Whilst being pregnant might be exciting and lovely, we all know that not every day is going to see us as blooming pregnant beauties!
But while every mum-to-be knows to expect morning sickness and cravings during her nine months, but you might well find there are some pregnancy symptoms you’re not prepared for.
Don’t fret – our guide to what’s what and how to sort the problem should save your blushes. And remember, doctors and midwives have heard it all before, so if in doubt, just have a quiet word.
Incontinence From mid pregnancy onwards, you may find that you leak a small amount of urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or running around. ‘Stress incontinence is caused by the pressure of the growing uterus on the bladder, and weak pelvic floor muscles,’ explains Gurminder Matharu, spokesperson for the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians. And those pesky progesterone levels can also contribute to leaks, as progesterone is a muscle-relaxing hormone.
What to do Consult your doctor, who may suggest exercises to tone the pelvic floor muscles – but of course you should be doing these anyway to strengthen your muscles in preparation for labour! Always use the toilet when you need to, and obviously you can wear a pad if you want some extra protection.
Thankfully, bladder weakness will usually clear up within a few days or weeks after the birth, as your muscle tone returns and hormone levels go back to normal.
Got the itch?
Thrush Thrush is an overgrowth of yeast that leads to itching, burning and soreness around the vagina, and a yoghurt-like, yeasty-smelling discharge. High oestrogen levels, decreasing vaginal acidity and increased amounts of a type of sugar called glycogen inside the vagina (which the yeast feeds on) make thrush a common pregnancy problem, and it’s nothing at all to worry about.
What to do Your doctor will be able to prescribe some cream or vaginal pessaries, and you can help yourself by wearing loose cotton underwear and always wiping from front to back after going to the loo.
Include yoghurt with lactobacillus acidophilus (‘friendly bacteria’) in your diet and limit your sugar intake, as sugar promotes yeast growth.
Get plenty of rest, too, to help your body to fight infections. Symptoms should improve after the birth, when hormone levels drop.
Piles Haemorrhoids, or piles, are swollen veins (internal or external) in your bottom, which are caused during pregnancy by the increased pressure on your abdomen making your blood vessels swell. High progesterone levels and straining due to constipation (see below) can also make veins dilate. Symptoms to look out for include itching, pain or bleeding in the anal area, and hard lumps protruding from your bottom.
What to do You should consult your midwife before buying any over-the-counter creams, but there are other ways to minimise problems. Ensure you eat plenty of fibre (fruit, vegetables, pulses, bran) and do regular gentle exercise to avoid constipation.
Applying an ice pack can soothe pain, and you should wash your bottom after each bowel movement to keep the area clean.
To relieve the pressure on your abdomen, meanwhile, try to lie on your left side for 20 minutes every few hours. And don’t worry – piles disappear within a few weeks after the birth.
Breast is Best?
Leaky boobs In mid to late pregnancy, you might find you experience a little leakage from your breasts. This isn’t actually breast milk, but colostrum – the high-protein substance that the breasts produce to feed your newborn (breast milk isn’t produced till about three to four days after the birth).
What to do If colostrum forms a crust on the nipples, keep them dry and wash them twice a day.
When you are out and about, wearing breast pads inside your bra will absorb the fluid and prevent embarrassing patches appearing on your clothes.
You can occasionally stop leakage by using your wrist or the lower part of your palm to press gently against the nipple, but don’t do this too often as it could result in a plugged milk duct. And try not to worry – just think, your body is gearing up to feed your baby!
Bloating Many mums-to-be find they suffer from bloating, as the high progesterone levels of pregnancy slow the digestion. What’s more, bacteria can then make any undigested material ferment, leading to flatulence and burping – not ideal for your yummy mummy image! And in later pregnancy, your womb puts pressure on your stomach, making you feel more uncomfortable after eating.
What to do To ease symptoms, keep a food diary to track down your major culprits, but make sure you still follow a healthy diet that includes plenty of fibre. Try eating several small meals slowly throughout the day, too, rather than a big meal in the evening. Avoid fried and fatty foods, which can increase bloating, and cut out fizzy drinks and chewing gum.
Consult your doctor before taking any over- the-counter medicines, however, and if gas ever feels like contractions or is accompanied by blood when you use the loo, severe diarrhoea or increased nausea and vomiting, see a doctor.