Your pregnancy body A-Z
Wondering why your body is acting so freakily now you’re pregnant? Eleanor Tucker presents an A-Z of all those weird and wonderful symptoms
A is for… ACNE
Cruel as it seems, there’s nothing like a positive pregnancy test to prompt a breakout of adult acne. ‘Many pregnant women will experience acne in the first weeks of pregnancy because of higher hormone levels that increase the skin’s oil production,’ explains expert midwife and health visitor Katie Hilton.
TIP: Try no-nasties facial skincare products designed especially for pregnancy, such as Mama Mio’s Gorgeous Glow 3-Step Set.
B is for… BRAXTON HICKS
Is that some kind of German pickle? No, it’s actually the official name for ‘practice contractions’ that tend to start in mid pregnancy. But how can you be sure they’re not the real deal? ‘They’re irregular, infrequent, and usually taper off and disappear,’ says Katie.
TIP: Drink a few glasses of water, because being dehydrated can make them more uncomfortable.
C is for… CHLOASMA
The ‘mask of pregnancy’ might sound like a useful thing to know about if you’re suffering with a skin breakout, but it’s actually an increase in melanin, which creates brown patches on the skin – typically on the face. ‘My chloasma was so bad that the doctor took a photo,’ says mum Julie. ‘But it faded soon after I had my daughter.’
TIP: Wear SPF15 cream on your face – even on cloudy days – as UV rays can make chloasma worse.
D is for... DISCHARGE
Don’t worry, there’s a fancy name for it (after all, nobody likes the ‘D’ word). ‘Leucorrhoea is a completely normal increase in vaginal discharge caused by extra blood flow due to the increase in hormones, which then stimulates mucus membranes,’ says Katie.
TIP: Don’t use intimate washes or wipes, as these can alter the vagina’s pH, potentially causing infection.
E is for... EYES
Yup, even your eyes know you’re pregnant. Dry-eye syndrome is caused by an imbalance in hormones, which affects the amount and type of tears produced – in other words, your eyes aren’t kept moist.
TIP: Try using a humidifier. Or, if you want to try over-the-counter eye drops, remember to check with the pharmacist first. Boots Dry Eyes Eye Drops are safe to use during pregnancy.
F is for... FARTING
There’s one you don’t see being hashtagged by many Instamums. Pregnancy causes your digestive system to slow down, resulting in flatulence. Mum-to-be Harriet describes her wind as being ‘worse than that of my dad’s Labrador’. #awkward
TIP: Eating smaller, more frequent meals should help. For trapped wind (which can be painful), try Rennie Deflatine which – galling as it is – is safe to take in pregnancy.
G is for... GLOW
Your reward for getting through a tricky first trimester could be that you finally get to see that fabled pregnancy ‘glow’. ‘This is caused by an increase in blood flow which will give you rosy cheeks,’ says Louisa van den Bergh of Lulubaby antenatal and postnatal classes.
TIP: Take a #nomakeup selfie, smile serenely when people say how great you’re looking, and flaunt that new-found radiance while it lasts.
H is for... HEARTBURN
You can blame progesterone for this, because the hormone that relaxes muscles in pregnancy also relaxes the stomach valve. This allows the acidic digestive juices to pass from the stomach up into the oesophagus, causing that sadly familiar burning sensation.
TIP: Investigate over-the-counter medicines – including every pregnant mama’s most-trusted tipple, Gaviscon Peppermint Liquid.
I is for... ITCHING
An itching feeling all across your belly is normal and caused by the skin stretching. ‘When I was carrying my twin girls, my belly button stretched to the size of a saucer, and itched like mad!’ says mum Lexi.
TIP: If you’re suffering with an intense itching on your palms or the soles of your feet, don’t delay, get it checked out. We hear it could be a sign of obstetric cholestasis, a condition that affects the liver.
J is for... JOINT PAIN
Wondering why you’ve suddenly started creaking like an old lady? ‘Joint pain is associated with a change in weight, sleep positions, and hormones relaxing ligaments and tendons,’ says Katie.
TIP: Alter your sleep position by using a pregnancy pillow such as the Theraline Original Pregnancy and Baby Feeding Pillow. If you get joint pain in your pelvis, which affects one in five mums-to-be, speak to your midwife or GP; physiotherapy can help.
K is for... KICKS
Your baby’s first movements inside you (called ‘quickening’) will be noticeable from around 18 to 24 weeks, or earlier if it’s not your first baby. ‘They will occur both day and night, and can last between 20 and 40 minutes, as a foetus will go through both sleeping and active periods,’ midwife Katie explains.
TIP: There is no normal pattern of kicks for an unborn baby – every baby is different so it’s important to get to know what’s normal for yours. And don’t be afraid to call the midwife if you notice a change – it’s what they’re there for.
L is for... LINEA NIGRA
Have you noticed a line running down the centre of your tummy, from your belly button to your pelvis? It’s called the linea nigra (Latin for ‘black line’) and, strangely enough, the line was there the whole time but it’s just got darker, thanks to your hormones.
TIP: You’ve earned your stripe (whether you like it or not), and it will eventually fade a few months after your baby is born.
M is for... MOOD SWINGS
You haven’t been this moody since you were a teenager, so what’s going on? It’s all caused by your hormones, which can make you swing from excited to grumpy at the drop of a hat, just like they did during puberty...
