Almost half of the world’s population will be pregnant at some stage in their lives. Many will be pregnant more than once. The way we live can help ensure that both the mom and baby are healthy and comfortable throughout the experience. It’s not inevitable that pregnancy will be physically and emotionally challenging. Nonetheless, there are many niggles – some minor; some a little more aggravating, and these can affect how a woman feels.
The fitter and healthier a woman is before pregnancy, the less troubling any physical discomfort will be during pregnancy. First pregnancies are mostly easier, too.
Five main factors are associated with non-serious discomfort:
- Increased levels of the hormone, progesterone, which stretches and relaxes ligaments that hold the bones together and the organs in place, and smooth muscle fibres throughout the body.
On the positive side, this is one way in which Mother Nature ensures easier birth, as the pelvic outlet can become roomier as your baby pushes through. Unfortunately this effect happens before birth already, and in places other than the pelvis!
- By the end of pregnancy, a woman will mostly have gained at least 12kg, and her centre of gravity will have changed significantly.
- The shape and position of the womb can affect pain.
- Some women have a lower pain tolerance and may feel the pains more acutely.
- Baby’s position and movements may well contribute to discomfort.
This guide will help you sort the simple from the serious, and offer a host of tips to remedy common complaints that are believed to be “part of pregnancy”.
Pregnancy aches and pains explained
These are common in the back, the navel area, groin, hip bones, pelvis, pubic bones and thighs.
It may feel like a stitch or a twinge, or as burning, pulling, tightening or simply aching – sometimes continuously; sometimes at intervals. Some experience discomfort in a particular spot, while others describe the pain as moving from place to place. Intense burning pain in the area of the ribs, aggravated by your baby’s kicking, may cause inflammation in the muscle fibres, which is called intercostal pain. Round ligament pain is a needling, specific sensation.
- Regular walking, swimming and dancing are excellent for overall strength and posture – do light sessions often.
- Correct your posture by pulling in your tummy muscles and buttocks, keeping your shoulders back and down, and slightly tilting your chin upwards when walking.
- Sleep with a pillow between your legs to relieve hip pain.
- For aching in the lower abdomen, cup your hands around the lower part of your “bump” and lift it up a little to instantly soothe the pressure.
- To soothe pain in the pelvic area, go down on all fours, with your head on folded arms and your buttocks higher than your chest.
- Massage painful areas with Arnica Oil.
- Take the tissue salts Calc fluor and Ferrum phos to improve elasticity and strength of ligaments. Ferrum phos also helps for burning pain.
- For a low pain threshold, take Rescue Emotion to improve anxiety and break the pain-tension cycle.
When to see the doctor: If there are any symptoms such as an abnormal vaginal discharge, fever or severe digestive discomfort (vomiting, diarrhoea, bad inexplicable constipation or bloating)
This is very common due to the effect of progesterone and an altered centre of gravity with poor posture. The sacro-iliac joints between the pelvis and hip bones take extra strain and can contribute a lot to lower backache.
This is experienced mostly from mid-pregnancy. Backache may be associated with bladder and kidney infections – be aware of other symptoms like burning and strong-smelling urine. Toward the end of pregnancy, backache may signify the start of labour if other symptoms are present too.
- For instant – if not permanent – relief, go down on all fours.
- If you’re at a desk all day, try sitting on a big “birth ball” which automatically corrects posture.
- Alternate periods of rest and movement.
- Exercise regularly and concentrate on back-strengthening exercises.
- For relief, cross your hands in the small of your back and press up firmly against a wall.
- Correct posture as for ligament pain.
- A back massage with Arnica oil is very soothing.
- Take the tissue salts Calc fluor and Ferrum phos to promote elasticity and strength of back ligaments.
When to see the doctor: If you have backache in early pregnancy associated with pelvic cramping or any abnormal vaginal discharge; if you feel feverish or your urine smells strongly; if you have any symptoms that make you suspect you might be in labour before your due date.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
This is the sensation of numbness, a feeling of clumsiness, or severe pain in the fingers, hand and/or arm, which is quite common in pregnancy.
