Common health problems in pregnancy
Pregnancy is a special time in your life. And, as excited as you may be about your impending or ongoing pregnancy, there are quite a few hiccups along the way. But, most problems you face during pregnancy are, in fact, quite common.
Of course, you should always consult your doctor whenever you experience any discomfort during pregnancy. In the meanwhile, we’ve compiled a list of common pregnancy problems that you may have to experience when you are pregnant. So, read our post and keep yourself informed.
Your body has a great deal to do during pregnancy. Sometimes the changes taking place can cause irritation or discomfort, and sometimes you may be concerned.
There’s rarely any need for alarm, but you should mention anything that’s worrying you to your maternity team.
This page offers information on some of the more common problems. You can find links to other common pregnancy problems at the bottom of this page.
While a few lucky women sail through their pregnancies without even a twinge of morning sickness, most of us have to contend with a few (or maybe quite a few) pregnancy-related issues. Here’s how to cope with some of the most common pregnancy problems.
Heartburn: Hormone changes during pregnancy, combined with your growing belly, can make it easier for stomach acid to wash up into the throat. Here are some ways to put out the fire:
• Eat small, frequent meals (this will also help with morning sickness).
• Stay away from greasy or fried food, coffee, cola, and smoking (which you should avoid during pregnancy anyway).
• Eat slowly and chew your food well.
• Don’t lie down for at least half an hour after meals.
• Prop up your head and shoulders while you’re asleep.
• Try calcium carbonate, an antacid that’s also used as a calcium supplement. Don’t take more than the dose recommended on the package, and don’t treat yourself with any other over-the-counter medications (including other antacids) before checking with your doctor or pharmacist.
Morning sickness: As any pregnant woman knows, “morning sickness” should really be called “all-day sickness.” It usually gets better after the first trimester, but an unlucky few suffer right up until they deliver their baby. Here are a few ways to help that queasy stomach:
• Have small, frequent meals. Don’t let yourself get too hungry.
• Have small amounts of fluids several times a day. But don’t drink fluids during or just before or after a meal.
• Before you get out of bed in the morning, eat a small nutritious snack like crackers or a granola bar (keep it by your bed), then rest in bed for 15 minutes.
• If certain scents or foods turn your stomach, steer clear! The most common offenders are fried, spicy, or fatty foods.
• If you’re having trouble finding foods you can keep down, try bread, noodles, watermelon, crackers, cereal, mashed potatoes, clear soup, apple slices, pretzels, or pickles.
• Try having your food cold instead of hot to take away some of the smell.
• Try smelling lemons or ginger to calm your stomach.
• Have a few salty potato chips to ease nausea before your meal.
• Take your prenatal vitamin with food so it doesn’t upset your stomach.
• Get plenty of rest and fresh air.
• Try acupressure wrist bands (available at your local pharmacy).
• Ask your doctor about taking Diclectin® (doxylamine/pyridoxine), a prescription antinausea medication for pregnant women.
Fatigue: Considering the enormous amount of work your body is doing right now, it’s not unusual to feel completely exhausted. The best solution: rest! Give yourself permission to get the sleep you need, even if this means adjusting your schedule and asking for help with household chores.
Frequent urination: In the first trimester, those frequent bathroom trips are due to the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which causes increased urination. In the second trimester, you usually get a bit of a break from bathroom time. But in the third trimester, bathroom breaks are back with a vengeance as the growing uterus puts pressure on the bladder. What can you do?
• avoid caffeine
• avoid fluids in the early evening and before bedtime – drink more fluids during the rest of the day to make up for this
• go to the bathroom when you feel the urge
• when you urinate, lean forward to help the bladder empty more
Constipation: During pregnancy, food moves more slowly through the body to give you a better chance to absorb nutrients. Iron supplements can also make you constipated. What can you do to stay regular?
• eat high-fibre foods like fruit, vegetables, beans, and whole grains
• get plenty of fluids
• stay active
• go to the bathroom when you feel the urge – don’t wait
Sore back: A growing uterus, a shifting center of gravity, and loosening ligaments add up to back pain for many pregnant women, especially in the third trimester. Here are a few ways to ease back pain:
• Choose your shoes wisely. Opt for a low heel with good arch support.