TIP: If your mood swings last for more than two weeks, or you feel low, always share this with your GP or midwife.
N is for... NUMBNESS
‘Pins and needles are common during pregnancy,’ says Louisa van den Bergh. ‘It can be because of swelling, which in turn pinches on key nerves.’
TIP: Don’t worry – this one clears up really quickly after you’ve had your baby. But if it’s constant, gets worse or is accompanied by any muscle weakness, see your GP.
O is for... OEDEMA
Feel it’s not just your tum swelling up? In pregnancy, oedema – or swelling – typically occurs in the feet, ankles and hands, when fluids accumulate because of increased blood flow.
TIP: A great excuse to put your feet up! Don’t stand for too long, and when lying down, raise your feet so they’re higher than heart level – try propping them up on pillows. Also drink plenty of water – it actually helps flush out excess fluids. If the swelling in your hands or feet (or face and ankles too) is sudden or severe, get immediate medical help, as it could be a sign of pre-eclampsia.
P is for... PILES
They’re swollen blood vessels in and around the anus, caused by your growing uterus putting pressure on pelvic veins. Sometimes itchy or sore, you’ll know if you get them... they hurt! But, says mum Sara, optimistically, ‘Piles are a pregnancy badge of honour.’
TIP: Eat more fibrous foods, such as wholemeal bread and plenty of fruit and veg. Witch hazel is said to be helpful for soothing haemorrhoids, or you could try Nelsons H+Care Haemorrhoid Relief Cream. But as ever, check with the pharmacist or your GP before starting any medication.
Q is for... QUEASINESS
‘Nausea is a very common pregnancy symptom that can really blight your first trimester,’ says Louisa. ‘And not just in the mornings: mums-to-be can feel sick all day long, and many find that evenings are the worst.’
TIP: Ginger can help. Try Twinings Lemon & Ginger tea bags.
R is for... RHINITIS
‘Many mums-to-be find they have a runny or blocked nose,’ says Louisa. ‘Hormones are the culprit again – the high amounts of oestrogen cause swelling in the tiny blood vessels and membranes that line your nose.’
TIP: A good old-fashioned treatment, steam inhalation (holding your head over a bowl of hot water – then adding a towel to keep the steam in) will help relieve blockages. Once you’re past the three-month mark, try adding a drop of Eucalyptus Oil to the water. Aveda’s will set you back around £15.
S is for... STRETCHMARKS
An intricate map of the journey through pregnancy? Or an itchy pain in the bum(p)? Whatever you think of stretch marks – the thin red lines that appear as the skin on your abdomen stretches – be reassured that they affect about 90 per cent of women.
TIP: Massaging your skin speeds up healing. It’s a journey, so while you’re on it why not join the hundreds of women proudly sharing snaps of their marks on Instagram, using #loveyourlines.
T is for... TIREDNESS
‘Growing a human being inside you naturally requires lots of energy,’ says Louisa, ‘and all the physical changes going on inside and outside of you will have an impact on your energy levels and your ability to sleep well.’
TIP: If you have a job, ask your boss if you can work from home one day a week or change your hours to allow you to have more rest. It’s worth a try.
U is for... URINATION
Pop a copy of Gurgle next to the loo, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time there... Needing to wee a lot is caused by an increase in blood flow to the kidneys, while your uterus also puts extra pressure on your bladder.
TIP: Lean forward when you’re on the toilet as this helps to empty your bladder properly.
V is for... VARICOSE VEINS
‘These can show up almost anywhere on the lower half of your body, including the legs, rectum and even vulva,’ says Katie. ‘It’s because the extra volume of blood that’s circulating around the body during pregnancy puts extra pressure on the veins.’
TIP: Make sure socks and shoes don’t compress your legs or feet. Gentle exercise, such as walking or swimming, will help – and this is another problem that’s relieved by not standing for too long.
W is for... WEIGHT GAIN
During pregnancy, you might be surprised to gain extra weight around your bottom and thighs as well as your growing bump. This is because your body is laying down fat reserves to prepare for breastfeeding your baby.
TIP: As long as you’re eating healthily, just relax and embrace your curvy shape – it’s completely normal.
X is for... X-RATED
‘The first trimester can be a time where tiredness and morning sickness have a severe impact on your libido,’ says Louisa. ‘For some mums this may continue throughout pregnancy, whereas others might find their appetite for sex then goes into overdrive.’
TIP: Seriously, make the most of it! Try experimenting with different positions that will make sex with a bump easier.
Y is for... YEAST INFECTION
‘Thrush, an itchy vaginal yeast infection, is common in pregnancy,’ explains Louisa. It’s another problem caused by raised levels of oestrogen. These alter the pH balance of the vagina, helping the yeast (that’s called candida albicans and can be present without causing symptoms) to thrive and create problems.
TIP: See your GP who will most likely prescribe you with a pessary suitable for use in pregnancy. This should, we are assured, be inserted using your fingers, not with the applicator. Apparently this is to avoid any chance of damaging your cervix.
Z is for... ZZZ
You might find that your sleep is disturbed by the strangest dreams you’ve ever had. Lots of pregnant women say they dream about having wild sex, giving birth to animals and even being attacked by marine life. Now that really is weird.
TIP: Bizzare as it might be to dream that you’re being chased by killer fish, don’t worry – it’s simply your brain dealing with your anxieties and excitement about becoming a mum. Um, that makes sense then.