Pregnancy is a natural state and one that is different for every woman every time. You never know exactly what aches and pains you may or may not experience, but it does help to be prepared by knowing what changes your body will likely go through.
Your entire system is readjusted when you are pregnant. The heart pumps more blood and the lungs work more efficiently, as does the digestive system. With these and more changes occurring, it is no wonder that pregnancy can be uncomfortable at times. Minor aches and pains can be dealt with; however, you should never ignore pain or extreme fatigue, which can be warning signs of trouble. Always consult your Lead Maternity Carer or Doctor if concerned.
Natural Solutions to Common Aches & Pains
Here's some common aches and pains you may experience during pregnancy, some insights into why they happen, and what you can do to make yourself more comfortable.
- Morning Sickness
- Heart Burn & Indigestion
- Leg Cramps
- Haemorrhoids & Constipation
- Back Pain
Morning sickness is that nasty nauseous feeling you experience mainly during the first trimester of your pregnancy. According to doctors, morning sickness is a positive sign caused by an increase in hormones that indicate your placenta is developing well. Whilst there is no cure for morning sickness, there are things you can do to make it more bearable.
What can help with morning sickness?
Stock up on Ginger
Ginger is a popular remedy for morning sickness. The main compound in ginger is gingerol, which contains anti-inflammatory properties that help neutralise stomach acids. Try herbal teas containing ginger or make your own ginger tea using fresh ginger, lemon and honey with hot water. Crystallised ginger is great to have in your bag for those times when you are away from the house.
The aroma of peppermint essential oil can help a queasy stomach. If you don’t have an aromatherapy diffuser, you could fill a large bowl with hot water, place two drops of peppermint essential oil in the bowl and place it on a table near your bed.
Unlike other cases of nausea, morning sickness can be helped by eating. The best approach is to eat little and often. Keep healthy snack supplies close by in your bag, work desk and car. You will work out what foods help the most, but we would recommend avoiding hot, spicy foods and filling up on crackers, fruit and nuts. An empty stomach will bring on morning sickness, so don’t skip meals and try eating crackers or toast before you get out of bed in the morning.
Stay hydrated by drinking between meals rather than while you eat. This will help prevent your stomach from getting too full. Ice-cold or sparkling water are great options, and of course there are great drinks that contain ginger: ginger ale, ginger beer and ginger tea.
Take a Break
Tiredness is a big contributor to morning sickness, so take naps and go to bed early whenever you can. Reduce your stress and clear your diary. Put your feet up with a good book; rest and relax.
Help your Hyper-Nose
Many women get a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy and certain smells can cause nausea. Try to open windows to let in fresh air, avoid hot places and carry a hanky in your pocket which has a dash of essential oil on it (lemon oil is a great one for this). If you can’t avoid an offensive smell, hold the hanky to your nose.
Other Natural Remedies
You could try sugar-free gum, Preggie Pops, Quease-Ease, Sea-bands, Morning Med by Naturo Pharm or Blackmores Morning Sickness Formula. Vitamin B6 has been shown to reduce earlypregnancy nausea. Ask your LMC if you can take a higher dose of B6.
Heartburn & Indigestion
A growing uterus can push stomach acid in the wrong direction, causing many pregnant women to suffer from a burning sensation in the throat and chest.
What can help with Heartburn & Indigestion?
Good Food Choices
Carbonated drinks, and high-fat or spicy foods are classic causes of indigestion and heartburn. Particularly avoid consuming them in the evening as symptoms will get worse when you lie down. Again, eating little and often, will help you to stay comfortable. Avoid large meals. If you are suffering in the night, prop yourself up in bed with some extra pillows.
A spoonful of goodness
Try combining a teaspoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of ginger juice and two teaspoons of honey with hot water and sip throughout the day. Or add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of warm water and consume before meals. For quick relief from indigestion, you can drink a combination of equal quantities of baking soda and water. This works in a similar way to over-the-counter remedies such as ‘Quickies’.
