As an obstetrician, I have the opportunity to help women navigate their pregnancies from the time they find out they are expecting until the day their baby is born. While all pregnancies are different, each pregnant woman experiences joy, anxiety, and, unfortunately, some form of physical discomfort.
There are a number of physical issues that can arise in pregnancy – from varicose veins and migraines to rashes and heartburn. Some of the most common ones are morning sickness, fatigue and back pain.
About 75 percent of pregnant women experience some form of morning sickness. It is caused by a variety of internal changes in the body including an increase in estrogen and progesterone levels as well as the pregnancy hormone hCG. Due to the rising progesterone levels in the body, the stomach empties more slowly. Therefore, food stays in the stomach longer, causing more nausea, heartburn and constipation.
Most morning (or for many, all-day) sickness fades away during the fourth month, but that seems like cold comfort for women who feel so lousy. Fortunately, there are some ways to minimize that feeling. Here are some suggestions:
Instead of three large meals, graze throughout the day. Eat in small portions and eat often so the stomach never feels too empty or too full.
Try some ginger to alleviate the feeling of nausea. Ginger comes in many forms, including hard candies, ginger ale, ginger snaps or ginger tea.
Eat from the BRATT diet. This bland diet consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce, tea and toast helps some people who have severe nausea.
Ask a doctor about the combination of Vitamin B6 and Unisom (doxylamine). Both of these are available over the counter. This combination is the newest tool in combating nausea during morning sickness.
Try acupuncture. Some reports have found that acupuncture calms the nervous system and relieves many pregnancy symptoms.
Even if food is not an option, stay hydrated. Consume liquid in any way possible, through Popsicles, Jello, flavored water or Pedialyte pops. Dehydration can possibly cause more problems during pregnancy.
In addition to morning sickness, many women experience great fatigue during their pregnancy. This occurs because the body is working to create a hospitable environment for the baby. As the baby grows, the body consumes more energy. Here are a few of my recommendations to overcome fatigue:
Exercise! Provided that the patient’s physician approves, it is one of the best ways to fight fatigue. Do not assume that a pregnant woman cannot work out. In fact, I encourage my patients to stay active. Most exercise is safe for pregnant women with the exception of contact sports or activities where balance or falling may be an issue, such as skiing. If a woman has not been exercising, she can start by taking walks on a regular basis. As long as a woman can still talk throughout her exercise regimen and is not experiencing any pain, she can (and should) continue this throughout her pregnancy.
Take advantage of additional rest whenever possible. Try to go to bed a half an hour earlier, give up the late-night TV, and if possible, take a quick cat nap. Before going to bed, do some stretching or take a warm bath to improve the night’s sleep.
Try to eat small, healthy snacks such as fruit, vegetables, or protein. Limit the amount of processed foods, sugar or refined carbohydrates because they can contribute to fatigue.
Back pain is another common ailment for pregnant women. Here are a few helpful tips to alleviate the pain:
Tylenol (acetaminophen) is safe to take in pregnancy. Just make sure to use according to the directions.
Physical therapy, osteopathic manipulative treatment, chiropractic treatment, and/or pool therapy have all been found to help pregnant women relieve their back pain. Women should consult their physicians regarding which of these remedies would best treat their individual situation.
Maternity support belts and bands can also help alleviate back pain. Sometimes as the belly grows, it puts too much strain on the back. These bands can help support the growing belly and improve posture.
Move and stretch throughout the day. Sitting for long periods of time can make back pain even worse.
A heating pad on the back or a warm bath can also help reduce the pain.
In the end, pregnant women should remember that, just like labor, these issues are temporary. Regardless of the many discomforts that may arise throughout the nine months, the finish line is real and in sight. These tips can help make the journey more pleasant.