As you embark on your pregnancy, you might worry about what ailments you'll experience. We’re all familiar with morning sickness, and we have a general sense that pregnancy comes with a multitude of emotional and physical challenges. However, it's important to note that many symptoms of pregnancy, while uncomfortable, are completely normal. It may be helpful, and empowering, to understand the common pregnancy ailments you can expect to deal with, as well as whether they're something to worry about, so you can find out what you can do to help alleviate your symptoms.
In speaking with pregnancy and childbirth professionals, there was one clear message: You should not hesitate to reach out to your medical providers about issues you're experiencing. “If you have health concerns, keep a list of questions and ask your own doctor/midwife who is taking care of you when you go into the office. You can always call the office too if you’re very worried,” Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, OB-GYN at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and author of The Working Woman’s Pregnancy Book, advises. I like the idea of writing a list — it’s easy to forget your previous medical concerns amidst the general hubbub of the doctor's office. Deena Blumenfeld, a registered prenatal yoga instructor, certified Lamaze instructor and childbirth educator, also encourages open communication with your doctor: “If a woman is concerned about her pregnancy symptoms, she should reach out to her medical provider.”
While you probably found this article by searching the web (and I’m happy your eyes have made it here), there’s definitely such a thing as overzealous web sleuthing when it comes to your health. Dr. Greenfield warns, “There can be a lot of alarming information online: often, when something bad happens to someone they’ll post it online and so you tend to see an overrepresentation of scary scenarios. It’s always good to seek information from your provider since it will be more tailored to your personal situation.” Personally, I’m an expert worrier, and I know what it’s like to fall down the rabbit hole of searching for symptoms. Hopefully, this list will equip you with the knowledge you need to combat your concerns.
Nausea, or morning sickness, is often assumed to be an inevitable rite of passage for pregnant women. But Dr. Greenfield says you don’t have to suffer in silence: “There’s a lot you can do to help with nausea, including a lot of medications that are safe.”
And nausea during pregnancy doesn’t always fall under the singular banner of morning sickness. Dr. Greenfield explains, “Once the initial nausea goes away, if it comes back again during the pregnancy, it’s likely not the same type of hormonal nausea. It’s more commonly reflux or some other form of nausea. There are different ways to treat this form of nausea, such as antacids.” She also notes, “Not everybody has nausea... Some people will have it, some people throw up, and some people don’t have any of it — all of this can be normal.”
2. Low Back Pain
Pregnant women will often encounter low back pain. “Just as for people who aren’t pregnant, the biggest thing that leads to low back pain is not having a strong core. As your tummy gets bigger and you tend to lean back a bit, this exaggerates the curve of the spine and people tend to get more back pain or sciatica,” Dr. Greenfield says.
Fortunately, there’s something you can do about it: “If you can go into pregnancy with a strong core, and you continue to exercise and maintain your core strength, it will really help with comfort in later pregnancy,” Dr. Greenfield says, and she recommends pregnancy yoga or other exercises that your health provider suggests.
3. Swelling Of The Feet
Gaining hobbit feet may be the last thing you want during or following a pregnancy, but you're not alone if you do. According to Mayo Clinic, swelling of the ankles and feet is common during pregnancy, and is due to increased water retention, hormonal shifts, and in later stages, the pressure of the uterus on your circulatory system.
But even after pregnancy, your feet may not immediately return to normal. In fact, it's common to have an increase in swelling, and it's typically nothing to worry about.
“After women have their babies, especially if you were given a lot of intravenous fluid, (particularly true if you have a C-section), almost everybody will have a problem with swollen feet,” Dr. Greenfield says.
But don't panic, she adds.
“We get a lot of phone calls from people worried they have a serious issue like a blood clot in their legs. But typically what happens is that after birth, your body is full of sodium from the intravenous fluids you got, which causes water retention." How do you know that it's probably nothing to worry about? Dr. Greenfield says, "As long as both legs are swollen it’s typically normal and will go away over a few weeks.”
“The reason pregnant women tend to get constipated is that the pregnancy hormone progesterone slows down the intestines, and the longer the poop stays in the colon, the harder it becomes to pass. Also, the uterus can press down on the colon narrowing the passage,” Dr. Greenfield tells me. She also explains that when it comes to constipation, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: “The best way to handle it is through prevention by having a lot of fiber in your diet, or by taking a fiber supplement like Metamucil, Citrucel, psyllium, or high fiber cereal.”
If you do wind up constipated, you’ll want to make sure that the poop that’s overstaying its welcome leaves before you load up on fiber: “Once you get constipated if you add fiber it tends to make things worse initially. So you actually first want to get the poop to come out.” She suggests using a laxative like MiraLax to alleviate constipation, before starting a regimen of fiber.
5. Itchy Belly
General itchiness and itching of the stomach are commonly associated with pregnancy. Most of the time, mild itchiness is completely normal, but occasionally it’s something to bring up with your doctor. Deena Blumenfeld told me it is typical to experience "itchy bellies from stretching skin,” but she advised to keep a lookout for “... itchy bellies from PUPPS or cholestasis. A woman should seek medical attention for both of those.” Cholestasis is a very rare complication of pregnancy, affecting only about 0.3-0.5 percent of the general population, according to the Society for Maternal/Fetal Medicine. But the Cedars-Sinai website warns that if you have severe itching with no rash, especially on the palms or soles of your feet, you should let your doctor know.
PUPPS (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy) is much more typical: it’s an itchy rash that is one of the most common dermatological issues affecting pregnant women, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, who also advise, “... even though the condition is a nuisance, it is not a serious ailment and should resolve soon after delivery.” There are simple treatments such as topical corticosteroids you can seek from your doctor.