Common Pregnancy Discomforts

Heartburn and Indigestion

Heartburn is a form of indigestion with a burning feeling that starts in the stomach and seems to rise into the throat, caused by leakage of small amounts of hydrochloric acid from the stomach into the oesophagus. Greasy fried or spicy food often cause heartburn and indigestion. Try to figure out what foods cause heartburn in you and don’t eat them. In pregnancy pressure from the enlarged womb coupled with relaxation of the valve at the top of the stomach forces acid into the back of the throat. Here are some things you can try, see what works best for you:

  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals, say 5 to 6 small meals each day, to reduce gastric acid
  • Drink between meals, not while eating (1/2 hour before meals and 1-2 hours after)
  • Avoid eating an hour before going to bed
  • Sleep and rest with your head slightly higher than the rest of your body
  • If you have heartburn at night, prop yourself up with 2 to 3 pillows to sleep
  • Take a walk or sit quietly, relax and breathe deeply
  • Yogurt or milk may help as it neutralises the effect of gastric acid
  • Slightly acidic foods, such as fruit juice and tomatoes may provide some relief
  • Don’t mix dairy and acid foods as this will make you feel sick and give you stomach pains
  • Avoid highly spiced and fried foods
  • Peppermint, chamomile, raspberry leaf or ginger tea may help
  • Fresh coriander, slippery elm or dried paw paw
  • Umeboshi juice (a Japanese plum available from health food stores). Boil 3 plums in 600 ml of water and keep in the fridge, drink a little when needed
  • Spearmint or peppermint lollies might be helpful
  • Lemonade or Fruit ice blocks can be very cooling and soothing to an upset stomach
  • If none of these suggestions seem to work for you, talk to your midwife, pharmacist or naturopath. Ask about other remedies or antacids which might be helpful but use them only the way your health care provider advises you.

Constipation

Constipation is the term applied to painful bowel movements, which might be caused by slow, dry, hard stools to pass. Commonly this is related to a lack of fluids particularly water intake for the woman and also clearly linked to the types of foods she is eating usually white starch, simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, cakes, biscuits and pastries. An example would be toast or muffin for breakfast, white sandwich at lunch or burger with fries, and then at dinner; pizza, pasta, white rice and potato dishes would be a very quick way to create constipation. Bowel function also slows down during pregnancy to allow for the maximum absorption of nutrients from foods to benefit the mother and baby, however, it can be more extreme in the last 3 months as the growing baby puts pressure on the bowel. Improve your diet to include more fibre-rich foods, such as delicious fresh fruit and vegetables, oats and whole grains.

  • Increase drinking more water and juices, minimise tea and avoid coffee
  • Carbonated, fizzy drinks such as Cola are very likely to create a lot of wind bowel pain for the pregnant woman and are best avoided. The need to pass wind and constipation often are associated complaints that women experience
  • Eat prunes, dates, stone fruits, high fibre foods such as avocado, bananas, pears and almonds and drink prune juice
  • Increase exercise to stimulate bowel movements, take a walk for about a half an hour everyday, swimming, pilates, belly dancing and yoga are very beneficial as well,
  • Respond to the signals from your body when you get the message to open your bowels, go to the toilet without delay. It is so common that women will put it off because they are too busy and then the feeling passes and they have difficulty later.
  • When taking an iron supplement choose an organic one, often described as pre-chelated or pre-digested as the regular variety can often cause constipation – many women complain of this as the synthetic iron is not easily absorbed so most of it is excreted, which turns the poo black and sticky, leading onto constipation and hemorrhoids, a very unpleasant experience, which might have been avoided with better quality iron tablets. Refer to the health food shop, your qualified naturopath or midwife or doctor for guidance and advice,
  • Drink 2 teaspoons of psyllium seeds in water in the morning, and 1 cup of rhubarb root tea at night
  • When sitting on the toilet relax and don’t rush, if you are uncomfortable and the toilet is too tall for you, then rest your feet on a small foot stool and this will assist the angle of your pelvis, facilitating a more effective evacuation of the bowels with less straining, particularly in the rectal and anal area
  • Check with your midwife, pharmacist or doctor with regard to taking any laxatives as they are not generally considered safe for use during pregnancy, others, like Metamucil, are gentle and safe and use fibre to help loosen bowels. These are okay to use.

Hemorrhoids

Hemorrhoids are small swellings around the anus. They may itch, burn or bleed a little. Constipation can make Hemorrhoids worse. Follow the suggestions for constipation, too. For many women pregnancy is the very first time in their lives that they develop hemorrhoids which are also commonly known as Piles. If you are unsure if you have them consult your GP or talk with your Pharmacist, the GP will be able to have a look and confirm whether piles are present and advise you as to possible remedies. The Pharmacist will have products that may assist, but always be sure to let them know you are pregnant before using any medications, to be safe. Once a person has experienced the unpleasantness of hemorrhoids the phrase “A Pain in the Bum” takes on a whole new meaning, as they really understand just how awful it is! Here are some safe and helpful things to try:

