Common Discomforts in Pregnancy
I was 17 weeks pregnant. As is common during pregnancy, I woke up to go pee in the middle of the night, and it bugged me. I've never had to do that before. And as simple as it sounds to get out of bed, use the bathroom, and go back to bed, it got my mind rolling. I couldn’t stop thinking about how my body was changing. My body was different than what I’d previously known. Homeostasis, that physiological stability I’d come to rely on, was going to be shifting for the next several months. Probably for the rest of my life, because, hey, I’m also aging on top of growing a baby, and certainly now is a great time to think about getting old!
In these panic/adjustment episodes during my pregnancy, my anxiety was taking over, and it felt harder to relax into the changes, the growth, and the sweetness of growing a small person. When I'm in this place, it's hard not to ruminate and forecast what the future might look like. I was talking to my husband about it, and he said, "Well, maybe don't be so anxious about being anxious." The philosophy of “not being anxious about being anxious” stems from the neuroscience of compassion; when we resist our emotions we actually create more anxiety, panic or fear. When we are able to acknowledge the emotion and normalize it the feeling and motivation around that particular emotion changes and self-compassion can enter. And with that simple phrase, the pressure lifted. Yes, I'm anxious about what’s to come and how my body will feel as this small human takes up more real estate. It’s normal. But it’s something I’ve never had to do before, and doing new things is hard.
It’s OK to have an adjustment period as new discomforts present themselves. Take a deep breath. You’re learning and changing, and it’s normal to feel anxious about the process. One remedy for anxiety is the practice of deep breathing. Your brain, heart and lungs, and digestive system all work together to create shifts in your emotional and behavioral responses to stress. Your vagus nerve is there to calm your responses, and deep diaphragmatic breathing calls the nerve to action. After taking a deep breath, allow a longer and slower exhale. This is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing the heart rate and blood pressure in times of anxiety. Try daily yoga and meditation to improve your vagal tone.
Below you’ll find a list of the common discomforts of pregnancy, ways of managing them and when to call your provider.
Whether this is your first baby or your newest addition, physical changes during pregnancy can feel tiring, worrisome or even scary. The line between harmless discomforts and abnormal warning signs may be difficult to determine.
Of course, every woman — and every pregnancy — is unique. However, being aware of some of the most common symptoms by trimester could help expectant moms know when to self-soothe or when to call your doctor or midwife.
First trimester: Up to 13 weeks, 6 days
Nausea and vomiting
Morning sickness affects up to 85 percent of pregnant women. And not just in the morning! Let’s look at what is happening in your body. When a fertilized egg attaches to your uterus, your body produces a hormone called HCG that helps maintain the pregnancy until the placenta can fully take over. The good news is that even though morning sickness can be uncomfortable and distressing, studies indicate that nausea and vomiting may be a sign that a fetus is developing healthily. At the same time, if you are one of the few pregnant women who doesn’t experience this symptom — don’t be alarmed. Just consider yourself lucky.
What to do: Try eating small, frequent meals to help manage nausea and vomiting. Other remedies that work for some women include eating ginger, drinking chamomile tea or wearing an anti-nausea wristband.
When to call: If you don't see improvement, you can ask your doctor or midwife about safe anti-nausea medications. If your symptoms are severe enough that you can't eat or drink for 24 hours, go to the nearest emergency department immediately.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re unable to keep up with activities the way you did before pregnancy. Hormonal changes — specifically, a rise in progesterone — are likely the cause of fatigue in the first trimester.
What to do: Take naps if possible, and make adequate sleep a top priority. Try to get eight hours of sleep each night. While it may become more challenging later in your pregnancy, most women have little trouble finding comfortable sleep positions in the first trimester. It may also help to wind down with relaxing activities before bed. For example, drinking chamomile tea or reading may help calm you for a good night of rest. Usually, by the second trimester, energy levels perk up again.
When to call: Contact your doctor or midwife if no matter how much you sleep, you never feel like you have enough energy to get through the day. Your provider may decide to check your thyroid levels to determine if there is an underlying cause of your fatigue.
Second trimester: 14 weeks 0 days to 27 weeks 6 days
During pregnancy, there is no shortage of hormonal changes taking place in your body. Progesterone is a hormone that plays an essential role in pregnancy, as well as conception, menstruation, and your sex drive. Progesterone also affects digestion. As progesterone levels rise during pregnancy, it’s common to experience slower contractions in your intestines, which can lead to constipation.
What to do: Maximize your hydration by drinking at least 2 liters of water each day. Add herbs or fruit to your drink or switch to sparkling water to make it more appealing. Water is not the only way to hydrate, Add foods with high water content, such as cucumber and watermelon, to help with hydration. Proper hydration during pregnancy helps avoid constipation. It can also prevent uterine irritability (mild contractions and cramping) and increase energy.
Increasing fiber in your diet is a great way to prevent or manage constipation. Add bananas, oranges, apples, mangos, kale, spinach, beans, legumes and whole grain bread to your grocery list.
Iron supplements may cause constipation. Consider increasing hydration and fiber and starting an over-the-counter stool softener to help reduce or avoid constipation.
When to call: If you’re experiencing constipation, discuss it with your doctor or midwife at your next visit.
Round ligament pain
As your baby grows, your uterus expands and lifts out of your pelvis. Women have two round ligaments — one each on either side of your uterus. As these ligaments stretch to accommodate your growing belly, the pressure can cause sharp, shooting or jabbing pain. Round ligament pain commonly occurs while walking or exercising.
What to do: Yoga, stretching, or working with a chiropractor specializing in the Webster technique can help manage round ligament pain. While these options may work for some women, be sure to get clearance from your doctor or midwife before trying any new activity.
When to call: If you’re experiencing round ligament pain, discuss it with your doctor or midwife at your next visit.
Third trimester: 28 weeks 0 days through labor
According to one old wives’ tale, if a pregnant woman has heartburn, it means she’s carrying a baby with a full head of hair. Truthfully, hormones are the culprit once again. Heartburn occurs because increased progesterone relaxes your stomach valve, allowing acid to back up into your esophagus. Additionally, your rising and expanding uterus places pressure on your stomach, forcing acid into the esophagus.
What to do: Don’t lie down immediately after eating. Allow at least 60 minutes for your food to digest. Also, avoid acidic foods, and eat smaller meals more often throughout the day. For additional relief, you may also consider asking your doctor or midwife about trying papaya enzymes or over-the-counter medications that are safe to take during pregnancy.
When to call: Contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you have any of the following symptoms in addition to persistent heartburn:
Nausea and vomiting
A headache that doesn't go away with Tylenol or caffeine
Spots before your eyes
Right upper belly pain that feels like heartburn in conjunction with the symptoms listed above could be a sign of preeclampsia.
Braxton Hicks contractions
Braxton Hicks are often painless contractions that you may experience near the end of your pregnancy. But, keep calm. This is simply your uterus’s way of practicing for labor.
What to do: Remember to drink 2 liters of water each day. Your uterus is more likely to contract when you are dehydrated.
When to call: Braxton Hicks contractions are not worrisome unless you have more than four in an hour, and they don’t go away with rest and hydration. If this occurs before you reach 37 weeks, notify your doctor or midwife right away.
Books on changes in pregnancy: