Potential issues

First trimester

This is a time when you may feel physically and emotionally drained. You may also feel anxious as you may not yet feel comfortable about your pregnancy. Some of the more common complaints during the first trimester include morning sickness, dental problems, and tiredness.

Morning sickness

About half of all pregnant women experience nausea and vomiting during early pregnancy. These symptoms usually lessen by about week 15 of the pregnancy, although they may continue throughout pregnancy for some women. Morning sickness commonly occurs in the morning, hence its name. It has been known however, to occur at any time of the day.

Morning sickness is probably nature’s way of eliminating toxins from your body that can harm your baby. It also appears to occur more so in women with poor nutrition. To help ease your discomfort, make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet containing nutrients including vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, zinc, and magnesium. You should also avoid strong odours, fatty or spicy food and other foods that may make your morning sickness worse.

You could also try the following tips:

  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Keep snacks, such as dry crackers, by your bed to eat before you get up in the morning
  • Drink lots of water
  • Take plenty of rests
  • Drink ginger tea (you can prepare this by boiling ginger root in water). Alternatively you can eat crystallised ginger or ginger biscuits

If you experience severe and persistent vomiting, see your healthcare professional immediately.

Dental care

Hormonal changes and increased blood supply during pregnancy can cause your gums to become more sensitive. Your oral health may have been good before you got pregnant, yet your gums may now bleed after brushing. You may also be prone to gingivitis and dental decay during pregnancy.

It is advisable to visit your dentist at least once during pregnancy. You should also brush your teeth using short strokes and floss daily. A diet rich in vitamins C and D, calcium, and magnesium will help to ensure healthy gums and teeth. Avoid or minimise coffee, soft drinks, alcohol, and refined sugars as they can interfere with your nutrient absorption and worsen your gum problems causing tooth decay.

Skin problems

Your skin will be affected by hormonal changes and increased blood flow occurring during pregnancy. Changes in skin pigmentation, including darkened nipples, areas on your face, and freckles, are quite common. Many women also see a dark thin line running down the middle of their abdomen (called “linea nigra”). These changes are harmless, usually dissipating after the baby is born.

Your skin may change in other ways during pregnancy. While some women have more oily skin during pregnancy, others may experience dry and flaky skin. Skin irritations like dermatitis, eczema, and acne are quite common. Dietary and lifestyle changes can help to combat some of these problems, including:

  • A healthy and balanced diet. Nutritional deficiencies, particularly B and C vitamins, can cause some skin problems. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to boost your vitamin C intake
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated
  • Avoid stress, particularly if you suffer from eczema
  • Avoid sugary or fatty food, alcohol, and caffeine, particularly if your skin is greasy

Seek help from your healthcare professional if you develop severe itching after about 28 weeks.

Fatigue

In the first trimester (and third trimester), you may feel unusually tired and require more sleep. Not only is your body changing in response to the demand of your baby, you will also experience emotional highs and lows. You will be faced with many decisions to make, such as when to share the good news and when to take maternal leave. It’s perfectly OK to take your time and plan these things.

As you can guess, a good night’s sleep is the best way to ease fatigue. You may notice a change in your sleeping pattern, for instance, going to bed much earlier than before, and needing a nap during the afternoon. Eating a light meal at the end of the day will help you to sleep better, and will not overload your digestive system before you go to bed. Try to avoid heavy meals before going to bed as this may make you uncomfortable and make it more difficult to sleep.

Low iron levels can also cause tiredness. Make sure you are getting enough iron from your diet and/or supplements. If you are concerned, ask your healthcare provider to check the iron level in your blood.

Second trimester

For many women this is the most enjoyable time. By now, you may know the results of most of the antenatal tests and generally, you may be feeling more confident and comfortable about your pregnancy. The fatigue and morning sickness experienced during the first trimester should have lessened, and you may notice a return of your appetite and energy levels. There are some common problems and minor ailments that might affect you, so here’s some practical advice that you may find helpful.

Heartburn

If you feel a burning sensation in your chest and throat, and an unpleasant taste in your mouth, you are not alone. Heartburn is quite common during pregnancy, probably because of the pressure from the enlarging uterus. This can force acid secretion from your stomach into your oesophagus, especially after you have eaten. This condition tends to get worse as your pregnancy progresses.

You can reduce this discomfort by eating small, frequent meals, and avoiding fatty foods, strong tea and coffee. Sometimes acidic and/or spicy food may cause heartburn or reflux. Avoid lying down immediately after eating. Heartburn is often worse at night when you lie down, and you can reduce it by sleeping with several pillows to keep your upper body slightly elevated. A glass of milk at bedtime may also help.

Consult your healthcare practitioner if you have trouble with heartburn. Most important, if you experience any pain in your upper abdomen, you should see your healthcare practitioner immediately to rule out the possibility of high blood pressure.

