DURING pregnancy, your body becomes a powerhouse of sorts; behind the scenes, cells are multiplying hundreds and thousands of times per day, fuelled by your own body’s oxygen, food and energy sources. This is bound to result in some undesirable symptoms or side-effects.
While no two pregnancies are the same, and every woman’s experience is unique, here are some of the most common ailments experienced at different stages of gestation. Which ones have you encountered?
Misleadingly known as ‘morning sickness’, nausea with or without vomiting, during pregnancy can actually occur at any time of the day, ranging from absolutely none, to levels that require hospitalisation due to dehydration, a la Kate Middleton (hyperemesis).
The majority of women experience at least some levels of nausea and vomiting until weeks 12 to 14, attributable to increased levels of progesterone while the placenta is forming.
Treatment options range from ginger, e.g. in biscuits or tea, to acupressure bands for use on a pressure point on the inside of the wrist.
Eating little and often can sometimes help to reduce the nausea; ‘grazing’ is the best way to keep pregnancy sickness at bay!
Prescription anti-emetic medication and/or rehydration IV fluids are warranted in severe circumstances.
No, really… pure and utter exhaustion! The tiredness of the first trimester can only be described as a tiredness that you feel deep within your bones. A colleague once compared it to the all-consuming fatigue she experienced when her thyroid levels were very low; no amount of sleep could ever shake it.
Then, lo and behold, the second trimester dawns. Personally, second trimester energy was the closest I got during those nine months to feeling like I’d had a few alcoholic beverages! I had energy to burn, and felt ready to take on the world! Enjoy it while it lasts though, because the third trimester brings its own physical challenges, linked to the size of your bump and the extra energy exerted while lugging it around.
Towards the end of the pregnancy, even putting on socks becomes an exercise in strategy and precision!
Your healthcare team will monitor your bloods, particularly your iron levels. In some circumstances, e.g. a history of polycystic ovaries, you may also be screened for gestational diabetes.
Otherwise, rest assured that low energy levels shall pass, and take every opportunity to put your feet up.
One of the classic pregnancy symptoms, not many escape the wrath of indigestion! This is because relaxin is produced by the body at increased levels during pregnancy, facilitating stretching of the muscles in the womb as your baby grows, and preparing the pelvis for childbirth.
However, relaxin also acts on the sphincter muscle at the top of the stomach, allowing acid to travel back up along the oesophagus, hence that burning sensation, also known as reflux.
Baby contributes to the problem by putting pressure on the stomach, pushing the acid upwards. Gravity also plays a role when we lie down, which is why raising the head of the bed is advised, and avoiding large meals before bedtime is wise. Spicy and fatty foods increase acid production and exacerbate the situation.
Ask your pharmacist for a suitable antacid to carry in your handbag, or try the acid-neutralising properties of a glass of milk.
Aches and pains
As your bump grows, so too do the variety of aches and pains experienced during pregnancy, with back and pelvic pain causing particular consternation. This is because as pregnancy progresses, your centre of gravity slowly shifts. Your bump begins to stick out at the front, and your body attempts to recalibrate by sticking out your bum at the back. The result is a torso that is out of alignment, with aches and pains galore.
Invest in an exercise ball, which can be used to train your pelvis back into a neutral position with some very simple routines.
Wear good support tights if you’re on your feet a lot — the relief they provide to bump, back and legs is divine!
At night, it is recommended to sleep on your left side for optimum blood flow to your baby. However, the pull of your bump downwards is challenging on your back, and the stacking of your knees are problematic for the pelvis. To counteract this, use extra pillows in strategic places; one under your bump to reduce the pull on your back, and one in between your knees to support the pelvis. You might even succeed in getting a decent night’s sleep!
While pregnancy is commonly viewed as being a happy, magical time, the rollercoaster of emotions experienced by expectant mothers should not be underestimated. Hormones are rampant (think PMS multiplied by one hundred!) and tears will be shed for the most trivial of things, it’s inevitable!
Unfortunately, 10-20% of pregnant women experience a more serious negative shift in their mood, called antenatal depression. Symptoms to discuss with your healthcare team include persistent sadness, excessive irritability, trouble concentrating, or feelings of failure or guilt. This is a much more common condition than we are led to believe, which is vital to identify and treat promptly and appropriately should it arise.
The right support reduces your risk of post-natal depression, and allows you to fully enjoy your pregnancy, side-effects and all!
Next week’s column: Skin cancer — the risks, the stats and the steps to take to combat it
Michelle began her healthcare career as a community pharmacist in 2012, and has since expanded into pharmacy research and education. She has just completed a PhD in the area of wellness education, publishing her findings in academic journals, and presenting at international conferences.
She has a particular passion for mental health education, and holds a Professional Diploma in the Teaching of Mindfulness-Based Interventions from the Mindfulness Centre for Professional Training in Ireland.