What you need to know, what no one tells you before you get pregnant, is “Pregnancy is amazing, except when it’s not!” There are many strange things that happen to you during this miraculous time- come on, you’re growing a human being inside of you for goodness sake-especially because your hormones are all over the place. These hormonal changes can cause different [and often annoying] pregnancy symptoms all throughout your body. Here are the most common discomforts of pregnancy and how you can navigate through them:
Pregnancy Discomfort #1. Morning Sickness
More than 60% of women will experience morning (and all day and night) sickness. The feeling of wanting to throw up (nausea) is not uncommon. Each woman is different; some will only feel the urge to vomit, and some will actually vomit. Remarkably, researchers still cannot reliably pinpoint what actually causes morning sickness.
Most women will experience this charmer for only the first trimester, while others will have the feeling they’re riding a 5-star rollercoaster throughout their entire pregnancy. The good news is that some research shows that women who experience morning sickness have children with higher IQs…feeling better about it already?
How Can You Avoid or Treat Morning Sickness:
- Eat foods rich in protein. Protein helps ease morning sickness.
- Invest in products that contain ginger which is clinically proven to reduce morning sickness and safe for both mom and baby. Whether ginger drops, ginger ale, ginger capsules or ginger tea, ginger can help.
- Make sure to take your daily dose of Vitamin B6. Again, clinically proven to reduce nausea associated with morning sickness. The recommendation is 25mg up to three times per day to keep the throw up at bay! (Remember, the max daily is 100mg!)
- Drink lots of fluids. Staying hydrated during this time period may be a challenge but it’s a must and will make you feel better.
- Don’t get out of bed too quickly in the morning. Sitting up too quickly can wreak havoc on your equilibrium…slow and steady wins the race.
If you have severe morning sickness, aka hyperemesis gravidarum, speak with your doctor about your options as you don’t want to get dehydrated or malnourished as this can cause more serious issues. Your doctor may suggest an over-the-counter remedy, an anti-nausea medication, and/or a strict nutritional guide (LOTS of bland, easy to digest foods).
Pregnancy Discomfort #2. Lack of Energy/Lethargy / Fatigue
Another common symptom of pregnancy is how tired you feel, especially during your first and third trimesters (the second trimester is usually the “honeymoon” so enjoy it!). More than half of pregnant mamas experience this symptom. Most women feel like finding a hiding spot to curl up and take a nap.
Let’s not forget, your body is producing new hormones and making a lot of changes to prepare for human creation, it takes a lot of work! You’re also producing more blood to carry nutrients to the baby causing increased effort for your heart and other organs. Mental and emotional stress are also reasons you may be feeling exhausted.
You may have difficulty sleeping later in your pregnancy due to multiple bathroom trips, leg cramps, and heartburn.
Fatigue can be a symptom of anemia, particularly from being iron-deficient. Your body needs iron to make hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen to your tissues and to your baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), your need for iron doubles to 27 mg during pregnancy due to the needs of the baby, the additional blood produced by your body, and the blood loss that will occur during delivery. Most prenatal vitamins contain enough iron to support this increased requirement (with the exception of gummies). To get enough through food, eat iron-rich foods like red meat, poultry, fish (2-3 servings per week max), dried beans, peas, iron-fortified cereals, and prune juice.
Since ACOG recommends limiting caffeine intake (200mg a day is considered the upper limit), what can you do to make it through the day? Here are some tips on how to beat the sleepy time blues!
How Can You Avoid or Treat Fatigue During Pregnancy?
To reduce lack of energy and pregnancy fatigue:
- If possible, take several cat naps. We recommend a quality pregnancy pillow that provides great support.
- Get up and walk around to get yourself moving!
- Go to bed early, mama!
- Reduce chances of the need to pee waking you up by drinking fluids earlier in the day and avoid drinking at least 2 hours before bed.
- Minimize nighttime heartburn by not eating right before bed (2-3 hours prior).
- Stretch your leg muscles before bedtime to avoid leg cramps and include potassium-rich foods, like bananas, peaches, kiwis, potatoes, and leafy greens in your diet.
