Every woman anticipates the pain of labor and delivery when she is pregnant. However, there are lesser known aches and pains that come about as the body undergoes many changes during pregnancy. Some of these aches are muscular, some are skeletal, and some originate within the body’s other systems as the woman’s body creates life.
During pregnancy, in order to help the growth of the baby, a woman’s body creates half again as much blood. This increased blood flow accounts for the “glow” some women have; it also accounts for some aches, pains, and problems:
The larger amount of blood can cause veins to become larger than normal. Compressing the vein in the central part of the body causes the flow of blood to slow. This slow flow of a larger volume of blood can cause varicose veins in the legs. Lying on the back compresses this abdominal vein and also reduces the flow of blood to the brain and heart, which can cause fainting, dizziness, and nausea.
To reduce problems caused by this increased blood volume women should avoid tight clothing and lying on their back. Pregnant women should elevate their hips and rotate slightly to the side—use a pillow or two to help get this position. Also, elevate their feet and legs as frequently as possible to avoid swelling.
Morning sickness is caused by hormones and is usually limited to the first few weeks of pregnancy. It can, however, continue throughout the whole pregnancy.
Hormones and a growing fetus contribute to heartburn. The hormones can cause the muscles of the esophagus to become relaxed, allowing stomach acid to cause the acidic feeling. The growing baby also pushes the stomach and esophagus, making the mother have indigestion and to feel bloated.
To reduce problems of morning sickness and heartburn women should avoid eating spicy, greasy, or fried foods, eat smaller more frequent meals, and stay hydrated by drinking healthy fluids like water between meals. Women should also avoid lying down after eating.
As the pregnancy progresses, a woman’s body can retain fluid, in addition to the already increased amount of blood. This fluid retention can lead to swelling in the hands and feet, called edema. One of the problems with swelling in the hands is the fluid pressing on the neurovascular structures in the wrist. Women can experience swelling, numbness, pain, burning, and weakness in the wrists, called carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some of the more common complaints of the muscles and bones are back and neck pain and pelvic pain. All of these body aches are caused by hormones and by the growing baby. Hormones created during pregnancy will cause the joints in the pelvis to relax, to make it easier to deliver the baby, and that relaxation can cause women to feel the pain of the baby “sitting” on the pelvis. The loosened pelvis joints and the growing belly can cause changes in posture which leads to neck and back pain.
To reduce problems of carpal tunnel syndrome, pelvis, and spinal pain women should be aware of the changes in their body. Rest the body when it starts to feel achy. Exercises can help strengthen and stabilize these areas of the body, especially exercises focused on strengthening the core. Women can ask their doctor for splints to stabilize the wrists and for a pelvic joint belt if the pain becomes too severe.
There are few areas of the body that have more stress or pressure during the pregnancy than the abdomen. Two common problems that occur during pregnancy are abdominal separation and urinary incontinence. Both of these conditions can continue after the birth. The abdominal separation (known as diastasis recti) is a vertical separation of the muscles at the front of the abdomen. Urinary incontinence is caused by pressure on the bladder from the baby as well as the relaxed state of the pelvic area.
To reduce problems of the abdominal area women should increase the pelvic strengthening exercises and the exercises to improve core body strength. Physical therapy can also improve these conditions.
Any person beginning an exercise regimen should check with their doctor, this is more so for pregnant women. Ask the doctor if physical therapy is an appropriate treatment. If any of these complaints become severe or make the mother worry, go see the doctor.
In general, the more healthy the heart and muscles, the less likely these pains will occur during pregnancy. Regular walking can improve heart health, strengthen muscles, and is said to make labor easier, too.