- Digestive problems
- Abdominal pains
- Heavy legs, swelling, cramps and haemorrhoids
- Varicose veins
- Stretch marks
Constipation and heartburn are problems many mothers-to-be experience. They are caused by pregnancy hormones which can slow down the muscles in the bowel causing constipation and they can also cause heartburn. The growing uterus compresses other organs which can also contribute to heartburn.
- Choose foods that are rich in fibre: green vegetables, fruit, whole-grain cereals and unrefined starches (pasta, rice, etc.). Snack on some prunes or dried fruit.
- Avoid fatty foods that are difficult to digest Avoid carbonated water, which may cause bloating.
- Eat your meals without hurrying.
- Avoid lying down after meals.
- Do a little exercise: at least 30 minutes of walking every day.
- Drink sufficient water – about 2.3 litres per day.
- Don’t bend down too often or sit slouched – it may compress your abdomen more.
- Divide up your meals and have several small meals per day.
- Your doctor may also prescribe suitable medication for you.
Occasionally you may have bouts of lower abdominal cramps, similar to menstrual cramps. There is no reason to worry, as this is quite common during pregnancy as your body tries to make space for your baby and support its growth.
However, if cramps are severe and continue for longer periods of time, you may want to get them checked out by your doctor.
Heavy legs, swelling, cramps and haemorrhoids
Cramps are very common during pregnancy however it is not known what exactly causes this. A feeling of heavy legs, ‘pins and needles’ oedema (severely swollen ankles) results from extra fluid in the tissues of your body. Haemorrhoids may be caused by constipation or pressure from your baby’s head. These symptoms are usually not serious, but it’s best to talk to your doctor about them and to adopt some good habits.
- To combat cramps, massage the affected area to provide some relief. Stretching may also help with pain relief.
- To avoid haemorrhoids, try not to let yourself get constipated. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits and leafy green vegetables. Drink plenty of liquids. Try not to strain when having a bowel movement.
- Wear comfortable shoes to help with swollen feet or ankles.
- Put your feet up whenever you can. Try to keep them elevated above the level of your heart. Sleep with your legs slightly raised (using a pillow). This will help circulation.
- You may need to wear support stockings (your doctor can provide you with a prescription or recommendation).
- In most cases there are natural solutions. If your problems do not disappear, never take medication of your own accord. Always speak to your doctor first.
- Contact your doctor if your face or hands swell suddenly.
Hormone changes can cause varicose veins in your legs. Your legs may feel achy and heavy. In some cases, varicose veins can cause severe pain and irritate the skin covering the swollen veins.
- Place your feet up whenever possible. If circumstances allow, raise them level with or above your heart.
- Avoid prolonged standing.
- Avoid wearing shaping garments, socks or stockings with elastic that are tight and restrict circulation.
- Support pantyhose may help, put them on before you get out of bed in the morning.
- Go for a 20-minute walk every day.
- Be careful to gain healthy weight over your pregnancy.
- If these preventive measures fail, your doctor may recommend special elastic stockings. They’re more expensive than regular support hose and not especially attractive, but they may help keep your varicose veins under control.
As your pregnancy progresses, you will experience rapid weight gain and structural changes in your body. Your natural reaction is to try to adjust to these changes – and this may cause back pain. If the strain persists for long, it may lead to sciatica or other back problems in the third trimester. If you experience severe back pain, contact your healthcare provider for advice.
- Especially later in your pregnancy when you are much bigger, keep often-used items within easy reach to minimise excessive bending, lifting and stretching – or ask someone else to help you. Bend your knees, not your back, and lift small loads using the strength of your legs. If you have to walk with the load, try to divide it into two parts, holding one in each arm instead of holding it all in front of you.
- Stay fit. Regular stretching and exercise can help relieve back pain. Talk with your doctor before introducing new exercises.
- Sit smart. Stress on your spine is greatest when you are sitting. Make sure that the chair you use provides good support, preferably with a straight back, arms and a firm cushion. The seat needs to support your thighs. Another good idea is supporting your lower back with a cushion.
- Choose your chair. A chair that reclines a bit can also help take some pressure off your back. Use a footrest to elevate your legs slightly and do not cross your legs since it can cause your pelvis to tilt forward and strain your back further.
- Don’t sit for very long hours. If you’re at work, try to take walking or stretching breaks every hour or so for a few minutes.
- While standing, adopt a good posture. Stand tall and hold your shoulders back to keep your back straight. If you slouch on your tummy, it can strain the back and worsen the backache.
- Don’t stand for long periods. If your work demands standing, discuss some work health safety options while you are pregnant.
- Rest well. While resting, raise your feet and legs to take the pressure off your spine and pelvis. Use a hard mattress to support your back and try sleeping on your sides to rest your spine. You can also use a body pillow for support.
- Get out of bed smart. Turn to your side, then swing your legs over the edge of the bed. This position helps you to push your body up with the help of your arms without placing any strain on your back.
- Go for flat or low-heeled shoes. Wearing high heels may make you unstable and put more strain on your back.
- Keep a watch on your weight. Try to keep your weight gain within the recommended parameters. Carrying too much weight puts a load on your back and strains it further.
- Exercise regularly to help to strengthen your back. Get advice from a trained professional or join some antenatal exercise classes.
- Relax your back by pampering it with massages and warm water baths.
Some women experience heartburn during pregnancy. Don’t be concerned – just take a few simple precautions to help reduce it.
- Avoid greasy, fatty foods and spicy foods.
- Opt for six to eight small meals a day rather than three large ones.
- Don’t lie down right after meals.
Everyone worries a little when pregnant – looking after yourself and getting informed can help you stay positive and put your worries in perspective.
- Walk to lower stress and help you sleep better.
- Talk with your partner, a friend or your healthcare professionals about your concerns.
- Take a childbirth class to prepare and learn relaxation techniques.
Another phenomenon for some pregnant women is hypersalivation – or producing too much saliva. It seems to occur when you are experiencing nausea or morning sickness and often disappears once this settles.
Maintain a healthy balanced diet and talk to your healthcare providers to see if there are different options you may not be aware of.
Many women experience red or pink marks on the abdomen, hips and breasts, known as stretch marks. These stretch marks usually appear as a result of weight gain and stretching of the skin, which is a natural part of pregnancy. The redness usually fades after birth. Nothing that you apply will prevent these stretch marks. To help minimise the marks you can:
- Stay within your weight gain guidelines. Gaining a lot of weight in a short time can make the marks much worse.
- Wear a good supporting maternity bra throughout your pregnancy
- Moisturise your stomach to keep the skin soft. This won’t help you avoid the marks but may make you feel more comfortable;
- Try not to worry about how you’ll look in a bikini next year. The stretch marks may fade after you have your baby, becoming pale and much less noticeable.
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