Pregnancy-Related Problems

Topic Overview

Most women are healthy during pregnancy and do not have serious health concerns. You may have minor physical symptoms throughout your pregnancy that are considered normal pregnancy changes. It is important for you to be aware of symptoms that may mean you have a more serious problem. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have during your pregnancy so that your health problems can be checked quickly.

Many minor problems of pregnancy can be managed at home. Home treatment measures are usually all that is needed to relieve mild morning sickness or discomfort from heartburn or constipation. There are also home treatment measures for sleep problems, hip pain, hemorrhoids, or fatigue. If you develop a problem and your doctor has given you specific instructions to follow during your pregnancy, be sure to follow those instructions.

If you have a family history of diabetes, you may develop a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy (gestational diabetes). Gestational diabetes is treated by watching what you eat, exercising, checking blood sugar levels, and possibly taking oral medicines or insulin shots to keep blood sugar levels within a target range. Women who have gestational diabetes are likely to have babies that weigh more than normal. If the mother's blood sugar is not controlled, this could cause serious problems for the baby before and during delivery.

You may also have other common problems, like a cold or the flu, while you are pregnant that are not caused by your pregnancy. You can use home treatment measures for these illnesses as well, but make sure to talk to your doctor if your symptoms become more serious, such as coughing up blood or not being able to drink enough fluids (dehydrated).

While most problems that occur during pregnancy are minor, you may develop more serious symptoms that you need to talk to your doctor about. Your symptoms may be related to:

During the days and weeks after delivery (postpartum period), you can expect that your body will change as it returns to its nonpregnant condition. As with pregnancy changes, postpartum changes are different for every woman. Some problems, such as high blood pressure, hemorrhoids, or diabetes, may continue after delivery. You may need to follow up with your doctor about these problems after delivery.

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

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Home Treatment

Pregnancy affects almost every part of a woman's daily life. If you develop problems and your doctor has given you specific instructions to follow during your pregnancy, be sure to follow those instructions.

During your pregnancy, you may have questions about many of the following common concerns:

Morning sickness

For many women, the hardest part of early pregnancy is morning sickness. You may be able to use home treatment to help your nausea or vomiting.

  • If nausea is worse when you first wake up, eat a small snack (such as crackers) before you get out of bed. Rest a few minutes after eating the snack, then get out of bed slowly.
  • Eat regularly. Do not skip meals or go for long periods without eating. An empty stomach can make nausea worse. Eat several small meals every day instead of three large meals.
  • Drink enough fluids every day. Do not become dehydrated. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, may help if you have ongoing vomiting. Ginger tea may help your nausea as well.
  • Eat more protein, such as dairy products.
  • Do not eat foods high in fat.
  • Do not take iron supplements, which can make nausea worse.
  • Try to stay away from smells that trigger morning sickness. Citrus juice, milk, coffee, and caffeinated tea may make nausea worse.
  • Get lots of rest. Morning sickness may be worse when you are tired.

Feeling tired (fatigue)

Most women have some fatigue during pregnancy, especially during the first and third trimesters. During the first trimester, your body makes higher levels of the hormone progesterone, which may make you feel more tired. You may feel more energy during most of your second trimester. Later in pregnancy, your growing baby and loss of sleep because you cannot find a comfortable position can lower your energy level.

To help with fatigue during pregnancy:

  • Eat regularly. Do not skip meals or go for long periods without eating. Choose healthy foods.
  • Exercise regularly. Get outside, take walks, or keep your blood moving with your favorite workout. If you do not have your usual energy, do not overdo it.
  • Try to take rest breaks often during the day.
  • Do only as much as you need to, and do not take on extra activities or responsibilities.

Sleep problems

Sleep problems are common during pregnancy. These tips may help you get a good night's sleep.

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.
  • Keep your naps as short as possible.
  • Use your bed only for sleep.
  • Limit your caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola drinks, and chocolate.
  • Try relaxation methods, such as meditation or Click here to view an Actionset.guided imagery. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.
  • Limit what you drink after 6 p.m. so you do not have to get up to the bathroom during the night.
  • Use extra pillows to raise your head or to help you find a comfortable position.

Using medicine to help relieve discomfort or fever

You may also have other common problems, like a cold, mild headache, backache, mild fever, or the flu, while you are pregnant that are not caused by your pregnancy. These minor symptoms generally do not cause problems or hurt your baby. In general, doctors say it is usually safe to take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever and pain.

Acetaminophen dosage: The usual dose is 650 mg. Take every 4 hours, as needed, up to 4 times in a 24-hour period. Do not take more than 3,000 mg in a 24-hour period.

