What Are the Treatments for Pregnancy Discomforts?
Here are some tips on what you can do for some of the common health problems you may face during your pregnancy, along with alternative therapies that may help.
To relieve sharp pains or cramps from stretched abdominal muscles and ligaments, rest or take a warm bath or shower. Regular exercise will strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles. Take care to avoid exercises while lying on your back for more than a few minutes at a time after the first trimester, since this may decrease blood flow to your developing baby.
Keep your weight gain under control with proper diet and exercise. Avoid taking pain relievers unless necessary; instead, use a heating pad on your back to relieve pain. Special exercises to strengthen abdominal muscles can also help reduce backache. Try a pregnancy girdle or elastic sling to support your abdomen. Wear shoes or shoe inserts designed for pregnant women, and avoid high heels.
Don't stand for long periods. Sit straight. Sleep on a firm mattress. Lying on your side with a pillow between your legs may provide some relief.
Be careful when lifting heavy loads -- especially children. Bend at the knees, keep your back as straight as possible, hold the object or child close to your body, and raise yourself slowly.
Try a chair massage: Sit on a straight chair, facing the back. Lean forward, over the back of the chair, with your head resting on your crossed arms. Have the massager use long strokes, working upward and outward from the lower back, avoiding pressure on the spine.
Some breathlessness is common and normal. Keep your weight gain within the recommended limits and maintain good posture, especially when you are sitting. Sleep on your side -- preferably your left side -- not on your back.
To keep stools soft and bowel movements regular, get plenty of dietary fiber from fresh fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereals and breads, and dried fruit. Avoid using over-the-counter laxatives. Fiber or stool softener agents may be helpful. Try psyllium (Plantago psyllium), an herbal bulk-forming agent. Drink lots of water and exercise regularly.
Mild, painless uterine contractions usually start sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy. If they cause discomfort, try changing positions. If contractions start coming at regular intervals, call your health care provider.
Cystitis (Bladder Infection)
If you develop bladder irritation, like persistent burning when urinating, ask your health care provider about appropriate treatment. Bladder infections in pregnant women are more common and dangerous than in non-pregnant women. Many bladder infections are triggered by sexual intercourse. Remember to empty your bladder immediately after sex and watch for symptoms. Several glasses of cranberry juice a day may prevent urinary tract infections.
Dizziness and Faintness
Slow down when you stand up or get out of bed. Dizziness when you stand up too quickly from sitting or lying down is called postural hypotension. If you feel lightheaded, sit down immediately. If you're in a crowd and start feeling dizzy, step away and get some fresh air; if possible, lie down on your left side or sit with your head between your knees.
Get a full night's sleep, and rest with your feet up for at least 15 minutes several times a day.
Make sure you get enough rest, eat regularly, and drink six or more glasses of water daily. Avoid aspirin or other over-the-counter painkillers except for Tylenol. Instead, try stress-reduction techniques like yoga or meditation. Or try taking a hot bath with a cold pack on your forehead.
Avoid heavy meals and spicy, greasy, sugary, and acidic foods. Stick to a bland, high-fiber diet, drink lots of fluids, and exercise daily. Small, frequent meals may relieve some of the symptoms. Don't lie down right after a meal. Raise the head of your bed 2 to 4 inches with a stable support such as wooden blocks. Antacids can be helpful.
Hemorrhoids may develop due to the increased blood in your body during pregnancy, along with the increased pressure to the blood vessels in your pelvis. Hemorrhoids usually disappear after delivery. Eat a high-fiber diet to keep your stool soft, drink lots of water, and don't strain during bowel movements. To relieve itching or pain, try a warm sitz bath, or apply an ice pack or a cloth soaked in witch hazel. Kegel exercises, designed to strengthen the pelvic muscles, can improve circulation in the area. Getting off your feet may also help.
Leg Pains and Cramps
Wear support hose during the day, and elevate your feet when resting, if possible. Use a heating pad or gentle massage on the back of your thigh to ease sciatica.
When a leg cramp hits, straighten your leg and slowly flex your ankle and toes while massaging your calf; or soak your leg in hot water. You may be able to prevent night cramps by wearing socks to bed or by pressing your foot against the bed board. If painful cramps persist, ask your health care provider about calcium or magnesium supplements.
You may feel nauseated at any time of the day, typically in the first trimester. Try eating frequent, small meals rather than three full meals. Keep your diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates, and low in sweets and fatty foods. Drink plenty of fluids, and eat fresh fruits and vegetables, which are high in water content.
Talk to your health care provider about trying 25 mg of vitamin B6 taken three times a day. Antacids sometimes help, especially if heartburn is part of the problem. In general, try to minimize stress in your everyday activities.
Mouth and Gum Discomfort
Pregnancy can be demanding on your teeth, so make sure you get your regular dental checkup and cleaning. Brush your teeth and tongue at least twice a day, and floss regularly. Sugarless gum can be substituted for an after-meal cleaning if it isn't feasible to brush your teeth.
Nasal Congestion or Nosebleeds
Use a vaporizer to humidify your bedroom at night. Lubricate each nostril with a dab of petroleum jelly during the day to prevent nosebleeds. Avoid decongestant nasal sprays, which can constrict blood vessels.
Avoid lying on your hands while sleeping. If your hands feel numb when you wake up, shake them over the side of the bed. Soaking the hand in warm water or using a heating pad twice daily may help ease numbness; or try wearing a wrist splint.
