Which pregnancy health worries can you cope with at home and which are worth taking straight to the doctor?
by Radhika Holmstrom
Are you the sort of woman who heads to your desk with a determined smile, and a few over-the-counter remedies when you should be tucked up in bed? Yet now, beset by various puzzling complaints that pregnancy can inflict, you find you’ve got your health professionals on speed-dial because you’re never sure whether something’s minor, major or in between?
For these 40 weeks, things are happening to your body that you never imagined and it’s all too easy to worry yourself sick about something that really isn’t much more than a nuisance. While you should consult your health professional team about your concerns, quite a few complaints don’t need more than a little bit of advice.
We’ve picked out 15 potential health problems and ‘triaged’ them into three groups: stay home, get help and go to hospital.
If you’re worried about any symptoms, get help straight away. Because while you don’t want to spend your entire pregnancy living on your nerves, sometimes it’s worth getting the reassurance you need: and occasionally you’ll be very glad you did.
Start by checking out advice from the NHS and mention these symptoms to your professionals; but on their own they shouldn’t be concerning; always get advice before taking any over-the- counter medicines.
If you feel a painful pressure in your back passage, you’ve fallen prey to pregnancy’s least glamorous ailment, as the result of hormones relaxing the veins in the anus so that they’re swollen (internally, or even sticking out).
Check out ways of soothing them, from a fibre-rich diet to cleaning them gently with water rather than harsh, dry loo paper. Prescription and over-the-counter medications can help you too, so ask about these when you have a regular ante-natal appointment.
Sickness during the first trimester
Many women spend the first 12 weeks feeling nauseous and not just in the morning. Sadly, that’s completely normal.
Try the traditional remedy of ginger, in biscuits or tea, or have a drink with sugar in it, like flat cola, to get some glucose and electrolytes into you. If you’re feeling sick pretty much around the clock, keep a symptom chart, as you may find there is a period when you’re a bit more settled. That’s when you should try for something a bit more nourishing.
This feels like acid corroding the tissues under your ribs – because that’s just what it is. Your internal organs are rearranging themselves to accommodate your growing bump and as a result, stomach acid is being splashed back onto your delicate digestive tissues. Eat little and often, try antacids and give acupuncture a try too for some relief.
Backache during the first 30 weeks
As your ligaments soften, your lower back may give you grief; bad posture makes the pain worse. Work on your tummy muscles to support your back, squat rather than bending and roll in and out of bed carefully too.
Cramp in pregnancy is one of those things which, like heartburn, you never think will happen to you…untill it does. Nobody really knows why these vicious pains in your calf or foot happen and unfortunately the only way to tackle them is by rubbing the muscle or pulling your foot up, to give a stretch on the affected muscle.
Improving your circulation may help a little bit but probably the only thing you can do is try to avoid anything – like pointing your toes – that can set them off.
Some worries need more follow-up. They don’t warrant an immediate dash to hospital but please do pick up the phone and talk to your midwife or doctor. We’ve also included the names of helpful support groups, in case they do turn out to be serious.
Itchy hands and feet
This can be a sign of obstetric cholestasis, which is caused when toxic bile acids build up in your bloodstream because your liver is not producing enough bile fluid to wash them through your system. If it does turn out to be this, you’ll probably be given medication and they’ll keep a close eye on you as your pregnancy continues, because after 40 weeks you are at risk of stillbirth.
For help and support go to icsupport.org
Pain in your pelvis and pubic bone, or in the crotch
The relaxin hormone can make the joints in your pelvis unstable, and cause a lot of pain with walking and other movements. It won’t affect your baby but it can be extremely painful for a long time (and it can continue long after the birth). Ideally, you should be offered specialised obstetric physiotherapy; and if the pain is really bad you may be offered an early induction and/or a Caesarean section.
For help and support go to pelvicpartnership.org.uk
Light bleeding in the first two trimesters
Up untill 12 weeks of pregnancy, bleeding can be entirely normal, if scary – though an ultrasound scan can check how both you and your embryo are doing and where the placenta is positioned. Between 12 and 24 weeks, it’s much less common but if it’s only a small amount, you probably shouldn’t need to be too alarmed.
A constant low mood
If you’re feeling so low that you’re finding life a constant struggle and the unhappiness doesn’t seem to lift – you’re possibly on the way to antenatal depression. Some anti-depressants are safe to take in pregnancy and ‘talking therapies’ are certainly effective; steer clear of herbal remedies like St John’s Wort, as they’re not proved to be safe.
Sickness in the second trimester
If you’re still vomiting a lot when others have started to ‘bloom’, it’s worth taking seriously: hyperemesis gravidarum or HG is a better term than the rather trivial ‘morning sickness’. You don’t want to become dehydrated, as this can threaten your baby’s health. If you are too sick to cope with ordinary life, your urine is very dark and/or you are losing weight, talk your team, because they should be able to help you, though they may not be able to solve the whole problem.
For help and support go to pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk
Go to hospital
These signs and symptoms are usually urgent; don’t panic, but do go to hospital or get medical advice and help immediately.
Leaking amniotic fluid
If your waters break after 37 weeks – either in a trickle or in a ‘pop’ as if you’ve sat on a balloon – call your team because it’s a normal sign of labour starting. Earlier than this, it could be a sign of premature labour – and also, if you lose this fluid, you and the baby are both at risk of infection; so you may need treatment to reduce the infection risks to you, to prevent early contractions and/or to help strengthen your baby if it does look as if you’re going to deliver somewhat prematurely.
Headaches and / or blurred vision
This could be a sign of pre-eclampsia, especially if your hands or feet start swelling suddenly as well. Pre-eclampsia is a combination of raised blood pressure and high protein levels in your urine and it affects the placenta. You’ll need to be carefully monitored and you may be offered an early induction or an elective Caesarean.
Bleeding in the third trimester
The professionals take this very seriously, even if the bleeding’s quite slight. It may well be nothing to worry about but sometimes it’s the result of a low-lying placenta or the placenta breaking away – in which case you’ll probably need to stay in hospital for emergency treatment and possibly an elective Caesarean.
Baby is not moving or the pattern of movements has changed
As your pregnancy draws on, you get to know your baby’s movements – often quite uncomfortably, as they get bigger and there’s less room for manoeuvre. It’s not true that they slow down as the last few weeks draw on, either. If you notice a change in your baby’s normal pattern of movements, make sure everything is OK.
For help and advice go to kickscount.org.uk
It’s pretty obvious that convulsions (fits) should be taken seriously. In pregnancy, they’re often a sign of full-blown eclampsia, in which case you and the baby will need urgent treatment.