Swelling, snoring, acne … pregnancy can have some unfortunate side effects, but there are some steps you can take to ease these woes.
Pregnancy puts your body through plenty of changes: Some beautiful—like your protruding, rounded tummy—and some not so pretty, like swollen ankles and acne. While most of these unappealing symptoms end after your baby’s birth, there are a few things you can do to make some of these embarrassing pregnancy woes a little more bearable.
“During pregnancy, 50 percent or more of women have edema, or swelling, of their extremities [typically hands and feet] and face,” says Sherri Ruerup, CNM, director of nurse midwifery at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
Changes in your diet and lifestyle may ease the swelling. Ruerup recommends:
- Drink at least eight to 12, eight-ounce glasses of water a day
- Decrease your sodium intake
- Choose loose-fitting clothes that won’t restrict your body
- Consider investing in some support stockings to aid in circulation
- Avoid standing or sitting in one position for too long, which causes blood to pool and aggravates swelling.
Katherine S. Puls, a CNM in private practice in Evanston, Illinois, who has been delivering babies for over 36 years, advises pregnant women with edema to go swimming. Although this suggestion is not based on clinical trials, Puls says, “swimming seems to improve circulation and neutralize the effects of gravity.” (Plus, many moms say it just feels incredible, too.)
Those same hormones—progesterone and estrogen—that give you that “pregnancy glow” may also cause acne. “All your glands are more hyperactive in pregnancy (due to increased hormones),” says Ruerup, “including your sebaceous glands in your skin on your face.”
If your skin is normally dry, the increased activity of the facial oil glands may give you a healthy look. If your skin tends to be oily, the added oil may lead to zits.
Not to worry: You can use over-the-counter remedies such as topical creams or gels with Benzion to treat the acne, according to Ruerup. For more severe acne, your healthcare provider can recommend prescription medications. Ruerup’s own recommendation is Liquid Brewer’s Yeast, which is applied topically. (Find it at your local health food store.)
Just as sebaceous glands are put into overdrive by pregnancy hormones, so too are the mucous glands in your sinuses.
“Snoring in pregnancy is caused by gestational rhinitis,” says Ruerup. This congestion and stuffiness is most like cold symptoms, but you should not use over-the-counter cold medications to treat it. The cause is your pregnancy hormones, not a virus. Consult with your healthcare provider if the symptoms become unbearable. Otherwise, your snoring will have an instant cure when Baby arrives.
Although there are different kinds of incontinence, during pregnancy women most often experience stress incontinence. Stress incontinence happens when the bladder is under pressure and there’s a sudden change. That stress moment (for instance when you cough, sneeze, or stand up suddenly) might lead to a leak. While this may be embarrassing, it’s not uncommon.
Kegel exercises can help you strengthen the bladder muscles responsible for holding urine in. But Ruerup cautions that, “prevention of all leaks is unlikely due to the pressure of the uterus on the bladder, especially in the last trimester.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice Kegel exercises. While different healthcare providers offer various repetition recommendations, Ruerup suggests that you aim for 10 Kegel squeezes three times a day. Work up to holding each squeeze for 10 seconds. To perform a Kegel you need to understand which muscles you’re targeting. Find the correct sensation by stopping the flow of urine midstream the next time you’re on the toilet. The same muscle movement that you used to stop the stream is what you’re aiming to exercise with Kegels. (Note: you should not perform Kegels while going to the bathroom regularly. Urine may seep back into your bladder and lead to infections.)
Puls suggests you remind yourself to do your Kegels everyday by choosing something you already do as a trigger—for example, when you’re stopped at a red light, when the phone rings, or even after you brush your teeth. Conditioning your bladder muscles will not only help you avoid leaks during pregnancy, but may also strengthen those muscles and prevent incontinence as you get older.
Flatulence is a nice way to say gas. Inadvertently passing gas at the wrong moment can be humiliating, but gas is a fact of life whether you’re pregnant or not, explains Chesapeake, Virginia-based gastroenterologist, Dr. Patricia Raymond, MD. “Everyone has around 500ccs of gas in their system every day,” says Dr. Raymond. In fact, she says most of us pass gas between 14 to 20 times a day without even knowing it.
Yet when you’re pregnant, gas problems can arise for a couple of reasons. The most obvious: as your uterus expands and your baby grows, there’s less room for that 500cc of gas that you produce each day. Also, pregnant women often eat healthier diets. Added dairy, fruits, and vegetables all contain simple sugars that your body may have problems breaking down, like lactose in milk and glucose in some fruits.
As Dr. Raymond explains, your body may not have the right enzymes in the small intestine to absorb certain sugars. These particles then travel to the large intestine, where your body’s bacteria break down the sugar and as a result produces hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and yes, some methane. Eventually, the gas has to exit your system through the rectum.
Another gas-causer is air that enters your body as you chew and gulp. Some of this gas can be expelled through burping, some is absorbed through your body, and some eventually travels out the other end.
Dr. Raymond suggests these two tips for managing pregnancy gas problems:
- Keep a record of what you eat and how your body responds to it. If you feel bloated or gassy a few hours after eating certain foods, your body may have problems processing those foods. Avoid these foods or take over the counter enzyme supplements so your body can process certain foods.
- For general gas complaints, you can try antacids that in Dr. Raymond’s terms “make big gas bubbles smaller,” or a charcoal-based tablet that absorbs the gas.
Consult with your healthcare provider before taking any medications, even those sold over the counter, as these medications can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb pregnancy vitamins. Overall, Dr. Raymond says the solution can be simple, “Just let it go—you can get away with a lot when you’re pregnant.”