  • it is important to try to not sit on the toilet for a long time as this applies a lot of pressure to the anal region increasing the blood concentrated in the blood vessels in the area which may trigger the swelling
  • Do not strain while you have a bowel movement
  • Witch Hazel wipes are very safe, cooling, soothing when applied to the anal area and will shrink the swelling and reduce discomfort. Witch Hazel wipes or in liquid form in a bottle ready to apply on cotton balls or pads are available from Franklins, Woolworths, Coles and Pharmacies. Keep it in the refrigerator and use them cold for immediate relief
  • Not surprisingly, hemorrhoids seem to occur in the same pregnant women who also suffer with varicose veins, so some of the tips in the next section might well be very useful as well
  • If hemorrhoids persist talk with your midwife or doctor

Varicose Veins and Swelling of the Feet

During pregnancy,  your legs and feet might swell. This is sometimes termed Oedema. The blood veins in your legs may swell, too, this is termed varicose veins. Hormones produced in pregnancy cause blood vessels to relax, resulting in a pooling effect around the valves. It is exacerbated by the extra weight in pregnancy. Take a good look at you Mum’s legs and it might be a glimpse into the future for your own legs, but be reassured there are a number of tips here that can help you minimise swelling and veins. Some women with varicose veins in their legs, who suffer with hemorrhoids may also experience vulval variscosities, which are the same type of veins; swollen and uncomfortable around the vulval area around the vaginal entrance, if this is a concern take a mirror and have a look in a well lit bathroom or bedroom and then discuss it with your midwife, or doctor. Here are some tips to relieve swelling of the feet and varicose veins:

  • Rest and sleep with legs elevated a little, propped up on a pillow
  • Wear support stockings, which can be purchased from the supermarket or department stores,
  • Do regular exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga, pilates and belly dancing to promote good healthy circulation
  • Massage the throbbing veins with a small amount of cypress oil diluted in apricot kernel oil
  • Lie on the floor with legs propped up against the wall. For at least 30 minutes to boost circulation away from blocked veins refer to New Active Birth book by Janet Balaskas for the yoga positions to relieve swelling and many other discomforts of pregnancy, you may find the book in “Unleash Bookstores” in Sydney, Westfield Miranda and Parramatta as well as in second hand book shops, ring around the stores to track down your own copy to buy and keep for reference
  • Do some form of relaxation therapy, such as yoga
  • Take vitamin E supplements and/or vitamin C with bioflavonoids under the qualified guidance of a naturopathic practitioner or nutritionist
  • Visit your Chiropractor or Ostoeopath for suitable adjustments and guidance with posture, when sitting and standing, they will provide you with assistance on how to minimise the severity and discomfort
  • Try not to stand or sit in one place for a long time. Get up and walk around regularly
  • Wear flat shoes with well padded comfortable soles
  • When you sit, put your feet up on a low stool or box
  • Wear loose comfortable clothing avoid anything too tight or restrictive
  • try eating rockmelon, watermelon, cucumber and celery
  • if there is swelling in your face and hands let your midwife know
  • Taking “water pills” or “fluid tablets” are not safe during pregnancy, for more information discuss with your Pharmacist or midwife or doctor. Be reassured that the fluid will disappear in the first days or weeks after the baby is born.

Leg Cramps

Cramps occur as sudden muscle spasms and tightens in the calf muscles of the legs, and in the arch of the foot and can be quite painful for pregnant women. Some experts say it is caused by an imbalance of the calcium/phosphorous/magnesium ratio in the body and many pregnant women do find their cramps disappear after they commence taking a good quality calcium supplement. Cramps are also caused by when the enlarged pregnant uterus exerts pressure on pelvic blood vessels, impairing circulation, and on nerves supplying the lower extremities.

  • Increase intake of calcium rich foods such as canned fish with bones for example canned salmon with the bones left in as they are an excellent source of calcium, if the bones bother you just crush them up with a fork and then you won’t notice them, kelp, dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese, milk which is calcium enriched, sesame and sunflower seeds, tahini paste or spread, particularly the dark coloured tahini as this has far more calcium than the light coloured tahini and plenty of dark green vegetables, such as nettle leaves as salad, delicious broccoli heads, leaves, and stems, as well as baby bok choy and the vast array of lovely chinese leafy vegetables are all a good source of calcium,
  • nutritionists advise that the consumption of caffeine drinks and carbonated drinks, such as Cola, “spend” calcium from the human body as they are being metabolised in the intestinal tract, so they are best avoided where possible
  • Drink nettle tea and raspberry leaf tea for calcium
  • Interestingly, many women find that by taking calcium and magnesium supplements they are able to completely rid themselves of cramps, inevitably they sometimes forget or run out of tablets and the cramps return, so it turns into something of a science experiment for them as they “prove” the calcium vs cramps theory. When pregnant women return to their calcium supplements again they usually find within about 4 days or so their cramps are gone again… big relief!
  • When a foot or leg cramp occurs, sit on the floor, straighten your legs and point your toes up, massage your leg gently, when you can, get up and walk around
  • refer to the New Active Birth Book by Janet Balaskas for suitable stretches and remedies for cramps
  • Have a hot foot bath containing 10 drops of lavender oil before bed
  • put a towel soaked in hot water and then rung out well, as a hot compress on the sore sensitive cramp affected area, or use a hot water bottle or wheat heat bag to ease and relax the cramped muscles to assist them to release and relax
  • Have regular leg massages either from your partner or from a qualified pregnancy massage therapist