Some women find chewing sugar-free gum helps, as it stimulates saliva, which has an acid-neutralising effect, but avoid peppermint as it is highly acidic.
Muscle cramps in feet, thighs or legs are common during early pregnancy. The exact reason for this is not known, although it is suspected that the expansion of the uterus puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the legs, which then causes leg cramps and some occasional pain.
What can help with Leg Cramps?
- Avoid standing or sitting with your legs crossed for long periods of time.
- Stretch your calf muscles regularly during the day and several times before you go to bed.
- Rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes when you are sitting, such as during meals or watching TV.
- Take a walk every day, unless your midwife or doctor has advised you not to exercise.
- Avoid getting too tired. Lying down on your left side can improve circulation to and from your legs.
- Stay hydrated during the day by drinking water regularly.
- Try a warm bath before bed to relax muscles.
There's some evidence that taking a magnesium supplement in addition to a prenatal vitamin may help some leg cramps. Check with your LMC or doctor before taking any kind of supplement during pregnancy.
If you do get a cramp, immediately stretch your calf muscles: Straighten your leg, heel first, and gently flex your toes back toward your shins. It might hurt to begin with, but it will ease the spasm and the pain will gradually go away. You can try to relax the cramp by massaging the muscle or warming it with a hot water bottle. Walking around for a few minutes may help too.
Sleep is so important for a pregnant woman, and yet many women are plagued with sleeplessness during pregnancy. There are lots of interruptions and discomforts that threaten a good night’s sleep; frequent toilet trips, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, vivid dreams and, aches and pains.
What can help with Sleeplessness?
- Exercise early, never before bedtime.
- Avoid drinking lots of fluids a few hours before bedtime, particularly avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and some teas.
- Wind down at the end of the day with relaxation techniques, like yoga, breathing exercises or listening to soft music.
- Try to keep your head clear of anxiety – read a book before switching off the light.
- Associate the bed with sleeping, NOT with eating food, nourishing work or watching TV.
- Drink something soothing like warm milk and have a light snack before going to bed.
- Try sleeping on your side. Sleeping on your stomach or back is not recommended, and as your pregnancy progresses it will become extremely uncomfortable.
- Take a warm bath or shower before bed.
The most common sleep aid is the pregnancy pillow. A pregnant woman will want to support herself in several areas; under her abdomen, between her legs, under her head, neck and shoulders, and behind her back. There are many pregnancy pillows specially designed to give you all this support in one pillow. A hypoallergenic full-body pillow will ensure healthier blood circulation, and help you find a comfortable and relaxing sleep position. It also gently cradles your tummy and allows for maximum flow of oxygen and nutrients to the placenta, while minimising the swelling of ankles, hands and feet.
Haemorrhoids & Constipation
Haemorrhoids are an unpleasant but common side effect of pregnancy. The extra blood pumping around your pregnant body, coupled with the extra weight you are carrying, can cause veins around your rectum area to swell and dilate. This can causes a lot of pain and discomfort. Iron supplements, which are commonly prescribed to treat anaemia during pregnancy, can exacerbate constipation.
What can help prevent Haemorrhoids & Constipation?
One way to prevent haemorrhoids from developing in the first place is to keep things moving. Fluids and fibre in your diet will help. Fibre binds to water and swells, forming a gel that helps move stools through your bowels. Natural sources of fibre include fruits and vegetables, flaxseeds, prune juice, chia seeds, whole grains and beans.
Some ways to increase your fibre intake
- Mix one to two tablespoons of chia seeds into almond butter, yogurt, smoothies, or breakfast cereal. Chia seeds also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for foetal neurological development.
- Sprinkle oat bran or wheat bran in cereal or yogurt, or incorporate it into a smoothie.
- Magnesium is a natural laxative. Dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains are good sources.
- Some people report that papaya has a laxative effect. Be sure to not overdo it, because too much may cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
- Exercise helps stimulate your bowels. If you have a low-risk pregnancy, incorporate moderate-intensity activities like brisk walking, yoga, and swimming into your routine.