The small bony canal in the wrist through which nerves and blood vessels pass to and from the hand, doesn’t allow much room for swelling. Fluid retention is quite common in pregnancy and doesn’t have to be severe to cause pressure on these nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms sometimes only occur at night due to pressure at the shoulder joint when lying prone. It seldom resolves on its own and mostly continues for some months after birth.
- A wrist splint helps some.
- Try a different sleeping position.
- Take the tissue salts Nat mur and Nat sulph to help reduce swelling in the area.
- Apply cool poultices over the area to reduce pain and swelling.
- The tissue salt Ferrum phos will help for burning pain along the nerve pathway.
- The tissue salt Kali phos helps regenerate and heal nerve injury in chronic carpal tunnel syndrome.
When to see the doctor: If symptoms are not relieved by these tips and remedies, or if symptoms persist or become worse, you might need a minor operation, which is very successful and not harmful to your baby.
Cramps in your feet and legs
This is quite common due to the extra magnesium requirements of pregnancy as well as the increased demands on the circulatory system.
It may be accompanied by a heavy, dull ache in the legs. It occurs most frequently in the last trimester, but can occur at any time, and is usually most severe at night.
- Increase foods rich in magnesium like nuts, seeds, bananas and green, leafy vegetables.
- Pull the toes on the foot of the affected side up towards your knee during cramping.
- Take the tissue salt Mag phos to improve the assimilation of magnesium from food and supplements, and to provide rapid relief during cramping.
- Massage cramping muscles with Arnica Oil for rapid relief.
When to see the doctor: Consult your doctor urgently if you develop varicose veins, shortness of breath, or pain in your leg muscles between cramping sessions.
This is a pinched nerve in the lower back, which is quite common in pregnancy, and is mostly due to postural changes.
- A numb ache in one buttock
- Burning pain down sections of the leg and foot of the affected side
- A lame feeling in parts of the leg and possibly burning or tingling in the toes.
- Alternate rest and activity.
- Make sure that you correct your posture when walking.
- Try not to slouch when sitting.
- Wear an abdominal maternity band which is used to aid ligament control in the back, but it can also have a positive effect on sciatica.
- Take the tissue salt remedies Ferrum phos, Kali phos and Nat Phos twice a day throughout pregnancy, as this chronic condition is very difficult to relieve otherwise. • Massage the affected foot, leg and buttock to reduce the burning ache.
- The tissue salt Mag phos helps relieve cramps which often accompany sciatica.
When to see the doctor: If you have pronounced varicose veins in the affected leg; if your leg feels hot to the touch; or if you feel unwell.
Stiff, painful joints
These are often due to extra weight, especially in the hip, knee and foot joints. It may also be related to a more serious auto-immune condition.
Water retention may decrease the mobility of joints. Stretched, softened ligaments add to symptoms too.
The pain is usually worse on rising in the morning, and improves once the day has warmed up and you’ve moved around a bit. Joint pain is mostly worse in the second half
- Avoid foods that are acidic or cause acidity (like too much red meat, cheese, pickles and alcohol).
- Do moderate exercise that doesn’t stress your body.
- Alternate rest and movement.
- Take the tissue salt Nat phos to help balance the body’s pH, and Ferrum phos for burning or throbbing pain and inflamed joints.
- Apply warmth to the affected joints.
When to see the doctor: If pain persists or becomes worse.
More about the expert:
Sister Lilian has been a leading South African pregnancy and parenting advisor for many years, is a best-selling author and has often appeared on radio and TV, and in parenting magazines, as South Africa’s go-to parenting expert. Some of her books have even been translated into Spanish, Romanian and Afrikaans. As a qualified midwife, nurse, reflexologist and natural healthcare practitioner who began her independent practice in 1988, she has helped countless parents find responsible, natural solutions to any of their parenting concerns. Read more about Sister Lilian here.
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