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Normal body changes during pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time when our bodies change in many different ways. It can be a good time to revisit your lifestyle and make small changes to improve your overall health and wellbeing. We’re going to take a look at some of the normal changes during pregnancy that you can expect and give you tips on how to have a comfortable and healthy pregnancy.

Constipation, varicose veins and haemorrhoids (piles)

During pregnancy, hormonal changes increase your risk of becoming constipated or developing varicose veins and piles. A good way of avoiding constipation is to keep physically active and increase your dietary intake of fibre (pears, oranges, beans, certain cereals, wholemeal breads).

Try to eat at least 5-7 portions of fruit or vegetables each day. Try to eat fresh foods and avoid overly processed foods. Also, make sure that you are drinking plenty of water, about 8 cups a day (2 litres). If you feel you are constipated or that you have piles, talk to your local pharmacy/midwife or doctor.

varicose veins Fig 1. Varicose veins

Varicose veins (Figure 1) are enlarged veins, which may have a bluish or purple colour. They occur mostly on your legs may or may not be painful. You may find that support/compression stockings can help to ease the symptoms.

Haemorrhoids or piles Fig 2. Haemorrhoids (piles)

Haemorrhoids (Figure 2) are also known as piles. They are similar to varicose veins but occur inside or outside your anus (back passage). Piles may or may not be painful. You may notice fresh blood on the tissue after going to the toilet. Check that the blood is not coming from your vagina, by dabbing yourself with a tissue. Vaginal bleeding is never normal during pregnancy.

If you think you have haemorrhoids, mention it to your doctor, midwife or maternity care professional at your next visit and ask you pharmacist for some cream to relieve it.

Breast changes

Some women are very sensitive to hormonal changes in their body and may notice their breasts become tender even before finding out they are pregnant. In the weeks after conception, your breasts may feel sore and heavy and your nipples may be very sensitive to touch. They may increase by a cup size or two during pregnancy and some women can experience itchiness in their breasts because of your skin stretching. Massage in some light moisturising cream or bio-oil may help.

As your pregnancy continues, the areola (the pigmented area around the nipple) may darken. Some women notice a little fluid leaking from their breasts in the final trimester (the last few weeks and months of pregnancy). This fluid can be milky white or clear in colour (it should never be red or blood-stained). All of these changes are normal.

Gum bleeds and nose bleeds

Nose bleeds and gum bleeds can be common in pregnancy due to hormonal changes. It is important to maintain good mouth hygiene during pregnancy and make an appointment with your dentist if you are worried about your teeth and mouth.

Nose bleeds can be unpleasant, but they are usually managed at home: sit down, use a tissue and pinch the soft part of your nose, above your nostrils, for 10 – 15 minutes, holding your head slightly forwards so that the blood does not drip down your throat. Talk to your midwife, doctor or maternity care professional if you are concerned about your nose bleeds.

A nose bleed near the end of pregnancy, especially if you have a headache as well, may indicate that your blood pressure is high. You should see your GP, midwife or obstetrician immediately to have it checked.

Increased vaginal discharge

Before pregnancy, you can experience different amounts of vaginal discharge, depending on the time of your monthly cycle. In pregnancy, usually women experience more discharge. It is usually thin (watery) in consistency, clear or milky white and should not have an unpleasant smell.

If your discharge is thick, bad smelling, green or yellow in colour or if you have an itchy or painful vagina, you should let your maternity care professional know. Vaginal bleeding, which can look like bright red, pink or brown discharge, is never normal and you need to see your midwife or obstetrician immediately to have it checked.

Sickness and heartburn

Sickness and heartburn are common in pregnancy and can sometimes last throughout pregnancy. Some foods and drinks such as spicy foods, citrus fruits or juices, chocolate and caffeine can make this worse.

It might be helpful to keep a food diary to determine what foods may be causing the heartburn. Small regular snacks rather than large meals can be a good way of easing this sickness. Eating ginger (ginger tea, pieces of stem ginger (without the syrup), or one ginger biscuit a day) may help as well.

Skin irritations

Pregnancy can sometimes reduce the frequency of skin irritations; many women find that their skin has a ‘healthy glow’. However, it can also increase your risk of rashes, itchiness, dryness and pigmentation of the skin.

Cholestasis is a liver disorder that occurs in pregnancy and would require medical attention. It is usually associated with itchiness of your hands and feet, or generalised itchiness. It can occur in approximately 1% of pregnancies in Europe but in 5-15% of pregnancies in Chile or Bolivia. If you have any concerns regarding irritations of the skin, it is best to talk to your health practitioner or maternity care professional.

Frequency of passing urine

You may feel that you are passing small and frequent amounts of urine during pregnancy. This is normal. As your baby is growing, there is increasing pressure on your bladder. However, one third of women report leaking of urine during their pregnancy, known as incontinence. It is not normal to be experiencing incontinence.

Pelvic floor exercises, maintaining good physical exercise and seeking out a health professional for advice will give you the opportunity to eliminate or reduce the occurrences of this happening. Please mention this to your maternity care practitioner if you are experiencing incontinence.

Emotional changes

Pregnancy can make you feel different emotions, both high and low, and hormones may be responsible for many of these. Anxiety is a natural adaptive response that we all experience when we feel unsafe, threatened or encounter situations that challenge us. ‘Normal’ worries become ‘problem’ anxiety when they negatively interfere with your ability to enjoy you pregnancy, and care for yourself in your everyday life.

Some women may feel depressed, in a low mood or really sad. If you are not sure how to describe how you are feeling, what words to use, or are afraid to talk to a health professional, start by talking to a trusted friend.

If you feel anxious or down in the dumps and it’s interfering with your everyday life or relationships, the first step towards returning to good mental health is to ask for help. Seeking help is not a weakness, it is a strength to look for support – remember, it’s good to talk!

  • Having read this article, think of 3 ways that your emotional and physical experiences are different now compared to before you were pregnant. You can write these in the discussion section below.

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This article is from the free online course:

Journey to birth

Trinity College Dublin