Although growing a baby is an awesome feat, the side effects are plentiful—and, unfortunately for the mamas carrying those wee ones, they’re mostly pretty unpleasant. (Heavier-than-normal vaginal discharge, we’re looking at you.) Read on for a bevy of ways to exterminate some of the most common offenders—or at the very least keep them under control.
Nausea + vomiting
By now, you might have discovered that the term “morning sickness” is a little misleading. Although some women experience nausea and vomiting primarily in the early hours, for many others it’s an all-day affair. Officially, it’s called “nausea and vomiting of pregnancy,” or NVP for short.
NVP tends to rear its ugly head around the sixth week of pregnancy, but it’s not unheard of for it to arrive sooner. Luckily, it subsides for most women around the close of the first trimester. The severity swings within a wide range: You could find yourself anywhere from mildly nauseated to wildly ill. If you’re having trouble keeping food down, eating healthily—or even eating at all—can be a real challenge. Do your best to maintain a nutritional diet, but if all you can stomach is saltine crackers, that’s OK for now. Hopefully, the sickness will pass with time, and your prenatal vitamin can help fill in the nutritional gaps.
Medications and supplements (such as vitamin B6) can offer relief but should be taken under the supervision of a medical professional. Throughout your bout with NVP, stay in touch with your care provider about how often you’re feeling sick, what you’re able to eat and whether your condition is improving with time. In rare cases, NVP can become severe; in extreme instances, it can be dangerous for you and your baby.
Constipation + hemorrhoids
About half of all expectant women find that at some point in their pregnancies things aren’t moving through quite like they used to. Gina Haldeman, CNM, a midwife in Alexandria, Virginia, and creator of the Step by Step Pregnancy Care App, explains: “The hormone progesterone is greatly increased in pregnancy, and this has an effect on the smooth muscle tissues.” Because your intestines fall into that category, your digestive system might be a bit slower than you’d like.
For many gals, the fix is simple. “Taking a daily stool softener can make a world of difference,” says Haldeman. Pregnancy-safe varieties are widely available, so don’t hesitate to ask your care provider for a recommendation if you need to get back on track. Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, drinking plenty of fluids and exercising regularly will also help.
Constipation sometimes leads to an even peskier problem—hemorrhoids. These little balls of joy are essentially varicose veins of the anus. Although straining to move your bowels while constipated often produces them, there’s another issue at play, too. The pressure of your expanding uterus on certain veins slows the return of blood from the lower half of your body to the heart, making varicose veins more likely anywhere below the belt.
You can generally treat hemorrhoids on your own, but if you notice any rectal bleeding or they don’t clear up within a week, loop in your care provider. (Many over-the-counter products are OK to use while expecting, but they shouldn’t be used for longer than seven days. If you want to try one, call your practitioner’s office for a recommendation.)
Here are a few ways to lessen the pain until the bulge passes:
- Wipe the slate clean. Sub out regular toilet tissue for moistened wipes. (You’ll find flushable ones in the same aisle as the tissue.)
- Compress the problem. A cold compress soaked in witch hazel will do wonders for easing the pain and itching.
- Soak the sore area. Sit in warm water in the tub for 10 to 15 minutes a few times each day. If you can’t hop in the tub, try a sitz bath that fits on the toilet instead. (Pick one up at your local drugstore.)
- Practice prevention. Doing daily Kegel exercises, avoiding sitting or standing for long stretches of time, and trying not to strain on the toilet can all help prevent the predicament in the first place.
Digestion might be in turmoil up top, too. Although it’s often worst in the last trimester, heartburn can flare up anytime during pregnancy. There are some steps you can take to prevent it:
- Keep weight gain within the recommended range.
- Avoid foods known to cause heartburn. (See sidebar for list.)
- Eat small, frequent meals.
- Eat slowly.
- Drink before and after meals, but not during (unless necessary).
- Stay upright after meals.
- Elevate your head while sleeping.
- Don’t eat late at night or near bedtime.
You might also find that liquids—soups, smoothies, yogurts and the like—are less likely to light a fire within. If heartburn does strike, chew on TUMS for relief, or try a stick of sugarless gum. (Artificial sweeteners should be used in moderation while expecting, but the minimal amount found in gum shouldn’t pose a problem.) A glass of milk can quiet the burn, too, for some people. If it’s a recurring problem, your OB or midwife might recommend a medication that helps control acid production.
Fatigue + exhaustion
Here’s a hard truth: You’re going to be more tired than usual when you’re expecting, probably notably so in the first and third trimesters. There are many reasons for this—fluctuating hormones, an increase in blood production, and lower-than-usual blood sugar levels and blood pressure among them—and there’s really no quick fix to make it better. You’re just going to be fatigued.
