Pregnancy Pains: Cramping, Headaches, Acne and More

Between acne, constipation, cramps, swelling, and fatigue, you’re probably wondering when that “glow” that every other mom-to-be seems to have will finally kick in. While pregnancy is a wonderful time, we understand that it’s not as easy as the models in the maternity catalogue make it look. Here are some common (and very normal!) pregnancy complaints and their remedies:

Acne during pregnancy

Because of the influx of hormones that your body is experiencing right now, your skin is going to change. For some women, they notice an improvement in their acne while pregnant. If you haven’t had skin problems in the past, however, you may notice now that your growing belly isn’t the only thing waiting to pop: acne varying from whiteheads and blackheads, to those inflamed red suckers that seem to linger for weeks, can start to show up.

Skin flare-ups during the first trimester are especially common because hormones, mainly progesterone, change rapidly. Changing hormone levels can trigger excess oil production, which can contribute to acne. Pimples can appear on your neck, shoulders, back and face.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve had to scrub your face, follow these steps.

  • Use a mild cleanser and a mild, non-clogging moisturizer, preferably one that has sunscreen.
  • Watch out for products that contain salicylic acid, a common ingredient in topical acne products, as experts are unsure of their safety during pregnancy.
  • Drink up – water, that is. Staying hydrated will help flush bacteria and oil from your pores.
  • If all else fails, work with what you got and start up a rousing game of connect-the-pregnancy-zits with your partner – fun, right?

Speak with a doctor about using over-the-counter acne treatments, and be sure to avoid any prescription products until you check that they’re safe for your developing fetus. Be especially cautious about Accutane (also known as isotretinoin), a drug that’s commonly administered for the treatment of acne. Any good doctor will tell you this, but we’ll remind you – DO NOT take Accutane during pregnancy! It’s responsible for a higher frequency of miscarriages and malformation of the fetus, especially when taken during the first trimester.

Backaches

As you might expect, the extra weight of a developing baby makes backache a very common part of pregnancy. Over the course of your pregnancy, your body will begin to loosen its ligaments to prepare itself for birth. This change, combined with strain from your altered posture as the baby grows, can exacerbate your discomfort. You may feel worse at night.

To reduce backache, avoid heavy lifting or standing for long periods of time. If you’re still working, make sure your chair is comfortable and has good back support. Take extra time to rest regularly and elevate your legs.

Constipation

When an egg is fertilized after ovulation, the empty follicle left behind (known as the corpus luteum) continues to produce progesterone in order to maintain the thick uterine lining needed for implantation. Later on in pregnancy, the placenta continues to produce the progesterone hormone. The heightened levels of progesterone in your body can lead to constipation. The hormone relaxes the smooth muscles of the intestinal wall and stomach, slowing down digestion and increasing blood volume. If you’re not drinking more fluids to compensate for the increased blood volume, you will experience dehydration, which can lead to constipation.

To keep feeling regular, drink plenty of fluids, maintain a safe exercise routine (talk to your doctor about what you can and can’t do), and eat high-fiber foods that aid in digestion. Try not to strain when you’re on the toilet, as straining can lead to hemorrhoids. Laxatives may seem like an easy fix, but wait for your doctor to give the green light before using them. If constipation is a continuing problem, discuss treatment at your next prenatal visit.

Cramps

It’s common to feel cramps in your feet, thighs or legs during pregnancy. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but it’s suspected that the growing size of the uterus may put pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the leg, causing leg cramps and occasional pain.

Try stretching the affected limb or muscle as soon as a cramp strikes. Straighten your leg with your toes pointed towards you. Turn it into a bonding opportunity: ask your partner for help stretching or massaging your cramped areas as a chance to get him or her involved in what you’re experiencing. If you’ve been sitting for some time, standing up to let your legs stretch may also provide relief.

Diet can make a difference, too. It is believed that calcium, potassium and phosphorous supplements can relieve cramping. As always, be sure that you speak to your doctor before starting any new supplements. And it may be beneficial to resist some of those pregnancy cravings – a healthy diet that includes fresh fruit and green leafy vegetables, plus calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese or yogurt, will also help.