• Lift with your legs, not your back. And don’t lift heavy objects – ask for help.
• If you have to stand for a long time, put one foot up on a step stool or box.
• When picking things up, squat down and keep your back straight instead of bending from the waist.
• When getting up, roll onto your side first, then use your hands to push up.
• Apply a heating pad or ask for a back rub.
• Choose chairs with good lumbar support or put a little pillow behind the small of your back when sitting.
• Stay active – try water exercises and walking.
Stretch marks and itchy belly: There’s no sure-fire way to prevent or get rid of stretch marks. But you can reduce your risk by trying to gain no more than a healthy amount of weight: 25 to 35 pounds (11 kg to 16 kg) for most women. Use lotion to keep your skin well hydrated and to avoid “itchy belly.” After the baby is born, the stretch marks will likely fade.
Gestational diabetes: This is a type of diabetes that starts during pregnancy and usually disappears after the birth. The first sign is usually a high result on a routine pregnancy blood sugar test, usually done between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Your doctor will do more detailed blood sugar tests to confirm it. Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes usually means a few changes:
• You’ll need more frequent medical tests, such as blood sugar testing, ultrasounds, urine testing for protein, and blood pressure measurements.
• You’ll be asked to make some healthy diet changes and exercise more frequently.
• You may need to use insulin injections if your blood sugar can’t be controlled by exercise and eating changes alone.
• Because women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at a higher risk of diabetes later in life, your doctor will check your blood sugar about 6 weeks after the birth, and then yearly.
Gestational diabetes increases the risk of having a large baby, a C-section, or very low blood sugar levels in the baby after birth. But it can be controlled to help keep both you and your baby healthy.
High blood pressure (pregnancy-induced hypertension): Some women develop high blood pressure during their pregnancies. Usually this happens in the last trimester (the last 3 months), and usually goes away after the birth. It can increase the risk of certain complications for both mother and baby. It may limit the blood flow to the placenta, which means the baby gets less oxygen and nutrients. It can also cause serious problems for the mother, such as seizures or decreased blood flow to the vital organs. Let your doctor know if you have a severe headache, vision changes, abdominal pain, decreased amounts of urine, or severe swelling of your hands or feet. If you develop high blood pressure during your pregnancy, your doctor will test your blood pressure, weight, and urine frequently. You may need medication, bed rest, and healthy eating to get your blood pressure down. If you are close to the end of your pregnancy and your blood pressure is quite high, you may need to deliver your baby before your due date. Delivering the baby is the only way to cure high blood pressure of pregnancy.
This is not a complete list of all pregnancy-related problems. Talk to your doctor for advice of managing these and other pregnancy issues not listed here.
Constipation in pregnancy
The hormonal changes in your body may cause you to become constipated very early on in your pregnancy.
To help prevent constipation, you can:
• eat foods that are high in fibre, such as wholemeal breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables, and pulses such as beans and lentils – read more about having a healthy diet in pregnancy
• exercise regularly to keep your muscles toned – read more about exercise in pregnancy
• drink plenty of water
• avoid iron supplements, which can make you constipated – ask your doctor if you can either manage without them or change to a different type
You can read more about constipation, including symptoms and treatment.
Cramp in pregnancy
Cramp is a sudden, sharp pain, usually in your calf muscles or feet. It’s most common at night. Nobody really knows why it happens, but there are some ideas about causes of cramp and why it can occur in pregnancy.
Regular gentle exercise in pregnancy, particularly ankle and leg movements, will improve your circulation and may help prevent cramp. Try these foot exercises:
• bend and stretch your foot vigorously up and down 30 times
• rotate your foot 8 times one way and 8 times the other way
• repeat with the other foot
How to ease cramp
It usually helps if you pull your toes hard up towards your ankle or rub the muscle hard.
Feeling faint in pregnancy
Pregnant women can often feel faint. This is due to hormonal changes. Fainting happens if your brain is not getting enough blood and, therefore, not enough oxygen.
You are most likely to feel faint if you stand up too quickly from a chair or out of a bath, but it can also happen when you are lying on your back. Read more about the causes of fainting.
