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Pregnancy problems 1

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Some pregnancies go smoothly. But in the nine months before their baby arrives, most mums-to-be will suffer an irritating minor health glitch or two - from morning sickness to back pain and bleeding gums. Follow our guide to some of the most common pregnancy problems and find out how to beat them.

Morning sickness

Around 80% of mums-to-be suffer from morning sickness - a horrible, travel-sick feeling that can strike at any time of day. Most women find it eases after three months or so, but bouts of queasiness can come and go throughout the pregnancy. No one really knows what causes morning sickness but low blood sugar levels are often blamed. If sickness is making your life impossible, talk to your GP or midwife because extreme cases (called hyperemesis gravidarum) may require special diet, bed rest, medication or even a short stay in hospital.

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seven ways to beat morning sickness

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how to cope with morning sickness - mums tell mums

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To beat it, try:

  • Eating a couple of plain biscuits before you get up in the morning.
  • Eating regular, small meals throughout the day. The natural remedy ginger - for example in ginger ale, tea or biscuits.
  • Wearing acupressure wrist bands (the sort designed for travel sickness) - available from chemists and health food shops.
  • Taking Vitamin B6 supplements - but you must ask your doctor's advice first.

Bleeding gums

Pregnancy hormones can cause gums to become swollen and tender, which means they may bleed more easily, particularly when brushed or flossed. Your teeth are also more prone to decay. In fact, if you have any kind of dental problem before you conceive, it often gets worse during pregnancy.

To help:

  • Continue to clean your teeth gently but thoroughly, using a paste for sensitive teeth if brushing hurts
  • Use a swill of antiseptic mouthwash, such as Corsodyl (from chemists). This may help to keep gums in good condition - just be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle.
  • See your dentist immediately if your gums are painful. NHS dental care is free during pregnancy and for up to one year after (log on to www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk for further information).

Piles (haemorrhoids)

Half of all women have to endure the hideous indignity of piles during or immediately after pregnancy. These are varicose veins of the bottom that result in itchy, painful and sometimes bleeding swellings. Piles are often caused by the relaxing effect of pregnancy hormones on veins and blood flow, combined with the additional pressure of your heavy uterus during pregnancy. They can also be triggered by constipation during pregnancy, and can be literally 'pushed out' by the later stages of labour.

Some people are more pile-prone than others, but you can cut your risk by eating a diet high in fibre, drinking plenty of water throughout the day and exercising regularly to avoid constipation. Daily pelvic floor exercises can also help boost circulation in the area.

If you've got piles:

  • Try a warm bath to ease itching and pain (do not add scented bath products as they can irritate).
  • Use damp, medicated toilet wipes to cleanse the area after a bowel movement - or rinse the area over a bidet.
  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods.
  • Sit on either a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a clean cloth, or a warm hot water bottle. Both can help - see which one you prefer.
  • Ask your pharmacist about creams or pessaries safe to use in pregnancy. They contain a topical anaesthetic and the relief can be immediate.

Numbness or pain in the hands and arms

If you wake up every morning with a bizarre feeling of pins and needles in your hands, you could be getting carpal tunnel syndrome. This is caused by pregnancy fluid retention. The median nerve (which travels through your wrist) gets compressed by fluid retention in your hands at night. You wake up in the early hours of the morning with pain and tingling - usually in your thumb, index and middle fingers. Like most pregnancy gripes and grumbles, this usually wears off once your baby is born.

To alleviate it:

  • Try not to sleep on your hands or do too many jobs that involve repetitive hand movements.
  • Stretch your hands and fingers regularly throughout the day.
  • Use your thumb to massage the inside of your wrists with a gentle upwards and outwards motion. This should ease any pressure.
  • Try yoga or a back massage, which may help relieve associated neck and shoulder tension.

Don't take pain relief medication without the advice of a pharmacist or doctor. If things are really bad, a doctor may recommend night-time splints to keep your wrists straight while you sleep.

Swollen ankles and feet

Officially known as oedema, swollen feet, ankles and hands are extremely common during pregnancy, particularly in the late months. The problem is you are carrying more weight and fluid than normal and gravity simply takes the fluid down to your ankles and your hands. This is compounded by the fact that you've got a baby sitting in your pelvis and that can interfere with the return of blood from your legs.

