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Pregnancy Health Problems

Everyone hopes for the pregnancy ‘glow’ or ‘bloom’. A lot of women look and feel great through their whole pregnancy. For many women there will be some pregnancy symptoms that make them feel unwell at times.

These pregnancy health problems usually come and go. You would be really unlucky to not get some times in the 9 months when you feel good and can enjoy being pregnant.

The health problems that come with pregnancy can make life feel more difficult. There are steps you can take that will ease them. Remember most of these problems will disappear as soon as your baby arrives if not before.

Some of the common symptoms, and some ideas to help, are below. If you have other things that are troubling you, or you are struggling with any of the symptoms below, then you can talk to your health team for support and advice.

  • Morning sickness doesn’t just happen in the morning – feeling sick or being sick can happen at any time in the day. For many people it is worse in the morning.

    Morning sickness can happen from quite early in pregnancy it tends to be worse in the first trimester when pregnancy hormones are rising fastest.

    There are lots of suggestions on how to help with morning sickness. Most people manage to get through their morning sickness and find what works for them. For example;

    • Sipping water
    • Eating something before getting out of bed in the morning
    • Avoiding strong smells
    • Resting when you can, as well as keeping active and getting out in the fresh air.

    If you don’t get morning sickness you should not worry – it really varies from person to person and pregnancy to pregnancy.

    If your morning sickness is extreme meaning that you are not able to keep any drinks or food down in a 24 hour period you should see your GP. If you are passing very dark, or no urine it is a sign you are dehydrated and you need to be seen by a health professional.

    Read more NHS information on coping with morning sickness *here*.

  • One of the side effects of the hormones release in pregnancy can be the slowing down of movement in the gut. For some women this can cause constipation – when it becomes difficult to have a poo. This can become uncomfortable causing tummy aches and ‘hard to pass’ poo.

    You can help your bowels to open more easily by;

    • Drinking plenty of fluids
    • Eating food with plenty of fibre in it – like brown bread, and fruit and vegetables - this helps keep poo soft and easier to pass
    • Exercising - this shortens the time it takes for waste to move through your bowel and helps get rid of constipation.

    If constipation is causing you a lot of discomfort and you are struggling to poo a lot of the time then talk to your GP or midwife; sometimes medicine is needed to help.

  • Heartburn is a common problem in pregnancy – a burning feeling in your chest and throat.

    It is caused by;

    • Pregnancy hormones - the muscles that usually help keep stomach acids in the right spot soften and they ‘leak’ into the oesophagus (windpipe)
    • In the last six months of pregnancy the size of the growing baby in your womb puts the stomach under pressure.

    You can help ease the heartburn by;

    • Eating little and often rather than big meals
    • Sipping water
    • Propping yourself up with pillows at night.

    Different people find different things make the symptoms worse – writing down what you are eating, and when, might help you work out what makes it worse and what helps.

    If you are finding heartburn a big problem then you can talk to your pharmacist (tell them you are pregnant) and your midwife to see what medication might help.

  • Backache is common in pregnancy. The ‘ligaments’ (the tissue that connects bones to bones) are made softer by pregnancy hormones. This can make strains and pulls more likely. This along with the weight of carrying a baby in your womb can cause backaches in pregnancy.

    You can help by;

    • Keeping active – exercise can help keep your back strong – swimming, and yoga are good exercises for building strength.
    • If you have to lift something - lift with care! You are more likely to hurt your back in pregnancy. There are some lifting tips from the NHS *here*.
    • Try and sit up straight and ‘walk tall’ to keep your back healthy.

    When your back is aching;

    • Try to keep moving – gentle exercise can ease pain
    • Warm baths and back rubs can help
    • Try an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel on painful area.

    If your back pain is there a lot of the time and is making life hard then talk to your midwife. You may be referred to a physiotherapist for an assessment to see how best to help you.

  • Hormone changes can make breasts sore. Your breast tissue is stretching, growing and preparing for the important job of milk production for your baby. This explains the increase in size and the tenderness – some people have painful breasts throughout pregnancy but for many people it gets better later in pregnancy.

    You can help ease the pain by;

    • Wearing a comfortable, supportive bra that fits well and loose tops
    • Taking warm showers
    • Trying an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel on the painful area.
  • All women have vaginal discharge – how much varies and there is usually more before a period.

    During pregnancy you will notice you have more discharge than usual – increasing as the weeks go by. It is one of the ways the body protects the baby from infections getting in to the womb.

    Normal vaginal discharge is;

    • Clear or ‘milky’
    • Thin
    • Does not smell.
    • You may need to wear a light sanitary towel. 

    There is no need to worry about this discharge. However if you notice that it is;

    • Smelly
    • Has changed colour to yellow or green
    • Making you ‘sore’
    • Hurting to wee.

    This could be a sign of an infection and you should see your GP. Vaginal infections in pregnancy can cause early labour so you should not ignore this.

    At the end of your pregnancy as your due date gets close you may notice a ‘jelly like’ discharge sometimes streaked with blood – this is called a ‘show’. Although not everyone has a show, it can be a sign that labour will begin soon.

    If you have any vaginal blood loss in pregnancy you should call your GP, Midwife or 111 straight away. If it is a large amount you should get emergency help by calling 999.

  • Although any one can get piles they are quite common in pregnancy and after birth.

