Weight gain and tiredness are a given when you’re pregnant, but there may be more unexpected changes ahead...
Nothing can compare to the wonder of a new life growing inside you.
But while pregnancy will bring about incredible changes to your body, it can also cause complications that you weren’t necessarily expecting.
“Many of these changes are due to surges of pregnancy hormones,” explains Mr Etienne Horner, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital.
“As the womb grows and takes up more space, it puts pressure on various parts of the body as well.”
Thankfully, these changes are rarely long-lasting.
“Most complications will disappear without any treatment within a few months, weeks or even days of giving birth,” says Mr Horner.
Here, we explore the most common problems you might encounter, and what you can do to minimise their impact.
Constipation and piles
The surge of progesterone during pregnancy slows the flow of food through your intestines, which can lead to constipation.
Straining to go to the loo, combined with the weight of your growing baby in the second half of your pregnancy,
can then cause piles (swollen veins in your anus, also known as haemorrhoids) to pop out. These may itch, become inflamed and even bleed.
What can you do?
“Prevention really is the best cure here,” says Mr Horner. “Drinking up to one and a half litres of water a day will help you avoid getting constipated in the first place.”
Eat plenty of fibre-rich foods like fruit, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains to keep your stools soft and regular.
Avoid standing or sitting in one position for long periods and exercise regularly, to gently stimulate the bowel. Try 20 to 30 minutes of walking or swimming, two or three times a week.
Listen to your body and go to the loo as soon as you feel the urge – putting your feet up on a stool may make it easier to open your bowels. Afterwards, gently clean the area with moist wipes instead of toilet tissue, before patting dry.
If you’re in pain, ask your pharmacist for an over-the-counter cream. “Piles could take up to three months to disappear after delivery, but they will go away,” reassures Mr Horner.
Heartburn and indigestion
Heartburn will bother most mums-to-be at some point during their pregnancy. In the first trimester, this
is thanks to hormonal changes that relax the valve that separates your gullet from your stomach, allowing gastric acids to seep back up and cause a burning sensation in your lower throat and chest after eating. Mr Horner explains: “Heartburn can become an even bigger problem as the womb grows, shifting the bowels further upwards.”
What can you do?
“Try drinking a couple of glasses of water before a meal to aid digestion,” advises Mr Horner. “Avoid rich, spicy foods and keep fruit juices (which can be very acidic) to a minimum.”
“Make dresses your wardrobe staple,” suggests Sophie Devonshire, founder of Babes with Babies London. “They don’t dig in around your stomach, so won’t exacerbate heartburn. Our Magic Maxi Dress is hugely popular because it skims away from your tummy for maximum comfort.”
Suffering at night? Try drinking a glass of warm milk before going to bed and propping your head and shoulders up with a pillow, so gravity can help keep your stomach acid where it should be. “Gaviscon is completely safe to take during pregnancy,” adds Mr Horner.
Vaginal discharge and urinary incontinence
There may be all sorts of unexpected fluids making an appearance down below during pregnancy. “Many women need reassuring that the volume and consistency of vaginal discharge they experience is perfectly normal,” says Mr Horner. “It can often disappear for weeks then reappear again.”
Around a third of women will also experience stress incontinence (leaking a little urine when you sneeze, cough or laugh) particularly in the third trimester, when the baby’s head is low and pressing on the bladder.
What can I do?
“Don’t worry – your discharge can be white, creamy, clear, yellow, sticky, slimy or watery, and still be completely normal,” explains Mr Horner. “Seek advice if it smells offensive, which is usually a sign of a simple bacterial infection that’s easily cleared up with pessaries.”
Keep drinking plenty of water during the day, as dehydration could lead to constipation, but try not to drink too much before you go to bed to avoid ‘accidents’ in the night.
Schedule regular loo breaks even if you don’t feel like you need to go, and wear pantyliners to help soak up any leaks. “Towards the end of pregnancy, an increase in discharge means some women may need to change their underwear several times a day,” adds Mr Horner.
Post-delivery, it’s crucial to practice pelvic floor exercises to re-educate your weakened muscles. Mr Horner explains: “If you do your exercises, problems improve quite quickly in the first couple of weeks after birth. By about three to four months, everything should be back to normal.”
Hair growth (and then loss)
Those surging hormones can result in pregnancy-induced hair growth in some women.
“Many women are concerned to find themselves with dark hair on their tummies,” says Mr Horner.
It can come as a shock to suddenly find yourself shedding hair from your head around three months after birth, as well.
What can I do?
“Remember that excess body hair might be an unwelcome addition, but it’s only temporary and will disappear within three to six months of birth,’ explains Mr Horner.
If you want to remove body hair during pregnancy, steer clear of bleaches or hair removal creams, which could absorbed into the skin, and stick to plucking, shaving or waxing.
Seeing large numbers of strands on your pillow or hairbrush after birth might look alarming, but your hair is simply returning to its natural pre-pregnancy cycle. The loss should slow within a few months.
There’s not much you can do but be patient – but letting your hair air dry naturally and avoiding pulling it into tight styles or ponytails will help avoid stressing your scalp further.
By Rachel Cocker