- Make sure that with increased fibre, you increase your water intake so the fibre can form the all-important gel that will get everything moving through.
Try these natural treatments if you’re experiencing discomfort:
- Soak a large wad of cotton wool in witch-hazel and apply to your rectal area.
- Apply a cool compress (or an ice-pack wrapped in a cloth) to your rectal area.
- Sit in a warm salt bath for 10-15 minutes, a few times a day.
- Use plain, moistened toilet paper that doesn’t contain dye or fragrance.
- Sit on a donut-shaped pillow to help ease the pressure on the rectal area.
- Don’t forget Kegel exercises help increase circulation to the area affected by haemorrhoids.
Pregnant women can be prone to anxiety because of the hormonal changes taking place in their body. And let’s not forget the life altering human that is growing inside her womb!
What can help with Anxiety?
30-60 minutes of moderate exercise a day helps relieve anxiety. If you have not been exercising already, start slowly and work your way up to 30 minutes. Gradually expand your exercise time to one hour. Walking is the easiest exercise to work into your daily activities. Check with your LMC prior to introducing extra exercise to your routine.
Only good new please
Stay away from TV news, radio news, talk shows and the newspaper. Bad news can jump-start feelings of anxiety. You don't have to swear off current events forever, but perhaps while you are pregnant and having trouble with anxiety, take a break from anxiety-causing information.
Get out of the house
Talking is really important, so you aren’t left alone with your thoughts. Even a quick trip to meet a friend for lunch or visit to a relative can take your mind off your anxiety. Check out the internet or library for pregnancy yoga, swimming, antenatal classes etc in your area. Isolation leads to depression and increases the chance of anxious thoughts, so spend time with others.
Get a massage
A massage will relax all your tense muscles. Use the time on the table to let your worries go. Stop thinking about the small stuff. Often the things we are worrying about, are out of our control or aren’t even worth worrying about, so why waste your time on them.
Nice cup of tea
Green or chamomile tea are both said to be helpful in relieving anxiety.
Buy essential oils or candles in cypress, jasmine, rose or lavender scents. Burn the candles or put the essential oils in a scent diffuser and breathe deeply. Lavender is especially soothing. Check with your LMC before using aromatherapy oils. Daily meditation
If you have a hard time sitting still and clearing your mind, set a small goal of meditating for five minutes in the morning or at lunchtime. Sit in a quiet place. Set the timer for five minutes. Breathe in and out through your nose. Focus on your breath feeling cool as it moves in through your nostrils. Feel it moving through your sinuses and moving back out through your nose, warmer than before. Try to keep your mind clear of all thoughts. Focus only on your breath and your nose. If you find yourself thinking about something, return to your breath and your nose. When the timer sounds, take a few deep breaths and then get up and continue with your day.
Take a moment to breathe
Take a break during the day and breathe deeply for at least five breaths. If you are anxious, you may tend to hold your breath or breathe shallowly. This will help break the pattern.
Ask your LMC if it is okay to take herbal remedies. Valerian will help you sleep, and it is effective for treating mild anxiety. Kava, ashwagandha and bugleweed are other herbs that have been used as anti-anxiety treatments.
Seek help from a counsellor or therapist. Sometimes talking to a professional is extremely helpful. Get recommendations from your doctor, LMC or friends.
During pregnancy your posture and torso are thrown out of alignment. Carrying most of your extra weight in the front of your torso pulls on your back. It’s essentially like wearing a backpack on your front, instead of your back, and it shifts your centre of gravity. This changes your posture and puts a strain on your back.
It will affect your sleep. You may be lying on your side to get comfortable, but the weight of your womb can still pull on your back muscles, causing the aches and pains.
Your hormones and body changes have some effect too. As your body gets ready for the birth, some of your joints and ligaments are loosening up to make delivery possible.
All of these changes can cause back ache.
What can help back pain?
- Apply heat in the form of a wheat bag or a hot water bottle, or soak in a warm bath to soothe muscles.
- During your pregnancy, try to limit unnecessary weight gain.
