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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Minor complications of pregnancy
Pregnancy wreaks havoc on the female body.

As well as pluses such as thick hair and a 'blooming' complexion, it pushes organs out of place and floods the body with hormones.

Discomfort from having your stomach in your chest and other organs in unaccustomed places does not usually occur until the final stages of pregnancy when the baby is bigger, but hormonal changes may be evident from the first moment, causing sudden mood swings and making the victim feel as if she is on an emotional rollercoaster.

Many of the minor problems of pregnancy can be lessened through healthy eating - five portions of fruit and vegetables a day - and exercise and many are the first signs that a woman is pregnant.

They include:

  • feeling sick or going off food that the woman previously enjoyed
  • a metallic taste in the mouth
  • constipation
  • fatigue
  • tender, larger breasts
Many of these last the whole pregnancy and are accompanied by other problems.

Few women escape at least one of the following:

Morning sickness:

Many theories exist as to why some women suffer terribly from morning sickness and others appear to escape unscathed, but a major factor is likely to be the body reacting to hormonal changes.

The condition, which can range from feelings of nausea to continuous vomiting, can occur at any time of the day or all through the day.

For some women it lasts throughout the pregnancy, but for most who have it usually fades after the third month.

Stress and diet, particularly fatty or spicy food, are thought to play a part.

Many women fear that, if they cannot eat because of sickness, they will harm the foetus, but research shows this to be unfounded.

The person who suffers is the mother.

As one doctor put it: "The baby will survive."

However, the condition may be offset by eating small amounts regularly, drinking lots of fluids, resting exercising and avoiding foods that make the woman feel nauseous.

Doctors recommend that women who suffer from morning sickness have something to drink, such as sweet tea, and some dry toast before getting up.

If a woman cannot keep any food down, she should consult her GP.

Constipation and haemorrhoids:

The bowel absorbs more fluid during pregnancy and food moves slower down the intestines.

This can lead to constipation which can in turn trigger haemorrhoids - protrusions from the anus which bleed and can be painful and itchy.

Pregnancy hormones which relax the veins may also contribute to haemorrhoids.

Women who have to take additional iron may find that this worsens the problem.

Pregnant women with constipation are discouraged from taking laxatives.

Instead doctors recommend eating lots of fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, avoiding standing still for long periods and drinking plenty of fluids.

There are also creams and suppositories on the market which lessen the irritation caused by haemorrhoids.

They can also be pushed back into the anus with lubricating jelly.

Most clear up soon after the birth of the baby.

Varicose veins:

These are another consequence of hormonal changes which relax the veins, slowing blood flow.

They can be painful and itch and occur in the legs and vaginal area.

Usually the ones in the vaginal area disappear after birth, but those in the legs may not totally vanish.

Some women appear to have a genetic disposition towards varicose veins.

The following can lessen the problem:

  • regular exercise
  • avoid long periods standing still, sitting with crossed legs and wearing tight-fitting underwear
  • sit and sleep with your feet up
  • avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy
  • use ice packs

Cramp - sudden muscle spasms - is thought to affect up to half of all pregnant women.

It mostly occurs at night and can be extremely painful.

Many theories exist as to the cause, including mineral deficiencies and poor circulation, but none has been totally proved.

Massaging the affected area - often the feet - can help, as can flexing the foot and regular exercise.

Indigestion and heartburn:

Indigestion can be due to hormonal changes in the early stages of pregnancy.

In the later months, it is likely to be a result of the foetus pushing the stomach upwards.

It can be avoided by eating little and often, instead of big meals, avoiding fatty and spicy food and sitting up straight when eating.

Heartburn is more painful than indigestion and is the result of the relaxation of muscles at the stomach opening.

This causes excess acid in the stomach.

It is most likely to occur when lying flat so doctors recommend sleeping with feet propped up and avoiding food for two or three hours before going to bed.

Pregnant women should consult their GP, midwife or chemist before taking any indigestion remedies as they could affect the foetus.


Ligaments become looser during pregnancy in preparation for labour, but this can put more pressure on the lower back and pelvis, causing backache.

This is likely to increase in the later stages of pregnancy as the foetus gets heavier.

This can be lessened by avoiding lifting heavy objects, keeping the back straight when lifting objects, wearing flat shoes and sitting with the back well supported.

Exercises which involve arching the back can also help.

Other common problems of pregnancy include

  • faintness (due to poor blood circulation to the brain)
  • needing to urinate often (caused by the baby pressing on the bladder)
  • bleeding gums (due to hormonal changes)
  • stretch marks, swollen ankles, fingers and feet (due to water retention)
  • vaginal discharge (usually clear and white, but it can be itchy if there is an infection, this is most likely to be thrush)
  • headaches

Women who suffer from severe headaches should consult their GP as this could be a result of high blood pressure.

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