Dealing with Common Discomforts During Pregnancy

Heather Bartos, M.D., OB/GYN

While pregnancy is an exciting time, it can also come with some unpleasant discomforts. For some women, pregnancy is a breeze with only a few, mild complaints. But, for others with more severe symptoms, it can be a long, uncomfortable nine months. 

We spoke with Heather Bartos, M.D., an OB/GYN and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Frisco and at be. Women’s Health & Wellness just east of Prosper and soon to be in Frisco, to discuss some of the most common pregnancy-related discomforts and how to soothe them. 

 

Morning Sickness

Nausea and vomiting, better known as morning sickness, are among the top complaints with more than half of women reporting experiencing the ailments at some point in their pregnancy. The feeling of wanting to throw up (nausea) is not uncommon. But Bartos notest that each woman is different; some will only feel the urge to vomit, and some will actually vomit. 


Thankfully, most women will only experience morning sickness during the first trimester, but there are a select few who might experience nausea and vomiting throughout their entire pregnancy. 

Tips to avoid or treat morning sickness:

  1. Eat foods rich in protein. Protein helps ease morning sickness.
  2. Invest in products that contain ginger which is clinically proven to reduce morning sickness and safe for both mom and baby. This can be things such as ginger candies, ginger ale, ginger capsules or ginger tea.
  3. Make sure to take your daily dose of Vitamin B6 which is clinically proven to reduce nausea associated with morning sickness. The recommendation is 25mg up to three times per day, but make sure not to go over 100mg.
  4. Stay hydrated. When you’re nauseous or throwing up, putting anything into your stomach may feel like the last thing you want to do but throwing up can quickly lead to dehydration.
  5. Take your time getting out of bed. Sitting up too quickly can cause lightheadedness or dizziness, two things you don’t want to mix when you already feel nauseous.

“Have oyster crackers, lemons or Lemonheads candies, peppermint candies, etc. on hand, and realize what you can tolerate today may not be what you tolerate tomorrow,” Bartos adds. “As long as you’re drinking fluids and your urine is light yellow, you’re plenty hydrated. Just listen to your body and take it slow.”

 

Lack of Energy/Fatigue

Another common symptom of pregnancy is how tired you feel, especially during your first and third trimesters. For good reason too! Your body is working hard, and you’re also going through physical and emotional changes.

If you find yourself wanting to sneak away for a nap, or dozing off while doing your normal daily routine, Bartos says not to fight it. 

“It’s there for a purpose — to slow you down,” she adds. “I literally once fell asleep in my food while pregnant! A small caffeinated beverage mid-day may help, but otherwise, head to bed early and give yourself the permission to rest!”

Tips to reduce lack of energy and pregnancy fatigue:

  • If possible, take several cat naps
  • Get up and walk around to get yourself moving
  • Try to eat every 3-4 hours and make sure to include carbohydrates, protein and fat in every meal and snack
  • Stick to high-fiber carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit) and minimize sweets and refined grains
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Spend time on things that you find relaxing and don’t be afraid to ask for help

 

Heartburn

Chances are you’ve experienced heartburn a few times in your life, and usually you can pinpoint the cause and avoid it or at least prepare. But when you’re pregnant, every night can feel like pizza night based on the heartburn you’re experiencing. 

Heartburn during pregnancy is another top complaint, with more than half of women experiencing, especially during their second and third trimesters. Indigestion is also common during pregnancy and can occur with heartburn. If you feel full, gassy, or bloated, you have indigestion. 

Despite the fact that it’s uncomfortable and can be painful, it’s important to treat heartburn because it may affect how much you eat to try to avoid it, and if you’re not eating, your baby isn’t getting proper nutrition. 

Tips to avoid or treat heartburn during pregnancy:

  • Eat 6 small meals throughout the day instead of 3 regular meals. This can prevent your stomach from becoming too full.
  • Don’t eat too close to bedtime (2-3 hours before)
  • Prop up your pillow to elevate your head above your stomach. 
  • Avoid spicy foods or other trigger foods such as chocolate, fried or fatty foods, and caffeine.

If you’ve tried these things and nothing seems to work, there are antacids that are deemed safe to take while pregnant, and Bartos says stocking up may be your best friend when heartburn strikes. 