Be sure to follow these nonprescription medicine precautions.

  • Use, but do not exceed, the maximum recommended doses.
  • Carefully read and follow all labels on the medicine bottle and box.
  • Do not use other nonprescription medicines, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), until you have talked with your doctor.

Check with your doctor before you take any other types of medicines.

Heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Most pregnant women have symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), especially heartburn, at some time during pregnancy. These symptoms are common but do not usually cause problems or hurt your baby. Most of the time symptoms of heartburn get better once the baby is born.

You can make changes to your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms of GERD. Here are some things to try:

  • Change your eating habits.
    • It's best to eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals.
    • After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down. Late-night snacks aren't a good idea.
    • Chocolate and mint can make GERD worse. They relax the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.
    • Spicy foods, foods that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make GERD symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get better.
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
  • If you have GERD symptoms at night, raise the head of your bed 6 in. (15 cm) to 8 in. (20 cm) by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work.)
  • Use nonprescription antacids for heartburn symptoms. Do not use antacids that have sodium bicarbonate (such as baking soda) during pregnancy because they can cause fluid buildup. It is okay to use antacids that have calcium carbonate (such as Tums).

Constipation and hemorrhoids

Constipation and hemorrhoids are common during pregnancy. To prevent or ease these symptoms:

  • Eat a high-fiber diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
  • Talk to your doctor about trying a stool softener.
  • Do not strain (push hard) during a bowel movement.
  • Get more exercise every day.

Back, pelvic, and hip discomfort

Many women have back, pelvic, or hip discomfort during pregnancy. As the size and weight of your belly increases, strain is placed on your back. Pelvic and hip discomfort is a normal sign that your pelvic area is getting ready for childbirth. To help with your discomfort, follow these tips:

  • Try not to stand for long periods of time.
  • Stand with a straight back. Do not stand with your belly forward and your shoulders back.
  • Rest one foot on a small box, brick, or stool when standing.
  • Try heat, such as a hot water bottle or a heating pad set on low, to painful areas when resting. Do not fall asleep with a heating pad in place. Place a cloth between your skin and the heating pad.
  • Sit with a back support or pillow against your lower back. If you must sit for a long time, get up and move around every hour.
  • Wear a prenatal belt or girdle around your hips but under your belly to support your hips.
  • Sleep on a firm mattress (plywood under a mattress helps). Lie on your side, with a pillow between your knees.
  • Do not lift anything heavy. Lift with your legs by rising from a squat, keeping your waist and back straight.
  • Do not stretch to reach something on a high shelf or across a table.
  • Try acetaminophen, such as Tylenol. Talk to your doctor if your discomfort does not get better with acetaminophen. Do not use more than the recommended dosage.

Fetal movement counting

After 18 to 20 weeks, you will notice that your baby moves and kicks more at certain times of the day. For example, when you are active, you may feel less kicking than when you are resting quietly. At your prenatal visits, your doctor may ask you whether the baby is active.

Kick counts. In the last trimester of your pregnancy, your doctor may ask you to keep track of the baby's movement every day. This is often called a "kick count." A common way to do a kick count is to see how much time it takes to feel 10 movements. Ten movements (such as kicks, flutters, or rolls) in 1 hour or less are considered normal. But do not panic if you do not feel 10 movements. Less activity may simply mean the baby is sleeping.

If an hour goes by and you have not recorded 10 movements, have something to eat or drink and count for another hour. If you do not record 10 movements in the 2-hour period, call your doctor right away.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Abnormal or increased bleeding.
  • Weakness or lightheadedness.
  • Pain in your belly.
  • Swelling in your face, hands, or feet.
  • A severe headache.
  • Vomiting that gets worse or continues even with home treatment measures.
  • Urinary problems.
  • Fever.
  • Heartburn that continues even with home treatment measures.
  • Symptoms that become more severe or occur more often.

Prevention

It is important to make healthy lifestyle choices to lower your chance for serious problems during pregnancy. Learn about healthy lifestyle choices before, during, and after your pregnancy.

Things to avoid when you are pregnant

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • When was your last menstrual period or what is your due date?
  • What are your main symptoms?
  • How long have you had your symptoms?
  • Have you had this problem before? If so, do you know what caused the problem at that time? How was it treated?
  • What activities make your symptoms better or worse?
  • Do you think that activities related to your job or hobbies caused your symptoms?
  • Do you do sports activities?
  • What home treatment measures have you tried? Did they help?
  • What prescription or nonprescription medicines have you taken or used? Did they help?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised March 20, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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