Avoiding feeling faint
Here are some tips to help avoid feeling faint:
• try to get up slowly after sitting or lying down
• if you feel faint when standing still, find a seat quickly and the faintness should pass – if it doesn’t, lie down on your side
• if you feel faint while lying on your back, turn onto your side
It’s better not to lie flat on your back in later pregnancy or during labour. You should avoid going to sleep on your back after 28 weeks as it has been linked to a higher risk of stillbirth.
Find out about:
• symptoms that might mean you’re going to faint – such as a sudden clammy sweat, ringing in your ears and fast, deep breathing
• treating faintness – including what to do to help someone who is about to faint
Feeling hot in pregnancy
You’re likely to feel warmer than usual during pregnancy. This is due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to the skin. You’re also likely to sweat more.
It can help if you:
• wear loose clothing made of natural fibres, as these are more absorbent and breathable than synthetic fibres
• keep your room cool – you could use an electric fan
• wash frequently to help you feel fresh
Incontinence in pregnancy
Incontinence is a common problem during and after pregnancy. Pregnant women are sometimes unable to prevent a sudden spurt of pee or a small leak when they cough, laugh, sneeze, move suddenly or just get up from a sitting position.
This may be temporary, because the pelvic floor muscles (the muscles around the bladder) relax slightly to prepare for the baby’s delivery.
You can find out more about:
• causes of incontinence
• preventing incontinence, including doing pelvic floor exercises.
When to get help
In many cases, incontinence is curable. If you have a problem, talk to your midwife, doctor or health visitor.
Peeing a lot in pregnancy
Needing to pee a lot often starts in early pregnancy and sometimes continues until the baby is born. In later pregnancy, it’s caused by the baby’s head pressing on your bladder.
How to reduce the need to pee
If you find you need to get up in the night to pee, try cutting out drinks in the late evening. However, make sure you drink plenty of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drinks during the day.
Later in pregnancy, some women find it helps to rock backwards and forwards while they’re on the toilet. This lessens the pressure of the womb on the bladder so you can empty it properly.
When to get help
If you have any pain while peeing or you pass any blood in your pee, you may have a urine infection, which will need treatment.
Drink plenty of water to dilute your pee and reduce pain. You should contact your GP within 24 hours of noticing these symptoms. Read more about symptoms and treatment of urinary infections.
Don’t take any medicines without asking your midwife, doctor or pharmacist whether they’re safe in pregnancy.
Skin and hair changes in pregnancy
Hormonal changes taking place in pregnancy will make your nipples and the area around them go darker. Your skin colour may also darken a little, either in patches or all over.
Birthmarks, moles and freckles may also darken. Some women develop a dark line down the middle of their stomach. These changes will gradually fade after the baby is born, although your nipples may remain a little darker.
If you sunbathe while pregnant, you may find you burn more easily. Protect your skin with a high-factor sunscreen and don’t stay in the sun for a long time. Read more about keeping skin safe in the sun.
Hair growth can also increase in pregnancy, and your hair may be greasier. After the baby is born, it may seem as if you’re losing a lot of hair, but you’re just losing the extra hair you grew in pregnancy.
Varicose veins in pregnancy
Varicose veins are veins that have become swollen. They can be uncomfortable but aren’t harmful. They most commonly affect leg veins.
You can also get varicose veins in the vaginal opening (vulva), although these usually get better after the birth.
If you have varicose veins, you should:
• avoid standing for long periods of time
• try not to sit with your legs crossed
• try not to put on too much weight, as this increases the pressure
• sit with your legs up as often as you can to ease the discomfort
• try compression tights, which you can buy at most pharmacies – they won’t prevent varicose veins but can ease the symptoms
• try sleeping with your legs higher than the rest of your body – use pillows under your ankles or put books under the foot of your bed
• do foot and other antenatal exercises, such as walking and swimming, which will help your circulation
Try these foot exercises:
• bend and stretch your foot up and down 30 times
• rotate your foot 8 times one way and 8 times the other
• repeat with the other foot
Read more about preventing varicose veins.
Other common problems
Other common health problems in pregnancy include:
• bleeding gums
• deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
• high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia
• indigestion and heartburn
• leaking nipples
• morning sickness and nausea
• pelvic pain
• piles (haemorrhoids)
• stretch marks
• swollen ankles, feet and fingers
• teeth and gums
• vaginal discharge
• vaginal bleeding