean your bottom with warm water afterward; and gently wash the area when you bathe. Here's another trick: "Holding Tucks pads with witch hazel against the hemorrhoid several times a day will help relieve pain," says Marilyn Laughead, M.D., chairwoman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Campus in Scottsdale, Ariz.
When and why it happens: Any time during pregnancy (but especially when you cough, sneeze, laugh or make any sudden movement). In the first trimester, leakage, or incontinence, is rarely a problem, but you may feel the need to urinate more frequently. In the last trimester, your bladder is compressed by the uterus and, often, the baby's head. This may affect the bladder's ability to fill with urine, giving the sensation that it's fuller than it is. Actual leakage is most common in the third trimester. Remedies: Do Kegel exercises several times a day to help maintain strong pelvic-floor muscle tone. In addition, try to empty your bladder completely every time you urinate. Here's a trick: When you're on the toilet, place your hands under your belly and gently lift it to let the last drops of urine out. You can also rock slightly forward from your hips to help empty your bladder.
When and why it happens: Throughout pregnancy, "increased estrogen levels dry out mucous membranes and make them swell," says Richard H. Schwarz, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Weill College of Medicine at Cornell University in New York.
Remedies: Drink even more than the recommended eight glasses of water a day; use a humidifier to keep the air moist; stand in a steamy shower; or fill a bowl with very hot water, drape a towel over your head and the bowl and breathe in the steam. Saline drops also can help. "But avoid decongestants and medicated nasal sprays like Afrin, since they can make the dryness worse," Schwarz says. If nosebleeds are a problem, avoid blowing your nose forcefully. If your stuffy nose is accompanied by a fever or persistent headache, call your doctor or midwife—you may have a sinus infection.
Swollen hands & feet
When and why it happens: In the third trimester, pregnancy hormones slow circulation, allowing fluid to settle in your hands, feet and ankles. "The enlarging uterus puts pressure on veins in your legs, which also contributes to swelling," says Schwarz, who advises calling your doctor or midwife immediately if you have any of these possible signs of preeclampsia: a swollen face; sudden swelling in any part of your body; swelling in your feet that doesn't subside after elevating them for an hour; or swelling that is accompanied by sudden weight gain or a persistent headache.
Remedies: Avoid prolonged standing; elevate your feet frequently; soak your feet in cool water in the evening; wear properly fitting, low-heeled shoes; drink all the fluid you can (drinking less will not reduce swelling); and avoid salty foods, which can cause water retention.
When and why it happens: As your pregnancy progresses, the baby's weight and your shifting center of gravity can cause back pain, particularly in the second and third trimesters. Weakened abdominal muscles also can contribute to backaches. If the pain becomes severe, call your doctor. Remedies: Stretch frequently; do abdominal exercises (strong abs help support your spine); do not lift heavy objects; wear comfortable, low-heeled, supportive shoes; avoid standing for too long in one spot (if you do have to stay on your feet, rest one foot on a footstool or a shoebox); sleep on your side with a pillow placed between your knees; apply a heating pad or ice packs; and get massages.
When and why it happens: In the second and third trimesters. The exact cause is uncertain, but they may be due to fatigue, pressure from carrying extra weight, or an inadequate calcium intake.
Remedies: Avoid pointing or curling your toes; stretch your legs frequently; get foot and calf massages before bed; sleep with your feet elevated and don't place heavy blankets on them; get up and walk around or flex your toes upward at the first sign of a cramp; take calcium supplements (check with your doctor first). If cramps are frequent, wearing support hose can help.
When and why it happens: Occurs throughout pregnancy but is most common in the third trimester. It's caused by an increase in stomach acid and the pressure that your growing uterus puts on your abdominal organs.
Remedies: Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day; avoid very spicy foods; avoid eating just before bedtime; and sleep with your head and upper torso propped up. If heartburn is severe, ask your doctor or midwife to recommend an antacid product.