Common Ailments During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a period of massive changes in a women’s body. These are all nature’s
way of helping you grow, adapt, and deliver a healthy baby. However, sometimes
you may feel that your pregnancy is fraught with physical ailments and unpleasant
changes. Take heart – most of these are temporary, normal and will clear up after
Most of these common ailments are the result of the hormonal changes necessary to
allow for easier delivery and later breastfeeding. In addition, as your pregnancy
progresses, the increasing size of the uterus (womb) causes a few common pregnancy
‘niggles’ too.
Vaginal Discharge and Thrush (Candidiasis)
It is normal for vaginal secretions to increase during pregnancy, due to hormonal
changes. This is not a sign of infection, and you should not attempt to combat it by
douching or using vaginal preparations. Consult your doctor if the discharge becomes
itchy or foul-smelling, or is discoloured (green, brown, yellow or blood-stained).
In many women, pregnancy brings an increased incidence of thrush, which caused by
an organism called Candida. Candida is normally present in the vagina, but its growth
may spiral out of control during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, as the
increase in oestrogen levels creates a favourable environment for the growth of the
The symptoms are a thick, white discharge (similar to cottage cheese), accompanied
by intense itching, redness of the vulva and vagina, and possibly pain on urination.
Treatment involves using antifungal medication, which should clear the infection in
two three days. Anti-fungal medication (even over-the-counter preparations) may
only be used during pregnancy if prescribed by a doctor.
Men may also infected with Candida, although they often have thrush without
showing symptoms. If you suffer from repeat attacks, your partner should be treated
with antifungal cream too.
Weight Gain
A certain amount of weight gain during pregnancy is normal and healthy.
Most women gain weight between 10 and 15 kilograms during pregnancy, depending
on their weight and health before pregnancy.
The extra weight consists of maternal fat stores and breast tissue, increased blood
volume, amniotic fluid, placenta and the baby itself. As long as you eat a healthy,
balanced diet and get regular exercise during pregnancy, the additional weight should
be lost within the first few months after delivery.
Morning Sickness
Around two-thirds of women experience nausea and vomiting (“morning sickness”)
during the first few weeks of pregnancy. These arise from a combination of hormonal
changes, the effects of the foetus and the increase in body weight.
To minimise nausea and vomiting, nibble on small meals regularly, and stick to dry
toast, biscuits, fresh fruit and vegetables until you feel able to cope with heavier
meals. Consider a nutritional supplement aimed at balancing your blood sugar levels,
which may reduce tiredness and accompanying nausea. Only certain medicines are
safe for treating morning sickness – your doctor will advise you. In many cases, these
symptoms clear up after 14 weeks of pregnancy.
Heartburn is one of the most common discomforts experienced during pregnancy,
affecting up to 80% of all pregnant women. It may begin as early as the first
trimester, and symptoms may worsen as the pregnancy progresses.
During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone relaxes the lower oesophageal sphincter
(LOS) – the valve through which food passes into the stomach. This allows stomach
acids to pass upwards into the oesophagus (food pipe), causing burning discomfort.
In later pregnancy, the growing baby and uterus take up more and more space,
cramping the stomach, making digestion slower and reflux worse.
To avoid heartburn, eat smaller meals more often; avoid spicy foods, citrus and
caffeine; try chewing a non-mint chewing gum; and wait at least an hour after eating
before lying down. Fortunately, heartburn usually clears up completely after delivery.
Lower back pain is a very common compliant during pregnancy, particularly during
advanced pregnancy, when the weight of the growing baby puts strain on a woman’s
back muscles. During pregnancy, your body produces a hormone, relaxin, which
makes your ligaments softer and more elastic.
This makes joints more susceptible to strain and pain.
To minimise backache, get regular exercise, make a conscious effort to stand or sit up
straight, wear low-heeled shoes and get plenty of rest.
Ease aches and pains by relaxing in a warm bath or having an aromatherapy back
Constipation and Haemorrhoids
During pregnancy, the hormone progesterone slows down the digestive system,
increasing your tendency to become constipated. The growing uterus also presses on
the bowels and stomach, increasing constipation.
When you strain to pass a hard stool, pressure is put on the blood vessels in the rectal
area, which can cause uncomfortable or painful haemorrhoids (piles). Haemorrhoids
can also bleed slightly, with bright red blood showing up on the stool or on the toilet
paper after a bowel movement.
