Symptoms of discomfort due to pregnancy vary from woman to woman. We will list some common discomforts. You may experience some, none or all of them.
- Nausea and vomiting
About half of all pregnant women experience nausea and sometimes vomiting in the first trimester. This is also called morning sickness because symptoms are usually most severe in the morning, however, nausea and/or vomiting can occur at any time of the day. Some women may have nausea and vomiting throughout the pregnancy rather than just in the first trimester. Morning sickness may be due to the changes in hormone levels during pregnancy.
Morning sickness seems to be aggravated by stress, traveling, and eating certain foods, such as spicy or fatty foods. Eating small meals several times a day may help lessen the symptoms. A diet high in protein and complex carbohydrates (such as whole wheat bread, pasta, bananas, and green, leafy vegetables) may also help reduce the severity of the nausea.
If vomiting is severe, causing a woman to lose fluids and weight, it may indicate a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This condition is characterized by excessive and persistent vomiting during pregnancy (usually early in the pregnancy) that can lead to dehydration, malnutrition and weight loss. Women with this condition may need to be hospitalized so they can receive intravenous fluids and nutrition in order to keep herself and her developing baby nourished. Call your health care provider if you are experiencing constant or severe nausea and vomiting.
As the body works overtime to provide a nourishing environment for the fetus, it is no wonder a pregnant woman often feels tired. In the first trimester, her blood volume and other fluids increase as her body adjusts to the pregnancy. Sometimes anemia is the underlying cause of the fatigue. Anemia is a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capability of red blood cells, and it is usually due to low iron levels. A simple blood test performed at a prenatal visit will check for anemia.
Because of increased pressure on the rectum and perineum, the increased blood volume, and the increased likelihood of becoming constipated as the pregnancy progresses, hemorrhoids are common in late pregnancy. Avoiding constipation and straining may help prevent hemorrhoids. Always check with your health care provider before using any medication to treat hemorrhoids.
- Varicose veins
Varicose veins, which are swollen, purple veins, are common in the legs and around the vaginal opening during late pregnancy. In most cases, varicose veins are caused by the increased pressure on the legs and the pelvic veins and by the increased blood volume.
- Heartburn and indigestion
Heartburn and indigestion during later pregnancy are caused by pressure on the intestines and stomach as the baby grows and moves. This pressure can push stomach contents back into the esophagus. Heartburn may be reduced or prevented by eating smaller meals throughout the day and avoiding lying down for at least an hour after eating.
- Bleeding gums
Gums may become spongier as blood flow increases during pregnancy, which can cause gums to bleed easily. A pregnant woman should continue to take care of her teeth and gums and go to the dentist for regular checkups. This symptom usually disappears after pregnancy.
Pica is a rare craving to eat substances other than food, such as dirt, clay or coal. The craving may indicate a nutritional deficiency.
- Swelling/fluid retention
Mild swelling is common during pregnancy, but severe swelling that persists may indicate preeclampsia (an abnormal condition marked by high blood pressure). Lying on the left side, elevating the legs, and wearing support hose and comfortable shoes may help to relieve swelling in the legs. Be sure to notify your health care provider about sudden swelling, especially in the hands or face, or rapid weight gain.
- Skin changes
Due to fluctuations in hormone levels, including hormones that stimulate pigmentation of the skin, brown, blotchy patches may occur on the face, forehead and/or cheeks. This is often called the mask of pregnancy, or chloasma, and it often disappears soon after delivery. Using sunscreen when outside can reduce the amount of darkening that occurs.
Pigmentation may also increase in the skin surrounding the nipples, called the areolae. In addition, a dark line frequently appears down the middle of the abdomen. Freckles may darken, and moles may grow.
- Stretch marks
Pinkish stretch marks may appear on the abdomen, breasts, thighs or buttocks. Stretch marks are generally caused by a rapid increase in weight, and the marks usually fade after pregnancy.
- Yeast infections
Due to hormone changes and increased vaginal discharge, also called leukorrhea, a pregnant woman is more susceptible to yeast infections. Yeast infections are characterized by itching accompanied by a thick, whitish discharge from the vagina. Yeast infections are highly treatable. Always consult your health care provider before taking any medication for this condition.
- Congested or bloody nose
During pregnancy, the lining of the respiratory tract receives more blood, often making it more congested. This congestion can also cause a stuffy nose. In addition, small blood vessels in the nose are easily damaged due to the increased blood volume, which can cause nosebleeds.
Increased pressure on the rectum and intestines during pregnancy can interfere with digestion and subsequent bowel movements. In addition, hormone changes may slow down the food being processed by the body. Increasing fluids, getting regular exercise and increasing the fiber in your diet are some of the ways to prevent constipation. Always check with your health care provider before taking any medication for this condition.
As a woman's weight increases, her balance changes, and her center of gravity is pulled forward, which can put a strain on her back. Pelvic joints that begin to loosen in preparation for childbirth also contribute to this back strain. Proper posture and proper lifting techniques throughout the pregnancy can help reduce back strain.
Dizziness during pregnancy is a common symptom that may be caused by:
- a drop in blood pressure due to the uterus compressing major arteries
- low blood sugar
- low iron in the blood
- quickly moving from a sitting or reclining position to a standing position
To prevent injury from falling during episodes of dizziness, a pregnant woman should stand up slowly and hold on to walls and other stable structures for support and balance.
Hormonal changes may cause headaches during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Rest, proper nutrition, and adequate fluid intake may help alleviate headache symptoms. Always consult your health care provider before taking any medication for headaches. If you have a severe headache or a headache that does not resolve, call your health care provider. It may be a sign of preeclampsia.