Frequent urination

In the first trimester, changing hormones are also to blame for your frequent bathroom trips during pregnancy. Unfortunately, once the hormones subside, the need to constantly pee remains. As your baby develops, it will be a result of the increasing size and weight of the fetus putting pressure the bladder. Good times.

Heartburn and reflux

Discomfort from heartburn is another common complaint of pregnancy. You can recognize heartburn by a burning sensation in the middle of your chest that often occurs after eating. You may also experience an acidic or bitter taste in your mouth and heightened pain when you bend over or lie down. Later on, symptoms may worsen when your growing baby compresses your digestive tract.

You can ease the symptoms of heartburn by adopting simple changes in lifestyle. You’re definitely headed for Heartburn City if you clear out the fridge and then immediately lie down to digest it all. Eat small, frequent meals instead. Try skipping out on spicy or acidic foods and see if your symptoms improve. Avoid meals and snacks late and night, so you can let your body digest before going to bed. And when you hit the sack, try sleeping propped up on a few pillows instead of laying flat.

Headaches and migraines

Headaches

You may experience headaches more frequently than normal while you’re pregnant. Many things, including stress, fatigue, heat and noise, can trigger tension headaches. Headaches that come in groups are known as cluster headaches and can last about an hour at a time and continue for weeks or months. Acetaminophen, better known as brand-name Tylenol, is okay to use to relieve these headaches. While some reports claim ibuprofen, or Advil, is okay to take, it’s better to check with your physician. Aspirin should be avoided, as it may lead to problems with blood clotting and cause difficulties later on during labor and delivery.

Migraines

Nearly one in five pregnant women have a migraine at some point during pregnancy. These intense headaches can be accompanied by nausea and last for a few short hours up to three days. Some women are apt to suffer more during pregnancy because of their changing hormone levels. Unless you’re experiencing a fever, blurred vision, or your headache is lasting longer than a few hours, migraines are not dangerous during pregnancy.

To relieve migraines, try a cup of ginger tea or powdered ginger mixed with water. Research has found that ginger can block the production of prostaglandins, which cause pain. When you feel a migraine coming on, mix 1/3 teaspoon of powdered ginger in a cup of water. Drink this mixture three of four times a day for three days.

Sciatic-nerve pain

As pregnancy progresses, many women experience an occasional excruciating pain in their buttocks and down the back or side of their legs. This is called sciatic-nerve pain, referring to a nerve that runs behind the uterus and in the pelvis to the legs. Experts believe the pain is a result of increased pressure on the nerve from the growing uterus. The best treatment for the pain is to lie on the side opposite the painful area. This helps relieve pressure on the nerve.

Swollen ankles, feet and fingers

Since you have extra fluid in your body during pregnancy, some of it may collect in your legs and cause swelling. Swelling in your legs, ankles and feet can be worsened if your job requires you to stand for long periods of time, especially in hot weather. Though calcium supplements were once touted as relief for these symptoms, studies have shown that this isn’t the case. To reduce swelling:

  • Minimize your time outdoors in hot weather
  • Spend some time in a pool resting or swimming
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • Eat foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas
  • Minimize caffeine and sodium intake

REMEMBER!

Swelling may be an indicator of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, which can put your health at risk. It’s important to talk to a health professional if about any swelling to determine if it’s just part of the process or cause for concern.

Fatigue

With all the changes going on with your body and your life as you prepare for a new baby, your first trimester will, no doubt, leave you feeling tired. Rest assured this is completely normal and will improve as your pregnancy progresses. Try to get at least eight hours sleep each night and rest during the day if possible. Adjust your schedule so that you aren’t doing housework or making social calls late into the night. Though moving may be the last thing you want to do, low-impact exercises such as yoga, swimming or walking may help boost energy levels. The healthier you are, in both mind and body, the more you will enjoy your pregnancy.

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