Completely You: Health
5 Surprising Pregnancy Symptoms
By Laura Silverman for Completely You
When it comes to pregnancy, there’s the stuff everyone talks about — morning sickness, back pain, swollen feet. And then there’s the stuff no one mentions, like gum disease, hemorrhoids and urinary leakage. Of course these aren’t exactly topics for dinner parties, but they’re real, and the more you know, the better you’ll be able to cope. We give you the low-down on five little-known pregnancy symptoms and what you can do about them.
1. Varicose Veins
You can thank fluctuating hormones and your family tree for varicose veins during pregnancy. Research shows that pregnant women who develop the unsightly and uncomfortable bulges tend to have much higher progesterone levels than those who get through those nine months varicose-vein-free. “Hemorrhoids — another pregnancy symptom — are really just varicose veins in the rectal area. And, if you’re really lucky, you might even get them on your vagina, which can be extremely painful,” says Cynthia Flynn, Certified Nurse-Midwife at The Birth Center in Bryn Mawr, Penn. To relieve some of the discomfort, Flynn recommends wearing a panty girdle. To prevent or minimize varicose veins elsewhere, keep your weight in check, exercise daily, elevate your feet and legs when sitting, and don’t cross your legs or ankles. Also, don’t sit or stand for long periods of time, try to take walking or stretching breaks every half hour. You may also benefit from graduated-compression stockings, which are tight at the ankle and get gradually looser as they ascend, to help push blood back up your legs towards your heart.
2. Pregnancy Gingivitis
You wouldn’t think that pregnancy and oral health go hand in hand, but good oral hygiene is important for a healthy pregnancy. Pregnancy gingivitis, or red, inflamed gums, affects 50 to 70 percent of pregnant women, including those who had healthy gums before becoming pregnant. Hormonal changes are at the root of this one, too. Several studies have linked the condition to premature labor and underweight babies, and yet, says San Francisco dentist Irena Vaksman, “It’s not brought up in prenatal visits.” Vaksman recommends two dental cleanings during pregnancy — one at around 14 weeks and a follow-up in the seventh or eight month — and vigilant at-home oral care, as in brushing and flossing three times a day.
3. Nasal Congestion
While it helps the little one inside you grow, estrogen, the other pregnancy hormone, also boosts blood flow to mucous membranes, and causes them to swell and soften. Increased blood flow swells and inflames the nasal passages, leading to what can be a non-stop stuffy nose during pregnancy. “A lot of people think they have a cold,” says Dr. Robert Atlas, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, “but in fact it’s perfectly normal.” That doesn’t make it fun, but Atlas recommends avoiding medication, which can have rebound effects. Instead, use a saline nasal spray and run a humidifier in your room at night.
4. Urinary Incontinence
As if flatulence and belching aren’t mortifying enough, urinary leakage is also common during pregnancy, especially toward the end — due to pressure on the pelvic floor. To avoid little accidents, Atlas recommends going to the bathroom more frequently or whenever there is a bathroom nearby. To help prevent incontinence issues, Dr. Sarah Wagner, OB/GYN at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., advises strengthening the pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises. To find these muscles, stop your flow while urinating — then practice that same motion throughout the day.
5. GI Distress
Wondering why even the blandest food keeps giving you heartburn? That pesky hormone progesterone slows down the digestive tract, while your growing baby is pressing against the intestines. Put it together, says Flynn, and it’s a recipe for constipation, gas, GERD, bloating and, if you continually strain on the toilet, hemorrhoids. To avoid the latter, says Flynn, aim for softer stools than you’re used to, which can be achieved by drinking lots of water, walking 30 minutes a day and eating a diet high in fiber. To keep heartburn at bay, avoid tight-fitting clothes, eat small meals slowly throughout the day, drink less while eating and don’t lie down immediately after a meal.
Laura Silverman has worked on the global editions of Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar and Good Housekeeping magazines. She is the former managing editor of Maxim and a frequent contributor to Completely You.