Avoid constipation by eating a diet high in fibre and water, and getting plenty of
regular exercise. Reduce the discomfort of haemorrhoids by taking extra care to wipe
the area clean with soap and water and dry thoroughly after every bowel movement.
Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence is the leaking of urine from the bladder at inopportune moments.
During pregnancy, the added weight and pressure of the uterus on the pelvic floor
muscles and bladder can cause leaking of urine. Performing Kegel exercises (exercise
that involve contracting and relaxing pelvic muscles) regularly is important, to
strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and so avoid incontinence both during and after
Stretch Marks, Pigmentation and Spider Veins
Stretch marks (striae gravidarum), develop in 50% and 90% of pregnant women.
These vary from pale pink lines to deep purple ridges on the stomach, breasts, hips
and buttocks.
Research suggests that avoiding excessive weight gain during pregnancy, along with
maintaining a healthy skin, may help to minimise the appearance of stretch marks.
Eat healthy diet and drink lots of water to keep your skin healthy. Oils, creams or
lotions high in vitamin E or linoleic acid massaged into the abdomen, buttocks and
thighs regularly may also help to condition the skin and possibly minimise stretch
Another common pregnancy skin niggle is pigmentation. The “mask of pregnancy”
(melasma) – a blotchy, brownish pigment – may appear on the skin of the forehead
and cheeks. Pigmentation may also increase in the skin surrounding the nipples, and a
dark line commonly appears down the middle of the abdomen from the navel to the
pubic bone.
Small, spiderlike blood vessels (spider angiomas) may also appear in the skin, usually
above the waist, as may thin-walled, dilated capillaries, especially in the lower legs.
Beginning in the second or third month of pregnancy, many women experience
swollen or inflamed gums, with bleeding, redness or tenderness in the gum tissue.
This is temporary and will pass in time. In some cases, swollen gums can react
strongly to irritants and form large lumps. These growths, called pregnancy tumours,
are not cancerous and are generally painless. If they can be removed by a dentist.
Pelvic Pain
Pregnant women commonly experience sharp or tingling pain in the groin area and
down the insides of the thighs later in pregnancy, usually worse after walking or
standing for long periods. This is caused by the weight of the baby pressing on the
pelvic nerves. Lying down should help to ease any such pains.
Pelvic pain classically gets worse when “lightening” occurs at approximately 8
months in women having their first baby. This is when the baby’s head “drops” into
the passage of the mother’s pelvis
Tingling and Numbness
You may experience aching, tingling and numbness in your hands and wrists as your
pregnancy progresses. This is because the carpal tunnel (a narrow area through which
many nerves and tendons pass) in the wrist is swollen, as are many other tissues in
your body. The nerves that run through the tunnel become pinched, creating tingling
and numbness.
This usually clears up shortly after delivery.
Early in pregnancy, breast may feel swollen and tender as the hormone levels change.
This normally eases during the second trimester. In the third trimester, your breast
will start to grow in earnest and may begin to leak colostrums by about week 30. (if
they do not, it is not indication that you won’t be able to breastfeed.)
Painless and irregular cramps or contractions may be left intermittently during your
pregnancy. These are known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, caused by contractions
of the muscles of the uterus. During pregnancy, the increasing size of the uterus
makes these contractions more obvious.
In the last month of pregnancy, they may become stronger, and might be mistaken for
labour pains. If contractions are especially painful or occur repeatedly within a short
space of time, call your doctor.
Braxton-Hicks contractions are normal and a healthy sign in pregnancy.
They assist with blood flow through the placenta.
Annoying, but Temporary
Other relatively common pregnancy-related complaints include:
. Swollen feet and ankles
. Frequent need to urinate
. Heart palpitations or breathlessness
. Dry, itchy skin – especially on the hips and abdomen
. Insomnia (sleeping difficulty), tearfulness and mood swings
. A blocked nose, nosebleeds, or a change in the sound of your voice
. Dry eyes
. Increased sweating or flatulence (passing “wind”)
. Pica, a craving for strange foods or non-foods
. A change in your walk – you may find yourself “waddling”
When to Call a Doctor
While most of the pregnancy niggles you experience are normal and no cause for
concern, you should consult a doctor about any of the following symptoms:
. Vaginal bleeding
. Severe abdominal pain, even without bleeding
. Increasing bouts of severe vomiting
. Swelling of the hands or face
. Severe dizziness, disturbed vision or severe headache
. Your baby has stopped making obvious movement in the womb
. Severe or recurring contractions
. A sudden gush of fluid from the vagina