However, there are things you can do to slightly improve your situation. Rest as much as you can. If you’re pooped, opt for a Hulu binge rather than a cleaning binge. (Or, better yet, read a book! Screens have a way of making true rest elusive.) Don’t be afraid to take a nap or go to bed early when the opportunity presents itself.
As with all maternity woes, a healthy diet—making sure you’re getting enough calories daily and hitting your iron and protein quotas while you’re at it—and regular exercise will help. Exercising seems counterproductive when it comes to exhaustion, but it doesn’t have to be something intense. A 30-minute walk counts as exercise when you’re tired. Head outside for the trek, and your mood will thank you. Fresh air and sunshine can do wonders for both your energy and your outlook.
Restless leg syndrome + leg cramps
If your legs are keeping you up at night, you’re not alone: The Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health reports that up to 30 percent of expectant women are affected by leg cramps during pregnancy, and up to 26 percent experience restless leg syndrome (RLS).
Leg problems generally appear in the second or third trimester. Both calf cramps and RLS stump doctors—there’s no definitive cause for either of them during pregnancy, but there
are things you can do to ease and possibly prevent both problems.
When it comes to leg cramps, weight gain, swelling and fatigue might be to blame. Although you can experience them during the day, nighttime is when they tend to stand out, with the spasms sometimes even waking you from a dead sleep. To help prevent them, stretch your calves before bed, wear support hose or socks during the day, drink ample fluids, and be sure you’re getting plenty of calcium and magnesium in your diet. (Look to dairy and bananas to boost your intake.)
RLS isn’t as easily fixed. It’s characterized by strange, unpleasant sensations in the legs. Words like painful, irritating and throbbing are often thrown around when trying to describe the feelings, but perhaps the moniker itself offers the best descriptive: restless. You just feel the need to move your legs—and not in a good way.
The symptoms of RLS aren’t limited to nighttime; they can pop up after any period of inactivity, such as after riding in the car or watching a movie. Unfortunately, most of the meds approved for RLS are off the table during pregnancy. Soaking their legs in warm water before bed helps some moms, as does maintaining a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Low levels of iron or magnesium might be to blame, so have your doctor check those if you’re bothered. A supplement or diet adjustment might help.
Other tricks to try: gentle leg massages (put your partner to work!) and establishing a good nighttime routine. Don’t climb into bed until you’re ready to go to sleep, because the longer you lie there, the jumpier your legs might be. When you’re having an episode of RLS, get up and move around a bit to see if it calms things down.
Sure, it’s small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but the acne that often accompanies a baby on board has exasperated many a mom-to-be. (It’s those trouble-causing hormones, at it again.)
“Simply keeping up with your skin care routine can help prevent acne from spiraling out of control,” says Naz Saedi, MD, a dermatologist in Philadelphia. So, even when you’re fighting exhaustion, take two minutes to wash your face before bed and in the morning.
Keep in mind, though, that your old standbys for pimple treatment might be temporarily off-limits. Certain common ingredients, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, are not baby-safe. Luckily, there are many approved products on the market that will do a fine job of keeping your skin in line. “Ask your dermatologist to make sure that the products you are using are safe,” advises Saedi.
About a quarter of the weight you gain during pregnancy will be made up of the extra fluids your body will accumulate. In fact, you’ll be producing about 50 percent more blood than usual. This fluid retention often results in edema, more commonly known as swelling. The legs, ankles and feet usually bear the brunt of it, but it’s also common in the hands and face. Edema tends to peak in the third trimester.
Certain factors can make swelling worse, such as heat, spending a lot of time standing and a sodium-heavy diet. Avoiding caffeine and increasing their potassium intake can help ease the symptoms for some women, as can rectifying the troublesome situations noted above. (We know you can’t control the weather, so simply limit your time outside if it’s warm and you’re inflating faster than your pool float.)
A few more tips: Make water your new best friend by drinking lots of it and hopping in it to rest or swim if you have access to a pool. If it’s your ankles or feet that are puffing up, elevate your feet when you’re sitting or lying down. And don’t even think about reaching for a pair of heels—this is the time for comfortable, supportive shoes. You might be tempted to grab a pair of flip-flops, but they don’t offer a lot of support, so flats with a good arch and padding are a better choice.
While some swelling is normal, sudden or severe swelling could be a sign of trouble (particularly if it’s in the face or hands). Contact your practitioner if you have concerns.