To keep oedema under control:

  • Avoid standing for long periods - if sitting, keep your feet elevated as much as possible.
  • When in bed, try to lie on your left side to take pressure off the big vein that brings blood back up from your legs
  • Drink plenty of water to flush out salts and persuade the body it doesn't need to retain fluid.
  • Exercise regularly. Walking, cycling and swimming will improve circulation in your lower body and help pump the fluid back up through the system.
  • Avoid salty foods - salt contributes to water retention.
  • Put on a pair of support tights before you get out of bed in the morning.

Your midwife will be monitoring your swollen ankles at your antenatal check-ups, but do let her know if things suddenly get worse as this could be a sign of pre-eclampsia, which can be very dangerous for you and your baby. If you are in any doubt at all, see your midwife immediately.

Heartburn

With heartburn, pregnancy hormones soften the valve at the top of stomach causing foods and digestive acids to occasionally leak out, creating an acute, burning sensation in your throat. The problem tends to get worse in the last three months of pregnancy as your growing baby puts extra pressure on your stomach.

To alleviate it:

  • Keep meals small and regular.
  • Eat slowly, chew well and avoid fatty or spicy foods, citrus fruit, alcohol and coffee.
  • Drink fluids between meals - drinking with food can distend the stomach and make heartburn worse.
  • Don't eat for at least two hours before bedtime - and try sleeping propped up on pillows.
  • Alkaline foods such as milk or yogurt may help, as can fizzy water and peppermint tea.
  • Ask your pharmacist or GP for an antacid safe to use in pregnancy.

Indigestion

This is different to heartburn but can be uncomfortable. The pregnancy hormones that soften your ligaments also have an effect on your gut, slowing down the passage of food. This can cause indigestion.

To help:

  • Eat small meals.
  • Don't lie down straight after a meal.
  • Try a cup of peppermint tea after eating.
  • Wear lose clothes that don't restrict your bump.

Constipation

The same slowing of the gut that causes indigestion can give you constipation too.

To get things moving:

  • ncrease your intake of fibre ??wholemeal bread and rice, fruit and vegetables.
  • Drink more water.
  • Try to exercise each day ??or simply walk a little more.
  • Don't take iron tablets ??(or discuss with your midwife or GP if taking an iron supplements already to see if a gentle alternative may be suitable, e.g. Spatone a natural iron supplement - Spatone is an ideal alternative for people who cannot tolerate high dosage oral iron.

Anxiety

It's natural to worry about the health of your baby and the responsibilities that lie ahead.

If tension is mounting:

  • Share your worries with your partner, friends or family. Don't bottle things up.
  • If you're concerned about your baby's health, your midwife or GP may be able to arrange an extra ultrasound scan - which can be comforting.
  • If the anxiety won't go away, ask your GP or midwife if you can see a counsellor, or find a therapist through the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (www.bacp.co.uk).

Back pain

Many women suffer from back pain at some time during their pregnancy. This has two causes: your extra weight and growing bump affecting your posture, and your ligaments relaxing to make it easier for you to give birth.

To avoid back pain:

  • Stay as fit, strong and flexible as possible - regular exercise such as walking, swimming or yoga will help.
  • Practise those pelvic floor exercises ??they really do help support your back too.
  • Maintain good posture (shoulders back, head high), avoid slouching when sitting, and try tucking a small pillow behind your lower back when sitting for long periods (at a desk or in a car).
  • Avoid lifting anything heavy or awkward (such as other children!). If you must pick something up, hold it close to your body and bend your knees rather than your back.
  • Sleep with a pillow under your bump and one between your knees to keep your spine in a straight, comfortable position during the night.
  • Ask your midwife about a specially designed support belt for your bump that may help take some of the strain.
  • Try a warm bath, hot water bottle or massage.

If your back pain is persistent, or you experience a stabbing pain in your buttock or down the back of your leg, pins and needles or numbness, seek advice from your GP or midwife.

For more information please visit the NHS website at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk.

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