Rashes from hormone changes during pregnancy generally go away after the baby is born. To prevent freckles or darkened skin on your face, called a "pregnancy mask" or chloasma, wear a wide-brimmed hat and use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when outside.
Lubricate dry skin around your abdomen with a moisturizing cream. For heat rash, try to stay as cool as possible and use cornstarch powder under your breasts, on your thighs, or wherever your skin tends to chafe.
Sleep Problems and Insomnia
Pregnant women often experience sleepless nights and daytime fatigue. During the first trimester, frequent trips to the bathroom and morning sickness may disrupt sleep. Later in pregnancy, vivid dreams and physical discomfort may prevent deep sleep. After delivery, the new baby's care or a mother's postpartum depression may interrupt sleep.
Fatigue during the first trimester of a pregnancy is likely due to changing levels of hormones, such as progesterone. Toward the end of pregnancy, some women find it difficult to sleep because they're uncomfortable due to the size of a growing abdomen. Some women are too excited, anxious, or worried about becoming mothers to sleep well. Sleep apnea (snoring), especially if it's severe and causes your blood oxygen level to drop during sleep, is a risk to the fetus.
Pregnant women who experience insomnia during pregnancy may find relief by taking afternoon naps, drinking warm milk, or taking a warm (not hot) bath before bedtime. Exercise during the day may help, too. Expectant mothers may find it more comfortable to sleep on one side, with pillows supporting the head, abdomen, and topside knee. Don't take sleeping pills or herbal sleeping remedies without talking with your health care provider first.
Monitor your weight gain throughout your pregnancy. To control swelling in your legs and ankles, wear support hose and avoid standing for long periods. Wear shoes that fit well and give good support, or buy shoe inserts designed especially for pregnant women. Getting off your feet helps the most. Lying down is often more comfortable than sitting.
You may find some foods unappealing and develop a craving for others, especially sweets. Iron supplements may leave a bad taste in your mouth; talk to your practitioner if this is a problem. Use mouthwash often. Chewing gum, mints, or hard candies can also chase away unpleasant tastes.
Kegel exercises can help you control stress incontinence -- losing a small amount of urine when you sneeze, cough, or laugh. You can also use a sanitary pad. Leaning forward while urinating helps to empty your bladder completely.
A thin, mild-smelling discharge is normal in pregnancy. Use sanitary pads, if necessary. Don't douche. Any red or brown discharge is a signal to call your doctor immediately.
Vaginal itching and soreness may indicate an infection, which requires treatment by your doctor. Vaginal yeast infections can be common in pregnancy and may disappear without treatment after the baby is born.
Pregnancy puts extra strain on the blood vessels in your legs. Support stockings or pantyhose can help relieve the discomfort. Exercise regularly. Raise your legs above hip level when sitting, if possible. Lie on your left side in bed, or put a pillow under your feet. Ask your doctor or a nutritionist about taking vitamin C supplements to strengthen blood vessels.
If your eyes swell from fluid retention and hard contact lenses become uncomfortable, switch to soft lenses or glasses.
Special Warnings: Caring for Two
Aside from relieving common pregnancy discomforts, there are cautions that are important to remember while you are pregnant. Keep in mind:
- The most dangerous time to take any medication is during the first trimester, when the fetus is developing rapidly and is more vulnerable to injury. Always check with your health care provider before taking any over-the-counter or prescription drugs, including drugs that were prescribed before you became pregnant.
- Several diseases pose special hazards to pregnant women and an unborn child, such as rubella, chickenpox, "fifth disease" (erythema infectiosum), mumps, cytomegalovirus, chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS. Call your doctor immediately if you think you have been exposed to any of these. If possible, get vaccinated against rubella, chickenpox, mumps and pertussis before pregnancy, unless you've had those diseases or their vaccines already. Ask your doctor about performing a blood test for chickenpox and rubella if you can't remember if you've had these conditions as a child, and try to get the vaccines at least four weeks before pregnancy (or afterward) if you need them.
- Don't smoke. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risks of vaginal bleeding, miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, and other problems. Second-hand smoke, car exhaust, and industrial fumes can also be hazardous to pregnant women. Avoid prolonged exposure to environmental pollutants as best you can.
- Avoid breathing in or touching chemical household cleaners, paints, and insecticides.
- Be careful walking and getting out of the shower or tub to prevent falls.
- Check with your doctor about safe exercises. Certain activities should not be undertaken during pregnancy.
- Most couples are able to have sexual intercourse until near the time of birth. Check with your doctor about the advisability of intercourse if you have a history of miscarriage or preterm birth, any infection or bleeding, if the placenta is in an abnormal position (known as placenta previa), or during the last trimester if you're carrying multiple babies. Avoid sex after the amniotic sac has broken or fluids leak. If you develop pain or abdominal cramps that continue or worsen for more than an hour after having intercourse, call your doctor, because your cervix could be dilating.
- Avoid having unnecessary X-rays. If you must get an X-ray, be sure to tell the doctor or the technician that you are pregnant.
- Don't get overheated, avoid exercising in hot and humid weather, and stay out of hot tubs, saunas, and whirlpool baths.
- If you develop a fever or infection, call your health care provider before treating yourself. Tylenol is generally safe to take during pregnancy.