Morning Sickness or all day sickness Nausea and Vomiting

It is quite common and normal to have an upset stomach or throw up during the first three months of pregnancy. Many women describe this as feeling like having the ‘flu and a hangover all wrapped into one and is referred to as morning sickness, though many women complain that it is really all-day sickness. It will vary from person to person, some describing it as quite mild and just the occasional wave of nausea and others requiring hospitalisation for the much less common, very severe form referred to as Hyperemisis, which might require a drip inserted into the back of the arm for the severely dehydrated pregnant woman. Usually occurs between the 6th and 12th weeks, but can persist for much longer. Here are some things to try, see what works for you:

  • Hunger seems to be a common cause of morning sickness, try to avoid actually getting hungry by having some healthy snacks wherever you are, in the drawer of your desk at the office, in the glove box of the car, beside your bed, and where ever you sit and rest
  • Eat protein-rich foods such as eggs, cheese, chicken, and other meats
  • Eat foods high in folate such as beans, almonds, broccoli, meat and muesli
  • Smell or eat sliced lemon
  • get some fresh air, when you cook, open windows or use a fan to get rid of odours
  • It won’t take long and you’ll soon discover for yourself, what your most suitable routine is for food, whether you need to eat before getting out of bed, the size of meals and how frequently you need to have them,
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Tiredness and exhaustion is the other common trigger for morning sickness, and many women feel quite “wiped out” during the first trimester of their pregnancy, so it is important to be mindful to relax, rest and conserve your energy, be reassured that for most women this feeling will lift around 12 weeks of pregnancy which will bring a welcome relief and really lift the spirits, women then find they are happier, energised and content
  • Eat a piece of bread or salty biscuits like Jatz, or plain water crackers before getting out of bed in the morning, keep them in a sealed container next to the bed along with a bottle of water so they are available easily, without having to go to the kitchen and prepare anything,
  • Avoid eating greasy, hard to digest, fatty foods or spicy foods that bother you
  • Drink ginger tea, eat ginger in any form as it seems to be the magic ingredient for travel sickness and morning sickness, I sincerely hope it does the trick for you
  • Wear acupressure (sea-sickness band) bands provided by a qualified Acupuncturist
  • Use an aromatherapy oil vapouriser; dilute 2 drops of ginger and 3 drops of spearmint oil in water, or put the same amount onto a tissue and sniff during the day
  • Go for an invigorating walk in the fresh air and sunshine
  • Massage can help promote circulation and most importantly, relaxation. It can increase circulation to all organs of the body and good circulation to all organs of the body and good circulation helps avoid a lot of problems in pregnancy.

Thrush, Monillia and Candida Albicans: Fungal Vaginal Infection

Caused by the fungus candida Albicans, a normal part of the bodies flora and fauna, but pregnancy can cause it to overpopulate, due to the increase hormones which create favourable conditions for the fungus to thrive, particularly around warm moist areas of the body, typically around the vaginal vulval region and for some large breasted women around between their breasts and under their breasts. This is not dangerous or serious but certainly should be brought to the attention of a midwife or doctor and treated appropriately. During the first year of life it is not uncommon for a baby to develop thrush orally, which would appear as a red irritated area inside the baby’s mouth, either on the roof or inside the cheeks, a more advanced case of thrush would be seen with white spots inside the baby’s mouth inside the cheeks or over the tongue accompanied with a creamy appearance. It is important to treat the baby and not ignore suspicions of thrush either manifesting in the baby’s mouth or as a nappy rash as it is quite uncomfortable and distressing for a baby. Take the baby to the Early Childhood Health Centre Nurse, your doctor or the Pharmacist for advice on how best to treat and clear up thrush. An advanced case of thrush in the baby’s mouth can lead onto thrush in the woman’s breasts during breastfeeding which can be treated quickly and easily with the advice of a qualified breastfeeding counsellor by the Australia’s Breastfeeding Association by telephoning in New South Wales 8853 4999

  • Eat yogurt containing acidophilus, helps restore the balance of flora
  • Avoid sugars and yeasts as these promote growth of the candida fungus
  • Yeast containing foods are fermented such as wines, Vegemite, donuts, breads, some cheeses
  • Vitamin C and Echinacea help boost the immune system, and garlic is an anti-fungal herb
  • Apply natural yogurt externally at night before going to bed
  • Vitamin E oil applied to sore skin can help relieve the itch
  • Consult the Pharmacist, Health Food Shop, Naturopath, and Doctor

The above are natural treatments and simple strategies which may help ease the discomfort of common problems in pregnancy, use as a guide only and seek advice from your naturopath, midwife or doctor regarding amounts and frequency of use. If any of these symptoms persist tell your midwife or doctor.