    Haemorrhoids are swellings around the anus (back passage) they are caused by enlarged blood vessels. Pregnancy hormones make veins ‘relax’ and this makes piles more likely.

    You will notice;

    • An itchy and/or sore bottom
    • Pain when having a poo
    • A ‘lump(s)’ around the back passage
    • Bright red blood when you wipe your bottom after a poo.

    Being constipated can make your piles worse so drink plenty of fluids and eat a high fibre diet.

    You can find more tips to help relieve the discomfort of piles *here*.

  • Vulvar Varicosities are varicose (bulging) veins on the vulva (outside parts) of a woman’s genitalia. The vulva can have a blue / purplish appearance. This can happen any time but is more common during pregnancy.

    This is because of the increased blood flow and the hormones that occur in pregnancy. They can cause discomfort, pain, pressure.

    • Avoid standing for long periods
    • Sit / lie with your legs elevated
    • Use a well wrapped ice pack to help with discomfort.

    It can be uncomfortable but the good news is they are usually gone by six weeks after the birth.

  • Pelvic pain in pregnancy is caused by a stiff pelvic joints or uneven movements at either the back or front of your pelvis.

    Some people have mild symptoms but for some women it can cause severe pain and affect their mobility.

    For more information about what pelvic girdle pain is, how to manage it, and when to ask for help *click here*.

    If you are struggling to get around and / or if you have pain, talk to your midwife or GP about this. Exercise and physiotherapy can help and there are pain relief options that are safe in pregnancy too.

  • During pregnancy it is quite common to leak wee or poo. This is known as incontinence. 40-50% of women will experience this during pregnancy. This can be due to the baby placing pressure on the bladder, bowel and the pelvic floor muscles as it grows. 

    It can make everyday activities difficult and you might feel embarrassed, but there are things you can do to help;

    • Exercise your pelvic floor muscles early on in your pregnancy. This can help prevent and improve leakage.
    • Try to have good habits when emptying your bladder and bowel: relax, let your tummy bulge, do not strain. Try rocking back and forward whilst sitting on the toilet to help to fully empty.
    • If you have an urge to get to the toilet quickly; try to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles gently for 10 seconds. This can help control wee, wind or stool and may even cause your urge to go away.
    • Seek a referral to your nearest pelvic health physiotherapy service (see details below)

    You can read more about bladder and bowel incontinence during pregnancy *here*.

     

  • A prolapse is when either the bladder, womb, or bowel draws down into the vagina causing the feeling of a ‘bulge'. 

    Pelvic organ prolapse affects 1 in 3 women who have had children. In pregnancy the growing baby places pressure upon the bladder, bowel and pelvic floor muscles as it grows bigger. Hormonal changes and a vaginal delivery can also affect the pelvic floor muscles. 

    A prolapse is not harmful to you, however it may affect how comfortable you feel about going to the toilet or being sexually active. If you think you have a prolapse it is recommended that you;

    • Speak with your midwife, GP or health professional. They can examine you and provide advice and reassurance.
    • Seek a referral to your nearest Pelvic health physiotherapy service (see details below).
    • Start exercising your pelvic floor muscles early on in pregnancy and in the future. This can help prevent and improve symptoms.

    You can read more about pelvic organ prolapse *here*.

    To find further information on recommended advice and exercise in pregnancy *click here*. 

  • Itching in pregnancy is usually normal and caused by dry ‘stretching’ skin. If you usually suffer with eczema it may be worse in pregnancy.

    Itching can be helped by;

    • Taking cool baths
    • Using fragrance free moisturisers
    • Dressing in loose cotton clothes.

    Very occasionally itching can be a sign of a very serious illness called obstetric cholestasis; this affects the liver. Some symptoms of this are;

    • The palms of your hands and soles of your feet are also itchy
    • Itching is worse in the evenings / overnight
    • Your wee is dark and/or your poo is pale.

    It is important if itching is a problem that you always discuss this with your GP or midwife.

  • Some swelling is normal during pregnancy especially in the later months. It is because of the extra water you carry in pregnancy and a pregnancy bump can affect the circulation to your lower limbs to.

    If the swelling is gradual it is usually nothing to worry about.

    You can help reduce swelling by;

    • Keeping active
    • Putting your legs up when you do rest
    • Wearing cool and loose clothing
    • Taking off tight jewellery.

    Sometimes swelling can be a sign of a condition called pre-eclampsia – which can be dangerous for mums and babies if not treated.

    Get advice straight away if;

    • Swelling seems to be increasing quickly in your hands, feet and/or face
    • You have a bad headache and / or a pain under your ribs
    • You are seeing flashing lights / spots before your eyes
    • You are being sick.

Who can Help?

If you feel worried and want more advice you can speak to your midwife.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.

For a referral to physiotherapy services please follow the routes below:

James Paget Hospital - perinatal and pelvic health physiotherapy - referral via your GP, Midwife or Consultant.

Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital - self-referral via 24 hour answer phone on 01603 287 130. Please leave your name, hospital number, contact number and a brief description of the problem. You will receive a call back to speak about the problem. This service is for women who are planning to have their baby at NNUH, during pregnancy or up to three months after birth.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital - Women and men’s health Physio: 01553 613389. Referral via GP, midwife, or consultant. 24/7 answerphone available.

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