“Have some Tums or Pepcid-type products on hand already because it really is not fun to try to run to the store when it hits,” she explains. 

 

Constipation

If you can’t remember the last time you went, don’t worry, you’re not alone — over 70 percent of women experience this discomfort at some point or another during their pregnancy. Constipation can be caused by a few pregnancy-related occurrences. Your digestive tract slows down to give your body more time to absorb as many vitamins and minerals as it can to help your growing baby. A slow digestive tract means more time between movements. Your expanding uterus also puts pressure on the intestines around it, causing further delays. The large amounts of iron found in many prenatal vitamins can also cause constipation.  

So how can you avoid or treat constipation? 

“Stool softeners, a small cup of coffee, plenty of water (you should aim for about 100 ounces of water a day, depending on your size and medical condition),” says Bartos. “Miralax over the counter is also a wonder. But if you haven’t ‘gone’ in several days, call your OB who can try to help with some other medications.”

In addition, try to eat foods high in fiber, take a pregnancy-safe probiotic, try a prenatal vitamin that has a special, gentler source of iron, and get moving since exercise can help get your bowels moving too. 

 

Headaches/Migraines

As you know, headaches are not subject to pregnancy alone. You can get a headache when you’re pregnant for the same reasons you can get one when you’re not pregnant. But, during pregnancy, you do have some additional triggers such as hormones, stress and fatigue. If you experience headaches right before or during your period, the same holds true. If you’re a coffee, tea or soda lover, you may also experience headaches from caffeine withdrawal. 

While headache is commonly caused by non-serious things and goes away either on its own or with medicinal intervention, a strong headache in your second or third trimester may be a sign of preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Headaches that are a result of preeclampsia are consistent, persistent, and throbbing, and usually come with other symptoms such as blurry vision or seeing spots, extreme weight gain (more than one pound per day), pain in the upper right abdomen, and swelling of your hands and feet. If you get a headache that is out of the norm or you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor or midwife right away.

How can you avoid or treat headaches during pregnancy?

  • Posture plays an important role. Try to stand up and sit up straight.
  • Get plenty of rest and practice relaxation exercises (de-stress!)
  • Exercise (daily 30-minute walk)
  • Eat frequent and well-balanced meals
  • Foods can often be a trigger for headaches or migraines. Keep a food diary and avoid foods that set off headaches, such as chocolate, caffeine, dairy, meats with preservatives, etc.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 cups of water a day (dehydration can be a trigger)

If you have a headache or a migraine, you can try to relieve it by:

  • Applying a compress to your head or neck
  • Eating more frequent meals to avoid low blood sugar & drink more water
  • Massage your head (or have someone to do it for you)
  • If you are sensitive to light and/or sound, try blocking these out or minimizing (sunglasses, earphones to block noise)
  • Take a dose of acetaminophen (if your doctor approves)

 

When to Call the Doctor

So many symptoms and discomforts are a normal part of pregnancy. However, on occasion, what seems like a pregnancy symptom could be a warning sign of a problem.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, you should call your doctor or go directly to the emergency room if:

  • You can’t keep any food down.
  • You have abdominal pain.
  • You feel contractions or cramping. 
  • You are bleeding or feel a gush of fluid.
  • You don’t feel your baby move or feel less movement than before.
  • You have a headache that won’t go away.
  • You feel dizzy, faint, or lightheaded.
  • You have swelling in your hands, feet, or face. 
  • You have a fever.
  • You have pain when you urinate.
  • You are having trouble breathing.
  • You are very worried or feel something is just not right. 

You should always feel comfortable calling your doctor if you’re having any concern about your pregnancy. It’s better to call and get the reassurance that you’re OK, than to wait and worry. 

It’s normal to worry about new symptoms or discomforts that you’re not used to, but remember, most pregnancies are healthy, and the common discomforts are usually just that – common and uncomfortable. In most cases, what you’re feeling is not dangerous for you or your baby. 

By talking to your doctor, learning, and understanding what’s typical and when to be concerned, you can feel more confident that what you’re experiencing is normal and healthy. And, you’ll be more likely to realize when something is not quite right so that you can notify the doctor. Then, you can spend less time worrying about the discomforts and more time enjoying your pregnancy.

For more information on navigating your pregnancy, visits TexasHealth.org/Moms

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