- Exercise, unless your health care provider has advised against it. It can improve your mood and energy level. 30 minutes of walking 3+ times a week can help.
- 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.
- Avoid caffeine if possible (200 mg is considered the max each day).
- Drink plenty of fluids, ESPECIALLY water.
- Reduce stress. Ok, not so easy to do, but spend time on things that you find relaxing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are overstressed. Talk to your healthcare provider for resources- you can even try meditating!
Pregnancy Discomfort #3. Heartburn
The only burn you should feel is from the Extended Triangle Pose position during prenatal yoga! It can help relieve indigestion by the way.
Heartburn during pregnancy is a doozy with more than 50% of women experiencing this symptom, especially during the second and third trimesters. It is not usually a sign of a serious problem, but it can be quite uncomfortable and even painful. Gastroesophageal reflux is often called “acid reflux” or “heartburn.”
Indigestion is also common during pregnancy and can occur with heartburn. Also known as “dyspepsia,” indigestion is just another name for an upset stomach. If you feel full, gassy, or bloated, you have indigestion!
Heartburn occurs when gastric acid from your stomach is pushed up toward your esophagus (the pipe between your mouth and your stomach). This causes a burning sensation behind your breastbone or one that starts in your stomach and seems to rise up. You may also have a sour taste in your mouth or a feeling that vomit is rising in your throat (as we said, pregnancy is amazing, except when it’s not!). It’s important to treat heartburn, as many times it will cause you not to eat properly due to the pain, and if you’re not eating, your baby is not getting the proper nutrition.
How Can You 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)
- Propping up your pillow to elevate your head above your stomach (gravity can help!). You can purchase a foam wedge that can get you at a good angle to avoid heartburn.
- No spicy foods or other trigger foods such as chocolate, fried foods, and caffeine.
- If you’ve tried other ways and nothing seems to work, there are antacids that are deemed safe to take. Before self-medicating, talk to your doctor to confirm what is safe. Calcium carbonate antacids are typically okay.
Pregnancy Discomfort #4. Constipation: Save the pushing for labor!
Don’t worry, you’re not alone- over 70% of women experience this discomfort at some point or another during their pregnancy. There are a few different things that cause constipation during pregnancy:
- Thanks to your hormonal “free-for-all,” your digestive tract slows down (relaxes) to help you absorb all the vitamins and minerals that your new houseguest requires.
- The expanding uterus puts pressure on the intestines around it, causing further delays.
- The increased iron found in your prenatal vitamins could be causing a major backup too! Talk to your healthcare provider about other options (such as taking smaller doses throughout the day).
How Can You Avoid or Treat Constipation During Pregnancy?
- Eat foods high in fiber. Try to do this from the beginning as a preventative measure. Good foods include split peas, black beans, lentils, lima beans, almonds, avocados, berries, oat bran muffins, oatmeal, and more.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water each day. Staying hydrated is a must to keep things moving along!
- Take a pregnancy-safe probiotic to help maintain healthy digestion.
- Get exercise! Gentle exercise can help get your bowels moving and your system regular.
- Try a prenatal vitamin with special gentle iron to reduce the instance of constipation.
Pregnancy Discomfort #5. Insomnia: I can’t stay asleep no matter what I do!
You’re not alone! According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 1998 Women and Sleep poll,78% of women report more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times.
The term insomnia includes having a hard time falling asleep and/or staying asleep.
Hormonal changes are one of the biggest reasons for fatigue and sleep issues during pregnancy. These changes may have an inhibitory effect on muscles, which may result in snoring, and in heavier women increases the risk of developing sleep apnea. In addition, your new level of hormones may be partly responsible for the frequent trips to the little girls’ room during the night. These interruptions, as well as those caused by nausea, heartburn, and other pregnancy-related pains, can result in loss of sleep. Emotional turmoil and stress about delivering a 7-9 lb human being are also to blame for insomnia.
Some of the common sleep issues that occur or are made worse during pregnancy are:
- Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
- Sleep apnea
- Nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux (nighttime GERD)/heartburn
How Can You Avoid or Treat Insomnia During Pregnancy?:
- Plan and prioritize sleep time.