- Avoid heavy lifting. If you need to carry a toddler, use correct form; squat and bend your knees, keep your back straight and lift with your arms.
- Sit on chairs with good back-support and place a cushion behind your lower back.
- Elevate your feet on a stool or couch. Sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs. This keeps your hips aligned, which is better for your back.
- Prenatal yoga can help stretch out and strengthen tight muscles, improve flexibility and help with postural alignment (how the parts of the body hold themselves in relation to one another).
- Prenatal Massage: A certified prenatal massage therapist can bring quick relief when back pain is acute, especially when it's the result of muscular clenching that irritates nerves, particularly the sciatic nerve in the buttocks and legs which sends pain signals to the brain. You should first consult with your doctor, to make sure prenatal massage is safe and then make sure the prenatal massage therapist is certified.
- Chiropractors use a range of techniques to relieve back pain, and many women find relief under the care of someone experienced. Chiropractors routinely use joint manipulation (that popping sound!), soft tissue work, and prescribed exercises to prevent women from feeling muscular tightness, nerve compression, and joint misalignment. Chiropractors are good at detecting imbalances and helping to correct them. It is important to look for a chiropractor who works with expectant mothers.
- Pregnancy Swimming: Swimming is a highly recommended form of exercise for pregnant women because it takes the pressure o the spine. Paddling up and down the pool lanes will help decompress your spine and tone your leg, arm, back and core muscles. As you experience full-body movement in a safe space, breathe deeply and fully to stay afloat. The deep breathing will help you relax emotionally as well as physically.
- A maternity belt, which you can buy online and in many maternity clothing shops, is a supportive undergarment that helps hold up the belly, so the pelvic girdle and lower back aren't too strained. If your belly is protruding forward in a pronounced way (rather than with your weight diffused across your midsection), the belt can act as a substitute for your abdominal core muscles, which can struggle to prevent your lower spine from painfully exaggerating its curvature. Doctors generally advise women to try maternity belts and use them if they work, but the belts should be seen as a complement to other remedies rather than the only treatment for back pain in pregnancy.
During pregnancy, the extra fluid in the body and the pressure from the growing uterus can cause swelling in the ankles and feet. The swelling tends to get worse as your due date nears, particularly towards the end of the day and during hotter weather. Mild swelling in the feet or ankles is normal, but you should consult with your LMC or doctor if sudden swelling occurs in any areas of your body.
What can help with swelling?
- Avoid standing for long periods. If it can’t be avoided, stretch as often as you can.
- Prop up your feet when sitting and avoid crossing your legs.
- Lie on your left side when sleeping.
- Put maternity support stockings on before getting out of bed in the morning.
- Drink plenty of water. This may sound odd, but if your body is dehydrated, it will try to retain any fluid it can find in the body.
- Swim or stand in a pool up to your neck.
- Exercise regularly.
- Try to stay cool in humid or hot weather.
General Health & Well-Being during Pregnancy
The best way to enjoy your pregnancy is to keep yourself healthy. Your body is working really hard to protect and grow another life, or perhaps multiple lives, so give your body and mind the best care possible. Here are some key ways to look after yourself during pregnancy:
- Exercise - exercise during pregnancy is a wonderful way to get ready for the birth of your child(ren); it manages aches and pains, helps you relax and strengthens your mind and body.
- Yoga - the practice of yoga can help you prepare your mind and body for labour and the birth of your baby. Yoga helps you focus and concentrate. It also keeps you fit and flexible.
- Meditation - meditation can bring an increased awareness, which works at a very subtle level. Meditation can help you explore your inner self and establish a connection with your baby. It allows you to find peace in the moment.
- Nutrition & Hydration - excellent nutrition and hydration are critical to having a successful pregnancy. You should be eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables for nutrients, quality dairy foods, wholefood carbohydrates, iron-rich foods and healthy fats. Throughout your pregnancy drink plenty of water and herbal teas. Avoid caffeinated drinks, sodas and alcohol.
For more detailed information on exercise, yoga, meditation and nutrition & hydration during pregnancy download our free e-book here.