Anyone who’s ever watched a sitcom or had a pregnant acquaintance knows the stereotypical gripes and complaints: morning sickness (aka all-day queasiness with or without vomiting), exhaustion, insatiable appetites for bizarre food combinations like fudge ripple ice cream with sardines on top, and of course the quarter-hourly trips to the potty. But newly-pregnant women are often surprised to find themselves with a host of unusual symptoms their doctors never told them about.
The bathrobe-clad dad-to-be making a midnight run to the convenience store for a pint of chocolate ice cream is a pregnancy icon. But women frequently find that, in their first trimester, they are repulsed by the taste, smell, and even sight of foods that were previously a mainstay of their diets. Women who couldn’t start their days without a cup of coffee are pushed to the point of vomiting just by the smell of freshly-ground coffee beans. Even the most hard-core carnivores may find that their sensitive tummies won’t agree to a meal of meat.
Of course, these food aversions are often triggered or exacerbated by another wacky pregnancy symptom—a super-human sense of smell. First-time moms are especially likely to feel guilty about eschewing meat since protein and iron are so important, but not to worry. In the second trimester, these aversions usually give way to a voracious appetite for anything edible; and the need for extra protein is more important later in pregnancy than in the first trimester.
Other Things Happening Inside Your Mouth
Queasiness can be compounded by over-production of saliva. Although this is a harmless and short-lived phenomenon, disappearing before the end of the first trimester, it can be very unpleasant for a mom-to-be already combating queasiness. A sudden flood of saliva can be a harbinger of impending vomit or can even trigger it. Frequent toothbrushing, sucking a mint, or chewing sugarless gum, and taking small sips of water can help eliminate the gobs of spit.
Your Pet Horse Charley
The cutely-named charley horses that strike during the second and third trimesters can interfere with much-needed sleep. Muscle fatigue, fluid build-up, an excess of phosphorous, or a deficiency of calcium are all thought to be contributing factors to painful nighttime leg cramps, which can feel like you are being stabbed in the calf.
Fortunately, if you’ve already been awoken from your precious slumber by a charley horse, it’s easy to get relief. Gently stretch the muscle by pointing and flexing your foot, then massage the muscle (or better yet, wake up your hubby and make him do it). Applying a hot water bottle is also helpful, and pacing around for a few minutes will loosen the muscle up enough to provide relief as well.
If you’d prefer to head leg cramps off so the only thing waking you up will be the five or six bathroom trips, try stretching and massaging the muscle before bedtime. Take time out of your day to elevate your feet for a few minutes whenever possible, and sneak in stretches by rotating your ankles and flexing your feet while sitting at work or on the bus. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium, which your baby also needs, and cut out soft drinks, which contain high amounts of phosphorous (and empty calories that aren’t good for you).
Hair, Hair Everywhere
First-time pregnant women are sometimes horrified to witness fine, dark hair spreading across their bellies and jawbones, and prickly hairs sprouting with alarming frequency from the chin, upper lip, and even around the nipples. The same pregnancy hormones that will give you a luxurious head of hair (during pregnancy, hair falls out at a much slower rate than normal) are responsible for the unsightly growth of tiny hairs where you want them the least. Have a good pair of tweezers ready or make a standing appointment with your favorite aesthetician. Don’t attempt to wax, bleach, pluck, or otherwise remove the hairs that sprout up around sensitive nipples. If you are very uncomfortable with their appearance, talk to your doctor about hair removal methods that may be safe in that delicate area.
The Skin You’re In
Pregnancy hormones can jump start your body’s production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. The resulting “mask of pregnancy,” or chloasma, causes irregular dark blotches on the forehead, nose and cheeks. The mask of pregnancy is more common among darker-skinned women, although fair-skinned moms-to-be may notice that freckles, beauty marks and other skin spots darken during pregnancy. After delivery, most of the splotches will fade on their own, but staying out of the sun and using an SPF will help increase chances that your skin will return to normal.
The Nose Knows?
Another facial distortion is the swollen nose. Although your doctor may consider it an old wives’ tale, anecdotal evidence from many moms suggests that a swollen, bulbous nose is a surefire predictor of a baby girl.
It’s not enough that your back hurts, your head hurts, you’re exhausted, and you feel like throwing up all day—your gums just might decide to get in on the act by bleeding every time you brush or floss. A condition known as pregnancy gingivitis causes swollen, sensitive gums that are prone to bleeding. While your first inclination may be to skip brushing and flossing, that’s the worst thing you can do. Tooth decay means a buildup of bacteria that are potentially harmful to your unborn baby.
Good oral hygiene is essential throughout pregnancy. See your dentist early on for a thorough cleaning. Getting dental work done during pregnancy, and even having local anesthesia, is perfectly safe. Just avoid getting x-rays, and check with your OB on any medication your dentist prescribes. Throughout pregnancy, brush frequently and floss daily, but gently. Use the softest bristled toothbrush you can find and switch to a toothpaste for sensitive teeth and gums.
Another phenomenon that may affect gums during pregnancy, although it’s rare, is the development of harmless nodes on the gums known as pyogenic granulomas. These bumps will be painful and will bleed when irritated by brushing, but they pose no risk to your health or to your baby and will clear up on their own shortly after delivery.
The Lingering After-Effects
The roller coaster ride of pregnancy isn’t limited to the 40 weeks of gestation. Some pregnancy symptoms linger on for several months postpartum, while others are permanent.
A common complaint, especially among women pregnant in the warm weather months, is swollen ankles. Moms who expect to slide back into those Jimmy Choo mules once the baby-bloating is gone may have another thing coming. Having a baby can leave you with permanently larger feet. While your feet won’t go from a size six to a size nine, most women do find that they need shoes a half-size bigger after delivery.
Another thing that will never again be the same? Your breasts. When you’ve finally finished nursing and your breasts have returned to normal (a relative term, of course), you’re likely to find that they’re somewhat smaller and decidedly less perky than they were before baby. While a few women claim that their breasts got larger and stayed that way with each baby, most women will notice a bit of shrinkage—which, by the way, will happen whether or not you nurse. Not only that, but your nipples will never regain their girlish pink hue. The color they darken to during your first trimester is the color you’re likely to be stuck with forever.
Each and every woman experiences pregnancy in her own unique way. The maladies and legacies of pregnancy can be weird, gross, uncomfortable, and even amusing. Bear in mind that the major discomforts are fleeting and a small price to pay for giving life. As any mom will tell you, the moment you hold your newborn baby in your arms, you’d do it all over again, tenfold, just for that tiny person—your child.