Constipation

The hormonal changes during pregnancy can slow down the action of your bowel. Iron supplements can also lead to constipation. To help prevent constipation, drink plenty of water and increase your fibre intake by eating fresh and dried fruits (particularly banana, figs, and papayas), raw and cooked vegetables, grain cereal, seeds and nuts. It is not recommended to take laxatives without advice from your doctor.

Varicose veins and haemorrhoids

This is another common complaint during pregnancy. Varicose veins and haemorrhoids are simply swollen veins in your legs and anus, respectively. Hormonal changes during pregnancy, the increased weight of your womb, and increases in blood volume all contribute to slow your blood circulation. As a result, your blood will accumulate in the veins of your legs and anus, leading to swelling and bulging veins.

If you have a problem with varicose veins, you should avoid standing for long periods of time, and wear support stockings whenever possible. You can also boost your circulation by performing gentle exercises such as walking. Haemorrhoids are generally worsened by constipation, so you should take the same precautions to minimise constipation.

Also, if you feel a deep, niggling pain in your lower leg, or experience heaviness in your legs, see your doctor immediately as this may be a sign of deep-vein thrombosis.

Anaemia

Anaemia occurs when the level of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in your red blood cells becomes lower than normal. It is quite common, particularly if you are carrying more than one baby at a time. Anaemia can lead to problems during pregnancy and labour. Likely symptoms include fatigue and susceptibility to depression.

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia during pregnancy, because your baby’s growth requires iron. Women with heavy periods before conception can also enter their pregnancy slightly anaemic, so it’s worth checking out your blood iron levels in you pre-conception check. You can prevent iron deficiency by eating iron-rich food such as green leafy vegetables, red meat, fish, and poultry. You should also eat foods containing vitamin C, including fresh fruits, which will assist iron absorption. Talk to your doctor to see if you really need iron supplements, as they can cause or increase the severity of constipation and morning sickness.

Vitamin B12 and folate deficiency can also cause anaemia, so make sure you eat foods high in these nutrients. Try eating eggs, yeast extract, milk, nuts, beans, peas, and again green leafy vegetables (raw and lightly cooked) to get your vitamin B12 and folate requirements.

Third trimester

The final three months of pregnancy are a time of preparation. You will need to physically and mentally gear yourself up for the birth of your baby. Around this time, you may be feeling “large” and uncomfortable as your body undergoes further changes. Plenty of rest is the key to reduce your discomfort, as is good nutrition and suitable physical exercises during this time of preparation.

Cramps and oedema

Poor circulation caused by the increased weight of your womb and increases in blood volume can lead to oedema, or fluid retention, which usually occur in and around the ankles and hands. To relieve the swelling, try the following:

  • Don’t stand still for long periods of time
  • Elevate your feet while sitting or lying down. Lying down on your side is also a good way to relieve oedema
  • Wear support stockings, if you have them, particularly before you get out of bed
  • Resting in water (the bigger the tub the better) can do wonders to reduce the swelling because the pressure of the water stimulates excess fluid excretion
  • Eat foods that are mildly diuretic, such as asparagus, grapes, green leafy vegetables, berries, and capsicums, to get rid of the excess fluids.
  • Avoid too much salt and sugar in your diet as it can worsen your fluid retention
  • Don’t forget to do gentle exercises, such as walking, to improve your blood circulation.

Cramps in the lower legs or feet are common in the later stages of pregnancy. Cramps are caused by muscle fatigue, poor blood circulation, and pressure on the nerves to the legs. Gentle exercise and leg massages may help to reduce the risk of leg cramps. Cramps can also be signs of calcium and magnesium deficiencies, so make sure you eat dairy products and green leafy vegetables for your calcium intake, and wholegrains, nuts, seeds, and wheatgerm for your magnesium intake.

Stress and anxiety

The physical changes during pregnancy can bring about stress, and this can lead to symptoms such as muscle tension, rapid and shallow breathing, and insomnia. You may also feel anxious about your pregnancy, especially if your are pregnant for the first time, or if you had previously experienced problems during pregnancy. Prolonged stress and anxiety can be harmful to you and your baby, because it can lead to digestive problems, headaches, back and neck pain for you, and can reduce the nutrient and oxygen supply to your unborn baby. So if you are feeling anxious and stressed, it is important to find ways to relax.

Take time to do the things you enjoy and turn to your partner, families and friends for support, or you may wish to seek help from professionals such as a counsellor. You may also wish to use some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation. Listening to music may help you to relax as well.

Your diet can be a key determinant in how you cope with stress and anxiety. Avoid caffeine and sugary foods. Instead, choose foods that contains complex carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and pasta, which release energy slowly. This helps in keeping your blood sugar levels steady. You should also make sure that you include B and C vitamins, zinc, and magnesium, in your diet.