- Try to exercise about 30 minutes each day unless directed not to by your healthcare provider.
- Sleep on your left side to improve blood flow and nutrients to your fetus and kidneys and avoid lying on your back for extended periods of time.
- Use a pregnancy pillow to prop you in a comfortable position
- Drink plenty of fluids during the day, especially water, and reduce the amount you drink 2 hours before bedtime.
- Stop eating spicy, acidic, or fried foods, and eat frequent smaller meals throughout the day.
- Snoring is common during pregnancy, but if you’re having pauses in your breathing, get checked for sleep apnea. Also, have your blood pressure and urine protein checked—especially if you have swollen ankles (a.k.a. cankles) or headaches.
- If you have Restless Leg Syndrome, it may be due to iron or folate deficiency so get tested.
- If you can’t sleep, don’t force yourself- try to read or meditate to relax.
- Use a nightlight instead of turning on the lights in the bathroom which will help you get back to sleep faster.
- Try meditation to settle your brain and calm your nerves. Go online for some great mediation options.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your healthcare provider about sleep issues. It may be an alert to a nutritional deficiency or a respiratory issue (sleep apnea) that your doctor will want to check for. They may also have helpful suggestions!
Pregnancy Discomfort #6. Bleeding Gums & Tooth Pain
Issues with oral health during pregnancy are overshadowed by some of the more obvious symptoms, but this is not one to ignore! A recent survey by Cigna Insurance Company found that 75% of pregnant mamas experience some type of oral health issue during their pregnancy. The symptoms included bleeding gums, toothache, and increased tooth sensitivity.
Only 57% of the women actually visited a dentist during their pregnancy. It’s important to visit your dentist during pregnancy because any infection in the oral cavity can have a negative effect on the health of your baby.
The most common oral discomfort pregnant women encountered were bleeding gums. This is primarily due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy which make the gums sensitive to the presence of plaque. Bleeding gums, if left untreated, can lead to periodontal disease (gingivitis). Many studies state that periodontal disease can be a potential risk for low birth weight babies. Bleeding gums can also lead to a gingival recession which can cause sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures and make teeth more susceptible to decay at the gum line. Your dentist can give you suggestions on treatment and gentle tooth care.
How Can You Avoid or Treat Bleeding Gums During Pregnancy?:
- Consistently and meticulously brush your teeth and floss. But be sure to be gentle, as flossing can cause bleeding on already sensitive gums.
- Visit the dentist/hygienist every 3 months during pregnancy and continue with this frequency until finished nursing.
- Eating healthy and taking prenatal vitamins are also an important factor in maintaining both oral and general health during pregnancy; getting proper nutrition is imperative.
Pregnancy Discomfort #7. Headaches and Migraines
Headaches during pregnancy can be a result of hormonal changes, tension, congestion, constipation, lack of sleep, dehydration, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and even caffeine withdrawal. In some cases, it is caused by preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia (also called Toxemia)
A strong headache in the second or third trimester may be a sign of preeclampsia or high blood pressure during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is an uncommon condition affecting about five to ten percent of pregnancies. Headaches that are a result of preeclampsia are consistent, persistent, and throbbing. Mamas with preeclampsia may also have complaints of blurry vision or seeing spots, weight gain (more than one pound per day), pain in the upper right abdomen, and hands and face getting swollen. 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)
If you experience headaches that become worse or come on suddenly, headaches that are different than normal, headaches that are accompanied by vision changes, sudden weight gain, pain in the upper right abdomen, or swelling in the hands and face, contact your healthcare provider immediately as this could be a sign of preeclampsia.
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. Koren, G., Madjunkova, S., & Maltepe, C. (2014). The protective effects of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy against adverse fetal outcome-A systematic review. Reproductive Toxicology. Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.reprotox.2014.05.012
2. Nulman, I., Rovet, J., Barrera, M., Knittel-Keren, D., Feldman, B. M., & Koren, G. (2009). Long-term Neurodevelopment of Children Exposed to Maternal Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy and Diclectin. Journal of Pediatrics, 155(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2009.02.005